Name: Lakesha Cole
Name of Company: She Swank Too
Year Started: 2009
Based in: Jacksonville, NC
Military Affiliation: Active Duty Marine Spouse
First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I'm a retail junkie who loves art, retail and the business of said things. I'm a mother of three (11 yr, 2 yr and 1 yr), Marine spouse, mentor, amateur chef, UNO champ, and a loyal friend. I have a slight obsession with red lipstick and couponing. My life's mission -- I pay it forward for a living. My job description -- I help make entrepreneurs smarter, more confident, more competitive and more profitable. I'm the owner of She Swank Too, a curated shop for girls located in Jacksonville, NC featuring a selection of imaginative clothing and accessories that embrace the innocence and fun of childhood.
Why did you choose entrepreneurship?
I crave the flexibility of working for myself. My dream to reality of owning a business started as an idea seven years ago while sitting in my tiny California apartment, unemployed with a three-year-old, a deployed Marine spouse and all of my family 2,000+ miles away. Today, the She Swank Too brand has traveled to customers in all 50 states and four countries.
How has being a military spouse affected your journey and your business?
There's nothing easy about moving your business. Moving your household and family is already stressful enough - relocating your business can be worse because of the downtime and loss of customers and income. However, having the right mindset and attitude is crucial! Don't welter in the unwelcome move. Take advantage of it. Welcome new experiences, meet new people and hopefully create a business that’s even more successful than before.
What were some of the big challenges you faced along the way?
Adjusting to a new market. You have to reinvent your personal brand and rebuild your business after every single PCS move. Each move has required us to modify our business model from pricing, marketing, production and distribution.
What was the defining moment that made you start your own company?
When we PCS to Camp Pendleton, I couldn’t find a job. There I sat, young and vibrant, college educated with an impressive resume. I couldn’t seem to match my skill set with the job market and I had didn’t want to try anymore. So I decided to create my own job.
Were you nervous about starting your own business or did it come naturally?
A little of both. Seven years ago, I started experimenting with different business ideas. Some were successful; others were not. I experienced success pretty quickly, but once we received orders to Japan, I knew I needed to get serious about my business plans if I intended to do this full-time. I started She Swank Too with no real clue about what I was doing. I had no prior retail experience. Since then our brand has traveled to customers in all 50 states and four countries, and I opened my first shop contracted with the Exchange in Okinawa, Japan. A lot has gone right over the past years, but a lot has gone wrong.
How do you balance family life and your business?
I surrendered to that fight a long time ago. Juggling a new baby, a business and family life is by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My personal and professional life has changed tremendously in the past year. The truth is, I’m exhausted. I’ve never been so busy, so overwhelmed, but yet so driven by my successes and even my failures.
What are some pieces of advice you can share with other women entrepreneurs? I’m asked this question a lot as it relates to when to leave the workforce to pursue entrepreneurship. Be realistic about the state of your business or where you are in your career. My mentor told me that a successful entrepreneur knows when it’s time to step down and move on. Sometimes the business climate or assumptions you made in the beginning no longer hold true. You should apply the same level of precaution when dealing with a traditional 9 to 5. The biggest mistake you can make is changing careers without a plan.
More about Lakesha:Who are some of your entrepreneurial heroes?
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