A few weeks ago I started a series called Mamas Mean Business, profiling women who have started their own enterprise. Today, we speak to journalist and author Claire Heaney who, when at home with her baby, started to write about women who start their own business. That interest has developed into her own section on business owners every week in the Herald Sun newspaper, and now, a book. Here's Claire:
Name: Claire Heaney
Name of book: 101 Ways to Kickstart Your Business Wilkinson Publishing, rrp. $29.95.
What inspired you to write the book?
They say every journalist has a book in them. With three children, and that stage the youngest a newborn, I was flat out finishing a sentence much less a story without even contemplating a book.
But while I was on maternity leave from the Herald Sun I was approached to see if I would like to do some freelance stories. for a new revamped business section of the paper. While people tend to buy the newspaper for the news and sport, as people have focussed increasingly on buying shares through various privatisations such as Telstra and as superannuation has become a real buzz word, people who may never have concerned themselves with finance pages are tracking how their investments are going. The launch of the Business Daily section was to reflect this. One element of this was the Business Owner section, pitched at small and medium businesses.
I took on the work and the section just grew like topsy. And while, after 25 years in journalism covering everything from politics to police rounds and courts, I'm as cynical as the next journo, I found the content really refreshing. I guess I probably more easily identified with the mums who, once they had kids, realised it was going to be tricky to slot back into a corporate workplace. And, for the most part, I don't think a lot of them wanted to do that anyway. But they still wanted to pursue something that would give them fulfilment. Some of them hatched businesses because they identified gaps in the market for baby services and products - think Delia Timms who launched findababysitter because she had trouble getting carers or Melanie Grant who launched Snugglebum because she had trouble finding cosy pjso for the littlies.
Anyway, after doing this section for some months I was approached by Michael Wilkinson who was keen to publish a book covering these small and medium enterprises. I tossed around some concepts and decided to write 101 Ways to Kickstart Your Business.
Maybe you could explain to readers what it is about?
As the names suggests it is 101 ideas or tips, if you like, to apply to your existing business or if you are planning to launch a business include them in your business plan.
Alongside each tip I have included a real life business example in which the suggestion has been used to great effect. It might be a suggestion about using a website and then I might include a business that has found that their website opened up their business to places they never imagined.
For instance, Caroline Hume, who developed the Cuddlefish range of buoyancy suits and swimwear, the impact on her business of a website was remarkable. A well constructed website belies the fact that you may be sitting around the kitchen table running the business. Everyone can look professional and it does create a more level playing field.
How will people running small businesses find it useful?
I think, from the feedback I have already received, that 101 will be useful for people wanting to sack the boss and go it alone or even those in business who really want a bit of a boast. Maybe they have stalled and want a bit of inspiration. I've had some emails from a few people that have told me that they are working through some of the marketing tips. Just basic and cheap stuff like getting magnetic signs promoting their business for their car or getting a flyer together and putting it around the neighbourhood to promote their services.
I think it is pretty accessible and I would like to think that people will hopefully keep going back to it and picking out initiatives that might be handy for their businesses..
Does it feature lots of case studies?
Yes there are plenty of case studies and I could have included even more. Maybe I could use them for the next edition. In my past life as a books editor at the Herald Sun and as an editor of this Business Owner section, I get plenty of books over my desk. But I wanted this to be really practical. I think too often the books are full of jargon and theory. My book is pretty basic. It's fully of lots of suggestions and I have illustrated them by including one or more businesses that show how that can be applied to a business.
It might be the importance of choosing a good business name. One that sounds good but also you need to make sure it is registered. Bayside business Puppy Phat started off as Lush Puppy until the owner was warned to change to name or be sued.
Also I note time and time again that start ups and small businesses just don't have the marketing dollars to match the big end of town. But using some practical and simple strategies such as networking, adoptng good branding, building business partnership, joining trade associations, adopting loyalty programs and concentrating on keeping existing customers happy, they can punch well above their weight.
What's next in terms of book plans?
I am nearly finished a book on fundraising which is another of my passions. You name it. Organising trivia nights, raffles, mother's day stalls, sausage sizzles ... I have done it. It's a great way to contribute to the various organisations your children attend. I still need to do some work on this so maybe next year.
I reckon I could write a book a year but time is the real killer.
From your research, what do you think the biggest challenges are for women starting a small business?
I think often women go into a business without a real idea of where they see that business going. This can be a real problem if they have gone into partnership with a buddy and they both have different visions for the business.
One might see it as a hobby in which they can devote two or three days a week while another may have more ambitious plans to take on the world. There are issues where one might be upset because the partner doesn't want to live and breathe the business and they may not agree on how much money they want to invest into the business. I've encountered some pretty sticky partnership splits.
Some businesses I return to in a column I call Rewind and from time to time the partnership has completely disintergrated.
Also time management is a real problem when women are running home-based businesses. It is OK for women who have a partner who may earn good income and be able to pay for a nanny to look after the children. But for others who can't do that they are trying to fit in half an hour here and there which means they feel they are working on the business all day for no real reward.
I guess, like anything, you have to be energetic and dedicated which can be difficult if you have been up all night with a sick baby.
But it is important to get out and about whether you attend networking events or trade shows or cold call shops to see if they will stock your goods.
Who have you found inspiring from the research?
I think the one I go back to most often in terms of women is Carolyn Creswell. I love her story. She was 18 and at uni, working part time for a family who had a boutique muesli making business. They decided to sell and she scraped together $1000 or so to buy Carman's Fine Foods. Today she has two kids and is based in Cheltenham running a business that turns over something like $15million a year. She runs a family friendly business and is exporting. She's a real poster girl and also happy to mentor other people.
Another one is Megan Misso who runs Sweet by Nature. She was on maternity leave and started baking biscuits. Now she's cooking up a storm from a purpose built factory in Heidelberg.
What is a typical working day for you like?
I officially work three days at the Herald Sun. I tend to put in a 12 hour day on a Tuesday as my husband has the day off. Wednesday is just a normal day preparing my pages for publication on a Thursday.
During the other days I tend to administer my emails from home or it might be easier for me to do an interview on a day off if it is close to my home. I tend, because of time constraints, to do most of my interviews via the telephone. I find because of the internet and email I can be well briefed on a person and when I interview them I can just cut to the chase.
I would say I get about a third of my stories from word-of-mouth. For instance, I new shop in my suburb Richmond interested me. I popped in and just got chatting to Guava Jelly owner Jo Prior. Being nosey I asked her what she did before she opened the vintage emporium. She told me she was a ceo but when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer decided life was too short. She wanted to follow her passion. I did a story on her. I love those sorts of real stories. i hope she does well in every sense.
How do you balance everything?
With much difficulty. My husband, John, who also is a journalist, is a fantastic husband and father. But I am forever chasing my tail,. This year I am trying to say NO more often which is really hard for a gult ridden lapsed Catholic Virgo. I am also trying to streamline my life and yes my New Year's Resolution was to get a cleaner which I haven't done yet.
Your advice to mothers thinking about going into business?
Have a plan. Be practical. Have childcare, Manage your time. Do plenty of market research. Network.Any other good resources you recommend? I love the Small Business Mentoring Service www.sbms.org.au. it is made up of volunteers who have retired but want to give something back. They are great and offer really low cost mentoring. Also the State Government has some great advice on its website www.business.vic.gov.au. It also has a great small business festival called Energise Enterprise which runs in August. A booklet will be in the Herald Sun on July 1 but there will be a link on the business website.
Where or how can readers by the book?
It retails for $29.95 but they get it direct from me by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org for $25 posted to them.