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‘No’ just as important as ‘Yes’

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Nancy Lublin founded the nonprofit group Dress for Success, which helps low-income women obtain clothing so they can look professional at job interviews.

Before she got there, though, Lublin had to say no at several critical junctures.

First, she said no to the legal profession while she was a student at New York University’s law school and decided it wasn’t right for her.

Next, after receiving a small inheritance from her great-grandfather, she decided to honor his memory by using his money to help others. But she didn’t take the standard route for a business or foundation startup, rejecting the usual PowerPoint business plan.

Instead, she followed the dictates of the idea itself, initially asking a professor for advice and then consulting with three nuns who ran social service agencies.

Lublin continued her unconventional ways, refusing to buy media or send out press releases. Instead, she approached women on the subway who were wearing nice suits and asked them to donate clothing when they were done with it.

She relied on word-of-mouth, even refusing publicity from the TV entertainment show “Access Hollywood” on celebrities donating suits.

While in this way Lublin acted boldly, in other ways, she remained cautious and counterintuitive. She refused to charge new chapters a startup fee or force them to sign elaborate licensing agreements. As a result, Dress for Success spread quickly to 18 cities in less than two years, while similar groups grew more slowly.

Finally, Lublin turned down $10,000 from Sears because she felt that once Dress for Success partnered with one store, it would keep her from working with any other retailers or high-end brands. Later, when her group became established, Sears returned with a $150,000 offer and 50,000 plus-size suits.

No longer afraid of being shut off from other retailers, Lublin finally said yes.

-- Adapted from “Bolstering The Job Prospects,” Marilyn Much, Investor’s Business Daily.

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