Candid Conversations With Sola Adelowo
There are few times when you meet someone who is full of energy, living the life on their own terms and ruling their career. Well, Sola Adelowo is such a person who inspires to work harder yet live the life on our own terms.
Sola is a certified image consultant of the Association of Image Consultants International, a certified Myers-Briggs Personality Type Practitioner, author, course instructor and public speaker. She has been helping people to recognise their own style and creating a presentable personality for almost one decade. Sola is the Founder of ImageCube and StylistM?di. Sola also contributes to the lifestyle TV show, Indy Style since a long time. As a columnist, she’s contributed to the Image Matters column in the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also been a featured fashion and executive presence expert for media programs on BET, FOX, CBS, NBC and PBS television networks.
Today Sola speaks about her brand and her course where she teaches individuals to become personal style professionals. Here’s to the young woman who is living the life on her own terms! In her own words, ‘When you consider the power of presentation, you know there’s more to getting dressed than simply putting on clothes.
Tell me about your business and the motivation behind starting it?
StylistM?di was created to provide business coaching and training for personal stylists, personal shoppers, image consultants; primarily individuals who are 0-2 years in business.
Using my proprietary knowledge and methods I’ve developed over the last nine years, I’ve packaged them into a training program that helps these individuals to learn who their ideal clients are, what services to provide, what their ideal clients actually need from them and how to go about delivering their service programs in a way that also allows them to not be afraid to charge what they’re worth.
When I started my own style consultancy, it was a very difficult process because starting out; I interviewed a lot of people to train me and finally selected one person. It was a $10,000 check that I wrote and then I started this trial and error process that took about five years of hiring other coaches and trying to figure it all out.
The knowledge you gain with existing industry trainers is mostly theoretical; so there’s a lot of fashion theory knowledge and very little practical business knowledge.
StylistM?di is my very practical approach to helping people that want to become style consultants understand what it is that their clients actually need from them, what kind of programs they’re willing to pay for, and how to create services and programs around those needs so that they can help those people look and feel confident, especially while they are pursuing their goals.
My goal with StylistM?di is to make sure that we are able to give this gift of looking and feeling confident without changing the person. I want to give that gift to as many people as possible in a way that enhances the power of fashion; it does not trivialize it and at the same time allows all style consultants to feel like they are professionals; that they can actually earn a living, guiding and advise other people; that this is an actual, legitimate career that people can pursue to pay for childcare, to buy food for their family or even send their children to college. Style consultants have the power to change the direction of a person’s life. We can help people get a job or promotion. What we do is important. So why not make it possible and less mysterious for people to become style professionals. That’s really what’s motivating me.
Who do you sell to?
Many of the people who want to become style professionals either have a side hustle or they’ve constantly been complimented on how amazing they always look. Others are stay-at-home moms who before they had kids were more expressive especially with their style and they now want to go back to being expressive and at the same time help other moms, friends, or former colleagues look and feel confident.
Some are millennials who want to start their own style consulting business but have no idea where to start from. Some of them have a day job but are looking for a side hustle that really speaks to their heart and would allow them to serve other people and make money at the same time doing something that they love, which is fashion.
And others are more established in their full-time careers but have had an interest in starting a style consultancy business. Often times these individuals have reviewed many programs but are scared to invest $10,000 for a program that will require them to take time off from work and spend another $5,000 on travel and boarding. Even though these individuals also want to serve other people, the financial risk is scary so it’s tough for them to justify making that leap of faith.
The common thread is that these people who want to become style consultants have some interest in fashion and desire to be visually expressive but have no clue how to take that interest and to actually make a business out of it.
StylistM?di makes that process of taking an interest and transforming it into a style consulting business a lot clearer and less risky so they’re not spending $10,000 like I did to hire a coach. They are coming in at an accessible price point and at the same time, they’re able to build a business that fits in with their lifestyle. And since they don’t have to deal with the anxiety of investing a lot of money, they can grow their business at a pace that makes sense for them.
Describe your typical day?
I wake up, go to the gym to get my workout in, and then get down to my agenda of the day.
I usually write the day’s agenda the night before. I write down all the things that I need to accomplish. I have my big goals for the month then there are incremental goals I have to get done each week and then I write down my daily tasks.
A lot of it is centered on content creation and making sure I understand what style professionals need in their business. We have our own private Facebook group called My Style Pro Biz and it’s a community of personal style professionals. I post daily prompts to get us all connecting and talking and learning from each other and getting inspired by each other.
That’s what I do there but the vast majority of my time is spent creating content and refining existing content to make sure that it’s actually helping our professionals to move their businesses forward.
What is the potential market growth for your business?
For StylistM?di, the market potential is pretty massive because if you think about it, each individual’s personal style is very unique but no one ever actually shows us how to express it in terms of how to walk and feel like ourselves in a way that supports our goals.
As we grow up in life, we see and hear all these messages about what’s beautiful and what’s attractive and oftentimes, we don’t know how to own our own beauty and sense of style.
As style coaches, we give people permission to be themselves and show them how to pull their appearance together in a way that makes them feel good about themselves, and at the same time helps them to achieve their goals.
The market potential is massive because who doesn’t want to look and feel amazing? Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re on top of the world and feel and look confident? Everybody wants that and so our job is to make that process easier and possible for every human being.
What are your competitive advantages?
The competitive advantage I have is that I am a business coach who happens to specialize in personal style.
I get the nuts and bolts of running businesses, how companies work and the types of learning experiences that can accelerate a person’s success. I gained my knowledge from working in the insurance industry for eleven years. I was responsible for creating strategies so my division could make money for the company. I had a staff to manage and develop. I had relationships with vendors and consultants to manage. These experiences help me to develop my business acumen.
But when I started my style consultancy business, people kept asking me why is style important? Or, they’ll make a comment about who cares how I look? My challenge was taking the fashion and style knowledge and breaking it down into topics and experiences that made it easier for normal people to understand why their style and image are important for reaching their personal goals. I think intuitively we understand it’s important. But when it comes to getting people to pay for your services and programs, the reasons must be crystal clear and legitimate.
I spent eight years creating content, services, and programs to overcome these objections and make the value of style consults clear to individual and company clients.
When I look in the industry right now and all the training programs out there, I notice that many people are becoming trainers pretty much immediately after coming into the industry. I waited eight years before doing that because my heart has always been about helping the individuals and the companies that I work with in my business.
I don’t think I could do what I’m doing the way that I’m doing it if I hadn’t spent eight years just doing the business as opposed to going around trying to simultaneously do the business and train people in the early stages of my career; which is what a lot of trainers in our industry do. They spend so much time talking about theory and very little time talking about the practical reasons why people actually pay for our services.
StylistM?di is really different because I want our style consultants to be relevant and modern; we have a very global picture of what is going on economically, culturally and my heart is about making sure that the professionals that I am training and developing put their clients first and understand that the client’s goal is really what’s going to drive the steps to build a sustainable long-term business as opposed to focusing on fashion for the sake of fashion.
If you had a choice to start your career over, what would you do differently?
Honestly, I don’t think there is anything I would do differently because every mistake I made along the way, every thousand of dollars I spent that I look back now and think was stupid, all taught me something.
I’m going to give an example: I was trained in such a way that I took in so much theoretical information in such a little amount of time that it took me years to really digest it all including sorting what’s important from what’s not important.
So now with my own online course, I’ve focused on creating modules where the goal is to help people take off and immediately start engaging with clients.
When there’s too much theoretical content in the training, students get lost. The consequence is when they have a client consult they sound like a robot reciting a dictionary instead of sounding like a consultant that can reason. Sounding like a robot is not good for a business that’s all about serving people.
It’s like if you are just starting out as a runner, it makes sense to run a 5K before running a marathon. So my online course helps get our professionals to run 5K's and run 5K's really well, then get them up to running a 10K and then we can start talking about a half marathon down the line.
That’s an example of a mistake that I look back on and realize that I learned something from it, and because of that, StylistM?di is a better business. I wouldn’t do anything different. It was expensive and at times frustrating but I learned a whole lot and I’m a better person for it.
What have been some of your failures and what have you learned from them?
My perspective on failure is that it is a learning experience. I’ll give you an example: In 2013 I published my book Style Code and it didn’t actually turn out the way I thought it would just because of the publishing company that was involved in that process. It turned out to be a big mess and I had to hire other people to clean up that company’s messes.
Turns out, I had been working with someone who was still learning to be a publisher instead of a publisher who was already savvy and established.
So today, whenever I hire any vendor, I first ask them a lot of questions because you need to know your stuff by the time I’m working with you. You need to know what you are good at and what you are not good at. I don’t tolerate pretending to be something you’re not because then, I’m paying for you to learn on my time as opposed to you already knowing what you’re doing.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
One, you need to be a servant leader. Think about your client first; put their desires and their outcomes above your own. When you do that then you’re less likely to make decisions that will create angst or stress for them.
Two, develop the ability to ask for and take both good and not-so-good feedback. Feedback is a gift. It helps you uncover possibilities in your business and what your clients are willing to pay for. It also helps you identify opportunities that you may not have been aware of.
Like for me, the workflows that I’ve created in my business depended on my clients telling me what they liked and what didn’t like as well.
Three, get comfortable asking for referrals from your clients and being mindful, respectful and grateful when they do give you those referrals. My tip would be to ask for referrals from people that have actually paid you because these people know the value of your work because they have experienced it.
When you get referrals from people that have never paid you, granted it’s a warm lead, but those individuals don’t really know how you do what you do and so they only have an outsider’s perspective. So always ask referrals from people who have already paid for your programs or services.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
I work a ton. Currently, my family is my parents, extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, sister-in-law, and nephews. I’m not married yet and I don’t have kids yet so in a lot of ways, I’ve put my career ahead of my personal life. I’m now at a point in life where things are shifting and I’m trying to put my personal life before my career.
It definitely does take a toll on you because you work a lot; you sacrifice not only time and money but also your own health when it comes to being an entrepreneur. But if you find something you’re really passionate about, it’s just part of your life and who you are and I consider it a great blessing to be where I am today.
I love what I do, I love my clients, I love the experiences that I’m creating; I can be a lot more intentional in terms of how I want to spend my time and where I want to spend my time, how I want to help people.
Family life very important to me and so just the fact that I can be intentional in terms of shifting down how much output is going into “work” and shifting that weight more into the family, that’s a blessing in and of itself.
Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
One, you want to go where you’re celebrated not where you’re tolerated. Go where your worth is not something you have to beg for. You shouldn’t have to validate your existence.
Two, know your lane and stay in your own lane. Figure out what you do so well that you don’t even have to think about it and consider if it’s possible to make a living doing that.
Also, don’t just do something for the sake of doing it or just to make money. Do it because you really want to serve someone. Do it because you genuinely want to make things better for somebody else and if you’re a creative being, which I believe we all are, the ideas for how to make your dream a reality will come to you.
For me, I really do want to serve clients who have gone through similar experiences like me. And I want to serve up and coming style consultants because I know how hard it is and how difficult and frustrating it was. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
But being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. If you’re going to put your efforts into something, make sure you feel it in your heart and that the people that are going to either buy your product or use your service are in your heart. You have to genuinely want to help them, because if that’s real they’ll feel it when they interact with you, and they’ll want to work with you.
When these things are aligned together with your talents and experiences, you can make magic.