Sara Blakely’s Leg Up into the Businessworld

If you don’t know what Spanx are, ask the woman next to you. Fashion-savvy women and even image-conscious men who sport Spanx for Men undershirts are familiar with the shape wear sensation once named one of Oprah's Favorite Things and created by former door-to-door saleswoman Sara Blakely. When she cut off the feet from a pair of pantyhose to look more shapely in a pair of white pants, she didn’t realize she was creating a multimillion dollar game-changer from scratch. 

Blakely pitched hosiery mills as an outsider, with nothing but her persistent sales pitch and a smile. She had honed skills both peddling fax machines to businesses, one cold-call at a time. “I often say having no knowledge or experience can be your greatest asset if you don’t let it intimidate you,” Blakely tells SUCCESS. “One of the most important things to do is to differentiate yourself, whether it’s in the marketplace or in those first two seconds you meet somebody. If you make someone laugh or smile in the first five to 10 seconds, you might get another 10 seconds.”

It turns out, being an outsider helped her succeed. “Whatever it is, if you don’t know how it’s been done before, then you’re almost guaranteed to do it differently,” Blakely says. As Spanx opens its first line of stand alone and airport retail stores, Blakely's entrepreneurial baby has become a $1 billion dollar business.

How can you turn your next idea into a goldmine? Follow Sara’s advice for success:

Differentiate yourself. “Whether it’s in the marketplace or in those first few seconds you meet somebody—whatever it is—if you don’t know how it has been done before, you’re almost guaranteed to do it differently.”

First impressions mean everything. “If you make someone laugh or smile in the first five to 10 seconds, you might get another 10 seconds.” 

Be persistent. Sara Blakely worked hard to win over manufacturers and prospective buyers who had never seen anything like Spanx. 

Visualize your goals. “Take a mental snapshot of what success looks like for you,” she says. Keeping that vision of success in mind will help you through the tough times. 

Pay attention to opportunities. “There are a million ways to improve everything around us,” Blakely says, and making just one improvement could result in your million-dollar idea. 

Hire your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths, and hire well-qualified people to handle the rest. 

Sara is now helping other female entrepreneurs get their start in the business with "Leg Up," an entrepreneurial initiative to raise awareness for female owned businesses. Leg Up winners will be featured in the Spanx catalog, on Spanx.com, the company's various social mediums and an opportunity to chat with Sara. Applications are this year's contest are open Jan. 21-May 16, 2013. 

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