How to start, run and promote your business – interview with Kate Morris,

E-commerce veteran Kate Morris started in 2000 due to a lack of compelling beauty experiences online. As a self confessed “beauty junkie” growing up in Tasmania, Kate was frustrated at not being able to purchase the latest brands locally. Starting your own business is scary. Anything worth doing is scary.Feel the fear and do it anyway. She created to make beauty accessible to Australian women. After starting with just two brands, now stocks 118 brands, including the likes of Aesop, SK-II, Lancôme, Clarins and Benefit.

I asked Kate for advice and to comment in a few points on different aspects of starting and running her business.

A quick note from LH Agenda…

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Starting your own business

  1. Take the time to write a business plan and review it on a regular basis. Business plans are always a work in progress, so don’t worry if things change as soon as you’ve written it.
  2. Write a letter to yourself from the future. What does your business look like? What’s your role in it? Having a 10-year vision will help you make decisions and also keep you motivated.
  3. Check out your competition internationally and see what you can learn from businesses you admire in other fields.
  4. Starting your own business is scary. Anything worth doing is scary. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Running it

  1. Value your time, and don’t try and do everything yourself. Always ask yourself “is this the most valuable use of my time right now?” And if not, maybe you can outsource that task.
  2. Try and assess your own strengths and weaknesses as objectively as you can, and make sure you get help in the areas of weakness. Build yourself a team of experts that you can call on.
  3. Take the time to hire well. If you don’t feel quite right about any of the candidates, don’t just take the best of a bad bunch – you’re better off readvertising to find the right person.

Promoting it

  1. Get involved with social media and engage with people who share your passion – but always while respecting the medium. You can’t just get on Twitter and start spamming, you need to offer a valuable contribution to the conversation.
  2. Make your advertising accountable. What is your cost per acquisition? I generally don’t spend any money on marketing if I can’t directly measure the results.
  3. Don’t be shy or embarrassed about putting yourself forward and promoting yourself. Part of your job is being the human face of your business, and you need to play that role. If in doubt, think “WWRBD” – what would Richard Branson do??

Success factors

  1. Get used to hearing “no”, but don’t take it personally and definitely don’t take it as the final answer.
  2. Be honest and treat your customers and colleagues as you would wish to be treated.
  3. Never stop trying new ideas and don’t be afraid of failure. But do try to fail quickly and cheaply – and by that I mean that new ideas should be tested with a minimum budget and timeframe.
  4. It really helps if you have a passion for your product. Being an entrepreneur is often a long and lonely road, and there will be times where you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. The passion for what you’re doing will help sustain you through those difficult times.

Kate Morris receiving 2010 Telstra Business Women’s Award


Lessons learnt from IT projects

  1. Web projects will always cost much more and take much longer than you expect. You will always discover, once it’s too late, that you have left some key piece of functionality out of the scope.
  2. If someone is selling you something on the basis of improved performance – e.g. if you use this widget it will increase your conversion rate by X% – then make sure you get those performance expectations in the contract, so that you can terminate if it does not perform as expected. If they won’t include that clause, don’t sign it!

The first version of the site was custom built – there was no such thing as off-the-shelf shopping carts back in 1999. I had a lot of trouble even getting a merchant account back then.

The site is now in its third incarnation, and this time we are using an off-the-shelf solution (with lots of customisation mind you). It’s still a work in process and we are constantly testing and retesting different elements to try and improve things.

If you have any questions to Kate Morris or would like to suggest new topics please drop me your thoughts below.