Elena Sanchi | Founder, Elena Sanchi–Personal Stylist

"It was when I realized there were times when I simply couldn’t fit a new client into my schedule during the week or weekend—this lead me to believe I was doing something right."

How do you start your day?

With a mug of hot water, and when time allows, a run in central park—which clears my head and sets the tone for my day.

Who inspires you?

I don’t have a specific person who inspires me. I search for inspiration in art, movies, travel, and literature; a beautifully designed coat or dress, of course, never ceases to amaze and invigorate me.

What would you tell yourself as a teenager?

When I was young I had a desire to become a lawyer, but the mother of a friend informed me that because my father was not a lawyer, I would end up being yet another unemployed lawyer (I am from Italy where it is a common belief that it’s difficult for someone to forge a path in a career that was different from their parents). I now recognize how narrow-minded this woman was. That incident, nevertheless, set me on a different career path.

Luckily, however, when I was growing up, we travelled extensively as a family. This influenced me to appreciate other cultures, which lead me to choose a career in international political science and later land my first job in Paris, then London working in PR and advertising, and ultimately, to New York City where I began a career in fashion. In short: listen to others’ opinions—but find your own passion and dedicate your life to that. It’s also never too late to change careers.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Travel. Travel. Travel. Get to know other cultures. Also, my father has been an incredibly valuable resource in providing me with relevant and reliable advice regarding most aspects of my business. He’s an entrepreneur, and has never shied away from experimenting with new business ideas. I have him to thank for not only my adventurous spirit, but also my eye for style; he owned a clothing boutique in Italy, and from a young age, he taught me the art of discerning which textures, colors and fabrics work naturally together.

What are you reading?

The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes.

Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.

I am an image consultant, so I work within the parameters of my client’s silhouette, coloring, budget, and lifestyle to create a wardrobe that fits their specific style goals—whether they’re in the midst of a career change, a lifestyle transition, or in need of personal shopping, seasonal wardrobe changes, freshening up a closet or a complete wardrobe re-do. I offer guidance on which types of clothes fit which figures, which colors will flatter, and tips on how to shop.

Ultimately, my goal is a to create a wardrobe of clothing that the client loves to wear; oftentimes I can accomplish this by incorporating a large portion of the pieces the client already has in her/his closet. My client roster includes both women and men: executives, lawyers, bankers, working mothers, editors, stay-at-home moms, actors, and even kids.

The inspiration behind my company was that I had just moved to New York City from London, and although my occupational background was in PR and advertising, I was looking to change careers. I was also recently inspired by a friend who had abruptly switched careers after deciding to follow his life’s passion. I knew I wanted to have the optimal work/life balance, and desired to work mostly during the hours in which my daughters were in school. The only way I’d be able to do that is if I worked for myself. In addition, I have always been told that I have a good eye for style—so I decided to slowly build a client base as an image consultant.

What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?

It was when I realized there were times when I simply couldn’t fit a new client into my schedule during the week or weekend—this lead me to believe I was doing something right. Much of my business is from word of mouth, and I’ve seen an exponential growth in my bookings in the last two years. All this has been achieved organically. Additionally, once I take on a client, they usually become a repeat client.

What has been the key to your success?

I feel that one of the most import factors of being a successful image consultant is to simply listen. It is important for me to understand the clients’ reasoning behind why the feel they’d like my help in this area of their life. The relationship between the client and myself is based both on trust, and the fact that I have genuine interest in how they perceive themselves in a positive way. I support them in a manner that will encourage them to be both confident and assured.

I also make their lives a bit easier by eliminating most of guesswork of what it takes to look polished. I firmly believe that getting dressed should be an invigorating, joyful experience; it should inspire you, and ultimately set the tone for your day ahead.

In addition, clients often appreciate the fact that I am Italian, and that my tastes tend to follow those refined styles and colors migrating across Europe. My Italian culture and upbringing definitely gives me a bit of an edge on the market.

What challenges did you face in the early days of being the Founder of your own business?

I do miss working with a team—sharing ideas and simply having others around. I now make it a point to do weekly brainstorming sessions with other professionals who are in the similar situation of running their own business. It helps all involved to generate both creative energy and fresh ideas.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had in your business to date and how did you pull through it?

Self discipline. I’m a one-woman show and need to wear many hats: sales, accounting and administrative, for example. It takes a lot of motivation to do everything.

When self-doubt hits, what do you do?

I talk to my husband. He believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself.

What aspects of being a start-up entrepreneur do you like and/or dislike?

I love the excitement of building something for myself; I love learning along the way. I do miss having a team; sometimes I find that isolating.

Which books, articles, blogs have helped to shape your business and/or leadership style? 

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

What do you think the most important attribute a female entrepreneur/ business owner can possess?

Discipline, and lots of enthusiasm.

What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?

Taking classes always helps me maintain my creativity. I love going to art exhibits—there’s nothing more gratifying than looking at how others harness their own creativity. Running also clears my head.

What would you say to another woman who asked you if they should take the leap and start their own business?

I would say go for it, of course. It’s fun, exciting and also scary—but if it’s something they really want and they pass up the opportunity to act on it, they’ll end up regretting it. If it doesn’t work out, at least they can say they tried. Regardless, they will look back and find that they’ve learned a lot.