While Mark Robinson was able to bootstrap his women’s sportswear brand while working full-time at a gym, a mentor gave him the finance and logistics help required for his business to reach new heights.
Just Strong is a brand built to empower women – their clothing is meant to symbolise “standing back up, fighting against any resistance life throws at you and becoming stronger,” said founder Mark Robinson.
With female fitness trends increasingly focused on building muscle and strength, the Just Strong brand has snowballed in the last two years. Mark’s background is in digital marketing, which is where the brand has excelled – it has almost 20,000 brand ambassadors who actively post about Just Strong on social media.
The business has grown to 27 staff members and is preparing to bring a CEO on board. However, much of the growth, Mark explained, is down to the guidance and support he’s received as part of the Be the Business Mentoring for Growth programme.
“The business was small when I first looked at mentorship,” he said. “I’m a born digital marketer, but as a business owner you need skills in things like finance and logistics too. The programme gave me a lot of hands-on support from people who had totally different skill sets and experience.”
Finance and logistics
For Mark, logistics has been the biggest challenge. Just Strong now ships worldwide, with overseas orders making up around 30 per cent of its sales. In addition to a Bolton-based office, the company also has staff working in the US and the Philippines. Managing warehouses, orders and different time zones has been a big learning curve.
“I’ve never had a business as big as this one now is,” Mark added. “The people on the mentorship programme have been amazing. I’ve worked with Paul Lantsbury, who has dealt a lot with automation in growing companies like Moonpig in the past.”
At Moonpig, Paul helped to grow revenue to £45m. His experience in retail, manufacturing and IT has been immensely useful for Mark, and he’s helped to optimise conversion rates and shape many of the processes at Just Strong.
Getting an outside perspective
It can be overwhelming for founders to adjust to the number of different roles businesses demand. Mark used the Mentoring for Growth programme as a chance to step outside of the day-to-day workings of the company and get an outside perspective.
“I’m the only director and shareholder and I spend so much of my time in different roles across the business,” he said. “It’s a lot of responsibility, so obviously you tend to get caught up in the nitty-gritty tasks. It’s good to get an outside perspective and think about other ways you can approach something.”
He’s particularly benefited from working with older, more experienced mentors. Mark is still young, at 26, and the prospect of managing a rapidly-growing company has felt daunting at times. It’s helped to have mentors on hand who’ve already been through the same experience and can understand the challenges of each stage of growth.
Developing management skills
When it comes to implementing the lessons learnt from mentoring into the business, Mark believes management and financial skills have been crucial.
With Just Strong preparing to add management roles to support its growing team – Mark still manages the firm’s virtual employees himself – the mentors have helped him get the granular details of contracts and position right.
“It’s been great to speak to mentors from a management perspective. Mentor Mick Hadfield, who spent 15 years in management for Tesco, has been instrumental. He’s given the company direction on everything from strategy and planning to staffing,” he said.
The benefits of mentoring
Mark believes that taking part in the Mentoring for Growth programme has been one of the best things he’s done for Just Strong.
“I’d implore anyone to give it a try. Just talking through the basics gives you a completely different perspective on day-to-day activities,” he said.
The programme’s also inspired him to consider how he could use his skills to benefit others. One of his mentors has introduced him to other business owners who are struggling with marketing skills. It’s been rewarding to take a hands-on approach to helping other companies.
“The bigger the business gets, the more you reach a point where you want to give back,” he said.