Enterprising women show how to take the world by storm
You've got a great business idea, a side hustle or a hobby that could be so much more. How do you turn your idea into a money-making success?
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals home-grown entrepreneurship is booming in Australia, with a 3.1 per cent increase in actively trading businesses between June 2016 and June 2017. "Non-employing businesses” were driving the growth, with sole proprietors showing a 4.5 per cent increase.
Interestingly, middle-age women are the changing face behind start-ups with a government report, A Profile of Australian Women in Business, revealing women made up just over a third of all Australian business operators (34 per cent or 668,670 women) in 2015, with a 46 per cent increase in the number of women business operators over the past two decades. More than 40 per cent of female business operators are aged 40-54.
"Being a successful digital entrepreneur”, says best-selling author and digital marketing specialist Bernadette Schwerdt, "starts and ends with asking one simple question: What do you want?”
Schwerdt's new book How to Build an Online Business, shares the insider tips and tricks Australia's top online "disruptors” use to create thriving businesses.
"Believe it not, now is one of the best times in history to start your own business,” she says. "Why? Because it's never been cheaper, easier or quicker to launch your online presence.
"For example, you can now build a website for free (or very low cost) using web-builders like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace. You can get a logo, a corporate video or a brochure for just five dollars using fixed-price website Fiverr.com, where everything is just, yep, you guessed it, five dollars (US).
"And to cap it off, you can advertise your product on Facebook and reach tens of thousands of potential customers for as little as $10. Getting started has never been easier.”
Here's how three Australian women found start-up success:
THE BEACH PEOPLE
Five years ago, a round beach towel was unheard of. Now the 'Roundie' by sisters Emma Henderson and Victoria Beattie is draped over the sand and slung over beachgoers' necks everywhere.
"Victoria and I were sitting on the beach one day watching our husbands surf and I turned to Vic and said 'I think I am going to make round beach towels, in beautiful designs, with thick and soft material and lovely tassels.Want to do that with me'?” says Emma, co-founder of The Beach People brand.
"I said 'Yes' and the rest is history,” Victoria adds.
Their business now pulls seven figures.
"I don't think anyone in our world fully understood what we were trying to do. Even we didn't know the response that we were about to get. We definitely had our reservations,” Victoria says.
Despite this they didn't hold off, turning their garden shed and spare bedroom in Kingscliff, on the northern New South Wales coast, into their offices.
"We jumped in straight away but my goodness it was hard going,” Emma recalls.
"We were the only business in the world that was trying to manufacture round beach towels and our first sample was going to be over $100 cost price. It was tough times. We worked so hard to produce the best quality product designed in our signature coastal style.”
Within weeks of launching the Roundie, Byron Bay clothing label Spell Designs instagrammed a photo of the towel to their 872k followers.
Almost instantly, The Beach People received more than 6k new followers on their own Instagram. By summer in 2015, they had sold their 100,000th Roundie, just two years after they launched. The same year they hit their first million dollar month, and were still yet to spend any money on a marketing campaign.
"We were very innocently just having a lovely time on social media... it was all word of mouth... I would post something I liked and people would like it and start following us,” Emma says.
"A lot of the business in the early days just came to us, we were the only providers of a round beach towel for the first two years, if anyone wanted one they had to come to us,” Victoria adds.
"I think that beyond the Roundie what we were creating was resonating with people.”
The Beach People had secured their IP globally, but with their success came the copycats. It helped, said Emma, to "hire a killer IP attorney”.
While their business has flourished, so too have their families. Emma has three children, Lucia Belle, 6, Daisy Darling, 5, and Fern Honey, 1, and Victoria has two-year-old Theodore.
The sisters are guest speakers at the Retail Global Conference on the Gold Coast this week where they have been invited to speak about work/life balance as working mothers.
"We just do our best and try not to be too hard on ourselves,” Emma says. "There are days when we feel like we are doing a great job and other days where we feel like we have been thrown inside a washing machine.
"We just do our best. No one has this nailed,” Victoria says. "[The] weeks I feel I've done a great job in the business and [have] been a kind and present mother/wife - those are the best weeks. "
Key to this is "switching off and taking regular holidays”, Emma explains.
"We didn't always, but things weren't slowing down, so we just made the call to start living the life we wanted to live now and not wait for some far away time to do so,” she says.
What about working together as sisters?
"I can see how it wouldn't be for everyone,” Emma says, "as you are literally in each other's worlds all day, every day.
"We play to our strengths and have clear boundaries when we are outside of work. that helps. I'm so thankful for Victoria, the woman is a go-getter. There would be no Beach People without her. I would still be sitting on the beach saying "round towels is a good idea” if it wasn't for her drive.”
When Olivia Carr went to sleep three years ago, the former marketing executive dreamt of running her own food truck. Little did she realise the exact spot she laid her head every evening would soon open her eyes to a future she'd never imagined.
The now co-founder of Shhh Silk quit her job at Pacific Brands in 2015 and headed to New York to research the foodtruck business.
"I don't travel anywhere without a silk pillowcase and when I was in a New York hotel, the service staff accidentally took my pillowcase and changed the sheets,” Olivia recalls.
"As there were thousands of sheets that were being laundered, they told me that I probably wouldn't see it again. I had slept on silk for years due to my thin, moulting hair - silk is amazing for your overall hair health (and numerous other things).
"I then tried to order one online, and frustratingly, I couldn't find one that wasn't super boring.
"That really got me thinking OMG, this could be it..”
From New York, she headed for China to explore supply opportunities. Three months before the launch of Shhh Silk, she opened an Instagram page and began building her brand.
With a strong concept but minimal funds behind her, Olivia knew she would have to captivate a large social media following and keep their loyalty for as long as possible so word of Shhh Silk could spread. At the beginning this meant spending more than 10 hours a day building awareness of her brand on social platforms while juggling international manufacturing.
Understanding the power of a celebrity endorsement but without the money to pay for one to be the face of her brand, she trusted in the quality of her 100% silk pillow cases to do the talking.
She returned to the US, looked up Kris Jenner's address online, managed to get through the gated community and deliver her marble pillowcases to the mother and manager of Instagram's holy grail of influencers, Kim Kardashian.
"Kim and Kanye's Rolls Royces were both parked on the front nature strip, and two incredibly long security cameras were staring at me,” Olivia previously wrote in a blog on her website.
"The driveway was under repair with safety tape cordoning off the entrance, this was creating a logistical nightmare for me as I was now wondering how I would approach the doorstep without stepping over the tape.
"I idled out the front in the car for what felt like an eternity wondering if perhaps my love for the Kardashians and my personal hand-delivered gift (all the way from Australia) was perhaps no longer such a good idea.
"And then right at that moment the universe opened its gates and gave me a gift. A UPS truck pulled up at that exact moment with a box delivery.”
But months went by to no avail when Olivia invested in a US PR agency mainly for their links to the Kardashian clan.
An encounter with one of Kim's stylists and Carr's PR rep at an event revealed the Kardashians used only king-sized pillow cases. And shortly after sending them the extra-large versions, Kim mentioned Shhh Silk on Instagram and in a tweet.
Shhh Silk's profile and popularity soared and within a year, the business grew 632 per cent. Apart from the Jenners, fans of the luxurious silk pillowcases include Giselle Bundchen, who also promoted the product on her Instagram, and Elle Ferguson.
"I started this business with the idea of being able to be home for my kids every day, thinking this would be a stay at home business,” the Melbourne mother of two says.
"[But you need to] prepare for growth and be prepared to work longer hours and harder than you've ever worked before - the upside is it can be on your terms.
"I make my work hours flexible when I need to. I drop my son off and pick him up every day from school, that's a non-negotiable - I missed this luxury for so long when I worked in corporate roles, now it's a priceless joy I experience every day. But typically, I'm working from after school drop off to as late as 1am.
"The biggest compromise is actually more with my amazing partner Tom, he supports the kids and I so much by doing little things like preparing breakfast and school lunches whilst I answer early morning emails. He totally understands when I get home drained and exhausted at times that I just need cuddles with the kids and a cup of tea.
"I really don't compromise anything when it comes to being there for my children, they are hands down my number one priority.
"I do however miss out on time with friends and family. It's amazing to have been able to employ my 65-year-old mother last year, who now manages our customer service team. I now have her incredible love and support guiding me every day.”
At the end of the day, Olivia says it's not only the success of her business that drives her.
"I want to show my kids that they can do anything. That they can be anything. Money comes, money goes. But being a role model for them is something truly special.”
OLIVIA'S TOP TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES TO THRIVE IN THE EVER-COMPETITIVE E-COMMERCE REALM
1. Create trends, don't follow - be copied, don't copy
2. Customer excellence will set you apart and set you up for success - be customer obsessed in every aspect of your business
3. Know your numbers, data and key metrics - this took me way too long to appreciate the critical importance of obsessing over your numbers.
Olivia Carr, Victoria Beattie and Emma Henderson will be presenting at the Retail Global Conference, Gold Coast, May 23-25.