6 lessons I’ve learned from launching 6 businesses

6 lessons I've learned from launching 6 businesses

Elizabeth Hollingsworth.

Serial business owner Elizabeth Hollingsworth has launched six online businesses since the year 2000, three of which are still going strong – Palatable Tea Towels, a range of tea towel maps promoting tourism in Australia’s wine regions; Brighton House Decor, which sources and sells unique and eye-catching homewares, decor and lighting; and My Event Decor, which hires out and sells decor for corporate events.

While Hollingsworth has experienced great successes over the past 23 years, there were a few missteps along the way – and she’s the first to admit it.

In this article, she shares six of the most valuable lessons she’s learned as a solopreneur.

1. Be unique and helpful

Whatever industry you’re in, you’ll have multiple competitors. Before you create your business, carefully identify what will make you different, and what the problem is that you are solving.

From the first website I launched in 2000 (Communicationgame, an online portfolio directory for creatives to help them showcase and get work), through to my latest venture Palatable Tea Towels (wine region maps to help boost Australian regional wine tourism), each of my endeavours has focused on how I can find a unique way to help people.

2. Always keep an eye out for new opportunities

Something that annoys you could turn into your next business.

In 2013, when I planned my destination-themed wedding in Sydney while based in Melbourne, I was dismayed by how many event hire companies didn’t list their prices. Plus, all the companies were hiring out the same generic decor. So, I created My Wedding Decor to sell, hire and source unique decor for themed weddings, from beach weddings through to vintage.

Often, the clues for a new opportunity are in your ‘contact us’ queries. In the first two years of My Wedding Decor, I received more than 50 online queries from corporate event managers saying “I know you just do weddings, but…”. That gave me the idea for My Event Decor, providing themed decor for product launches, store openings, TV commercials, expos and corporate dinners.

And always be ready to pivot and adapt if something unexpected comes up. The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the Melbourne event industry in 2020 and 2021, so I sold off event props and decor to stay afloat. I realised that with everyone locked down at home they’d need something fun to look at, so I launched Brighton House Decor in 2021 to sell an expanded range of homewares.

3. Aim for repeat business and high-value sales

Ask yourself what will bring repeat, high-volume business.

It’s much easier to sell a large volume to a small number of customers than a small volume to a large number of customers. That’s why 95 per cent of my tea towel sales are wholesale orders.

With My Wedding Decor, I was never going to get repeat wedding decor orders from couples getting married more than once. I was starting to win repeat business from wedding stylists, but wedding stylists generally only focus on the wedding season (October through to March). So I decided to switch to corporate event decor, as event agencies plan events all year round.

And don’t be afraid to add higher-value items to your offering – or to increase the prices on your existing range – to achieve a higher average order value.

When I began My Wedding Decor, I attracted couples with small decorating budgets thanks to the inexpensive decor range. My average product sale was $266 per customer, and average wedding rental was $286. With My Event Decor, I sold more expensive items and achieved an average order of $617. Once I increased my minimum hire threshold to $500, my average event rental booking grew to $828.

Palatable Tea Towels

Palatable Tea Towels features a selection of different designs.

4. Know your costs

When I launched Communicationgame, I didn’t connect the costs of running and promoting the website with the creatives’ subscription fee to showcase their work – in short, I hadn’t charged them enough – and natural attrition meant I always had to find new customers. If I could go back and start again, I would charge users by percentage instead of a flat rate.

With My Wedding Decor, I spent thousands on directory advertising, even though 90 per cent of couples found me organically via my product pages and blog posts.

Embarrassingly, I used to charge what sounded ‘right’ rather than calculating the correct profit margin in my drive to win new bridal business. Once I’d worked out the real costs of business and transitioned My Wedding Decor into My Event Decor in 2017-18, my profits soared.

5. Maximise your sales channels

Consider whether you can add your product to a second website to increase sales opportunities. When I ran the astrology report business It’s In The Stars from 2006 – 2014, I sold to customers across 32 gift websites including RedBalloon.

Some of my homewares products sell across two of my websites; and I sell my wine region map tea towels across all three: they are sold wholesale on the Palatable Tea Towels website, retail on Brighton House Decor and as thank you gifts for weddings and corporate events on My Event Decor. They’re also listed with more than 50 online retailers and bricks-and-mortar shops.

6. Don’t fall into the sales trap

As a supplier on RedBalloon, I was encouraged to make special offers to customers during Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas Day.

When my astrology report product joined the product line-up in 2007, RedBalloon had about 600 experiences but this grew to more than 3000, which meant my product listing became harder to find.

Even though I had a loyal customer base, by 2013 I had trapped myself in the sales cycle where customers would just wait for my next sale before they purchased.

If yours is virtually the only product of its type, is in stock and is popular, don’t continually put it on sale as you have no competition. If a customer tells you your product is too expensive, it’s just not right for them.

TELL US: What vital business lessons have you learned? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Elizabeth Hollingsworth

This article was written by Elizabeth Hollingsworth.

She has founded several businesses and has expertise across communications, public relations, marketing and product creation. She currently runs Palatable Tea Towels, Brighton House Decor and My Event Decor.