Julie Sabatino | Founder, The Stylish Bride

"Be confident about your vision and persevere. Early on, a lot of people thought that my idea wasn’t a good one. Since I was creating something brand new, people didn’t understand my service or its value. I persevered and 10+ years later, I’m still doing it."

Briefly describe your business and your inspiration for it.

I assist brides with all of the fashion elements of their wedding–everything from helping to choose the bridal gown to dressing the bridal party. My inspiration: I struggled to find my own wedding dress, and in back in 2001, bridal styling services simply did not exist. I was young, had no preconceived concepts for how I wanted to look and it took me way too long to find a dress.

How did you come up with the concept for your business?

After spending several years working on Wall Street, I enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology to study accessories design. I then went to work for a wedding designer, and it was there that I began to meet many brides who were struggling, as I had, to find the perfect dress. Then the concept for The Stylish Bride was born.

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

I started out doing trials for friends to hone my skills. Little by little I began to get referrals.  Then, in 2004, Elegant Bride (a bridal industry authority at the time), featured me in a multi-page editorial. That was a huge turning point for me and gave me instant credibility.

How important has networking been to your success?

In the beginning, I did lots of networking, but often floundered.  Little by little, I developed more confidence in my services and business. I made strong industry contacts early on and created a network of peers that I still go to today for advice and support.  We’ve grown up in the industry together, shared growing pains, and have a strong bond because of that experience.

What has been the key to your success?

I listen to my clients and genuinely care about them. It’s not so much about the dress that my clients wear. What’s most valuable to them is the feeling of confidence they have knowing that they have seen all the best dress options and have made the most informed decisions possible. Anyone can learn industry knowledge. Its learning how to apply that knowledge while considering how people think, feel and behave.

What financial planning went in to starting your own business?

I was lucky not to have pressure early on to financially support myself. I think an important factor to consider before you decide to start a business is to think about your nest egg.  You have to be OK with your business not making money for the first 3-5 years. When I first started my business, I didn’t have children or other significant responsibilities. I don’t think I fully thought through that I was giving up the “security’ of a corporate job and things that weren’t as significant to me as they would be today.  I guess I was young and naïve, but ignorance is bliss!

How important is mind-set when you have your own business?

I had originally established my business with the idea that it was a ‘lifestyle business’- one that would give me the flexibility to be with my kids. Then, my mindset shifted after I had my second child. I came to the conclusion that I am a happier, better mother while I work. It was at this time that I decided to go all in and grow The Stylish Bride. In 2001, I hired a business consultant and secured office space (until then I was working from home). Once my mind-set shifted, my business started to boom.

What is the biggest business challenge that you’ve faced?

I’ve always struggled with how to take my business to the next level. I’ve set up a business that is completely dependent on me.

What motivated you to scale your business and how have you gone about it?

I am in the midst of figuring this out. The catalyst for wanting to scale came in 2014 when my father died. It was in the middle of one of my busiest seasons. Then, I broke my knee and had back-to-back business trips lined up. Professionally, I had one of my best years; personally it was a disaster. The idea of needing to have more hands and support came in to clear focus for me.

Is there someone in particular who has inspired or supported your growth?

Although he isn’t my official business partner, my husband has always been a great sounding board for me. I’ve also been inspired by Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth. His mantra:  don’t set up a business that is only based on you because you’ll burn out. After years of running my business alone, that began to resonate with me. I reached out to see if I could work with one of Michael’s business coaches and was lucky enough to be connected with Michael himself. We’re now in the midst of putting structures in place that make The Stylish Bride less about me and more about the business and service.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your business to date and how have you moved past it?

There was a time in my life that I didn’t focus on my career to have my children. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but I would not have stepped away from my business for as long as I did.

Do you have a business mentor?

I was breaking in to a new industry when I started The Stylish Bride. There was no one else who had done what I was doing who could mentor me.  Although I didn’t have a mentor, I am a big believer in consultants and working with others who have the expertise that you don’t. I’m hyper-focused about the part of my business that I know I am good at. I outsource the rest. My advice: know what you’re good at and invest in the right people with the expertise you need. You’ll reach your goals quicker and save money in the long run.

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

Be confident about your vision and persevere. Early on, lots of people thought my idea wasn’t a good one. Since I was creating something brand new, people didn’t understand my service or its value.  I persevered and 10+ years later, I’m still here. I was once told by someone to never tell your kids that you don’t want to go to work. This stuck with me. I never complain about having to leave my kids for work – I want them to feel I’m stepping away from home to do something that is really important to me – something that I love.  I want my kids to see that it’s wonderful to have something that you love to do.

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

I love to walk around the Metropolitan Museum without an itinerary – it’s so peaceful and inspiring. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and enjoy studying the way things were. I also enjoy walks in Central Park meandering through the ramble. My guilty pleasures: shopping for myself, and Candy Crush!

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

Figure out what you love to do, then figure out how to make money out of it.