This week, a stylist seeks advice on how to line up customers. — Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

When Jessica Grabler moved to Maryland, she left behind a career as a retail buyer for top brands in New York. She was trying to figure out what to do next that would use her skills and indulge her passion for style. Urged by friends and family, Grabler decided to start a personal shopping/styling business. She launched her Website last spring. She has worked with several clients already and is looking to reach more.

The pitch

Grabler, stylist

“I offer a variety of services for clients: personal shopping, pre-pulling items for clients at stores, working with clients to edit their closets and incorporate new items, online shopping guidance, and creating style guides with outfits laid out for clients. I charge an hourly fee for my services to keep the business streamlined.

“I am still pretty new to the region (I’m in Bethesda). How do I get my name out there and grow my business organically in a cost-conscious manner? I have the background in fashion and style, but not in marketing. I’m doing what I can with social media, but I find there are so many options. How do I maintain a social media presence without feeling overwhelmed? How do I choose where to focus my efforts?”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“First, very clearly define your target customer. Be as specific as possible – maybe you are targeting working moms with two kids in elementary school or preschool. Or new moms who just had a baby and need a new wardrobe that fits. Then really think about the habits of your target customer. What do they read? Where do they buy their coffee? Where do they go in the community? You need to figure out how you will meet this customer. The eventual goal is to get your target to buy your services, but first treat meeting them like networking.

“Offer to be a free speaker for events for working women to establish yourself as a local expert on fashion and shopping. That will help you build a personal brand around your expertise, which will be a perfect entry point for offering your services to the people you meet at these events. For example, local community groups or religious organizations might have regular workshops or seminars where you could provide your expertise. It will be critical for you to figure out how to convert the people you talk to into customers. Don’t be afraid to pass out your card, even at informal social gatherings.

“If you focus on your in-person services, think about partners, like retailers in the community where you could offer events and show people what you do with someone’s closet using that retailer’s offerings. Another approach could be to host some version of an in-home event to introduce friends and acquaintances to your stylist skills and hopefully bring them on as paying customers.

“Figure out how wide to cast your net by building backward from a clear target goal number of clients for the year. For example, if your goal is 25 clients for the first year, then you may not need to invest time in social media because you might just need to talk to 50 interested people to get to your goal.

“Social media builds a mass-market presence. It’s really hard to target exactly who you want to on social media platforms. Social media can be really time-consuming and stressful for a lot of start-ups. A better strategy would be to build an audience by creating a blog with a local fashion focus. Then you can use social media to drive followers back to your blog and eventually your services. But you have to feed the blog at least weekly, so you need to determine if that strategy is right for you. You can test what works and what doesn’t. You also need to really figure out where you want to focus your business. If you decide to build your online shopping services, then it doesn’t matter where clients are located and it might be worth to invest more time and energy into social media. But if you are focusing more on in-person services, it is not the best way to spend your time.”

The reaction


“Targeting a specific type of customer will help me focus and I agree that new moms could be a great segment to go after in this area.

“Informational and personalized events are great opportunities to show what I can do for clients. In a launch event I hosted, I did find that people wanted my personal fashion advice, even in selecting the earrings and scarves I had purchased as a parting gift for invitees. In this environment, I was able to interact with potential clients and showcase my merit in an intimate setting.

“I find I am so worried about social media that it is taking away from other aspects of the business – I am overwhelmed by it and where to focus. Your strategy sounds more manageable.”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at