Michael Williams always knew he wanted to work for himself, and after following his own advice of continual, relentless persistence, he’s now recognized across the Internet as the trusted voice behind A Continuous Lean and the co-founder of Paul + Williams, a menswear-focused PR and marketing firm. After featuring him as part of our Complex TV series "The Visionaries" in May, we got up with Michael again to dicuss all aspects of both his careers, and he was more than willing to dole out advice and anecdotes at every turn. Read on to find out his opinion on everything from what womenswear can learn from menswear (hint: lighten up, already) to why he’ll never understand streetwear.
What have you learned most from being an entrepreneur, especially in a creative field?
I learned that you have to be persistent, even in the face of very difficult surroundings, difficult times, difficult business settings. You have to be very persistent and you have to really believe in what you’re doing. I think that a lot of people can pick that up from you and a lot of what you project, you will become. So, it’s really important to believe in yourself and believe that you’re great at what you’re doing, and your concept and your path and all that stuff.
You have to be persistent, and a lot of entrepreneurs will tell you the same thing, that people have told them that they couldn’t do it. A lot of people are skeptical, and you have to always carry the belief that you can accomplish what you want to.
Can you give any specific examples of times that you’ve had to be persistent?
In the beginning, we had to go out and basically pitch ourselves and sell everyone on us and what we’re doing, and that we were capable and we were smart, and there was a lot of that. I remember when we first started the company, we would just go on meetings and meetings and tell our story and tell them what we were doing and prove to people that we were capable. You have to just build up a resistance to hearing people say no, keep going after it, and eventually you can make it happen. That was a big lesson for us, to get comfortable with people saying no.
And the other thing is, just one of my big philosophies in business in general is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so you have to go out and ask people for things. It’s like something you see politicians do; they ask people to vote for them. They are saying: “Will you vote for me?” In business, you’re saying that a lot. You have to ask people what you want, you can’t expect people to understand what you’re doing or recognize instantly what your company is all about and wait for them to come to you. You have to go out and get these things, and make things happen.
What has been your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur?
We do marketing and PR, so when we started the company, we thought ‘oh, we’re just going to do marketing and PR.’ What we didn’t realize was we’re also going to do the human resources and run a business and do accounting and deal with taxes and make sure everything is in line with the government. There’s so much more to it than what it appears. That’s probably our biggest struggle, running the business and then running the business. It’s doing PR and doing the marketing and doing the business stuff together. And a lot of that stuff never stops. Even if I’m on vacation, I have to always sort of be thinking, especially in the beginning: ‘Payroll’s going to run, do we have the money to cover it? Are the invoices going out?’ All that stuff. And as we grow and continue to get older, the more we have a better grasp on these things. But it’s challenging, in the beginning, to run the business and do the work.