In the business of giving

06 Apr 2017 |

Emily McWaters used her entire savings – $10,000 – to buy her first business when she was still in her early twenties, turning it over within twelve months at a significant profit. Essentially, she has never looked back, and is now Founder and CEO of the SOL Group, which encompasses The Hamper Emporium, Gifts Australia, Everything But Flowers and Men’s Gift Store.

This year, Emily was inducted into the Her Business Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame. We had the opportunity to ask Emily about her business success, with a Q&A:

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your business career and how did you overcome it?

Lack of capital. Having remained self-funded, I’ve had to learn to watch my expenses, even if those expenses are on stock that can be resold. It is so easy to get more than what you need or feel pressure to prove a point about your buying capacity. I still do it sometimes to try and prove to a new supplier that we are worthy of good service by putting in an initial order that is simply more than we need. This is a bad habit to get into, particularly in a seasonal business where cash flow can fluctuate dramatically.

You work remotely part of the year – how have changing work modes such as telecommuting and flexible work arrangements been reflected down through your businesses?

The beauty of an online business is that, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, it can be run from anywhere. I have an experienced and trusted team to run the operation in Sydney, and I stay in touch with them through any one of a number of modes of communication. We also have a number of team members who work remotely in areas of the business such as SEO and content, product development, web development and creative design. The focus is on work output and results rather than micromanaging the hours worked.

You have bought businesses and built them up, rather than establishing start-ups. What do you think are the major pros and cons of taking that path?

The pros are that you are thrown in the deep end and are forced to work hard without procrastination – if you buy a business that’s up and running, you’ve got to keep it up and running! You can also get an exceptional deal and less risk if you are prepared to put in the time to research and shop around. Let someone else spend $100k plus on an extravagant fit out or machinery, then you can pick it up as part of a package deal with a business or even just with a lease on premises.

The only con would be coming up with the cash for the purchase as well as some working capital up your sleeve, but this can be avoided with smart buying. However, don’t underestimate how much working capital you need and always do proper calculations to figure it out.

How important is it to be agile in response to changing consumer behaviour, like advocacy on social media and browsing for goods on mobile devices, and how have your businesses adapted in this environment?

With all the talk of Mobilegeddon back in 2015, we focused heavily on responsive website design for mobile and tablet. Our results that year saw a 30% year over year (YOY) increase in mobile traffic and significant increases in conversion. Small details make a big difference to the experience on mobile, and it’s constantly on our radar. We don’t rely heavily on social media or influencers, as our websites and products largely speak for themselves. We’re in gifting, so most of the recipients of our products are potential customers, so it’s important that the gifts are presented in a way that is impactful and will encourage them to visit our sites.

What are your top tips for someone thinking about following in your footsteps?

Go hard, and commit to going hard for many years. My journey to being self-sufficient and successful took many, many years of battling through, feeling disheartened and often just scraping in on paying suppliers and staff. For the good part of decade I had nothing to spend on myself. Reading articles about entrepreneurs can at times be misleading, often it sounds like success happens overnight. Maybe for 1 in 100! It certainly hasn’t been for me.

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