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Fashion Accessories and Innovation – The Secret to my Start-up Success!

Fashion Accessories and Innovation - The Secret to my Start-up Success!www.boutiqueaccessories.com.au

www.facebook.com/BoutiqueAccessories

What is your product or service? Date started and date officially launched?

How often have you hesitated to buy something online because you can’t try it on? The enjoyable experience of real shopping has not been recreated online … until now.

The first and only Virtual Mirror in Australia provides a fun and unique online shopping experience by enabling its customers to try before they buy.

Boutique Accessories is an online boutique featuring Australian designer fashion accessories. The store fittingly launched officially on Australia Day, 26th January 2011, in keeping with the main aim of showcasing Australian fashion to the world.

The online store, www.boutiqueaccessories.com.au, was started when the owners noticed that a number of websites were not offering the kind of service we have come to expect in physical stores. Boutique Accessories set out to provide an exemplary service to customers, using technology where necessary to bring the online shopping experience closer to that of shopping in a physical store.

The Virtual Mirror is a hit with customers and designer alike. Customers use their webcam to view products such as earrings, necklaces and bracelets, simulating a real life mirror and appearing as if they are ‘wearing’ the jewellery. It is the first time customers will be able to view online products in context, checking their suitability before they buy. Designers like the fact that customers can view the accessories exactly how they were designed to be worn.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UrnnMtElls

Why did you start your company?

I always wanted to start up my own business, but spent years waiting for inspiration. I had somehow formed the opinion that I needed the next big idea to start up a business. Then one day, a realization, I don’t need the next big idea, I just need to get started! I decided to start up a tried and tested business, but conduct it with my own ideas and inject my own personality. I have always been quite creative, even making my own jewellery at one stage, and always liked beautiful things. I decided to try and mix something I enjoyed, with a business idea I could excel at using my career experience. With 10 years in online marketing, I decided that an online business would be ideal. It’s only when you actually start up your business, however, that you realized how many skills you are missing! Online marketing skills are a major help, but other skills such as web development, PR, design, and finance are just as important and I have had to develop these pretty quickly! This has been a huge learning curve for me, the ‘to do’ list is never ending but you just get on with it!

Fashion Accessories and Innovation - The Secret to my Start-up Success!How was it financed?

Boutique Accessories was funded exclusively by my savings and is funded ongoing through my day job! It did involve a lot of saving up first, but only because I made the decision early that I needed something remarkable to help me with my PR strategy. I had a larger initial outlay than other online store start ups because of the features I wanted on the site. I knew that I had to have something that helped me stand out against other online retailers. I have two points of difference for my website, one is the Augmented Reality Virtual Mirror, which allows customers to ‘try on’ the jewellery before they choose to buy, the other is that we exclusively stock Australian designers. These two points of difference have given me a head start; one point of difference is important to the customers, the other is important to the designers, both of which are essential to making a success of my business.

The Virtual Mirror was the biggest single expense in starting up the business, but it was essential to my PR campaign and has helped me to get coverage in glossy magazines and national television, as well as get me shortlisted in the top 5 for two online retail awards, Best New Online Retailer and Most Innovative Online Retailer! It is an example of an idea that has mass appeal and is feel good application that people enjoy reading about.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

With starting a company on a budget, you soon gain a list of free tools that are important in the running of your website. The number one free tool has to be Google Analytics. Without a proper analytics product, it’s difficult to understand which of your free/low budget strategies are working the best. Everything should be worked out on a Return On Investment (ROI) basis. After all, even on a shoe string, if you work out that you can pay a dollar to get ten back, why would you stop spending money?!

Another free tool I have discovered is Mad Mimi email. This is only free up to a certain point but it does allow you to get started emailing your customers professional looking emails, with no immediate cost. After a certain number of emails sent per month, it will start costing you, but the prices are reasonable and by that point, you should already have an understanding of the benefit you get from sending each email.

HARO is also a wonderful resource for getting your story out there. It brings together reporters developing new articles, and companies who have a story to tell. The reporters will write a blurb about their story and request information. If your story is relevant to their article, you will provide them with a press release so they can include you in their story. This is basically free PR and the only cost to you is the time it takes to write the story!

Finally, use Facebook and You Tube insights. These are all provided for free and can give you useful insights into how effective your Social Media campaigns are.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

Currently I am handing most of the work on my own. My Partner, a co-owner, has promised to do the finance and taxes! I outsource some of the design work to a friend, and outsource the web development to my web hosting company.

What is the best advice you never got?

Outsource where financially viable! With a shoestring start up, if you don’t have endless money, you need to have endless time. Unfortunately you can’t make more hours in the day so, sometimes the time it can take you to do something that is not a core skill set, can make it not financially viable. For example, it might take me 5 hours to create a single online ad, yet a designer can do it in an hour at a very reasonable price! With that 5 hours I wasted trying to design, I could have released a news article, optimized a search campaign, posted on my facebook page, uploaded new products to the site and packaged sales for posting the next day. It’s worth outsourcing if it allows you to do other more valuable tasks!

This is particularly valuable advice if you are trying to set up your business while still working your day job, I believe we are known as 5 to 9ers!

What almost killed your business in the start?

I have to say, I totally underestimated the amount of work there would be to start up a business. When you can only work on the business evenings and weekends, things take a lot longer than you expect they might. I am glad that I underestimated though, because if I knew how much work it would be before I began, I might not have even started in the first place! I’m very glad I waded in without knowing because now the work has just become part of life and I am really enjoying the challenge!

What is the one thing that you did right?

The best thing I did was to come up with a very unique feature of my site, the Virtual Mirror, that people would enjoy talking about. PR is essential for any shoe string start up and this feature provides me a fun and unique way to spread my message.

Fashion Accessories and Innovation - The Secret to my Start-up Success!What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

With very limited marketing budget, choosing the most effective types of marketing to include in the plan is essential. Most strategies used for Boutique accessories are low budget. PR plays a major part, along with Social Media and most importantly, SEO.

What would make your business more “Successful”?

More hours in the day! In all seriousness though, as anyone who has started up their own business knows, there is always something else to do. In fact, it becomes harder to manage your work life balance when you are working for yourself!

Another major help would be more budget for marketing. There are certain strategies which take a lot of budget and a leap of faith. Paid Search marketing would be one thing that could be started if I had more budget and was not funding everything myself. Extra budget would also allow us to further develop the Virtual Mirror technology to allow designers to upload their own designs to the Virtual Mirror.

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