Turning tears into triumph

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to release the courage and tenacity your true self hides. My rock bottom came three years after establishing my company, She’s Empowered.

Imitation is a form of flattery… apparently

Several years ago, whilst working for a mining company, I had a light-bulb moment in a meeting with my heavily pregnant manager. She sat in our meeting, wearing an unbuttoned high-vis men’s shirt over her singlet because there were no maternity options. I sat there perplexed that despite all the progress for diversity in the resources industry, no advancement had been made around uniforms! So, I took the leap and changed my career direction from a mine accountant to become a designer of workwear for women, and business manager of my own company, She’s Empowered.

The early days were challenging. After months of research and overseas factory visits, my manufacturing factory fell through. I had already spoken to suppliers about stocking the She’s Empowered range and promised delivery dates, but I found myself without anyone to make my product.

I powered on at every hurdle I came up against in the early days of my business and eventually found a manufacturer who I continue to use today. I literally knocked on doors to set up meetings, and garner interest and trust in the brand. Over the years, I went from having zero stock and sales, to developing the very first high-vis maternity shirt in Australia – winning business and entrepreneur awards along the way.

The tears came, however, the day I discovered one of the big players in the industry had copied my designs down to the thread. I hadn’t patented them, since it didn’t occur to me my designs were unique enough for someone to want to copy. And I certainly didn’t see this form of imitation as flattery!

I couldn’t understand what this meant for the little business I had started. I questioned whether it was time to pack it up, go back to my accounting job and pay back the debt I had incurred. It was a dark time.

They can copy my past, but they can’t steal my future

Although calling it quits felt like it was the only option, something niggled at me. Why can’t this work? Why should I quit when I’m so passionate about this? I decided then and there that I was going to reinvent my brand. I told myself, “they can copy my past, but they can’t steal my future”.

So what if they were selling similar designs to me? They didn’t have my passion, my connections, my hunger for business development, my ethos or my community of loyal customers and supporters.

Today, sales are better than they were before the design was copied! I have a newfound drive for the brand, and an overall increase in both customers and sales. Of course, I couldn’t see this potential back when my whole world came crashing down around me… Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

Self-empowerment ensures She’s Empowered’s success

I learned first-hand external factors can impact a business, but it’s internal responses that determine how significantly. I chose to focus on three areas within my control to take me from that slump and move forward:

  1. Team review – I had to restructure my team. As a small business owner you need to monitor and rein in expenses, but you simply can’t move forward when you’re burning the candle at both ends either.I put a value on my time and decided if it took me eight hours to do something that I could pay someone to do in two, it made sense to outsource and use my eight hours for business development instead.
  2. Cut the clutter – There’s so much scope you can take on as a business owner, but I can’t have a business without customers, and I won’t have customers without quality product. So I focus on these two main areas as priorities.Social media has also become an imperative platform to build a community and ask questions. I started She’s Empowered with female mining, construction and transport workers in mind. But I’ve discovered that my community is bigger than that. Women from manufacturing companies, water treatment plants, the electrical industry and so much more, look to my business to feel confident at work. This intelligence will continue to fuel the growth of She’s Empowered.
  3. Trust in my vision (and in myself) – She’s Empowered was conceived from a desire to make a change in a male-dominated industry and to make a positive impact on diversity. I look at challenges differently now. I find the reasons why I can do something, rather than why I can’t. She’s Empowered is what it is, because I’m empowered.

 

It’s just good business

Business owners should always remember their “why”. Remembering why you started your venture ignites a passion to overcome challenges and brings rewards and recognition from customers.

There’s always going to be someone bigger, better financed or more connected than you are. But they don’t have your knowledge, your personality or your drive. Find your point of difference and live it. Breathe it. Promote it!