Starting your own business
Frances McInnes started out with one product and a homemade website, yet built a well-known maternity brand that reaches customers worldwide. Here are her tips for other business mums preparing to launch.
The key to getting started is a unique idea. It's futile to compete against existing businesses, so think of something new and set yourself apart from the competition. After creating woollen reusable breast pads, I found there were no other stores in New Zealand with a focus on breastfeeding, nor the range or knowledge I could provide. That was my defining moment.
- Quit talking about it and start working on a plan for how you will do it.
- It doesn't necessarily take a lot of money to start a business, but it might not make a lot of money initially either. Being at home with young children can be a good time to start, as your household may have already adjusted to living on one income. It is quite another jump to give up full time employment to start a business.
- Many high schools and community centres run evening classes such as Small Business Ownership.
- Notify Inland Revenue that you are planning to start your own business. You only need to register as a company when your sales reach more than $40,000 within a 12-month period. Before you get to that stage, you can run the business using your own IRD number, as a sole trader. IRD team members can visit you and go through everything you need to know for pain-free paperwork.
- If you are making or selling a product, test it out on auction sites. This is a good way to assess the pricing and level of interest. You can also ask buyers for feedback. The number of page views will give you a rough indication of whether people have been searching for your product.
- If your business idea is based on your hobby, would you still love this hobby if you were doing it seven days a week?
- Don't rely on friends and family for feedback or sales - they will be biased and won't tell you the hard truth.
- Figure out who your target market is and focus on ways to reach them.
- Think of a business name that describes what your business is, though one that is reasonably generic and won't restrict what your business might grow into in future. Conduct thorough research to ensure this name is not being used elsewhere. Check domain names and search trademark and company listings at www.iponz.govt.nz.
- Register your business domain name before someone else takes it. There are many domain name registration companies in New Zealand and the cost is around $40 per year.
- There are lots of free website templates, some which also come with shopping carts. You could otherwise make a website yourself with a web design program. You could also set up a free blog (there are lots of free blog hosting websites out there, such as blogspot.com) and use that as a website.
- If you are using a free blog as your site, then you don't need to worry about hosting. You can set up your domain name so that it simply redirects to the blog page. This is how I stated - $40 of my start-up costs went to securing the breastmates.co.nz domain, which then redirected to a free blog-type hosting setup at Yahoo Geocities. I only upgraded to paid web hosting when I started getting enough web visitors and sales.
- If you are creating web pages yourself, they will need to be hosted. This is the equivalent of putting your files onto secure storage on the net to get your website live. The cost is about $20 per month, depending on the amount of web visitors and space you need.
- If you are making your own website, it may look amateurish to start with, but at least it will be on the web. Once your business starts growing you can save up to hire a designer.
- Make the most of free advertising. Submit your new domain name to search engines, ask other businesses for reciprocated links, do pamphlet drops, put a sign on your car, email your contacts asking them to spread the word, etc.
- You can invest in an accounting package such as MYOB or Cashbook, or you could create an excel spreadsheet, or download free software. The important thing is to keep all your receipts and paperwork in an orderly system, as this will make things easier at the end of the financial year. You can file your tax return yourself, or use an accountant at the cost of about $600.
- Reinvest whatever money you make from sales back into your business and it will slowly grow. It may be quite a while before you take wages or drawings for your work, so don't despair.
- Running a business from home may be ideal when you have young children and spare time. But as your business and children grow, you can't be a supermum, so accept that some parts of life will diminish - for example, hobbies, housework, cooking, gardening, and sleeping - unless you get more help. The need to hire staff to help you out can be highly motivating!
- Believe in yourself! You might just surprise yourself with what is possible.
Frances McInnes is the creator and manager of Breastmates.co.nz, a home business success story she created from scratch while also growing two sons.