She Got Her Own: LaShaun Phillips-Martin, Owner, Shootie Girl
Inspirational Tees With Style
In this series, we're profiling women who have left their corporate jobs behind and launched their own businesses in the recession. They are balancing children, careers and relationships and manage to make being their own bosses look good.
LaShaun Phillips-Martin launched Shootie Girl four years ago, with a simple premise: focus on inspirational messages with a bit of style. Fast-forward to 2012 and now she's talking with major retailers to get her product in stores nationwide. Loop 21 talked with Martin about her advice for new entrepreneurs and how her two daughters assist in the family business:
Loop 21: Can you tell me the story of how Shootie Girl began? How did you come up with the name?
Phillips-Martin: The company started as a fluke, really. I'm part of Mocha Moms (the national organization for stay-at-home mothers of color) and we had a national conference in Chicago three years ago. We had a vendor who would do the rhinestone shirts for us and they did beautiful work. But when we went back to them, we discovered they had closed. I decided to try my hand at it, trying to duplicate what our vendor was doing. I really didn't want to move forward with the business because it was a down economy. I figured people weren't thinking about shopping when they're worried about putting food on the table. But we found that when we put items out there, they were flying. We found that no matter what the economy looked like, women are going to shop. It's something about getting your hair done and making sure you look nice.
The name of the company came from our girls. When our girls were young, maybe 3 or 4, they would dress up in front of the mirror and say, "Shootie girl!" We would always ask them what they meant. And they said, "It means that I'm confident...intelligent...strong. I rock."
When we started the company we thought, "It's gotta be Shootie Girl!" So while we do custom orders, if it's something negative or condescending, I won't do it. I'm setting the standard for two young girls and they are looking very closely at what I do. If I conduct myself that way, they think they can act that way. We're very strategic about the messages we send out.
Loop 21: What was the biggest hurdle in launching Shootie Girl?
Phillips-Martin: Not really knowing if the economy would support it. I was really apprehensive if we were stepping into uncharted territory. We weren't sure until about a year into it, because initially we were only doing designs for Mocha Moms -- we weren't doing anything outside of that. But once word of mouth started to travel, things moved quickly forward for us.
Loop 21: How do you balance being a mom and wife with a business? How do you carve out time for you?
Phillips-Martin: I schedule it. I have to. I think the benefit of being involved in Mocha Moms helped my family understand that when Mommy needs a minute, I really need a minute. I have to schedule my time because you can get burnt out. My family is good about respecting my space. I pour everything I have into my kids and my husband, so I have to take time for myself. Because any business owner will tell you that you will work harder for yourself than anyone else. We're working around the clock. We get some orders that need to be turned around so quickly and we do whatever we can to meet that goal. I love what I do, but it can be tricky.
Loop 21: What's your family's role in the company?
Phillips-Martin: My husband is employed full time outside of the home. I've worked in the home since our girls were born and they are now 8 and 9. I left my position at Hewlett-Packard at the beginning of the summer because I couldn't do it all anymore. Sometimes we take on so much and think we can handle it all. And then the balls start dropping.
My husband is more of the business manager -- I do more of the designs. But if I'm totally honest, he's a better designer than I am! Our daughters are junior creative designers. We didn't really get them involved until two years ago. They saw how hard I was working and they actually asked me, "Mommy, can we help you?" It gave me more time to spend with them and talk with them. My daughter actually does a lot of quality control for us — she can spot an error like nobody's business.
Loop 21: What is it like working with your spouse?
Phillips-Martin: We're two very different personalities but our ultimate goal is the same. It can get a little sticky so you have to make sure your roles are clearly defined. He pretty much stays on the business side of it. He doesn't get involved in my side unless he feels like I'm a little overwhelmed, or if I ask him to. It works well for us. We're really involved as a couple in our girls' lives and we work to nurture our marriage. When we're out on a date, we don't talk business. If one of us slips up, we check each other. You can lose your marriage in the business.
Loop 21: Any advice for entrepreneurs who want their family's help in building the company?
Phillips-Martin: Make sure that you're doing your homework and you know what it entails before you jump into it. If you haven't done your research and you pull your partner in, it can cause a financial burden on the family. Make sure you're communicating what things will look like for you as a family. We started our company with just a few hundred dollars -- I didn't want to impact our family negatively. I wanted the company to be able to sustain itself. Some people have a huge vision but there are times when you have to take baby steps until you can get there.
Loop 21: What's been the impact of social media on your business?
Phillips-Martin: Social media is probably the second most critical resource for our company. The first is word of mouth. Social media has taken us to the next level. In terms of partnerships, we've just done some work with Soledad O'Brien. We just shipped off a shirt to Sherri Shepherd. It has taken our family-owned shop to larger audiences and larger individuals who can make an impact on word of mouth for us. Our numbers are relatively small, but the folks who are following us are talking about us.
Loop 21: Any advice for female entrepreneurs?
Phillips-Martin: I have a very strong spiritual foundation. I didn't jump into anything without being prayerful about it at first. If we allow God to lead our decisions, it will turn out better than if we do it on our own. A great idea doesn't mean that you're the person who is supposed to do it. If you're going to launch something, you can't walk in fear. Because if you jump out with fear all over you, people will see it when you walk in the door. It's hard as a woman, even more as a black women, to prove you're professional no matter what arena you're in. If you walk in with chattering teeth and shaking hands, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. Fake it 'til you make it. When you get that call from the large corporation, don't freeze!