I grew up by the beach in Brighton, and left school at 16 to do an apprenticeship in hairdressing. I moved to South Yarra, shared a flat with a girlfriend and finished my apprenticeship but knew it wasn’t for me. So I did a wide range of administration jobs including working for an International fashion house, and I was lucky when I fell into a job with an advertising agency. I was blessed, I joined the agency in a general admin role and worked my way up through the agency into a senior Account Management role within six years.
Whilst I was working there, a neighbour of mine was doing Horticulture at Melbourne Uni. She didn’t have a computer, and I hated the way her assignments looked, so at night I helped to make her assignments look pretty. And I started to learn. I naturally understood plants. I learnt the Latin behind them, and the natural sciences and biology all made sense to me to the point where I quit my job and went back to Uni for 10 years and did three science degrees.. I just loved it! I spent a decade at Uni with full scholarships – I don’t know what happened, I just found my people.
Looking back I really started my first businesses over 20 years ago when I was in Uni. One was called Hand Relief, where I would get a group of kids together and we would work on direct mail outs for companies – this was before emails. I also started compiling study guides and selling them to students – it was so successful that it paid for my way through Uni. And my then partner and I set up a really successful Horticulture business turning over half a million dollars within three years, but we separated and I left that business to him. I had decided to go back to Uni and do my PhD, but then I met Willie’s father and life changed.
Willie is now eight years old. When he came along he was very sick, he was born with renal reflux and it took ages to diagnose him. He cried non-stop for eight months, but by the time he got to 18 months or so he was fine. But his illness took a toll on my relationship with his father and we split when Willie was two. I started a few businesses during that time whilst looking after Willie, and created some interesting projects that didn’t take off because I wasn’t passionate about them – except for Mum’s Grapevine.
It all started with my mothers’ group. Willie was eight months old, and sick, I didn’t go out much and when I did it was a nightmare. My mothers’ group was amazing, picking me up and taking me shopping to baby clothing sales. We’d look out for warehouse sales and it was a great activity for us and it was a breath of fresh air for me and helped me to start living again. So I started to think that there must be other mothers’ groups doing the same thing, and that they would be looking out for warehouse sales too. So I went for it! Within six weeks Mum’s Grapevine was online.
Through my years as an Account Manager in the advertising agency I learnt a lot about marketing and copywriting. . I designed the first Mum’s Grapevine website in Word and a friend who lived nearby put it all together. I can’t believe how quickly it just grew. I went up to a pregnant woman and said to her ‘I’ll tell you what sales are on in your area, all I need is your email address and your postcode’. And that’s how I grew the database. I went to immunisation days and talked to all the mums, I went to Chadstone and approached everyone with a pram, I told everybody. I hooked up early on with the Baby and Kids Market and it all really took off. I had around 14,000 on my database within six weeks. It’s funny, I’ve always had this ability to find a need, aggregate the information and then make it accessible to people, and make it look pretty. It was a good message and there was no one else doing it in the baby and kids sector. It was simple – you tell me where you live and I’ll tell you what’s on sale. It didn’t cost them anything. Kid’s clothing is a commodity, you have to have it and the kids keep on growing. Why pay full price? That was the message and that was the ethos. My first newsletter had 10 paid clients in it.
It was right in the boom when online shopping first started, so our advertisers grew from being postcode based and local areas to being online businesses. They were flourishing. I was teaching people how to put discount codes into their websites and showing them how they could track it and monitor and make sales exclusive to us. Websites look different now but this was right when it all took off. I knew what I was doing was a good thing for our readers. As it evolved I realised Mum’s Grapevine was helping all these women to launch and grow their online businesses. I was putting them in front of their target audience. I dissected their business and de-cluttered it and put the right message in front of their customers, telling people what the benefits were for shopping with them or why to buy this product over another.
Mum’s Grapevine has evolved a lot over the last nine years. It started as an email service telling mums where to shop on sale, but the brands didn’t want to work with us because they were seen to be competing with their retailers. So we were stuck in this retail zone -but the brands had products I wanted to tell our readers about. So in 2009 we started The Daily Buzz, which was a blog promoting new and exciting products. In 2011 The Daily Buzz went absolutely ballistic. We had a fantastic editor at the time and she wrote some articles that found their way into Stumble Upon and we were getting millions of hits a minute, it went crazy! We were aggregating the internet long before ‘Buzz Feed’. And that’s when it became a serious business. Mum’s Grapevine had a huge database with local, committed and loyal mums and The Daily Buzz had a huge volume of people coming to the site.
In 2013 we decided to bring both Mum’s Grapevine and The Daily Buzz under one umbrella and build the Mum’s Grapevine brand which is where we are now. We’re working with all the big guys and the website is still clean and crisp for our readers. While we don’t see the huge spikes anymore we’re still growing year on year. We change and evolve, and I’ve tried all sorts of different staffing structures from lots of part-time to full time and now I have a really great core staff with an editor, a sub-editor, a researcher, writers, sales staff and me. We have an office in St Kilda so I can separate my work from my life at home with Willie. This is our future, this is what we do. Looking back, having a baby and starting a business on my own wasn’t a challenge, Willie was my inspiration. He loves what I do and understands it, and he is a part of everything I have created.
If you’re really committed to what you want to do, go for it. We see so many people with business ideas, but you need to do it properly. You don’t need money to get started, I started Mum’s Grapevine with nothing and earned my first dollar with the first newsletter. You need the tenacity to be able to keep going though. It gets hard. Competitors come and go or you get some big bills or you’ve got staff or wages, you just have to keep going and roll with what comes. I found a need, and my service was of benefit to my clients. The success has been because the businesses that I am working with are benefiting from exposure to my readers. And if I am helping these businesses to grow, they stay with me. Having an entrepreneurial spirit combined with a work ethic, experience in design and marketing and a fearlessness of building relationships and selling your wares – that’s what will bring success.
Mum’s Grapevine is an Australian website for busy mums looking to save time and money. From the moment they fall pregnant, until they're waving the kids off for their first day of school, Mum’s Grapevine is with them every step of the way; collating the best sales & exclusive offers, family-friendly events and helpful content with a focus on solution-based editorial to help navigate the curly world of motherhood.
Deciding on your target market, and catering your product or service to suit a need or address a problem, is a vital part of your marketing and ultimately your business plan. Business Mamas can help you to ensure that you are on track to reaching your business goals.
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