Small Business

Advice on Changing Tack

This afternoon we take some time with Annie Abbott of footwear phenomenon Habbot, and Mr Draper’s Alistair Birrell to talk about changing tack… or rather plotting a new course for yourself, as might be more in-line with Alistair’s former Australian Air Force Officer lingo!

This trailblazing pair share some wonderful tips, which are sure to resonate with those looking to change careers, whether considering a slight reroute, or a completely new direction.

Elle Murrell

Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

Annie Abbott is the founder and director of Melbourne-based footwear label Habbot. Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

Annie Abbott is the founder and director of Melbourne-based footwear label Habbot. Annie quit her ‘real job’ to launch her business back in 2011.  She had previously worked in the fashion industry – for the likes of Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton at Sass & Bide, and Natalie Massenet and Megan Quinn at – where she witnessed the success that could grow from ‘big passion and hard work!’

In tackling her own personal business goals, Annie drew from her family’s experience in bricks-and-mortar retailing. She recalls deciding on a physical store presence as being one of the biggest decisions she had to make along the way. ‘It was difficult weighing up the “emotional” side of what I thought would be the “perfect” first site, versus the potential “commercial” outcomes on my own,’ says Annie. ‘I overcame this by testing different areas with “pop-up” spaces first, and also sought advice from friends in real estate, when it came to negotiating the lease terms.’

Annie advises business owners to know their own strengths, and when to seek expert advice. ‘Be positive, have faith in your own creativity and put most of your energy into the things you’re great at, and get help for the weaker areas, not the reverse,’ she tells.  Also, expect a frugal first year. ‘Save more money than you will think you need before you start, to give you the freedom to implement unexpected opportunities along the way… or just to pay the bills!’

Alistair Birrell is the man behind Melbourne-based business Mr Draper. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Alistair Birrell is the ‘Chief Linen Crafter’ at Melbourne-based business Mr Draper, which he established in 2014, after a career in the Royal Australian Air Force!

In fact, Alistair is no stranger to small business – he started his own fledgling fashion label while studying, then moved on to a role in a big logistics company, before joining the Air Force. We definitely heed his well-informed caution: ‘moving careers is hard work… but that it can also be very rewarding!’

Making a considerably sharper tack than Annie, the former airman found that a complete change or reset is sometimes exactly what you need in order to gain perspective. ‘I’m glad I did it, it’s given me energy in a lot of ways, and it taught me a lot about self-discipline, something self-employed folks can never have enough of.’

‘Understand that you’re going to be starting from the bottom and that nobody will take you seriously at the beginning,’ Alistair advises. ‘It takes a lot of grit to get through the initial 18 months but if you survive it will make you stronger’. However, the main takeaway he imparts is have a plan.

So what then does a solid strategy look like? ‘You need to be ready to earn your place. Seek help and mentors, be humble and work really hard,’ he advises. Of course, it’s about discovering your passion and committing, but it’s also vital to have a clear, pragmatic understanding of where you want things to go. ‘If you want this to be your job, then do the hard stuff first and sell whatever your project is – feedback from a paying customer is the best product/brand development.’

Alistair has diligently jotted down some other lessons he’s learned along the way on his blog here. ‘My strength is that I could outwork everybody else,’ he concludes. ‘You don’t need to be the smartest or most talented person in a field, just the most the committed!’

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