I designed my first range of soft soled shoes in 2005 when my first child, Lily, was very little. She found her feet very early and I wanted to find a solution that could keep her feet warm and stop her from slipping on our floorboards when she first started standing. I couldn’t find anything in the marketplace, and what I could find was really expensive and from overseas. I had quite a creative background and while I hadn’t done anything like this before, I believed I had a great product. After sourcing overseas manufacturers I found someone who believed in me, saw the same vision I did and understood the quality I wanted, and I still work with him today.
Once I had sourced a manufacturer I put a business plan together to make sure the idea was going to be financially viable. I needed to understand how much money I had to make to cover all my overheads and the marketing plans I wanted to implement so I could grow the business. Ten years ago the marketing budget went on print advertising whereas today social media plays a much more important part in my marketing mix. I love Instagram, it’s one of my favourite things because I’m visual and I get inspired when I see great images. And if you have the right images and the right network, you get your product to consumers’ fingertips for free.
I found it quite challenging to manage my business when my children were little (Lily is now 10 and Finn is 7) because there was a lot of night hours and that’s usually the time you spend with your partner. So trying to check emails and follow up on orders was difficult. I worked really long hours in the early years of the business. I tried to fit in a few hours during the day while the kids were sleeping and then I would click on after 7.30 at night. It can be hard because you are tired after playing the mummy role all day – which is the most important role to me and why I started my business in the first place, because I wanted to be there for them. Being super organised was the thing that got me through, and having a checklist of exactly what I wanted to achieve in those precious hours on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
When it comes to selling to retail stores, it’s becoming harder and harder because the retailers have so many suppliers to choose from and such a wide variety of products they can stock. Compared to eight years ago they certainly have tighter budget constraints for buying stock. The best way to get to retailers is through trade shows which are wonderful, and it’s a great way to mingle with your existing client base and to build your client base. But it is so very expensive that it’s hard to keep investing that huge amount of money twice a year. It’s something that we need to keep doing though. Selling direct through our e-commerce website is more cost-effective, and it’s our direct customers that keep coming back. We get rave reviews from the end user and we get feedback from them and communicate with them.
The secret to keeping up my enthusiasm after 10 years in business? I am grateful that I took the chance to start my own business, and I had the support of my husband to do that. It has enabled me to have the life that I want - I can spend time with the children and drop them at school and pick them up, I can do school reading, I can do school excursions, and at the same time I am quite driven so I need something that I can grow and make my own and get self-satisfaction from. And I love working for myself.
I believe I have achieved success, but I always strive for more. At one stage I tried to expand my business with a great product that I loved, but the extra stress and extra hours just didn’t make sense at the end of the day. It wasn’t more financially rewarding so I decided not to go further with it. Why spend more time and feel more stressed, just to expand a business if it’s not financially worth it? I decided to focus on what I knew best and what worked for the brand. I found in the early part of my business, probably the first five years, that I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself because I wanted to succeed. I was the only driver, there was no-one else to help it succeed. Now I feel I have reached a place where I can take a deep breath, appreciate what I have and what I have achieved, but keep moving forward. I’ve put in the hard yards, I know how to manage my time, I know the buying patterns and have my annual planner. It’s easier to be creative and run the business once you have a hold of what the expectations are.
Cheeky Little Soles is Australia's go-to brand for infant footwear, selling to boutiques across the country and throughout the world, and winning major awards including Best Baby/Toddler Footwear Brand in the Kids Fashion Review Style Awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Tel: 0431 887 697
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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