Can you transform your business with a $37 instagram course? Probably not, but it’s hard…
We’re the land of number eight wire and it’s that deeply ingrained entrepreneurial spirit which has seen many of us turn our hand to a side hustle or part time gig. And perhaps that’s because it is pretty easy to start a small business in New Zealand, whether you want to throw everything at it from day one, or keep it more low key.
But there will come a time when you’ll end up asking yourself ‘should I stay small, or should I grow?’ There’s actually no right or wrong answer to that, but if you do decide on the latter – work in it full time, maybe employ others and make a consistent profit – you’ll need to consider a number of things before moving forward.
Which is why I’d like to introduce you to Sarah Primrose from Primrose and Co. I spoke to her on my MAP IT Marketing podcast to find out about her journey from selling beeswax wraps at markets to now selling her botanical skin and body care range in retail stores. (And full disclosure, I’m not only a regular customer of hers, but she’s also been a client of mine).
Sarah’s side hustle story began after moving to a rural block with her partner, where they decided to make a conscious effort to reduce their waste, live sustainably and make changes that would benefit the environment. Sarah liked the idea of starting a business that reflected these values, and while she didn’t have thousands of dollars to invest, she was able to create beeswax wraps and a few other products, and sell them via a market stall. Sarah remembers feeling the pull of getting started – a moment where she realised she was ready – knowing that if she didn’t, she would be really disappointed in herself.
Thankfully, there was a great response to her product and demand was high. Sarah was well and truly hooked.
And that was the great thing about starting small at a market. Without having to go all in, Sarah was able to test the marketplace, see if there was a need and desire for what she was selling, and also sell the products herself.
Another benefit of selling at a market is that you’re immediately immersed into a community of other small business owners. A place where you can share ideas and help promote each other’s business. Even competitors can be helpful – by allowing you to see who else is out there and what you do differently, so you can discover your unique selling point. Sarah told me that this was what made the early mornings and set up worth it, seeing new friends and being able to network.
The first time I met Sarah was at one of my free MAP IT events in 2019 and at the time she was still selling at markets. She was making money, but the downside was that to keep the cash flow moving, she had to show up to markets to make it happen. Her goal was to grow her business, but she didn’t know how.
Then, 2020 hit and we all know what happened next. Covid 19 meant markets were closed for months, and her income went down to zero. Sarah knew she had created a business with a lot of risk – because it relied on her showing up every week, in person, to a market. There was no other avenue of bringing in profit.
But like every cloud, it had a silver lining for Sarah in that she had a lot of time to make some decisions. She started by investing in a few different areas, which included bringing on some external help (in the area of small business marketing), as well as more time and thought into preparing for growth.
I was lucky enough to be there for the ride, and these were the key areas Sarah had to work on to move her side hustle to something more substantial and sustainable.
- Digging deep into values
Sarah went back to basics by ensuring everything about her brand was centered around her values. This meant exploring ways to ensure her packaging was sustainable or compostable, because, as Sarah explains, “Primrose and Co is about putting nature first. So we put nature at the heart of our decisions about our business”
This kind of differentiation is important when you are moving into a bigger pond.
2. Clarifying the branding.
A lot of side hustles start out with simple branding that works at the time – which can be fine for markets. But Sarah knew that growing her business would require a more professional approach, so she changed her name from Primrose Bees Wraps to Primrose & Co and also tweaked her logo. This was about fine tuning her target audience and ensuring everything about her brand was on point.
3. Reworking the pricing.
This is often the most difficult element for small business owners to deal with. And Sarah was no exception – finding it quite confronting to work through. She explains that there seems to be a perception of what people will pay at a market, and it’s not the same as what they will pay for it at a retail store. Selling direct at markets often comes with a smaller margin too, so it is a big shift when moving to selling through retailers. It’s always a good idea to start with a margin that takes into account what your future wholesale may look like, and possibly distribution markups, while still leaving room for profit.
You can always have a ‘market price’, even as you grow.
4. Improving operational systems.
Using white Avery labels may be an easy and practical way to start out, but when it’s time to grow and you’re producing hundreds of a skew for an order – manually doing this probably won’t be sustainable anymore.
Sarah looked at the way she did these kinds of operational tasks and made improvements where possible, including managing stock levels and understanding the best way to ensure she had continuity of supply.
5. Developing a small business marketing plan
Social media is an easy go-to for side hustles and small businesses, but it needs to be more than just ad-hoc to be effective. Retailers want to know that you already have a substantial fan base of loyal customers and a reasonable level of brand awareness and trust.
Sarah knew she had to develop a marketing plan for her small business, which included using social media much more effectively and in 2021, this means short form video such as reels on Instagram and TikTok. In 2020 it meant posting great images and filming regular stories.
6. Optimising the website for sales
So she wasn’t completely reliant on retailers, Sarah ensured her business had its own online marketplace – where she could maintain the brand, and connect with her customers through her About Us page. It was also important that the buyer experience was improved.
7. Getting in front of retailers
Commitment is a big one when it comes to making the leap from side hustle to big business. And once everything was in place, Sarah backed herself completely by investing in a stall at the Gift Fair where retailers could touch, feel and experience her product.
This was an important final step, once she had done all the groundwork to ensure her business was actually ready for growth. And, well I’m happy to report it was a huge success, with Primrose and Co now stocked in hundreds of stores throughout New Zealand.
For Sarah, transitioning from markets to retailers has been a truly exciting and motivating experience. And now that she has had such a positive result from the initial growth strategy, next comes a few more hurdles – such as creating purpose built storage and making space to allow for greater capacity. But it’s all things Sarah is happy to tackle head on, feeling confident after her plans, and leap of faith, paid off.