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From hobby to leading Australian brand in three years

by Kathryn Porritt | June 24, 2010

As I sit here writing this blog post, I find it really hard to believe that just four years ago I was a new Mum on maternity leave from a corporate marketing role and running a little hobby wedding styling business called Pink Frosting.  This hobby business was going to be something to keep my mind occupied and creativity honed while I raised my young family.  As I was working with my clients on creating lavish and gorgeous events, I spotted an opportunity to sell wedding decorations and accessories online because I found it so frustratingly difficult to find beautiful decorations in Australia and yet they were all available to overseas brides. So was born and launched 3 years ago.  As with most successful businesses, harnessing this key opportunity at the right time was the master stroke that made Pink Frosting the top-5 Australian ecommerce gift site that it is today, and this blog is about thow we went from hobby to leading Australian brand in three years.
It's hard to put the experience of the past few years into words, but as our website partners, SiteSuite, have asked me to share what I've learned with other businesses through their blog, I thought I would give you some words of wisdom (!) from a very tired, very passionate, often very stressed, and certainly very passionate "Mumpreneur":
1.  You usually get what you pay for: in my experience it's true that if it looks cheap and too good to be true, it usually is.  I've learned that you shouldn't try and save money on key business services like a great website and technical services, accountants, solicitors and staff.  I tried working with a couple of web developers who were really cheap (but suited my miniscule start-up budget) and I got done - twice.  Then, I learned my lesson and found that paying a decent amount of money for a good product and excellent service brings brilliant rewards for your business.
2.  No-one is an overnight success: I have people say to me all the time we are so lucky that Pink Frosting's success came so swiftly.  Laughable!  I have spent three years working seven days a week (yes, even Christmas Day) for un-Godly hours to make this business an overnight success.  Hard work, determination, great support and your unwavering dedication is what it takes... and yes, a little bit of good luck too.
3.  Put on staff as soon as you can afford to: I baulked at the idea of hiring staff because I couldn't see past the wages bill.  Finally, after about 18 months, I put on my first employee and the business doubled almost overnight.  That sounds a little mad, but I concentrated on hiring staff that complement my skills and every time I have hired a new person, the business has grown as a direct consequence.  I have just hired my 12th full time employee, and we will take on more later this year when we hit our peak season.
4.  Work out what your business stands for and why you're there: for a marketer, this was a breeze for me.  I knew from the very outset what the opportunity was, who my market was, what problem I was solving for that market and what Pink Frosting stood for.  I haven't wavered from that initial idea that Pink Frosting is about providing unique, hard to find, stylish wedding supplies for Australian brides, delivered to their door with little fuss.
5.  Find great suppliers and treat them like partners: I have negotiated exclusivity arrangements with most of my larger suppliers from overseas and as a consequence we treat each other as partners, rather than supplier and buyer.  I have a great relationship with the key people in each of these businesses, as well as the suppliers we use in Australia, and as a consequence, we are often given opportunities to buy before anyone else or at a steal.  
6.  Market yourself like the business you want to be, not what you are:  this is kind of like dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.  From the start, I spent money on advertising and marketing like we were the leading wedding brand in Australia.  It worked.  The market treated us instantly like we were the leading wedding brand in Australia, and the great part is that now that we are the leading wedding brand in Australia, I rarely have to spend money on advertising.  Most of the publicity we receive now is free.
7.  Remember your support network:  my husband has always been integral to Pink Frosting.  He has packed orders in our garage at night when we first started the business, and he listens to me talk about Pink Frosting every night.  My Mum has dropped everything to help me countless times; my Dad (a successful small business owner) always lends an ear and offers great advice; my friends have all helped pack orders or stocktake or unload containers of stock... That support has been invaluable to me and I couldn't have created Pink Frosting without these unsung heroes.  Don't forget how important keeping your support network alive is, even when you feel you have no time.
8.  Go with the flow: I am a believer in business plans, but I am more a believer that a good business plan is a living document and should be changed when opportunities present themselves.  I have meandered, chopped, changed and taken advantage of opportunities as they have come our way - many of them weren't planned or included in our business documents.  I certainly never set out for Pink Frosting to be an ecommerce store when I was styling weddings, but you harness opportunities as they present themselves.
9.  Be prepared to be wrong:  mistakes really are important.  They make you wake up and learn good lessons - hopefully!  I've learned that being a smart leader is really about trying things, sometimes making mistakes and then making damn sure we don't make them again.
10.  Have fun:  do something that you're passionate about.  I love coming to work every day.  I get a kick out of working on our website.  I am thrilled when a customer writes to us to tell my team how much they love Pink Frosting.  I adore the industry we're in.  I want to be here for many, many years to come.  I just don't think it's possible to be successful unless you really love what you're doing every day.
I feel very excited that Pink Frosting has become such a successful ecommerce business within three years and I do feel that we have just scratched the surface.  I am looking forward to seeing where we'll be in three years' time and further into the future.  Maybe we will meander into an area we haven't even thought of yet.  Watch this space...

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