Small Business

5 Steps To Launch A Business

Small businesses are launching at a rapid rate. In Australia alone there are more than 2.24 million active trading businesses, 97.4% of which are classified as ‘small’ (ABS, 2017). This figure is increasing by more than 3% each year. Yet while so many exist, many more small businesses get stuck in the phase between creative ideation and launch.

For this month’s small business column, we spoke with Rebecca Stern, co-founder of locker brand Mustard, to discuss the lessons she’s learned since launching the business with her sister in February this year.

Fiona Killackey

Rebecca Stern, co-founder of locker brand Mustard, to discuss the lessons she’s learned since launching the business. Photo – Bronte Godden of Lazy Bones.

Newcastle-based Mustard was established in February this year. Photo – Bronte Godden of Lazy Bones.

The name was chosen because colour is at the core of the product and brand – as you can see here. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

Lockers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but those who get it, love it!’ says Rebecca. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

Mustard is Rebecca’s second business, following House of Bec. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

‘I knew I would need certain ingredients to be able to scale the business while still keeping it manageable and allowing me to work flexibly,’ explains Rebecca. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

Fiona Killackey
25th of May 2018

‘My sister Jess and I had always dreamed of starting a business together and while taking time out after the birth of my second son Ellis, the idea for Mustard began to form’ says Rebecca Stern, from her studio in Newcastle. ‘The name was chosen because colour is at the core of the product and brand. I’ve always had a thing for words or phrases with multiple meanings and Mustard seems to fit. As a colour and a condiment, it’s an acquired taste. Lockers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but those who get it, love it! I figured if ‘Apple’ could work, why not Mustard?!’

In addition to cementing the brand name, Rebecca also brought with her experience from running her first business, House of Bec. ‘Mustard was created with growth in mind, and the aim for it to provide a full-time gig for both Jess and I. I knew from my previous brand that I would need certain ingredients to be able to scale the business while still keeping it manageable and allowing me to work flexibly. Due to the size of the products and the nature of production we needed to commit to enough stock to fill a container in order for it get off the ground.’

One of the first things the sisters did was build a team. ‘Finding people that intuitively get what the brand is about, and can bring their skills to the table is the difference between running round in circles trying to do it all, and creating a strong foundation for a business. I have pulled together my dream team of collaborators including a photographer, graphic designer, bookkeeper, accountant, mentor (our Dad!) and of course our team in China. Being able to bring in people with skills that are far beyond my own means I can focus on the areas where my strengths lie and not feel overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to be done’.

Rebecca lives in Australia, whilst her sister and business partner Jess in based the UK, so the sisters have worked hard to coordinate product development and launch plans across time zones. On a day-to-day basis, the duo communicate via email, and delegate tasks using Trello. ‘Having worked alone for years I love having someone to bounce ideas off, pat me on the back when something good happens, and to share the responsibility of decisions’ Rebecca says.

One key decision the sisters made early on, was to narrow their focus. ‘When we were developing our products we had so many ideas, and had a bunch of different products at the sample stage. One night I woke up at 3am with a feeling of certainty that we were doing it all wrong! We needed to focus’ admits Becca. ‘Lockers is our thing. It felt right that Mustard should be known for lockers and by reducing our range down to two products we were able to really fill a niche and be known for that, rather than diluting it. We launched with The Shorty and The Skinny in six colours and there’s plenty of room to grow from here! ‘

Aware of the need to have an audience upon launch, the duo also focused their efforts on building a presence on Instagram. ‘Without an audience, it would be like throwing a party and no one coming!’ The pair worked on a teaser campaign on Instagram, slowly revealing their colour palette, before actually revealing what they were going to be selling. ‘It created some intrigue and helped us develop the feel of the brand’ Becca explains. ‘Often social media is the first touch point with the brand, so we have focused on creating a consistent voice and (hopefully) beautiful, quality imagery. It does take a fair amount of work but I have found it to be one of the best investments in building an engaged audience that sticks around.’ The pair have also focused on meeting audiences #IRL, launching at trade show Life In Style to connect with potential stockists.

As any small business owner will tell you, life gets busy when you’re looking to launch. ‘Last year we met up in China (we learned SO much going to the factory ourselves!),  then Jess flew over to Australia for our launch at Life in Style, and in September I’ll fly to London to launch in the UK’ Becca outlines. But all this research, hard work and determination has seen Mustard launch with success. They have also listened to their instinct, something Rebecca says is crucial for new business owners. ‘Ask lots of people for their opinions, advice and experience. Then… ignore a good chunk of it and go with your instinct! Having a clear vision of the brand you are creating helps you filter all that information and take what is really useful.’

For now, Becca and Jess are intent on hosting successful launches across hemispheres and finding the best stockists for their pieces. ‘Our first shipment is arriving early June (people can pre-order now). We’re also stocking our lockers in some of the most beautiful stores in Australia and New Zealand and online on our website. In September we’ll be bringing the locker love to the UK launching at Top Drawer. We can’t wait!’

Shop Mustard online. For more news on what Rebecca and Jess are up to, follow them on Instagram.

One of the first things the sisters did was build a team. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

Establishing a social presence early on was paramount for Mustard. Photo – Bronte Godden of Lazy Bones.

Rebecca lives in Australia, Jess in the UK, so they had to carefully coordinate product development and launch plans. Photo – courtesy of Mustard.

TIPS FOR Launching your business

1. Know Your Offer

Launching a business has never been easier. With a few clicks and an afternoon spent designing in Canva it’s possible to have a business move from idea to launch within 24 hours. Yet, taking the time to figure out exactly what you’ll sell and the margins surrounding it is vital to long-term success.

As simple as it sounds, spend some time reviewing exactly which services or products you’ll sell, at what price and to whom. How long will they take to create? Who else will you need to fulfil them? What’s the mark-up (on your own sales channels and for wholesalers/affiliates)? What’s the frequency of launching new products? How many clients will you need to make a profit from your service offerings? If someone asks you to sum up what you do in one sentence, could you? These are all basic questions you need to know the answer to prior to launching. While your business will adapt to market changes or shift to suit change in lifestyle (kids etc.) a strong foundation (research, industry/competitor profiling, audience mapping) sets you up for the greatest chance of success. A tool like MindMeister can help.

2. Build An Audience

When it comes to launching a business today, don’t take on a Field of Dreams mentality (“build it and they will come”). The internet is bursting with businesses going broke because little time was invested in building an audience before launch. In practical terms this means launching your chosen social channels (you don’t have to do them all!) and, more importantly, directing people to some kind of email capture form (so you have someone to “launch” to). Mailchimp is one of the easiest email platforms to use and now has landing pages you can create quickly as a placeholder/email capture site prior to launching a full website.

If you’re using Instagram as your main social channel, consider adding LinkTree to your account. This allows you to override the one-link-only rule in an Instagram bio and house multiple links for free, such as ‘join the waitlist’, ‘about us’, ‘find a stockist’, ‘in the news’ etc.

3. Start Small (Stay Strong)

You may have plans to #buildyourempire, but when starting out it’s best to start small and stay strong. What does this mean? Narrowing down on what you offer and doing the best possible job of that before adding to your bow. This may mean having just a few products in various colours or flavours.

For service-based businesses, it may mean focusing on one area of expertise such as digital marketing or eCommerce website design. While the sisters behind Mustard came up with all sorts of things they could sell, their success has come from focusing on one thing (lockers) and doing it well. Brands like Warby Parker, Thank You and Go-To are fantastic examples of having few initial products but doing them really well before expanding.

4. Cultivate A Crew

Launching and running a business is hard work and for many of us, we will start our biz as a solo operator. Essential to your mental health is having a support crew you can turn to. In the workshops I run with clients I ask them to divide this into their “inner crew” (the people you’ll call when you land a dream stockist or when everything’s gone to the dogs), “internal crew” (your suppliers, contract designers, staff etc), “external crew” (networking groups, professional groups you belong to, cleaner, nanny, accountant), “content creators” (those you can tap for content such as videographers, designers, writers) and your “bounce-offs” (people in the same industry, usually with more experience, that can act as a mentor you can bounce-off ideas with). Start with friends and people you have worked with, and consider finding others via networking groups, education hubs (like General Assembly), closed FB pages (i.e. Likeminded Bitches Drinkling Wine) or Design-er Therapy or attending events with like-minded people (i.e. Creative Mornings).

5. Embrace Experimentation

Successful business owners accept that change is inevitable, and understanding who your audience is and what they most want is a result of experimentation. When you’re launching a business don’t be afraid to experiment. Try Google AdWords, test out different hashtags, collaborate with #likemindedpeople, test an opt-in to capture emails, pitch your business with different hooks to the media and bloggers. You won’t know what works until you test, test and then test again. Embrace the uncertain, it’s the only way to grow.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and coach and the founder of My Daily Business Coach a consultancy that provides business coaching and consulting, branding + marketing workshops and creative ideation.  Fiona will be teaching her Marketing for Your Business and How to Get Published workshops at General Assembly Sydney and Melbourne this June. Find out more here.

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