Fashionable Giving:
Top 10 Giving Principles

By Mary Lou Andre
President, Organization By Design, Inc., Editor,, Author, "Ready to Wear: An Expert's Guide to Choosing and Using Your Wardrobe."

#1 Surround yourself with people who share your values

I have naturally sought out mentors my whole life. When I started my own business, I actively formed relationships with successful entrepreneurs for guidance in managing all aspects of Organization By Design, Inc. Formally, I joined the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training through the SBA in Boston in 1995. My SBA mentor helped me scale my business for growth at a critical time and I will be forever grateful to her for sharing her wisdom and business acumen with me at a pivotal time in my entrepreneurial career. Today, I meet regularly with a tight-knit group of fellow women entrepreneurs for support and idea-sharing. These women are an integral part of my professional tool kit.

#2 Plant your seeds where you want them to grow

Instead of spending a lot of time and resources joining industry organizations when I first started my business, I joined organizations such as New England Women Business Owners (NEWBO), South Shore Women's Business Network and the Boston Chamber of Commerce as a way to meet people who could afford my services. In addition to joining, I also actively volunteered within these organizations as a way to get to know people on a more personal level. This strategy paid off. Dozens of our first individual services clients came directly from these membership organizations. Today, many of these same women have hired or referred us to conduct a myriad of corporate consulting projects and speaking engagements.

#3 Be consistent & timely with all your marketing materials

The early success of the company can be attributed to our Dressing Well quarterly fashion newsletter which was first published in 1992. It was mailed four times a year for seven consecutive years. It allowed me to have a private conversation with clients and prospects at the change of every season. In 1999, it became clear that the majority of our new business opportunities were coming directly from our web site. In order to control marketing expenses and to effectively capitalize on this new marketing vehicle, we ended the off-line newsletter and began sending our weekly Dressing Well tips free of charge to on-line subscribers. The message remains the same. The delivery vehicle is much more powerful and effective. We currently average 20,000 unique visitors per month.

#4 Invest for growth

As my company has grown, I have sought and secured loans and lines of credit. For instance, when the company celebrated its fifth anniversary in 1997, I moved it from my home to Grade A office space in Needham Center and launched our website. I could not have done this without expert guidance from my attorney, internet consultant and accountant.Today, I work from home again to be closer to my young children. I am grateful to have built a business model that can be easily adjusted to accommodate all of the phases of my personal and professional lifestyles. I continue to rely on a variety of financial and business consultants to help grow our firm.

#5 Treat the media and vendors like clients

The media and vendors are given the same level of attention when they contact our organization as we give clients and prospects. For instance, as a result of a targeted newsletter mailing to national media outlets, the producer for CNN's fashion maven Elsa Klench called our office with a very preliminary inquiry about the possibility of interviewing us as part of a story about fashion for real women. We immediately shifted into a customer service mode, and, in a very short period of time, we were able to coordinate all the details of the story on their behalf. The result? Four minutes of uninterrupted time on national television!

#6 Find ways to hire (and keep!) only the best

In terms of growing the organization to support my vision of excellence in the marketplace and within our industry, I have been very creative in designing employee and independent contractor relationships in order to attract the very best talent available to fit our business objectives. I delegate freely to a team of professionals that I can rely on to be both autonomous and team-oriented. Of all of my professional accomplishments, I am most proud of my relationships with the five women I work with on a weekly basis.

#7 Leverage your intellectual property

When I broke my leg in 1995, I thought my business would dry up. Instead it forced me to slow down and do some long term planning about ways to earn revenue when I couldn't perform direct client service. During this time, I creatively packaged and subsequently sold my intellectual property. I self-published three booklets (they are for sale in our on-line store) and began offering them as add-ons to retail clients. We have customized these booklets for such companies as Nordstrom, Lillian Vernon and Filene's. These booklets were eventually repackaged and sold as a book. "Ready to Wear: An Expert's Guide to Choosing and Using Your Wardrobe" was published in 2004 by Penguin Books.

#8 Stay on top of industry trends and let the market know that you do

We have closely followed the evolution of professional dress in the marketplace over the past decade. By developing strategic relationships with retailers and high profile non-profits, we have consistently positioned ourselves with the media and through our website as professional image experts. A focused and well-pitched position on business casual, for instance, has helped us secure multiple exposures on CBS-TV and ABC-TV as well as every local news outlet here in Boston. This type of public recognition helps us stay top-of-mind with clients and prospects.

#9 Promote others as a way of promoting yourself

My late father was a master of the law of giving. From an early age I witnessed first hand the power of incorporating a strong commitment to community service into your professional and personal life. Whether by helping a client get a new job by fine-tuning his/her interviewing attire or by working with members of non-profit groups to help them further their cause, when you focus and support the goals of others, you automatically build trust and credibility for yourself.

#10 Do what you love and the money will follow

My passion for fashion and entrepreneurship was the reason I originally launched Organization By Design, Inc. in 1992. My love and knack for marketing combined with a strong commitment to community service programs, however, is what has sustained it. Thinking out of the box, creating unique strategic alliances and seeking out clients, colleagues, vendors and community leaders who share my business philosophy has propelled the company to national recognition.

For more information about our business philosophy, please visit the "Fashionable Giving" section of our site.


Mary Lou Andre is a nationally recognized expert on professional image in the workplace. She can be reached on the web at