Small Business Tip: Branding Builds Longevity. DO NOT Dismiss It.
Meet Jessica Ogunsola, a Baltimore native and founder of Hair by AJ & Lola. When Jessica first started her company, she was selling hair out of her car to local customers as a way to subsidize her income. Over time, she realized that the business was becoming highly profitable. Jessica’s love for selling was making her money, but she wasn’t thinking about other key branding essentials (such as packaging, having an online presence, building an email list, etc.) that would give her brand legs a.k.a longevity.
It was a pleasure to chat with Jessica about her entrepreneurial journey and learn about how her business changed for the better once she started focusing on building a brand that could scale and last long-term. From selling hair out of her car (and getting robbed), to making over 3,000 orders and launching her Hair by AJ & Lola store in Baltimore, Maryland…. Jessica’s story will surely inspire you.
As long as you can pivot, you can still run.
What were some of the things that you put into place early on that helped you build your brand?
I’m working backwards right now in my business.Now is when I’ve realized that it’s about building a brand. When I started, it wasn’t that. I never thought this would be my 9-5 and only job. When I initially started selling hair, it was a hobby to make money. I was a single mom. It helped me get through college. I was in school for a long time and ran out of grant money. I had to pay for college myself. What helped me grow was that I was focused on my customers. I wanted to meet their needs.
What helped me grow was that I was focused on my customers. I wanted to meet their needs.
I was doing the unthinkable.I live in Baltimore, Maryland. Any highway that you can think of between Baltimore and Virginia, I’ve probably met a customer. If you had a hair emergency at 12am, I would meet you. My focus was that I wanted to meet all of my customers. I’ve always been good at selling things.
If I knew how important it was to build a brand, I would be way much further ahead than where I am now. Of course my business had a name from the beginning, but I wasn’t selling my name. I was the girl with the hair. I went to school for business, but presentation and packaging weren’t my focus.In my first year of selling hair, I made over $500,000. Imagine if I would have taken all the energy that I’m putting in now on the business side and branding, who knows where Hair by Aj & Lola could be now?
Why is building a brand so important?
Once you build a brand, you can sell anything. If you build a brand with one product, you can turn around and incorporate another brand that is not even related because you built your audience and followers that believe in you. They will then believe in your next product. Branding is #1. Branding builds longevity.
Branding builds longevity. (CLICK TO TWEET)
Making money is easy. Keeping it coming in and making people want to come back more and more is the hardest part.
How do you get your customers to come back?
I have customers who have been with me since day one. Even though in the beginning I wasn’t serious about my company, I didn’t play about my hair. I wasn’t going to sell something and put my name on it if it wasn’t good. I don’t believe I have the best product, but I believe I have a good product that you get your money’s worth.
You went to India of May 2014. How did that experience open your eyes to the hair extension market?
Hair is a billion dollar industry. Going to India made me understand the process of getting hair to the United States. Women of all colors have been wearing hair extensions for years. It opened my awareness to how serious the industry is. Hair is not a game. You have people who sacrifice their hair daily because that is part of their religion. Temples are making outrageous amounts of money annually off of these people. Hair is big business in India.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
Every company should care about their competitors, but remember competitors don’t pay you.
Remember, your competitors don’t pay you. Stay focused on YOUR brand. CLICK TO TWEET
My main thing is to stay focused on my brand. I remember why I started and who I am here for. When you satisfy a customer, that’s who pays your bill. Just as important as competitors are, your customer is your number one priority. Even though the hair market is saturated, every hair company is NOT making money. Anything that is hot is always going to be saturated, but it does not mean that everyone in the business is going to make money. There’s always going to be businesses that are going to make more. There are a few companies that I look up to and whose direction I want to go in.
What separates successful and unsuccessful businesses?
It’s not all about selling, selling, selling. I had to realize that. A hair business has to be run just like any other business. You need different departments. You need a team. My problem was I wanted it to be only me. If you want to go to the next level, having an “I” mentality is not going to take you there.
If you want to go to the next level, having an “I” mentality is not going to take you there.
What has helped you grow your business the most?
Word of mouth. Everywhere I go, I introduce myself and what I do. I give people flyers. I am my business. Every day, I try to work on something that is going to affect my business, even if it’s only for an hour. For example, today I researched products. I bought a camera recently and have been studying YouTube videos and been reaching out to big YouTubers and studying their moves. If I would have done these things in the beginning, my brand would have so much bigger. I’m not mad, but I’m happy at the progress I’m making.
Do you think it takes a certain type of person to be able to withstand the ups and downs of entrepreneurship?
Absolutely. I had a couple of bad instances when it comes to selling hair. The market has become so saturated because African Americans are now realizing how much money is in hair. I’ve been robbed 3 times. I wasn’t realizing that people were watching me. I was so focused on selling. Someone came to my house and took everything out of my house. I used to sell out of my car. My car got stolen. I never found out who robbed me. I got robbed at gunpoint. They followed me. This all opened up my eyes to see that I couldn’t keep moving the way I was. I went into a salon for a little bit but it became uncomfortable for me. At that point, I was already making decent money, I could have had my own store, but that wasn’t my focus. I never sat down with a plan.
I was always the type of person who would sell something, make money, and then quit.This is the longest thing I have done consistently in my life. Every day has not been a good day for me, but there’s not one day where I don’t sell at least one piece of hair. I remember when I started when there would be days when I’d get no sales. I stuck with this. Selling is my passion but hair has always been a love.
What something that makes you unique that has been crucial to your business success?
I’ve loved entrepreneurship since I was younger. My first business was called Kingdom Kids and I sold bible bookmarks. I’ve always been the type of person to say, “You’re going to buy this and I’m going to tell you why you are going to buy this. You’re going to love this.” I printed them out and had them laminated. I’ve always been about making my ideas come true.
What’s next for you and your your business?
I just launched my website a few months ago. I should have had one a long time ago. I’ve had over 3,000 customers. I should have been collecting their email address, but now I’m working on building my email list. It’s valuable because you can learn your customer behavior and target them within content specifically.
Building my brand is key right now. I’m working on a few products. I’m still learning more about hair. I’m going back to India this year and am working on going to China. Learning about what you sell is key. You have to be able to answer the question “Why?”
Learning about what you sell is key. You have to be able to answer the question “Why?” (CLICK TO TWEET)
Keep yourself aware of what’s next in the industry so you can make sure you are not out of the loop. When something new comes out, you don’t want to be the last person to know about it. If you’re researching it after it comes out, you’re already behind. Even if you don’t plan on selling it, you still need to know about it. If you have to sell it, you’ll know how to transition.
Do you need to go to college to run a successful business?
If you can read, you can achieve whatever you want. The best businesses are ones that are self-experienced. Alot of times I don’t know what I’m doing, but I figure it out. You’ll never know that I don’t know what I’m doing.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Focus on your product and your team. If you do this, you will win eventually. Alot of times, as a small business, you may feel overlooked. You may get frustrated because things are not going as you planned. What gets me going is remembering that I’m a lot further along than where I started. I’m a lot further along then some people who wish they were where I am now (even though this is not where I want to be.)
CONTRIBUTE: How has focusing on branding helped you grow your business/side hustle? Share your story in the COMMENTS section below.
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