The Bra That Changed My Career

Ali CudbyAli Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. She’s also a bestselling author and has been featured on TV and in print and online publications.

Most women put shopping for bras and root canal surgery right at the top of their “least fun things to do” list. For a long time, I felt the same way. Then in 2004 I had an experience that changed my mind – and my career.

Before 2004, when I went bra shopping it felt like an act of masochism. The largest bra I could find at our local department store was a DD, and it didn’t come close to fitting. When I did find a bra that sorta, kinda worked, it always somehow resembled a flak jacket. I was sure the saleslady felt sorry for me. As a teenager, all I wanted was lacy lingerie in pretty colors, but there was nothing available in my size.

I felt humiliated by those shopping experiences, as if each bra that didn’t fit was communicating a larger message: that I didn’t fit. I excelled in lots of areas, but failing to feel good about my body compromised my self-esteem and undermined my confidence. As I transitioned through my twenties, I figured out other ways to feel good about myself. I focused on my career and friends and eventually came to embrace my curves.

I began dating a charming Englishman who, before long, insisted it was time to meet his family on the other side of the pond. On a whirlwind weekend in England, we were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in. I veered closer to look at the window, and couldn’t help myself. Without thinking, I went inside, leaving my boyfriend’s family standing on the sidewalk.

The store was filled with bras that were pretty, lacy, feminine—and all in large cup sizes. I received a professional fitting and discovered I was a size I never knew existed. Even better, the lovely fitter brought me a dozen gorgeous bras to try on. With each new garment, I felt more and more whole. All of a sudden, I noticed myself standing straighter. “My girls were lifted for the first time ever, in a bra that actually fit, was nice to touch and pretty!”

That fitting changed my life.

“We were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in.”

On that day, I knew I would never wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras again. I got home and began talking to my friends, only to realize that whether they had grapes or melons, almost none of them had bras that fit. In fact, most of them said, “I know my bra doesn’t fit!” When I heard them, I was floored. For all those years, I had suffered in silence, thinking I was the lone oddball. How could so many smart, successful women have ill-fitting bras? Then it struck me — as women, we never really learn how a bra should fit.

That stroke of inspiration became the basis of my company, Fab Foundations. I created a methodology Fab Fit Academy Logofor helping women find bras that fit which became a book, Busted! The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras That Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic (no longer in print). Busted! was a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for a year! Next, I developed a curriculum for training – and certifying – lingerie retailers in the art and science of bra fitting. My methodology has been used by lingerie pros on six continents around the world … just Antarctica to go!

But a funny thing happened as I was working with all those amazing retailers. As much as they got great at providing fittings, their businesses didn’t always grow. I realized that fit excellence was not the ultimate foundation for creating the best possible business.

I went back to the drawing board.

Your Iconic Brand LogoPulling from my corporate background as a Marketing Executive at companies like The New York Times Company and Animal Planet TV Network, I investigated. A pattern emerged – if women didn’t FEEL good about their fitting experience, they wouldn’t become loyal customers. Period.

I shifted gears and started focusing on helping small business owners develop a foundation for customer relationships that transcended bra fittings. All of a sudden, the one-two punch of fitting/customer relationship started getting results. Clients were growing their businesses by 20%…35%…500%! Even my traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail clients were seeing incredible growth. I was so excited!

On top of that, clients were reporting that their employee engagement was improving, turnover was dropping, and (here’s one I didn’t see coming) a number of clients shared that their marriages were better than ever!

Simply focusing on the customer experience was the key to building the businesses they dreamed of owning.

It’s like the theme song for that 80s TV show, Cheers: You want to go where everybody knows your name. When businesses create that, they get customers for life.

Ali CudbyIn today’s disconnected world, having a place where you feel truly appreciated as a customer is rare and special. When businesses form that bond, they become Iconic in the eyes of customers. This fundamental truth goes far beyond lingerie. Today I love having the opportunity to work with clients in a growing mash-up of industries.

I used to think my AHA moment was when I turned around and saw my reflection in the fitting room mirror at Bravissimo. Now I know differently. When I got that amazing bra fitting, my relationship with my body changed. The day I made the pivot to customer experience, my mission in the world shifted forever.

Every day I wake up (of course, I put on amazing lingerie) and feel ready to make the world a better place – one Iconic customer interaction at a time.

Ali Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.

The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.

Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.

Find Ali at www.YourIconicBrand.com

Heather Dolland: New York’s Finest Food Crawler

Heather DollandJob security isn’t everything, even in New York City, one of the world’s most competitive job markets. And sometimes you have to risk it all to figure that out. Just ask Heather Dolland who turned down a promotion from her environmental consulting firm, where she’d been for more than a decade, to start her own online company.

“There’s never a right time to leave. Usually we just need a little push out of the nest. No matter where this goes, I can say I gave it a 110%. My biggest regret would have been not trying,” Dolland says emphatically.

After 20 years in the US, Dolland’s Grenadian accent may have mellowed but it’s still music to the ears. She moved Stateside in 1995 to study architecture only to find while doing her thesis that her dream turned into a nightmare. So she switched gears and launched into environmental science, getting a Masters from the NY Institute of Technology.

She began her career with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection before moving to an environmental consultancy where she was a Business Development Manager for 11 years.

Halfway through her time at the firm, Dolland took on a side gig. “I bought a house in Long Island by myself, but I had no idea how expensive it would be. Three months into the purchase, a friend from Grenada who promoted wines and spirits asked me if I could help her with promotions in Long Island so I became a brand ambassador on nights and weekends, mostly as a means to supplement my income.”

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow.”

Dolland was so good at brand evangelism, hosting events, spirit tastings and launches, she took on several brands in the Bacardi family. It wasn’t an issue with her employer because she was doing the promotions outside of working time and there was no conflict of interest. But increasingly she realized which work she was more passionate about.

“Even though I was making progress and moving up in the company, I knew I had topped out. I could Heather Dolland with her booksee what the rest of my life was going to look like. I liked what I did, but the idea of living this life for the rest of my life was frankly a little depressing. I was by no means reaching my potential,” she explains.

When the work day ended, Dolland looked forward to the evenings which were spent promoting her clients products. “No matter how long the day had been, I always had energy. I loved it. I had this gut sense that this is what I was meant to do.”

The inspiration for her shift came during a visit to South Beach, Florida, with her mother who lamented they didn’t have enough time to try all the great restaurants. “I remember saying to her, ‘Who says we have to eat the entire meal at one place? Why can’t we enjoy each course as we like?’ So we did just that and had a food tour of the restaurants.”

As a huge foodie herself, it occurred to Dolland that she could market a more formal experience to others. And so, while still working as an environmental consultant, she launched a website – All the Tastes of New York – offering a food crawl concept. Clients enjoy each course at  a different restaurant within a few blocks of each other in various neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village. Dolland arranges everything directly with the restaurants.

“I feel like my brain is a portfolio of restaurants. I have eaten through the Zagat – from Afghanistan to Zaire so I know my stuff! I do a lot of bachelorette parties and themed events like dining at places where there are celebrity chefs or eating a specific cuisine such as Italian. I tailor the experience to what the clients want and everything is built in.”

Heather Dolland Book SigningInitially, the business was just an outlet, something that gave her joy but, as the demands on her time grew, Dolland knew she had to choose.

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow,” she laughs.

Starting a small business is scary for anyone, but Dolland had now lost the salary that was funding All the Tastes of New York. Because she had seen the day coming, she had extended lines of credit for her business while still employed. But without the comfort of her paycheck to fall back on, she lived lean and got serious about money management.

A year and a half after she left her secure job as an environmental consultant, Dolland is seeing the Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom Book Coverpayoff of all her hard work. Match.com was an early client and, as the culinary experience she has created lends itself to movement and communication, she has many corporate clients doing team-building events. She has plans to replicate the concept in other cities like Las Vegas and South Beach and has written a book, Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom, promoting small distillers in the New York area as a way to spread word about her business but also to integrate locally produced beer, wine and spirits into her food crawls.

“If I think about the journey I’ve been on since I left my job, I know now that you can’t have one toe in. It’s all or nothing. You only really see all the aspects that you need to manage when you are fully in it. It’s not really possible to run a business effectively when you’re doing it on a part-time basis. I still feel like I’m still figuring it out but having so much fun doing it.”

Tips from Heather Dolland
  • When you start a business in a new space, be open to evolving. Don’t stray so far afield that you lose sight of who you are you. Try to build on your competencies.
  • The irony of having a small budget is that it keeps you very cautious. If I had a ton of money, I would have burned through it.
  • While it’s not sustainable in the long run, having another job enabled me to evolve slowly and cover big ticket items early on. My business wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t have that salary because I wouldn’t have been able to afford all the mistakes I made early on.

Watch this video to learn more about All the Tastes of New York.

 

Finding the Sweet Spot for Your Next Career

SNeilsen HeadshotHow can you be sure that the new direction you are considering for your career will work out well for you? Read on to learn a clear and simple method you can use to predict career success in your next act. (more…)

Cindy Callaghan: There’s No Business Like Show Business

Cindy Callaghan

Here’s how Cindy Callaghan describes her story: “a bizarre and fascinating tale with lots of twists and turns and things that come full circle.” Here’s how we describe it – yet another person, who after a long and successful (and rewarding, but not passion-filled) career returned to a first love.

Callaghan grew up in New Jersey but wanted to get far away as soon as it was possible. As a kid she dreamt of being in movies – in front of the screen, behind the screen, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to be part of “the business.” (more…)

Helping Women Business Owners One Class at a Time

Jenn AubertLife does not follow a straight path or one’s best laid out intentions.  It weaves. It dramatically shifts. It surprises you and, if you’re lucky, you’ll look back and say, “Boy was that fun!”

No one wakes up and brightly declares, “Today I will build my own business and call myself an entrepreneur.”  Usually there are several small steps and circumstances that leads someone to launch a business.

Unlike most people I know, I’ve always felt deep in my gut that I wanted to own my own business. This feeling has danced in the back of my mind ever since I was a kid.  The trouble was I never knew exactly what that business would look like, what I’d sell, or the service I would provide. (more…)

LaShanna Alfred: Turning Adversity into a Strength

2014112795161105Often at Career 2.0, we write of women who have left one successful career to start a new one or perhaps launch a creative enterprise midway through a career.

This story is a little different.

LaShanna Alfred’s first “career” involved running and selling drugs and time spent in jail. She didn’t leave a successful career in order to find fulfillment, she left a life filled with tragedy and hardship, a life that many of us would have been unable to find a way out of. But Alfred did find a way.

Alfred was only two years old when her mother was murdered. Her mother was, as Alfred puts it, “basically in the wrong place with the wrong people.” About four years later, when she was in second grade, her father was in a fight and stabbed to death. An only child, Alfred went to live with her grandmother and uncles. When she was 12 or 13 her grandmother moved out, leaving Alfred with her uncles. “They turned the house into a drug house,” she recalls matter-of-factly. “They began selling drugs out of the house, having house parties. Even as a young girl I knew that I didn’t want to live like that. But most of the time I didn’t see anyone around me that I wanted to be like.” (more…)

Susan Lander: The Lawyer Who Channels the Famous and Infamous

1421227_219711334874164_531552474_o“Steve Jobs was really fascinating,” says Susan Lander of her tête-à-tête with the tech icon detailed in her book, Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections and Advice from Celebrities and History-Makers on the Other Side.

“He really blew my mind, crackling with brilliance and innovation,” she says, still in awe of the conversation.  “And Kurt Vonnegut, he was brilliant too, but believe it or not, Notorious B.I.G. was my favorite. I didn’t want to interview him at first, but he pushed for it, and he became one of my favorites. And of course, Betsy Ross came out as gay when I spoke to her, which was the big revelation in that interview.” (more…)

Marcia Reynolds: Whose Life are You Living?

Reynolds lightThe day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence. He was only 59. He had gone deaf due to a growing brain tumor. Yet the doctors said the tumor was operable. There was even a possibility that he could hear again, but they insisted he stop working. No matter how I tried to convince him that he still had a good life left to live, I failed to convince him. Two weeks later, he passed away.

The crazy thing is that I missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit living. All he knew about life was working hard and being the best. He packed his free time with tasks. When he had to give up his addiction to achievement, he gave up his will to survive.

I didn’t see how much I was like him. The obsession I inherited helped me to be successful and almost killed me too. I worked the night after his funeral, thinking that was what he would have wanted me to do. He wanted me to thrive through my achievements at work. I proceeded to be successful partly for myself and partly in honor of his dreams for me. (more…)

Meghan Dowd: From Hollywood Screenwriter to Kombucha Microbrewer

4.Shaktea - familypic2With a 2-year and 2-month old, it’s amazing that yoga- and spin-studio owner Meghan Dowd has time for anything, never mind christening an upgraded kombucha microbrewery and launching a new line of probiotic sodas. But I guess that’s the benefit of being part of a family-owned business. Grandma can write press releases and cold call distributors while she babysits. And your brother can brainstorm marketing strategy with you while you plan the month’s instructor schedule. Meanwhile, Dad can sample the latest brews at the kitchen table while you all sit down for a Sunday meal together.

“Working with family is great but you have to negotiate and trust as you work together. It’s sometimes difficult because you know each other so well but as long as you are aware of work issues versus personal stuff, it’s fine. For me it’s obviously been great. As a new mother, there have been a lot of allowances and my business partners – my family – have allowed me to do what I can. I am so thankful this business is happening now, that this stage of my career is happening with my family.” (more…)

Janee Pennington: The Write Choice

19-janee-pennington-2-eashbIf truth is stranger than fiction then Janee Pennington, two-time breast cancer survivor and 20-year-veteran-of-the-hospitality-industry-turned-author, should certainly know. Pennington has scribed a funny, fast-paced fictional novel, Meeting Eve, loosely based on her own experiences as a sleep-deprived international event planner,  juggling crazy client demands and friends in crisis, all the while trying to figure out her own future. While the fictional Eve might entertain and distract you from the day-to-day drudge, the real-life Janee will inspire you to do what you love, follow your dreams, and live passionately.

“There are so many people working for the sake of the salary but they don’t love what they do. I hear all the time, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing’ but I encourage them, ‘You do know what you should be doing, you just need to dig deep in order to find what it is.’ Writing proved to be the prescription that kept me moving forward and excited to wake up each morning,” she says. (more…)

Elizabeth Ghaffari: Lessons in Mentorship

EG_ext_2012 (2)You may be a mid-career woman wondering “how” you might find a mentor. Are you any different from a younger generation woman trying to climb the early stages of the career ladder? Is the challenge of finding a mentor different if you are older, perhaps closer to leaving the corporate world to start your own business or pursue a corporate board role? What are the key elements in any search for a mentor? Is it different for women as compared to men?

These are a few of the issues and discussions explored in my new book, Tapping the Wisdom that Surrounds You: Mentorship and Women (Praeger: September 2014).  I want women at all stages of their careers to begin asking these questions about who they want to mentor them, why they want a mentor, what they want a mentor to do, and what they want as a result of a mentor-mentee relationship. (more…)

Lori Osterberg: 7 Ways Your Old World Is Telling You To Make Room For The New

Lori Osterberg 2014 (1)

Throughout time, history tells us that the only way to move forward is to persevere. Stay on the straight and narrow path with your eyes focused on the end result; that’s the only true way to find success.

Except of course when it isn’t.

In many cases, the path can be muddled over time. It takes a strong person to notice the path isn’t carved in stone; instead there are exit ramps along the way. If you fail to make the turn, your chances of true success may be limited for life.

Yet seeing the exit ramp and taking it are two different things. Making a big change can be a scary endeavor. How do you know when its time to let go and try something new? How do you know if your new ideas will succeed? So many questions; yet there may be simple ways your current situation is pushing you towards change. But only if you know what to watch for.

  1. You are excited about the “New You”.

    You’ve changed. You’ve grown. Yet people don’t recognize the new you. Instead, they expect what they’ve had in the past; the person you used to be. Even if you attempt to explain your new feelings, your new beliefs, they simply turn the other way and continue with life as usual. They refuse to recognize the new you, and would prefer if you forgot that person too. But you have other plans, because the “new you” is all you can think about.

  2. You love the person you are becoming.

    You used to love your job, the groups you’ve belonged to for years, the regular routines that were always a comfort in your life. Now even getting out of bed is pure drudgery. All of your new thoughts and ideas are exploding all around you, making you excited for what’s in front of you. But looking back at what you’ve had … you simply don’t know if you can survive one more day. It’s the new you that excites you most these days.

  3. Your new direction is more in alignment with who you are meant to be.

    You’re hurt by the littlest of things. Everything that impacts you takes on a life of its own. No matter how small the problem, it quickly escalates in your mind into a monumental setback. You’ve even considered calling in sick and skipping out on things you once enjoyed simply because you can’t bear repeating old things. And in some cases, those “old enjoyments” no longer align with your new views. If people don’t “get it”, it often makes things much worse in your mind than they are in reality; because you know that your new way of thinking is now aligned more than ever with who you are meant to be.

  4. You are truly ready to change your current situation.

    There is no longer attachment to what you do. You question everything. What used to make sense now simply makes you angry, hurt or upset. How could you have ever enjoyed this? You question your judgment over and over again, wondering how you ended up where you are today. You dream about changing your current situation on a continual basis; and deep down inside, you know its time.

  5. You catch yourself living in the past.

    Remember when times were good? You think fondly about days long ago. Yet more than likely, you remember being happy, not about what you did during each of those days. What gives us happiness and enjoyment is enjoying what we do. If you no longer find joy, even in something you used to months or years ago, it can change your perception. Living in the past brings up nostalgia, not reality. And no matter how hard we try, the past can never be experienced through excited eyes again. Instead, it’s time to find that same excitement you had during past great experiences, and project that excitement into your current direction.

  6. You continue to see signs towards your new direction.

    The law of attraction simply states that what you deliver out into the world comes back to you tenfold. What you think about becomes your reality. Where you put your energy is what is delivered to you. Those signs are clear; yet you may be ignoring or pushing them aside.

  7. Your new desires keep you awake at night.

    I know you. You wake up at 2 AM and quickly find a pen and paper to write your ideas down. Hour after hour clicks by while you breathe life into your thoughts, seeing them perfectly as they unfold before you, changing your life once and for all. Then 6 AM clicks and the drudgery begins. You channel your ideas to the back of your mind, until 2 AM rolls around once more. If only there was as way to turn it all around, and have your dreams become the best part of your day.

Do you see yourself in any of these situations? If so, its time to do something about it.

Change is scary. But the rewards can far outweigh the costs of putting change into your life. Yes, your life might be radically different than what it was before. Yes, the people and things in your life may adjust. But if you allow the real you to shine through, imagine the new happiness you’ll have from this day forward.

It makes it all worth it, right?

Lori Osterberg is a writer, photographer, serial entrepreneur and business coach. She has co-founded VisionOfSuccess.com with her husband, a site that is dedicated to helping women define their big ideas, pinpoint their exact target audience and develop a successful profit zone around her. Follow her at VisionOfSuccess.com.