Alison Dean

  • Week Fifteen!

    About 10 years ago I was working with one of the major advertising agencies in Sydney.  I found that when I was working with female brands like Proctor and Gamble I couldn’t find anything in the marketplace for women who wanted to share a day out - so in order to fill a void in the advertising experiential marketing arena, I created ‘The High Tea Party’. I developed the concept whilst I was still working with the agency and before I had children.  At that point I couldn’t really see a future in the advertising world - working the 12 hour days that it required and having a family at the same time.   So in creating this concept, I was also creating a future for myself and my family.

    After working on the idea for 12 months I took the leap of faith and held my first event in Sydney at the end of 2006.  Whilst the business has been going for nearly ten years, it has grown exponentially in the last three years largely because of how you can connect online with your target market.  With Facebook it has grown rapidly.  The first six years were focused on the Eastern seaboard with Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and we have now branched into Perth and Adelaide because we can connect quite easily with those women online. My husband is in events, sales and marketing, and he is a fundamental part of the business as well (greeting all the ladies as they arrive and seating them in the ballroom for their high tea).  So it is a family affair.

    I always knew that The High Tea Party needed to be big for the brands that I wanted to come on board – and it had to have a big presence. We have a two-fold approach.  For our clients, it is a way of connecting with women about their businesses.  I created a platform for them so they can promote their business directly to their customer - from someone who makes jewellery and wants to sell their range to the women who attend the event, to a larger brand like Bendon or Nutrimetics that wants to connect with their customers and get feedback about their products in the right environment.  The other key aim was to create a great day for women to get together.  Ladies who purchase tickets come along and have a fabulous time, from the sparkling wine on arrival to the high tea to the goodie bag they leave with at the end of the day.  They enjoy the opportunity to be pampered at a nail bar or make up stand or to shop for something special.  I want each and every woman to have the best time possible, and it’s great to sit back and watch all these amazing women in the ballroom, connecting together and enjoying themselves whether it’s with their mothers or a big hen’s day.  And bringing this all together is what I was trained to do – marketing to women and getting great brands on board to market their services and products.

    When we started a family (Oliver is 6, Patrick is 4 and Annabel is nearly 1) life got a little more hectic.  When we just had Oliver it wasn’t as difficult to manage as it is now.  The fact that I can spend time with my children is the best part about having my own business.  My intention was always to be able to combine my family with my business – even though you are always ‘on’ when you are running your own company – you can still pick the children up from school and having the flexibility of not being beholden to someone else.  It’s probably why the business has continued for so long - because it gives me an income and we can all be together.

    The biggest challenge for me with the kids is switching off.  Having that time when I’m a mother and then that time when I am working on the business, it is still quite a difficult thing for me to do.  Life doesn’t stop for the business when the kids get home from school so I need to manage that.  I switch off at night come 7pm - I work more in the morning instead, but I am probably constantly working inside my head.  

    There are six of us who work together on making The High Tea Party happen, and I’ve really tapped into that resource of mothers who are working from their own home.  My team all have children and work from home and we connect on the phone – they manage all of our social media, write our blog and take care of administration.  It’s great to have a resource where you can hand things over and you know tasks are going to be done in the most efficient way possible – because they’re mothers and they can manage their time!

    We have about 25,000 women who join us each year in Australia for The High Tea Party, and we are launching in New Zealand at the end of the year which should take us up to around 30,000 this year.  Taking the brand overseas is a platform we hope to expand on – in other locations around the world.  The next thing for me is creating a franchise model – taking the formula for the concept and handing it over to someone to run the event in other countries.  Taking me out of the mix and giving the event idea longevity.

    Women in business are amazing and I find that they are very supportive of each other.  We’re not from a generation like the 1980s – we don’t just want to have it all, we want to do it better.  Women are setting up their businesses because they have a business dream and they want to be flexible.  It’s inspirational to see women who start out with an idea and get their product or service into the marketplace.

    To other mums wanting to start their own business, the first thing to do is to ask a lot of questions.  Get all the answers that you need to move forward.  It’s important to have a lot of capital behind you.  In the last ten years that is definitely something I have learnt.  I know it comes down to finances, but a big hurdle for me was that I started without enough capital. Of course it depends on your business model, but my business requires a lot of financial outlay prior to the event, paying for the venue and catering etc, so for me it was a real challenge.  It’s also really important to listen.  I always try to listen to advice – with my team, with my business and with my personal life.  I believe you should take other people’s opinions on board and then make your own decisions.  The other major factor is to stick with it.  You don’t usually make money for around seven years to be honest – you have to just stick with it, work at it and always be willing to find ways to improve it.  Improvements can be found everywhere – systems can be changed to make the operational side smoother and to make your bottom line better. You never get to the peak.  You don’t sit back and think, oh I’ve done it.  There’s always more to explore.

    Founded in 2006, The High Tea Party is a popular annual event held in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth & Sydney.  An all day experience, The High Tea Party includes a decadent, delicious high tea sitting, complimentary pamper stations, tastings, workshops, parades, and boutique market stall shopping. The High Tea Party invites women to immerse themselves in a day of indulgence, pampering and style, relaxing with their favourite women in their lives.

    Tel:   02 9572 7455 

    Alison learnt the hard way the importance of financial planning.  Business Mamas can help set you on the right path from the start with the right financial planning in place and an understanding of risk management.

    To find out how you can get get your business started and become the next Business Mama head to 

    Copy: Melanie Quirk      Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios