After watching all 14 episodes (over three hours) of Sara Blakely's new MasterClass on entrepreneurship, I'm convinced the Spanx founder would have been successful at anything she started.  

In Blakely's online course she offers tips, insights, and strategies that apply to all entrepreneurs, whether they're searching for an idea or growing a company. She teaches self-made entrepreneurs to take an idea, turn it into a product or service, and sell it persuasively. 

Blakely's story is remarkable. She started Spanx 20 years ago with $5,000 in savings. She had zero experience in fashion or retail. She'd never taken a business class. She sharpened her sales skills selling fax machines door-to-door for seven years. 

Here's how Blakely turned her idea for footless pantyhose into a business empire, and how you can realize your own entrepreneurial dreams.  

1. Ask three questions to find your purpose.

"It's important to know your purpose. If you start with the 'why' and you stay connected to it, that will fuel you through this very intense, very difficult journey," Blakely says.

Blakely recommends you start your entrepreneurial journey by making three lists.

First, make a list of everything that brings you joy. Second, make a list of the skills you're good at (Blakely says she only had one item on this list: sales). Third, make a list of how you'd like to serve the world--a purpose bigger than yourself. Blakely decided she wanted to be an advocate for women. "I wanted to serve women. I felt inspired to make products for women, better."

Your purpose is what you find at the intersection of the three buckets. 

2. Let your mind wander.

The best ideas will come to you when you let your mind wander. Blakely's best ideas come to her while she's driving. The name for her company popped into her head while she was stuck in traffic. 

Although Blakely lives six minutes from the office, she leaves an hour earlier to drive around town. It gives her time to think about new and creative ideas. Find your creative space and go there often. "Give yourself some room to dream by putting yourself in a creative mindset," says Blakely. "Go someplace where you know you won't be interrupted. Spend a few minutes wiping your mind of other tasks and worries. Focus on creating a blank slate upon which to sketch some business ideas."

 3. Ask "why" questions--a lot.

"Why" questions run throughout Blakely's course. "I would say 'why' should become your best friend," she says.

Blakely asked "why" questions as she was creating the idea for a new type of women's undergarment. She asked herself: Why are women's undergarments so uncomfortable? Why hasn't the product evolved? Why is Spanx a better alternative?

The answers to those questions lead her to introduce a new product and revolutionize the category. If your idea doesn't stand out, it doesn't have a chance. Why questions will differentiate your product or service from the competition.

4. Redefine failure.

At the dinner table each night, Blakely's father would ask what she had failed at that day. If she didn't have anything to offer, he would be disappointed. If she had something, he would celebrate. Blakely's father was teaching his daughter to redefine failure--to turn it into a positive.

"Failing indicates that you've tried something, which can be a scary thing to do. True failure is not trying at all."

 5. Understand the four types of customers.

Blakely relied on research that shows there are four types of customers. Your sales pitch should fit the audience. The four customers are:

The socializer. This person wants to get to know you. Tell them stories. 

The director. This person is concise and to the point. Show them three features of your product and keep it short.  

The relator. This person is empathetic and wants to connect. Show them how your product will solve their problem and how you'll do it together.

The thinker. This person wants to know everything about your product.  It's OK to go into detail about the problem and how your product solves it.  

Blakely says once she customized her pitch for the customer, sales rose "exponentially."

6. Learn to think like an entrepreneur.

Blakely learned to turn self-doubt into positive talk. When Blakely was a teenager, she listened to Dr. Wayne Dyer's "How to be a No-Limit Person." It was one of the first positive-thinking titles that recommended people turn doubt or anger into something useful. It taught Blakely how to reframe events from a negative into a positive.

"A lot of people think Spanx started the minute I cut the feet out of my pantyhose," Blakely says. But it really started the day she listened to the tape. It's the day she learned to give herself her own pep talks. 

7. Face your fear.

Blakely took a comedy class and spent two years performing in front of audiences. It was her way of overcoming her fear of public speaking, failure, and embarrassment--once again, skills she would need to overcome the rejections she'd inevitably face as a entrepreneur. The only way to reduce or eliminate the fear of anything is to face it--over and over.

There's an emotional moment at the end of the class when Blakely sheds tears as she thinks back on everything she's accomplished. "Let my journey be an example to you. If I can do it, so can you."    

Published on: Nov 12, 2019
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