I have been running my business ,Noonoo Pie, for the last few years. I was never an entrepreneur at heart (or so I thought) and it always my grand plan to stay at home with my children while they were young, but somehow through a miraculous set of events I ended up with my very own thriving business. I would love to share my story with you and a few things I have learned along the way to perhaps inspire you to have the courage and the tools to follow your dream. I am by no means the “business expert” and what has worked for me may not be the same for you as every industry is different, but there are things I wish I had known before setting out. My faith plays a huge role in my story, but by no means excludes those who believe differently so if that’s not your thing, just bear with me and hear me out 🙂
It all started because I had a miserable baby. Yes he was just that – grumpy and miserable. He was our third little guy and by then you would think we had this parenting thing under control, but he needed constant holding which was exhausting. To cut a long story short, a couple from America came to visit our church and she brought with her a stretch wrap carrier. Seeing how much it helped her with her baby I knew I simply had to have one if I was going to survive the next few months! I started to do a little research into fabrics and what works best and quickly made one for myself by the end of that week. Before I knew it I had people asking if they could buy the wrap and I realised we had a gap in our South African market. So my start to creating my own business wasn’t that glamorous at all. It was essentially just a grumpy baby and the need for a little extra income that kick-started the whole chain of events. In fact the other day, the baby in question, who is now a delightful 6 year old, told me that actually he really started the business (because he always wanted to be held) and therefore “technically is the boss” of Noonoo Pie!
The fact that Noonoo Pie ever started is in itself a miracle. I had always sworn I would never run a business after experiencing the stress second hand when my mom ran a business of her own. I always thought I didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body.
• Don’t let your idea of who you are and what your abilities are, hold you back from dreaming or finding ways to bring in a little extra income. You may be surprised at what lies inside.
The second miracle along the way was the help I received to do the initial design of instruction booklets, packaging and business cards. We had little to no capital to start up so it was something that was beyond my means to do. This also happened within the church community because my husband is a wonderful connector – he found someone successful in business who was willing to take the time to talk me through some ideas. This individual sponsored the initial batch of design and packaging which set us on the road. His generosity of time and resources was another confirmation for me that I was heading in the right direction.
• When you get an idea connect. Connect to people who are successful in business and can show you the way forward. Connect to as many people as you can because they have a wealth of knowledge that can literally set you up for success. Why make mistakes that can be avoided simply because you don’t ask the people who have “been there and done that?”
For a while the business was very small and I was just doing a few orders for friends and the odd promotion at maternity events. Having a young toddler definitely dampened my enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before I started to stress about all the technical details of registration, tax and all the legalities. The best advice I received at this stage was
• RELAX! Register a name as a sole prop so no one else can use it. Open a bank account to keep business funds separate and wait to see what happens. If it starts to grow then go ahead and deal with all the legal issues, but don’t let that hold you back from starting.
• Good record keeping and admin can make life a lot easier down the line. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. Just keep a simple record of income and expenses along with all your receipts. Keeping up with it on a daily basis it really isn’t hard at all. I may be a little hypocritical in writing this because this is my weak point, but the principle still applies! Then when you do get to a point where you need to get professional help with your bookkeeping and tax, it isn’t a living nightmare. The best thing I did when we got big enough was to find a company to deal with all of this for a monthly fee. It took a lot of stress off my shoulders and I am no longer afraid of SARS 😉 The onus is still on you to keep sales records, receipts and bank statements so your tax practitioner has something to work with so keep that tight from the word go and you won’t have sleepless nights worrying about non-existent records ie. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!!
After a while the business started to grow organically through word of mouth, but got to a stage where I knew I really needed to invest some money. You need to spend money to make money.
• The reality is that you will need to put some money into the business. It doesn’t have to be massive and risky, but a little investment in the RIGHT ELEMENTS will cause your business to grow.
I wanted to have a website designed so we could sell our products online and I knew we needed new branding, change of colours etc. The start-up material we were given was fantastic to get us going, but we needed to take it to the next level. My problem was that we literally had no money to invest so I was ready to throw in the towel (great faith right?) The strange thing is that even when I have very little faith and vision, God has always in His grace provided showing me over and over that our success had very little to do with how well I perform. About a week after I felt I wasn’t going to continue because of lack of resources I had a dream that someone gave me R50 000 for the business – a very specific amount. I had never asked anyone for funds or even hinted that I needed any so I put it down to my fantastic imagination. I mean, who would do that? Well about 2 weeks after my dream a friend asked to come around for coffee. I will never forget how we sat there and he asked about the business and how things were going. Then came the words, “I was praying the other day for your business and God told me to give you R50 000 to do what you need to do to get it going.” To say I was shocked is an understatement. The revelation of God’s grace and kindness in that moment blew me away. God knew. God wanted this to grow. God cared. God intervened and our friend listened. How can I ever give up after that? To this day this story is what keeps me going when things get tough. It reminds me that this is God’s plan and He will take care of it.
• Sometimes when you have a great idea you set out full of excitement and confidence that this is going to be amazing. Often this sets us up for disappointment because it will never be smooth sailing all the way. One day you are on top of the world with excitement and the next you are in the pit of despair! Managing your fears and emotions is vitally important if you are going to stick this out. Honestly, this is something I have not yet mastered and have a long way to go, but I know that this is a key to hanging in there and keeping your joy in the low moments.
So back to the story – I knew exactly what to do with this investment. I went straight to a graphic design team to start working on our branding, packaging, website and booklets.
• You can’t underestimate the power of good design even when you are small. The price of a good design team can be eye watering if you are new in the game, but is worth every cent as it will give your business the professional edge – to the point that you get phone calls to ask where your “head office” is even when you are still operating from the spare bedroom in your house! Basic design work is good enough when you first start up, but as soon as you have a bit to invest I would say that is one of the fundamentals if you are going to position your business to grow. Our team, Lifetime Media was phenomenal for this and they knew exactly what we needed.
• Another thing to remember is that your design team does just that – design artwork and websites. You are still responsible for the content of your website and what goes in there! They can’t create a website without content so you need to hone in on those writing skills and perhaps get someone to help you if you feel completely stuck. It took me a long time to put our content together and this delayed our online launch significantly. My advice is to just start writing even if initially it seems all jumbled. I procrastinated painfully because I couldn’t figure it all out in my head. It was only when I actually started writing my thoughts down that it all became clear and we had a way forward.
Once the website was in place I felt that we had truly launched. We had established suppliers and as soon as we had the capacity we started exhibiting our products at the Mama Magic shows. Those first few shows were terrifying, but we were giddy with success. Our product was extremely well received and we felt the sky was the limit – until the copycats arrived that is. I will never forget the first show another exhibitor pitched up with “our product.” The packaging was unsurprisingly similar and even the wording in the instruction booklets online was line for line. I was devastated and shaken. Something I wish I had prepared my mind for. I was completely intimidated when a large established company did a similar thing and followed our lead.
• You will be copied! You are not the owner of a concept (unless you have design patent) and if you are really honest with yourself you most likely got the idea from someone else even if they were in a completely different part of the world. Nothing is new under the sun and this is how business works. It shouldn’t devastate or terrify you. It needs to propel you to be better, create a brand people love and shine in your own identity!
• Forgive, forgive and forgive. Holding onto bitterness and talking badly about your competitors is not going to do much for you or your brand. I am not guilt free in this, but the longer I am in business the more I realise that this is something I need to work towards living in. We call it a culture of honour* and I know this isn’t the way things generally work in the business world, but I have found that when you honour your competitor by not slandering them in conversation and on social media, some amazing things start to happen. The more I live in this, the less fearful I become.
• Do yourself a favour when you start and do your research regarding pricing properly and don’t set your price simply to undercut a competitor. People buy according to brand loyalty and quality and are not always just looking for the cheapest option out there. If you set your price too low you are going to have trouble later. I didn’t realise the hidden costs that you encounter when you grow. When you are small you can easily be a one man band, but as you grow the expenses start to gear up – employees, office space, VAT. Get help from someone experienced in your sector when setting your price in the beginning and it will help you avoid uncomfortable price increases.
What you want to achieve is to be set apart as a brand. I really believe in a few things that have helped us grow as a brand.
1. Quality – This is something you can’t afford to compromise on. We knew there were cheaper fabric options for our wrap, but wanted the best and something locally manufactured. I will never forget the first roll of fabric that was sold to us. The seller insisted it was the spec we wanted and my knowledge at that stage was quite limited so I believed him. Only after we cut it up did I realise that it was completely wrong and it was too stretchy to be used. It cost only R1700, but at that stage it was a LOT of money to me. I had to throw it all away. We have had other hiccups when suppliers have sent poor lots of fabric and we have had big losses, but the principal is this: we will never knowingly send sub-standard products into the market. I daresay we have made mistakes unwittingly in the beginning when we were still learning, but the drive is to constantly improve and be known as a great quality brand.
2. Care about the people you sell to and the products you sell. People are not stupid. They can quickly sense when all you want is to make a quick buck off of them. If you really care about your market and believe the product or service you sell will make life better for them, they will know. Every communication that you send out over social media and other channels will convey your heart to your customers. Heart is often underestimated. You may still get rich depending on your idea, but the aim is to be a brand people love. Just look at the posts to large company social media pages – it’s generally complaint after complaint because when you get so big it gets harder to convey heart (if there is any.) Because you are small and not a giant, impersonal company, you have a unique opportunity to convey who you really are. I am so proud when I look at our Facebook page and see positive posts and 5 star ratings. On that note don’t try cheat your way to buying “likes” on your Facebook page. I know it’s tempting, but what is the point of having thousands of likes that mean nothing? You will always get that person who will complain on your social media channels no matter what, but if you handle it well it won’t matter.
3. Be generous – donate, do lots of competitions and give when someone is unhappy with your product. One thing I have learned is that no matter how upset someone is over a botched order (yes it will happen no matter how hard you try) their anger can 99% of the time be turned into something positive if you are generous. We always offer free product when we have messed up. It’s hard in the beginning when cash flow is tight. Small business owners often try to hang onto every penny and will defend themselves to the last to try avoid forking out for a mistake. Remember the bigger picture! That angry customer can become your biggest advocate and get you exponential sales because the ones that complain the loudest can also advertise the loudest when you give them a great response. It has happened to us time and time again.
Since we started we have had some wonderful moments and some gut wrenching moments. Times when there was plenty and times when we didn’t know where we were going to get the money for payments that were due. It still isn’t easy. We still have challenges, but what we have learnt along the way is like gold and can build your character if you allow it to shape you positively. In tough times I have wondered whether a straightforward job for the income we needed wouldn’t be a better option, but I wouldn’t change the journey I have been on for anything. You don’t need to be a victim to your financial circumstances. I have a niece who funded her entire overseas trip by selling home backed chocolate crunchies. God is the most creative being in the universe and He has put everything in you that you need, to come up with that new idea. Take what little you have and run with it because there will always be that open door when you feel you have hit the wall. You just need to find it.
*Book credit : “Culture of Honor” by Danny Silk