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Anna Ross of Kester Black

Small Business

7th August, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Thursday 7th August 2014
August is officially Small Business Month in Victoria!  If YOU run a small business there are a bunch of free workshops and events across Victoria which you can find out about here.  For our part, we've partnered with Bank of Melbourne to share four stories featuring local small business heroes, running each Thursday during August.  We're kicking things off today with an inspiring and informative chat with Anna Ross of ethical nail polish brand, Kester Black! - Lucy

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Anna Ross of Kester Black.  Artwork above desk by Carla Fletcher.  Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

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A rainbow of Kester Black nail polishes! Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

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'Violet' Kester Black nail polish. Photo - Eve Wilson. Styling - Jess Lillico.

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'Acid' Kester Black nail polish. Photo - Eve Wilson. Styling - Jess Lillico.

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Anna Ross of Kester Black. Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

DID YOU KNOW that AUGUST is officially Small Business Month in Victoria?!  If YOU run a small business (and I know so many of you do!) there are a bunch of free workshops, seminars and other events across Victoria this month, which you can find out about here.

To be honest, we love to champion small businesses year round, but this month to coincide with the official proceedings, we thought we would shine our own little spotlight on four local businesses who are really kicking goals!  Instead of the usual creative questions, for this series we're getting into the nitty gritty, asking proper business-y questions we hope will help other fledgling entrepreneurs!   We're keen to know how what apps, programs and software are helping these budding local businesses run smoothly, what they've learnt along the way that they wish they'd known when they started out, and how they maintain quality and productivity within a small team, often with limited resources.

Our first case study is the amazing Anna Ross of Kester Black, who produces Australian made nail polishes which are ethnically made, vegan and Cruelty Free accredited.  They're also 'Five Free' which means they contain no harmful chemicals (no Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde, Formadehyde resin or Camphor!).

Anna grew up in a small town in New Zealand.  After studying fashion at university in NZ, she moved to Melbourne and worked for a few different local fashion labels, but soon started designing and selling her own silver jewellery as well.  With a newfound passion for driving her own creative business, it wasn't long before she had given up on the 9.00 - 5.00 to build her own brand.

Although Anna's business initially started as a jewellery label in 2009, in 2012 she noticed a gap in the market and turned her hand to nail polish.  'Nail polish is something I have enjoyed from a young age; it's fun and there is something almost cathartic about painting your nails' she says.  After struggling to find professional quality nail polish that was Australian made and produced ethically, Anna realised this presented an opportunity. 'I was really just testing the waters, but there turned out to be so much demand, so I decided to make nail polish my sole focus' she explains.

In just two years Anna's business has grown immensely, she now juggles over 100 stockists both nationally and overseas, and manages a steady stream of direct sales via her website.  She's also just hired her first employee! (Man, I remember that feeling... and I haven't looked back!)

We asked Anna to share some of the rewards, challenges and lessons learned from running her successful little business -

HEY ANNA!  Tell us a little bit about Kester Black - what do you offer, how is your business structured, and how many staff do you employ?

Kester Black is a nail polish brand. We currently specialise in Australian Made, professional quality, high shine and chip resistant nail polish. We also follow an ethical business model - all of our products are cruelty free, sustainably produced, and made without dangerous chemicals. The advantage of this model is that we attract two types of consumers; those focused on trend driven products, and those with ethical considerations.

Until July 1 this year I was operating as a sole trader. On the advice of my uncle (an accountant) I have now registered as a company, but am trading as a trust. This arrangement offers the best tax benefits for a business like mine. We outsource work to photographers, graphic designers, and manufacturers, and hopefully will soon be doing the same for packing and dispatch. I have just hired my first employee!  Gemma is managing the marketing aspect of my business. As Kester Black grows, so will my capacity to hire.  In the future I would like to have an in house team that manages customer service, marketing and finance.

What does a typical work day at Kester Black involve?

A typical day at Kester Black is much like any other business. There’s a lot of invoicing, packaging and dispatching orders, and coordinating the production of stock. Then there is the constant monitoring of marketing strategies and events planning. Then there is the fun stuff that is specific to my business type, like colour development!

Are there any key systems or products you use to enhance your team's productivity?

I have been operating solo for a long time and so I know every facet of my business. When I finally decided I needed to hire someone, I spent some time thinking about the most efficient way I could hand over responsibilities to someone who is new to the business. The most important system I have adapted for this purpose is the use of a cloud computing system; Google docs. It means we can both be working on the same document at the same time, and that we can access all of our important documents from anywhere with internet access. We also use Gmail chat to communicate.

To streamline your daily tasks and keep everything running smoothly, what computer programs, apps and software do you like to use?

Google calendar - we use this alongside a static printable calendar to have reminders running for all different sorts of things.  I run the manufacturing, accounting and pay reminders etc, Gemma is in charge of all marketing and event listings.

Google Docs - we use this more for working documents that we both contribute to; like word documents and spreadsheets that need to be constantly updated.

Dropbox - we use this for storage of all of my important documents so that we can both access them if needed. I also keep multimedia files like photos etc in here.

With the bonus of hindsight, what do you know now about running a small business that you wish you had known when you started?

Things have actually gone relatively smoothly. I have been dabbling in business for a long time and have progressed gradually, so I don’t have too many horror stories. However I do wish I had implemented an accounting software right from the get go. I use Xero and I love it.

Before Xero I used excel, and since making the switch, I've realised it's actually impossible to gain the same insights as I can using accounting software.  This means I can't actually compare reports from the earlier days of my business. It's such a shame.

I also wish I had a better understanding of SEO. I could have been optimising my website for years if I’d had a better understanding of how it worked.

What are your top three tips about running a successful small business?

1. Have a great website - this is the most important factor. Most of the time your website is going to be the first point of contact for customers. It’s also the most effective way to boost exposure for your brand.

2. Have a solid understanding of your financial processes and their purpose. I look over my accounts constantly - I am usually doing this for 3 - 4 hours a day.

3. Ask, ask, ask! I am never too proud to ask those older and/or wiser for help and advice. I have several business mentors, a digital marketing consultant, and hire people who have much more specialised knowledge than me. I never underestimate the value of good advice and suggestions. I don’t pretend to know everything - that would only disadvantage me.

Who is a local small business owner you admire and why?

Pana Barbounis of Pana Chocolate is definitely one of my business role models. I love everything about the business - great branding, ethical focus, and most importantly a fantastic product. Organic chocolate is a niche product but there are so many brands in the market, so it’s a big achievement how ubiquitous the brand has become.

Anna has so many exciting things coming up this year.  This Friday she is set to launch a new polish range with long time collaborator Chelsea Bagan of Trophy Wife Nail Art!  Later in the year, Kester Black will also be releasing a brand new product - a luxury palm oil free soap, manufactured in Australia. Go Anna Go!

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'Blush' Kester Black nail polish. Photo - Eve Wilson. Styling - Jess Lilico.

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Details from the office of Kester Black.  Artwork by Carla Fletcher. Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

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Studio details at Kester Black. Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

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Anna in her Melbourne studio. Artwork above desk by Carla Fletcher.  Photo - Eve Wilson  for The Design Files.

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