I went to boarding school in Brisbane – my family home was in Cairns and my parents felt I would get a better education if I went away. I didn’t love it initially, but it was so good for me. I was a really shy kid so it really helped me to gain some life skills, and to get some independence and self confidence. I always wanted to be an actress, which is funny given that I was so shy – but maybe I liked the idea of taking on a character that was other than myself. Being sensible though, reality took me to Uni to do a law degree, which I hated! Back in the late eighties, business, marketing and communications were just evolving as career choices, so when I told my parents that was the angle I was thinking of they were doubtful of my choice and encouraged me to do something more stable like law. They were looking after my best interests of course. I completed my degree and then went off and had a jaunt overseas for a year, and when I got home my parents said I really needed to get admitted as a Solicitor. I started working in Brisbane as a Law Clerk, and was pretty miserable because I really didn’t want to do it. I hated it as much as I thought I would, but I met my husband during that time so something wonderful did come out of it! And then I went back to Uni and started all over again, doing what I wanted to do – a Bachelor of Business in Marketing, specialising in PR.
With my marketing degree, I was one of those annoying mature age students sitting up the front staring eagerly at the lecturer, you know ‘let’s discuss this, I want to talk more about this’! High distinctions were the only option for me, whereas when I did my law degree I was the one at the back, snoring. After Uni I got a job at the QLD Law Society as a Marketing/Media Officer which really did fuse the two stages of my life together and I got the best training in that area. I finally felt I loved what I was doing and that I was doing something that was truly me.
Before we got married my husband and I were just friends for about six years - he is a lawyer too. He moved to Melbourne and I visited him and fell in love with the city (and with him!) and then about nine months later I moved too – that was late 2001. We did go to Adelaide for a short while, but we have been living in Melbourne for a long time now. I was working at CPA Australia in their marketing department and then at Hall and Wilcox as their Business Development Manager.
When I had Hugo, who is now ten, and Ted who is now seven, I was consulting with small business clients doing professional services marketing and getting back into PR – I particularly love public relations and the writing associated with it. It was difficult though, doing consulting work and looking after a young family with my husband working such long hours and travelling so much. One of us had to be available for the kids if they were sick. I was meeting clients at their offices, juggling responsibilities and looking after the family, and there was no balance in my life at all.
So I started thinking about creating an online company that was subscription based and that operated in business hours within a five day week, which might be more conducive to a balanced family life because I could work from home. I could see the flaws in the industry and how new technology was disrupting traditional communication methods, and that’s when the idea for SourceBottle developed. SourceBottle was an answer to what I saw as a real challenge to the industry I was working in. Public Relations consultants were becoming more gatekeepers, and there were all these wonderful social media platforms where journalists could reach out and engage with the public, and crowd-sourcing was becoming popular. I thought, what if rather than PR professionals continually bombarding journalists with stories that we are hoping they would like to cover, what if we could just ask, collectively, what they are looking for and provide them with sources? The idea started ruminating and then I started doing some research internationally to see if there were similar sorts of services available overseas. And there were, but they were paid subscriptions, and I wanted to create a free platform. Certainly none of them were doing anything for the Australian market. I launched the business in July 2009 when Hugo was four and Ted had turned one. It was hard building a start up business and looking after two young boys, but it was even when harder when I was consulting. This was the solution to a more balanced life.
So that’s how SourceBottle began. It was a really hard slog! It was a chicken/egg kind of business. I had to pitch it hard to journalists saying here are some great sources, but then I had to get the great sources to come on board. And it took a while for people to get it. And if you didn’t understand how PR works you wouldn’t know what a media lead was, or what a call out was – so it was all about me getting people to understand what the benefit was, connecting sources with storytellers. Storytellers have evolved since then. Predominantly they were the media but now everyone pretty much can be a storyteller. Sourcebottle was all about unearthing new, fresh stories from talent that storytellers wouldn’t usually have access to, on demand, when it was needed. Going direct to the source also means that the stories aren’t always the sanitised version. Journalists started to really appreciate that. It’s really a response based business and it has now reached the critical mass, which took some time. We’ve been going now for seven years.
The business concept grew, where clients could source giveaways and prizes for functions, fundraisers and goodie bags. I can never say I was smart enough to think of the new direction Sourcebottle would take. There were some great PR professionals I was working with who said they were really looking for a service that could do this, and I thought it was fantastic because it fit with the premise of what SourceBottle is – getting somebody’s name in lights, whether it’s a sample in a goodie bag where their target audience is going to be, or being written up in a publication or online. Businesses could get exposure to a whole lot of PR contacts they would normally never get to talk to, and vice-versa. It was also a way in which SourceBottle could become a revenue earning business, because my PR contacts also said recommended I charge for this service.
SourceBottle was always designed to be a free platform, with me naively believing I could make easily make money from companies advertising online. Initially I had to keep my consulting work going until I built the subscriber base, because I had to have the numbers before I could warrant anyone paying for advertising, and that obviously took some time. I decided to charge a low fee for subscribers so that the whole service was really cost effective and really accessible for everyone. The fee had to be a no-brainer, where the value outweighed the cost. Only a certain percentage of subscribers want to upgrade to use the additional services SourceBottle offers and that’s fine. Some people have suggested that I charge for media leads, but that would absolutely defeat the purpose of the service because it has to be about getting great talent in front of great storytellers.
I finally gave up consulting in year two of SourceBottle, but it really was such a slog though to get to that point. I didn’t understand. I was getting resistance from journalists, in particular older journalists who felt that it was a tool for lazy journalists. And others just didn’t understand what was in it for them – so I said just sign up and see. See what comes your way. If you get one media contact a year it’s worthwhile. It’s reactive media, leads that find you rather than proactive media. You have to do both. I had to explain that SourceBottle isn’t to replace research on sources, it’s to complement what you’re doing and hopefully make life a whole lot easier. It’s just another form of research, to enhance the other work you do as a great journalist or blogger.
When my third and youngest son Sammy was due, I was in the hospital doing call outs because it was still only me in the business, and that’s when I realised I really needed some help. So I got some virtual assistants and I expanded the service beyond Australia, so I made it accessible to international sources as well. I got a virtual assistant in the UK and one in the US but the US one dropped off, so now I have one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere. They do all the approvals of the call outs and all the subject lines and tweeting, all the grunt work while I try and extract myself from the day to day so I can concentrate of the business development. SourceBottle is in a good place now – I feel good about what we are achieving and about the balance I have managed to create in my life after doing some long, hard yards. There’s so much more to do though - I love looking for the next thing, and my new project is an App which will be launching soon!
For anyone wanting to start their own business, go for it. Give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? What I love about creating a business, and what I say to anyone who is thinking of starting their own business, is to get it out there and then respond to feedback. It can help you grow your business in ways you didn’t think possible.
SourceBottle is a free and easy-to-use connection platform that enables journalists and bloggers to efficiently find knowledgeable sources. It also provides PR professionals and subject-matter experts with timely insight into publicity opportunities to help them gain brand awareness for their clients’ products and services or themselves.
Finding a gap in the market, or coming up with a solution to a problem, is a great way start up your own business even if you don’t have a particular passion. Business Mamas can help you flesh out your business idea, and get you on the right path to having it all!
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
To find out how you can get get your business started and become the next Business Mama head to www.businessmamas.com.au