IS IT TIME TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Over the past year, most of us have had to adjust to new ways of working and some may even have had the opportunity to reimagine their own work situation. For many business professionals, dreams about starting something of your own, are common place but sometimes knowing where to start is the biggest hurdle.
On the 12th of November, we organised a webinar, designed to inspire any budding entrepreneurs to take the leap of faith and start their own businesses. To our help, we were delighted to welcome a panel of experienced business entrepreneurs who so generously shared their experience with the audience.
Maria Collyer, Growth Facilitator from the Australian Government’s Business Entrepreneur’s Programme and Libby Helinski, Owner and Founder of Nordic lifestyle business Pappa Sven, both insightful entrepreneurs, shared their respective experience in imagining, planning and building businesses in both Australia and Sweden. The discussion was moderated by Todd Sotheren, President of the Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce, himself an entrepreneur and digital disruptor, who also shared his wealth of knowledge in creating viable businesses.
The idea to start a juice bar in Sweden came to Maria whilst she was studying in Australia, but the road from idea to set up a business was obviously a big leap. “I think a little pinch of young naivety added to the fact that I actually did it,” Maria said. In 2007, she indeed realised her business idea when she and her then partner opened their first juice bar in Sweden, Naked Juice Bar.
Libby and her husband had an opportunity to move to Sweden through her husband’s work, and Libby fell in love with the whole way of living and daily life in Sweden. “I loved the retail experience in the little towns there. I had never experienced retail done in that way before” she said. Her passion for textiles and natural fibres, as well as her wish to start something of her own, led her to open up a Nordic lifestyle store when she returned back to Australia and Newcastle in 2013. A lifestyle business that also now has expanded to accommodation, offering visitors to Newcastle a stylish B&B option.
One of the early lessons for Maria on her entrepreneurial journey was ‘don’t count your chickens before they are hatched’. Whilst still in Australia, she managed to attract the interest of a major shopping mall in Sweden, off one single phone call! She went on to imagine that the business was well underway, only to learn that the person who was initially interested had moved jobs and that the interest from the shopping mall was no longer there. Not before long, she found herself travelling extensively across Sweden selling her juice bar concept to other shopping malls, which turned out to be a challenging task. However, she stubbornly preserved and in the end managed to set up a relationship with a shopping mall in Lund, followed by another one in Stockholm.
One key lesson from Libby’s running her authentic Nordic lifestyle store is around her vision and she can firmly recommend entrepreneurs not to deviate from their vision or from who they truly are. Every time she has been drawn in a direction that is not true to herself or to her vision, whether it is bringing in new products or other aspects of running the business, she has always realised that it is not quite right and she has had to go back to her vision. “Obviously you need to learn to be adaptable and flexible and to respond to the business climate but it is so important to have a clear vision that tells a true story of who you are,” said Libby.
In regards to finding a market for your product, often you need to invest upfront before you know how the market will respond to your product or service.
“We opened our first shop with a massive sunk cost in the fit-out and it was a very nervous moment”. Obviously, Maria did not know if her concept was going to work at that point. She started to home-print flyers and hand out juice-samples in the shopping mall to build up awareness and interest in the product. Seeing people’s reactions when they tried her juices gave Maria confidence that she was on the right track – but the moment she truly knew that the concept had legs was when young toddlers pulled their parents across to her juice bar begging for a smoothie. The parents didn’t bat an eyelid at the prices – their kids screamed for a smoothie rather than ice-cream. Everybody wins.
The moment when Libby knew that she was on to something special, actually happened the very first day when she opened the doors to the store. Something happened that she was completely unprepared for but it confirmed that she had made the right choice in starting her own business. “The day that I opened my doors, six years ago, I had a long line of people waiting for me to open”. Women in their 60ties and 70ties came into the store saying “Oh my goodness, this is like Suomi! I thought, what are they talking about?” said Libby. What Libby didn’t know, not having grown up in Newcastle, was that in the 1970s there was a store in Newcastle selling ARTEK, Marimekko and Iittala, world famous Finnish design, and that already there was a loyal following in Newcastle loving Nordic design. “Without knowing, I had a customer base loyal to the brand” Libby continued.
Maria’s first advice to people looking at business ideas, products and markets are to develop a business plan. A well-developed business plan forces you to think about all the critical points of the business, going through everything from your budget and strategy to your positioning and how to scale up your business. Not to mention what an important tool it is when you are recruiting and building your tribe. “From the outset, we were able to offer a journey rather than a job; this is the concept, this is where we are headed – do you want to come on the journey with us? “ said Maria.
Common for so many business owners and entrepreneurs, is that they get caught up in the minutiae of running everything and they get stuck working in the business rather than on the business. One activity that really has helped Libby throughout her entrepreneurial journey, is to actually take the time and step out of the business and allow herself to stop and properly review her business. “I get great benefit from stepping out of the business for a while, and thinking about our strengths and weaknesses and also looking at new opportunities,” said Libby.
Our very engaged audience asked a number of great questions to our panel and Maria, Libby and Todd gave insights and reflections from their own experience, which was very inspiring to everyone. Click on the video link below to view the full recording of the webinar. In the end, we also conducted a survey of the audience, and a large percentage of the audience felt that they came away from the webinar with a lot of valuable information and that they indeed were inspired enough to start their own business.
We intend to do a follow-up webinar on the topic of entrepreneurship to also discuss the next steps in the entrepreneurial journey, namely scaling up and management buy-out. Stay connected with the Chamber to not miss out for what for sure will be another exciting webinar.
Summary by Teresia Fors, Chair SACC Brisbane QLD Chapter.
Presenting the panellists:
Maria Collyer, Growth Facilitator from the Australian Government’s Business Entrepreneur’s Programme. Maria is a multi-awarded food entrepreneur and business expert as the founder of Sweden’s largest juice bar chain, Naked Juicebar. She has experience from many stages of brand building and operational development, with key skills in scalable models to support continuous growth. She also is experienced as a board member in an angel investment group, and as a jury member in pitch competitions both domestically and internationally. Maria Collyer is currently working as a Growth Facilitator for the federal government’s flagship business initiative, The Entrepreneurs Programme. She delivers strategic advisory services to established businesses in Northern NSW and works with most of the region’s well-known brands across food, beverage, fashion and advanced manufacturing. At European Food Service Summit 2011, Maria featured as a guest speaker, sharing line-up with Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. Her own journey has fuelled a passion for business that she is thrilled to share with fellow entrepreneurs.
Libby Helinski, Owner and Founder of Nordic lifestyle business Pappa Sven. Libby first opened her Nordic homewares store, Pappa Sven, in Newcastle in 2014. Libby spent a year living in Skellefteå, in the North of Sweden, and wanted to be able to share her love of the Nordic way of life and create a truly unique retail experience in her hometown. Pappa Sven now consists of a retail store, online store and 2 distinctly Nordic themed Air BnB properties which attracts visitors from all over Australia. Libby graduated from UNSW in 1998 with a degree in Textile Science and her passion for textiles is evident in the business which she has created today. With a strong focus on natural fibres, authentic Scandinavian design and timeless design Libby has loved bringing together her many interests to create the Pappa Sven brand. Libby lives in Newcastle with her husband Matt and 2 teenage daughters Jessica and Lucy
Thanks to all participants and to the SACC Brisbane Chapter for organising the event.
View the full webinar here