Before she became the Wealthy Bag lady, Linda Hollander wasn’t that far from being an actual bag lady. Stuck in what she calls “the poverty trap” — abusive relationship, lousy job, more bills than a duck pond, and only an art degree from UCLA to go on — Hollander had an epiphany. Her troubles would best be solved if she just started an incredibly successful business.
After two failed attempts, she did. She and her childhood best friend, Sheryl Felice, started Wealthy Bag Lady, which sold custom-printed shopping bags through stores around the country (U.S. 1, May 9, 2007). These days, Hollander is no longer half of the Wealthy Bag Lady enterprise. She sold her interest in the business to Felice and now is the CEO of Sponsor Concierge, based in Marina Del Rey, California, which helps business owners and speakers understand the process of obtaining corporate sponsorships (www.sponsorconcierge.com).
Nevertheless, Hollander will present “Wealthy Bag Lady’s 7 Success Secrets” at NJAWBO’s annual Business Growth & Procurement Conference on Thursday, April 17, from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the Pines Manor in Edison. Cost: $100. The event also features a panel discussion by Kathleen Cashman of Cashman Consulting; Aldonna Ambler of Ambler Growth Strategy Consultants Inc.; Peggy McHale of Consultants2Go; Susan Michel of Glen Eagle Advisors; and Anisa Balwani of RCI Technology Inc. For information visit www.njawbo.org.
A couple decades ago, Hollander wasn’t in a good place. She was living in a rent-controlled apartment where she had to hide her cat from the landlord and working a dead-end job where she and her co-workers didn’t get along at all. So much so, in fact, that she ate lunch in her car most days just to not be near them.
On top of that, she was dating an abusive man and making less money than she owed. “My God, I was young and stupid,” she says. She laughs now, but at the time, she says, “I had bills I knew I could never afford to pay and my hands would literally shake when I went to the mailbox.”
Then one day, she simply had enough and thought “Hey, I think I can start a multi-million-dollar business,” she says. She dumped the jerk, left the job, and horrified her accountant father with her plans to start a business selling custom-printed shopping bags to stores. Which she had almost no idea how to do.
The decision opened a schism with her father for a long time. “He was only five-foot-three, but he was a giant to me,” Hollander says. “I really wanted his approval, but I didn’t get it.” Eventually, he came around, when she started making enough money to earn the “wealthy” in her company name.
If Hollander had a list of needs for budding entrepreneurs of all sorts, she would say that all entrepreneurs need a belief, regardless of where you are in life, in the fact that you can actually do it (because people will always say you can’t), a support team, and a real passion for what you do. You can’t fake passion, she says, and you’ll need it to buoy you through those times when the stresses and pressures of your chosen life weigh on you.
Hollander says that the way to get ahead is to associate with those higher up the ladder than yourself. Everyone, she says, needs mentors who can offer words of advice. But take care to associate yourself with people more experienced, successful, and seasoned than yourself. If you’re still trying to find your way, the last person you want to be is the person everyone else looks up to, because you’re the one who needs answers, not questions.
But these are the basics, and Hollander is in the business of corporate sponsorships now. She’s made it her business to demystify the concept of corporate sponsorships because even people who have been in business for a long time have no clue how to go about getting them or how to use them.
Relax, there’s no magic. There’s just some basic common sense and gumption.
Make a wish list. When Hollander was on a signing/speaking tour for her book “Bags to Riches,” a friend told her that she really needed to do an expo for women’s empowerment. She loved the idea, but didn’t have the funds to put together an expo, so she thought it might be good to get a corporate sponsor.
Hollander’s advice on making a list is to “blue sky it” and dream big. Not having a clue who to ask or how to ask them, she was inspired by a billboard on the L.A. freeway during a traffic jam to call Bank of America. She was scared to death and essentially clueless; when she sat in the banker’s office, her knees shook. When they offered her a five-figure sponsorship check (she can’t say the actual amount), “I had to behave like I did this every day,” she says.
The moral is, aim big. As it turns out, Bank of America loved the chance to look like a good corporate citizen and friend to women business owners in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. “Banks are a good place to start,” Hollander says. “They’ve felt the loss of relationship banking” and they want to re-forge those connections. If not banks, then whoever, she says. The point is, make a list of companies and institutions you want to ask and don’t be afraid to go for the top-tier names in those industries, as well as second-tier names. You’ll be surprised how often you get a yes.
Do a sponsorship proposal. With your list made, get to work writing your proposal. Outline who you are, what you’re doing, and why you want the institution to sponsor you. Also outline ideas how the company can get its name on the merchandise. It might be as simple as putting a bank’s logo on a gift bag.
Recommend a one-year contract for the sponsorship with a renewal option, Hollander says. And make sure you either understand how to write a corporate proposal or you can hire someone who does. And whatever you do, she says, have it read-over and edited by someone. Stupid mistakes mean the difference between a $10,000 yes and a $0 no.
Contact sponsors and negotiate. Yes, here is the part that scares people to death, and the question they most often ask, flummoxed — how do you get hold of someone at a financial corporation and ask them for money? A related question people use to talk themselves out of sponsorships is, Why would they give money to little ol’ me?
The first part of the answer is remarkably simple, Hollander says — pick up the phone. In her experience, old-fashioned, personal contact these days goes a long way in business. Call the front desk and explain what you want. You may get passed around the phone chain, but this is the company’s effort to get you to the right person. Eventually, you’ll get there.
The second part: Keep in mind that most people who seek corporate sponsorships are small business owners, particularly speakers and authors. Why? “Because they know these people can command a platform,” Hollander says. They can put on events and talk to an audience, which offers the sponsor a measure of security.
The thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t hurt to ask and it could hurt not to. Corporate sponsorship money, after all, isn’t a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back. And when it comes down to it, having a major-name sponsor for an event benefiting a nonprofit can generate thousands of donations. You have to just have faith in your convictions and the courage to take the chance, she says.
And remember, it’s OK if your knees knock. “Rewards outweigh fear,” she says.