1. Identify Your Passion And You’ll Find Your Business
Cappie Pondexter is a two-time WNBA Champion, WNBA All-Star, one the Top 15 players in WNBA history and the New York Liberty’s franchise guard. Those who don’t follow women’s basketball regularly, probably had their first introduction to Pondexter this past summer when her pick-up game with then locked-out NBA players went viral on the internet.She grew up in Chicago and played at Rutgers University. During those days she was accustomed to wearing comfortable athletic clothing but admits everything changed once she was drafted into the WNBA.
“When I got drafted I realized that it’s all about your image and it’s very important to have an image and to establish a brand. A lot of times coming out of college and high school, you really don’t know the importance and how marketable you can be off the court,” said Pondexter.
Now she has turned her passion for fashion and branding into full-time business.
In 2010, she co-founded 4Season Style Management, an image consulting firm, specializing in helping clients develop a strong first impression through image development. Additionally, it provides services such as personal shopping, wardrobe and fashion styling, and image management.Pondexter believes that whether you’re an athlete or an everyday person, it’s important to establish your brand and let people know and recognize what your brand means to you.
She acknowledges that it has been challenging managing a WNBA career, an overseas basketball career (currently she’s playing in Ekat, Russia), and a full-time business, but she credits her partner, Lisa Smith Craig, for taking a lot of pressure off of her.
When asked whether she’s pursuing this second career out of necessity or choice, Pondexter responded, “For me, my second venture is by choice. I think it is important to prepare outside of playing professionally because that window is so small where you’re able to make a lump sum of money, whether male or female. And if you look at the statistics a lot of men waste money and they blow a lot of money and they don’t know what to do next. So I think not just for women. I think it’s important for all athletes period to get second careers for when basketball is over.”
Over the next five years, Pondexter wants 4Season Style Management to be known as an international brand as well as a domestic brand. Personally, she has the additional goal of being recognized not just as a great basketball player, but a stylish female who plays sports.
2. Sell What You Know And Love
When Tammy Sutton-Brown left Ontario, Canada and enrolled at Rutgers University she had plans of becoming a teacher – at that time the WNBA didn’t exist. Seasons later, Sutton-Brown found herself leading the Scarlett Knights to the 2000 NCAA Women’s Final Four and being the 18th pick in the 2001 WNBA draft.
Quickly, her dream of becoming a teacher was put on hold to pursue “hoop dreams” instead. Over the course of her career, she has circled the globe playing professionally in South Korea, Russia, Czech Republic, and Turkey; and has she spent the last several seasons as a veteran center for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.Even though her focus has been on playing basketball, she has always held a special spot in her heart for children. Last summer, Sutton-Brown was finally able to merge her love of children with her professional basketball career by becoming a published children’s book author.
She recalls speaking to a group of children and trying to explain to them where she was playing basketball overseas. “At the time I was playing in Istanbul, Turkey, and I remember these kids had no idea where that was. And so that’s how the thought came to mind that I wanted to teach kids a little bit about geography. I know for me, basketball has taken me around the world. I think about if it wasn’t for basketball, would I be exposed to so many different cultures and customs,” said Sutton-Brown.
Sutton-Brown embarked on the two-year journey of penning The Adventures of Cree & Scooter, which tells the story of Cree, a six year old little girl (kind of a mini version of herself) and Scooter a stuffed chameleon that comes to life when Cree falls asleep.In the first installment (launched summer 2011), Cree and Scooter hit the slopes in British Columbia; and in the second installment, they will climb the Great Wall of China. Sutton-Brown is purposefully featuring places where she has visited with the goal of educating and exposing children to the world outside of their own neighborhoods.
Sutton-Brown is steadily creating a following of her own by developing mascot characters, promoting the series in Canada and the U.S., and selling the tale on Amazon.com.3. Learn The Business From The Ground Up
Imagine being 12 years old and wearing a size 13 shoe. Now imagine being that young and walking into store after store asking if they carry your size. How embarrassed would you feel?
That’s the story of Asjha Jones, current WNBA veteran with the Connecticut Sun and former UConn Huskie. While she’s widely known for her success on the court, it’s what’s she’s doing off the court that is making an even bigger impact.
Jones recently launched the designer shoe line, Takera, which caters to women who wear sizes 10 ½ – 15; and she is literally learning the business from the ground up.“Being young and having everyone look at you like you’re crazy going in stores because they don’t have your size and wouldn’t even imagine someone wearing that size. I’m in the position now where I can be part of the solution to the problem. You don’t want to be embarrassed about your size and you also want to have options to look nice and have nice comfortable shoes,” said Jones.
For a long time she had the idea to develop a shoe line, but it only amounted to discussions with friends. About three years ago she decided to test the market to see if this was something people would really buy, and she determined that there was a market outside of her WNBA colleagues.
From there, Jones put her head down and ran with it. Ultimately within a two-year span the business came together, which included finding funding and locating her New York based design team.
When speaking with Jones, you can’t help but notice that she comes across as a very educated and savvy businesswoman.
I asked Jones about her business sense and she said, “I have a business management degree from UConn. I’ve never had a job where I actually worked on things that I learned in college, so for me this is all stuff that I learned pretty much hands-on. I try to keep my hands involved in everything so I can learn and not be you one of these people who has a company but are not involved in it.”
Jones has strategically chosen to gradually grow Takera. She started with a spring 2011 soft launch, and is selling her shoes via large distributors such as DesignerShoes.com and ShoeBuy.com. The spring and fall 2012 collections are already designed, but she is waiting to sell out the inventory from the soft launch before moving forward.“Everything is there in place. We are just going to bide our time and not try to move too fast. I think that’s when people get themselves into trouble when they try to do things too quickly, and then get ahead of themselves. Things don’t happen overnight. People have to trust you and trust that if they’re spending money on the shoe that is going to be a good shoe,” said Jones.
4. Find Your Voice and Your Business Will Follow
In 2007, the nation was rocked by the derogatory comments that talk radio host Don Imus made about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team. At a time when the team was supposed to be celebrating a successful run to the Final Four, instead they were center stage in a controversy surrounding race.
The Scarlet Knights were led by Essence Carson, who was used to leading by example on the basketball court, but soon found was herself charged with the extra duty of representing her school and teammates in front of the national media.Looking back at the situation, she’s thankful for having the opportunity to speak up against something that was wrong. And she says that the situation really gave her what she needed to be a music artist.
“I wasn’t that vocal person. I was the soft-spoken person. If I was still that person, I wouldn’t be able to be a music artist. I would still be able to be a producer, but I wouldn’t be an artist because I would still be afraid. It gave me the courage to get out there and express myself,” said Carson.
Music has always been a fixture in Carson’s life since she was nine years old. Growing up she wrote poetry and played multiple instruments including the piano, saxophone, bass and drums. Ultimately, she attended a performing arts high school with the goal of becoming the Quincy Jones of the hip hop generation.
Since being drafted into the WNBA in 2008 by the New York Liberty, Carson has been doing double duty learning the ropes of being a professional athlete (she’s currently playing overseas in Madrid, Spain) and studying the music business. Within the last year she has taken the big leap of launching her own music company, Pr3pE, where she has the dual role of being a producer as well as an artist.On the artist side she has a couple album projects on the way, and on the production side she has collaborated with fellow producers in Belgium and France. Carson’s long term goal is to target publishing and possibly have her own label, which will provide a platform for getting her thoughts and creations out there.
Throughout her journey, a lot people have told Carson that she needed to focus on one thing, but she notes that all of her life she’s been doing double duty; as she puts it, “who said that you only have to have one goal or one dream?”
Carson credits her success as a businesswoman to the WNBA, for its emphasis on being prepared for the future; and to Rutgers women’s basketball head coach, C. Vivian Stringer, for her many lessons about focus, determination and perseverance.
5. Develop A Culture That Inspires Your Workforce
At the end of each interview I asked the athletes to tell me one thing Forbes’ readers would be surprised to learn about the WNBA, and without hesitation three out of the four gave me some version of the same answer.
Pondexter said, “Throughout my six years of playing professionally in the WNBA. If it is your first time ever going to a game. I guarantee that you come back and you’ll become a fan of the WNBA. It’s just a matter of getting the audience to buy and take the time to pay attention to it. Every person that I have ever invited always comes back.”
Sutton-Brown said, “I will say that I get it all the time whether its from guys, females or families, they always say that once you come to a WNBA game you get hocked. I think it’s actually getting people to come to a game. It is filled with so much entertainment.”
Carson said, “We can play basketball. We are becoming something that people enjoy to watch. Watch us and I bet you’ll come to another game. Come to a New York Liberty game and I’ll put my salary on it that you’ll come back to another game.”
And while Jones didn’t have that exact answer, later during her interview she said “I think once people really embrace us and find a player that they know and like to watch that people will get into the sport. Women are starting to watch more sports, kids and once we really get the men in our side, there’s no stopping us.”
Any employer who owns and operates a business knows how important it is to have employees who are committed to mission and values of the organization. Without a culture of faith and acceptance of the business model, it’s virtually impossible for any organization to move to the next level.
While the women that I interviewed for this story are a small sample of the WNBA, I believe that they collectively represent the voice of their colleagues who are not only committed to their individual futures, but they truly want to see the business of women’s basketball succeed.
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