Starting a new business shortly after moving into an entirely new state is not advice anyone would give to a budding entrepreneur. In November 2015, I officially registered Hem + Haw as an LLC in Virginia, the state I’d been born in, schooled in and lived in as a quasi-adult for more than a decade. Four months later I was surrounded by boxes in a new apartment in New Orleans.
There were a lot of things I would learn in the coming months about my new city and the online retail business I’d had in the works long before we decided—due to job flux—to pack up our life and move 18 hours away from a rich and supportive community.
In Virginia, I’d been meeting with other female entrepreneurs for months, the kinds of things that come about when you’ve been in a place for a long time and there are lots of friends-of-friends to talk with. I had resources and recommendations and, frankly, a solid network.
In New Orleans, I knew no one. Wasn’t a network key to even remotely making it in this world? Was I doomed?
Yes, I came to understand, a network is key. But it’s also a fluid, evolving thing and it still takes work whether it’s with people you know or people you’re just meeting. Here’s what I’ve learned in building a business—and a life—in a new place.
Commitment to your brand’s values helps you stay focused and brings the right people across your path.
In my early days in the New Orleans social scene, I found myself with the familiar high school feelings of totally-not-cool-enough/I’ll never find a place. Thankfully, my post high-school years have brought a bit more maturity and perspective where can practice reminding myself about the things I care about and the things I want Hem + Haw to accomplish in the world. New Orleans forced me to expand how I thought about my own brand and the brands I wanted to learn from.
So, I found local brands I really admired and supported them when I could. When the gal behind Goods That Matter (one of the brands I’d been learning about and following) offered a workshop on finances I took it, hoping to both improve my financial practices and to meet other businesses in a similar place. In the end, that relationship led to joining a brick-and-mortar collaborative shop called The Good Shop, a group of socially-minded brands.
Putting yourself out there still takes work whether it’s with complete strangers or with friends-of-friends.
It seemed easier when I was emailing friends-of-friends about getting a coffee, mostly because the connection “work” had already been done by others. But in New Orleans, I had to do my own research and find my own contacts from scratch. I was blown away by generous strangers—their willingness to meet for lunch or a drink or connect me to someone else that they knew. (Not only did they give me great advice, they also introduced me to fab new restaurants and bars!)
The world is truly much smaller than you think thanks to the internet.
The ability to connect with like-minded folks anywhere in the world is a powerful thing. Anytime anyone recommended that I look up this brand or that person, I made a note and did just that. I kept a notebook of things I learned and Googled a lot. When my North Carolina-based manufacturer pointed me to a mentoring contest sponsored by a T-shirt quilt company out of Boston called Project Repat, I applied. And won. Mentorship across miles!
Your old (and even older!) network still matters.
Hem + Haw’s launch party was in Virginia, at a boutique belonging to two women who have been incredibly encouraging on my journey. It was a blast to be back with old friends and it energized me for the long road of building an e-commerce brand in a new environment. Even more surprising to me was that my older network of friends—high school and college—have been among my most supportive first customers and brand ambassadors!
The politics of place: expand your brand’s identity.
A lot of my ideas for Hem + Haw were shaped by the progressive Virginia town I’d lived in for thirteen years. Moving to Louisiana didn’t blow up my thinking necessarily, but it did expand how I thought about the brand’s reach and its marketing. The beauty of modern-day business through the internet is the fact that it can’t be focused in one particular location, and marketing must be bigger than the preferences of one particular place. By moving, I was able to get first-hand experience in a variety of styles—ultimately strengthening my brand identity.
Change—of any kind—forces a clear-eyed examination of your brand identity and motivations. What underlying things remain constant when some things are taken away? Relocating forced me to figure that question out and then put action behind it. Change is hard, but so is starting and running business. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably already one of those brave souls.
Hope is a lifelong jeans lover and the founder of Hem + Haw, an accessories brand finding ways to reuse old denim. A former marching band nerd, she’s found New Orleans to be the perfect city for her kind—they’re around every corner, all year long. And they’re considered quite cool. Learn more about Hope’s pursuit at: hem-and-haw.com. She also hangs out on instagram here: @hemandhawin and @_thegoodshop_