I recently took part in the American Express Idea Exchange in Sydney, Australia. It was a panel of business people who spoke about different sectors of business. I think forums like this are so important, and the more we can come together for shared networking, the better.
For those who were not able to be there I have answered some of the questions I was asked on the panel, below.
Thank you to American Express for facilitating such conversations and supporting entrepreneurs of small business.
Q: WHY DID YOU GO INTO BUSINESS IN THE FIRST PLACE, AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT IT?
I went into business for a few reasons. I also went into branding for a few reasons also. I look at the business and brand as separate things.
BUSINESS: I was so young when I started SAMANTHA WILLS jewellery, people say I was brave for doing so at 21, but the reality was that I was just naïve. Had I known what lay ahead to create a successful business and brand, I don’t think I would have done it! But that is the beauty with big dreams and the unknown, you take the leap and learn along the way.
I did mainly art subjects throughout senior high school. I wasn’t technically a very good artist, but I had a very creative mind and I was a good storyteller. The art subjects we were assigned came with a very strict criteria, be it size, scope or medium. My first thought always, ALWAYS was how can I make this different. I would try to find loop holes in the curriculum – for example, I once ran electricity through a female form sculpture we had to create, so that it lit up from the inside – because the brief did not state that we couldn’t run electricity through our sculpture. I probably did it to distract from my lack of technical talent on the requirements, and the teachers would always shake their head and say “Samantha, why can’t you just stay within the curriculum?”
But I had no interest in staying within the guidelines. Especially in art, which I loved so much, so when I was out of school and making jewellery, I was making pieces that were so elaborate and crazy. There were no rules.
Starting my own business probably came from a deep seeded fire of cavalier, a sole trader protest that I will not be told what limitations I can and cannot create within. I am not sure if that is brave or simply obnoxious. I guess it is an equal measure of both!
BRAND: I wanted to create a brand that people wanted to be a part of. When I launched SAMANTHA WILLS officially in 2004, websites were only relatively new, and brands I loved would update them once a year at most. I would try to find out as much as I could about brands I loved, refreshing their (stagnant) websites daily, cutting articles out of magazines about the designer, tryingto get an insight into what went on behind the scenes. I would collect their packaging and seasonal look books like fashion magazines. I wanted to be a part of the brands I loved, I wanted to buy into their lifestyle.
So when I had my little market table down at Bondi Beach markets, I would treat it like a retail space. I wanted to create a brand environment that people wanted to spend time in, learning about and bringing into their own lives.
This developed over time, and the brand started to attract like minded people and when you start to attract like-minded people you build community. Our community was about empowering women and our initiatives organically started to reflect that message, through product, through partnerships, through communications, through interactions. That is brand.
Q: SAMANTHA, YOU SAY THAT “BUSINESS IS WHAT WE DO, BUT BRAND IS WHY WE DO IT.” WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Simon Sinek famously says: “People don’t purchase what you do, they purchase why you do it.”
Business is the product. The transaction. The P+L. Business is what you do. In our case, we did jewellery.
Brand is the emotion of how people feel when they interact with your company, how they feel when they wear your product. Brand is what your stands for as a company. Empowering women was the cornerstone of our brand purpose. That is why we did it. Jewellery was the vehicle that allowed us the platform to do so.
Q: LET’S TALK ABOUT DECISION-MAKING? SAMANTHA, YOU’VE RECENTLY MADE A HUGE DECISION TO CLOSE YOUR ONLINE JEWELLERY BUSINESS CITING “INTEGRITY, TRUTH OF HEART, KINDNESS & AUTHENTICITY”. IS THAT THE FILTER YOU RUN ALL YOUR DECISIONS THROUGH?
I used to run every single decision through a filter in my mind. Analyzing what the logic behind it was and then analyzing it some more.
My recent decision to close the SAMANTHA WILLS jewellery business has no logic behind it. None at all. We are profitable, have significant market share and are in growth. It makes no sense to close.
I didn’t run it through any filters, I just knew it was the right decision because I felt it. The values listed above are values I hope underlie every single decision I make, this decision included.
I made the decision very quickly. It was the biggest decision I have ever made, but it also the calmest decision I have ever made. I put my hand on my heart and just knew it was time to close. I sat with the decision for two weeks before I told another soul, and I would wake up each morning as if I had already implemented the decision and say to myself “you don’t have a company anymore, how does that feel?” and it felt right.
As a brand I felt we had said everything we had wanted to say alongside product. I still have a lot to say in my work, but for the time being, it does not include product.
There is a big difference between thinking, and feeling. Our minds attach to a certain narrative that very quickly spirals into a vortex of chatter and illusions. But if we can find a way to quieten the mind we can start to get back to our intuition and being able to feel, to be able to sit in that and trust that is true personal power.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT HAS MARKETING BEEN TO YOUR SUCCESS?
The only money we have spent on marketing is digital, specifically either promoted Facebook posts or Google ad words, which has been great for the business, but the most effective marketing for the brand has been done organically.
Talking WITH your consumer, not to them is the best piece of advice I can give for organic marketing.
As brand builders in this day and age, we have the luxury of social media. Our consumers are gracious enough to talk to us daily on those platforms, showing us what they like, what they don’t – if you are paying attention and speaking with them you will learn much more than any marketing report can show you.
Q: WHAT’S THE MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING YOU’VE DONE TO ATTRACT MORE CUSTOMERS?
Speaking with our consumer, not too her. One afternoon I was sitting on my couch scrolling on Instagram and noticed I had been tagged in a picture of a purple flower. “How great would this colour be for a Bohemian Bardot? We should all post our favourite colours and tag @SamanthaWills and show her!” (A Bohemian Bardot is our best selling ring).
Someone else replied “That’s a great idea! Let’s use the hashtag #DreamBardot”
I saw this and responded “Love this idea! Be sure to suggest a colour name so if we produce it, we can name the colour after you!”
Speaking to her would have been “Here is what I have decided for the season”. But because I listened and spoke with her, within an hour, I had access to our most engaged consumer (which is usually your most high spend customer) telling me exactly what colour she wanted to purchase in our best selling item.
We took these colours and sent them off to our production house the nest day and put them into production. It would be our most commercially successful initiative.
It is your customers who build the heart of your brand, treating them with integrity and graciousness is the most effective marketing you can ever do.