Business in Profile
koolaman designs – silver with character®
Tell us about your business
koolaman designs – silver with character® is our business name. Founders Lisa O’Keefe & Stacey Clayton are sisters. The name koolaman comes from the 73,000-acre farming property that Lisa and her husband live on with their three children and Lisa’s in-laws.
It’s all about family! Lisa and Stacey own and manage the business, and with six children, all aged under four we need (and get) fantastic support from our husbands and extended families.
We founded the business together. Stacey manages customer and wholesale enquiries, and the financial side of the business. Lisa deals with marketing, advertising and product design.
As sisters we have the added advantage of knowing each other and being able to honestly bounce ideas off each other.
With only a few cars a day passing Koolaman Station in the far south-west corner of NSW, the opportunity for a ‘retail store’ was very limited. An online store www.koolamandesigns.com.au enables our customers to view and purchase our pendants from all over Australia and the world.
We also travel and exhibit our collection of pendants regularly at boutique fairs, expos and field days around the country such as Magnolia Square in Melbourne and the Pregnancy Babies and Children Expos in the capital cities. Our customers appreciate the opportunity to browse through our collection and see and try the different pendants first hand.
Why did you start your business?
We loved the idea of having a pendant with each of our children’s names and dates of birth. Something that was unique to us and not mass produced.
When we came up with the idea we were both still working part time and our children were in daycare.
Lisa lived on a farm that was, and still is, in drought. We wanted to create an income and have the flexibility of working for ourselves from home. We were looking for something that we could do together despite the fact we live 450kms apart.
That’s when we came up with the idea of the MAMA pendant…. Something different that featured our children’s names and birthdates.
We’ve grown up watching our mother and grandmother and other family members, creating, sewing or painting beautiful things and we knew as soon as we started practicing our stamping skills on kitchen spoons that this was the perfect business for us.
Has starting your own business lived up to expectations?
Starting koolaman designs has been a challenge. Like the business we’ve grown and learned many skills in all aspects of managing an online business.
What have you enjoyed the most about running your own business?
The best thing about our business is the feedback from customers. It’s a real buzz when someone says that you’ve just made their day when they’ve received their koolaman pendant.
We love working with each other, we used to talk every day, and now as business partners we have even more reason. And it’s a great excuse for us to catch up with the kids when we have meetings.
We regularly catch up and stay for a few days and have an ‘extended business meeting’. We enjoy the flexibility that our online business provides. We’re able to be there for our children, rather than having to go back to work at set hours and on set days. The opportunity to get involved with pre-school duty, go to playgroups and spend lots of time with our kids is wonderful. Many nights we work into the early mornings to get our tasks completed before another day begins.
What is the biggest challenge for you in running your own business?
Finding time. Having children is the most wonderful stage, but it is also one of the most demanding. We never seem to have enough time. And the idea of the business is to allow us more time to spend with our family. It’s a delicate balance between business and family life. We’re constantly working at getting it right.
Living on a large sheep and wheat farm, Lisa also has the demands of supporting her husband while he’s working long hours. Ironically the drought actually creates more work around the property, checking that the sheep have enough water and mustering and moving sheep to other paddocks for food.
Funding the business and maintaining cash flow in the initial stages was the most challenging part of the business. Stacey and I used loans from family, and credit cards to fund the business in the early days.
Web design has been a real challenge, however our love of online shopping helped us with our website, we knew what we wanted and that is to have a simple checkout system, secure features to ensure payment and to keep client’s personal details safe. We’ve recently updated our website to include all the administration tasks to make it easier for us.
How do you manage the juggle of running your own business with family?
Since the inception of koolaman designs we’ve had three babies between us. So we’ve become really good at juggling jobs…and working without much sleep. We’ve drawn on each other strengths. We’re able to step into the others shoes and complete their tasks. We’ve had to take on the others roles while the other is coping with a new addition to the family and juggling the demands of family life and owning our own business.
Do you have a favourite networking opportunity or event?
We don’t have a particular event. Our motto is Ask, ask,ask Always ask questions, to other business owners. Never be afraid to ask. We’ve learned an enormous amount since we started the business. The best source of information is from other work at home mums, or other online businesses.
It’s difficult to network when working from home; we make the most of being at expos and fairs and talking to other businesses owners. The internet is also a valuable source of information.
Do you have any advice for anyone out there who may be thinking about starting their own business?
Go for it! Create your business plan, be realistic with your cash flow forecasts and ask questions. Use your family and friends network to share your ideas, source their opinions. Make sure you surround yourself with positive supportive people, take their constructive criticism and make your business better.
Research your product, find that point of difference and use it to work for you.
The most important thing to remember after you’ve got your product is just because you have a website doesn’t mean that customers know about you. Include in your business plan a marketing budget to get your brand and products known. Don’t be afraid to ask other advertisers where they found the best return on investment for advertising. Don’t think that it will happen overnight, a business takes time to grow its reputation and brand.
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