If you’ve got a special skill that’s making you money on the side, how do you know when the time is right to go from being a businesswoman to a business, woman?
Phoebe Watt learns from female entrepreneurs who have turned their hobbies into their main game.
By Alexandra Bell and Stacey Horton
Most people come back from holiday with a tan and a few hundred sunset snaps. Alexandra Bell came back with an idea that’d change the course of her and her bestie Stacey Horton’s lives.
The women met in 2013 at the University of Otago, where Alex (pictured far left) was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts, and Stacey a Bachelor of Commerce. Post-graduation, Alex, who had completed her studies at the University of Waikato, picked up a barista job at a café in Hamilton. Stacey, meanwhile, nabbed a coveted role in Auckland as an auditor at ‘big four’ accounting firm KPMG. It wasn’t long, however, before she started to suspect that a sedentary, corporate job wasn’t for her.
Cue Alex’s spontaneous trip to Bali, where she spent two weeks devouring smoothie bowls — then a novel concept she fell in love with. Healthy, delicious, easy and photogenic, Alex also saw a business opportunity and ran the idea past Stacey, who needed no convincing. A food truck was purchased and Soul Boul, New Zealand’s first mobile smoothie bowl, Buddha bowl and organic coffee retailer, was born.
With both women working full-time and in different cities, getting the business off the ground was a massive juggle. “I’d visit our builder’s workshop after work to oversee the revamping of the food truck,” says Stacey (23). “During lunch breaks, we’d both spend time online sourcing packaging, researching regulations and building our website, and weekends were spent together, taste testing recipes.”
The hustle paid off and at the end of 2016, Soul Boul hit the road, touring festivals and events around the north island before winding up at Raglan’s Splore festival in February — a watershed moment for the business. “On the first morning, I remember looking at all the orders we had, and then at our line, and then at Alex and thinking, ‘Wow, this is an actual thing,’” says Stacey.
At this point, the young entrepreneurs knew what they had to do. “Unfortunately, you can’t do much without moolah,” says Alex (22). “But we made a financial plan and stuck to it.” Eventually, they’d saved enough to buy all the equipment they needed, and in April 2017, they quit their jobs and never looked back.Well, almost never. “When you’re pumped at a festival there’s no time for a breakdown of any kind,” says Alex. “Multitasking, working under pressure and being able to find quick alternatives is something my previous hospitality experience prepared me for and I’m very grateful for that.”
Also grateful for each other, the business partners agree that Soul Boul’s success rides on their ability to work together effectively, and on their complementary skills — including the fact that Alex is a pro at driving the truck straight, while Stacey is “the master of reverse”. As they gear up for a busy summer on the events circuit, they say their shared passion for the product remains crucial to their success.
“We’re passionate about the wonderful world of superfoods — they’re the medicine of the future,” says Alex.
And the final, essential ingredient in the recipe? Self-belief, says Stacey. “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. Bang, bang. Nice one, Buddha!”
By Holly Marbeck
In April 2016, Holly Marbeck was offered her dream job at contemporary-luxe label Georgia Alice. A recent graduate of AUT’s Bachelor of Design programme, she had interned at the company as a requirement of her fashion major, and in the final year of her degree was hired as a part-time workroom assistant, a role that included sampling garments, patternmaking, sourcing trims and working with manufacturers.
“It was a really big time for the brand,” says Holly (23), explaining that at one point it was just her and owner Georgia Currie — hence the heavy, varied workload. Holly says being around during the company’s huge growth period taught her a lot. Add to that the fact she’s loved Georgia Alice’s casual-luxe aesthetic from day one, and it would seem unthinkable that Holly might turn down the dream-job offer. “But I was at a point where I had to put everything into my own business to see if it had legs, or just let it fizzle out,” says Holly. “I had to take the risk.”
Holly’s business is Mars — a jewellery brand for the “sparkly, enigmatic, daring, bold, and playful girl”. Its specialty is resin earrings, a pair of which was worn by Solange Knowles to her album launch party.
Its genesis was a pair of denim tassel earrings that Holly crafted to accompany an outfit she made for an assignment in her second year of university. “I started making the earrings for myself,” she says.
“Then my friends began putting in requests, and the girls at work encouraged me to start an Instagram page. I didn’t expect it to take off like it did!”
Indeed, such was the immediate customer demand that Holly found herself making earrings in the middle of the night, usually after toiling away at university until 11pm. “It was definitely stressful. I’d be getting orders coming in and I’d always have an assignment due the next week, plus I was working part-time. It was hectic.”
Things calmed down a bit when Holly finished her degree, but as much as she loved Georgia Alice and appreciated the experience she was gaining there, she knew the demands of the role were only going to increase, and that Mars would have to take a back seat as a result. Realising it was now or never, she saved ruthlessly, then left in May of this year to focus on Mars full-time.
Six months on, keeping her inventory levels high takes up most of Holly’s day. “Resin takes 24 hours to set, so every morning I’ll pour a batch of earrings, then sand the ones I made the day before and coat them in another layer of resin to make them extra glossy,” she says. As a one-woman operation, she wears plenty of other hats, too — from design and dispatch, to accounts and admin, to sales and social media. The latter is something she’s been able to prioritise since making Mars her sole focus, and business is booming as a result.
Not having any other distractions has made a big difference to her output too, although she admits she seeks them out from time to time to stop herself going crazy. “I need background noise, usually in the form of a mindless TV show like The Bachelor or Love Island,” she laughs. “Otherwise I end up way too much inside my own head and get paralysed by indecision.”
Ultimately, though, Holly says going out on her own is the best decision she’s ever made. “Working for yourself comes with a lot of pressure, but it’s easy to be completely passionate and excited about something when it’s yours. I love the creative freedom that comes with being my own boss.”
SHE SAID YES
By Megan Hutchison
Law and wedding planning might seem like starkly different career options, but when former litigation lawyer Megan Hutchison started wedding blog She Said Yes in the lead-up to her February 2016 nuptials, she discovered a surprising amount of crossover. “In litigation, you’re writing a persuasive opinion based on fact and precedent, with a view to assisting the judge to make a decision in your favour,” she explains. “Blogging about weddings, you’re also writing a persuasive opinion piece, based on fact and often considering tradition or custom, with a hope it will be helpful and reassuring for your readers.”
Critical and analytical thinking, and an unbiased and open-minded approach are strengths in both professions. “The big difference with what I do now is there’s no win or lose,” says Megan (28), explaining
that She Said Yes is geared towards guiding people through what can be a stressful time in their lives, “which feels positive and fulfilling”.
It was this new-found sense of fulfilment that motivated Megan to make She Said Yes her full-time gig in November 2016, abandoning the law career which, four years in, was heading in a very promising direction.
“My entire life, I was told I’d make a good lawyer, so I followed everyone’s advice and studied law and political science at Canterbury University. It was a natural fit — I’ve always been fairly opinionated and unafraid of making a stand. But being a lawyer doesn’t always mean arguing for the side you actually believe in,” she says.
In contrast, She Said Yes provided a platform for Megan to talk about things she’s passionate about — and she couldn’t get enough. “My job was my priority when it came to my time, but my energy was always in She Said Yes,” she recalls. “It didn’t matter how long a day or week I’d had, I wanted to keep writing and posting, and spent every waking moment doing so.”
During the day, she’d Uber from work to events or meetings for her own business, sometimes literally running back to the office to make other meetings or deadlines. Making up time at the end of the day was a given, after which she’d return home to write, take photos and attend to website admin. With her husband Blair, an international airline pilot, frequently overseas, Megan says a regular bedtime wasn’t observed, “so most of the time I was quite sleep deprived”.
Something had to give, and following the hugely successful launch of her wedding organiser and diary, Little White Book, it was clear to Megan what that was. “I’m a much more demanding boss!” says Megan of the transition from working for someone else to working for herself. “There’s no such thing as a lazy Friday, a sick day, or even a weekend off. When you work for yourself, there’s no incentive to stop working; I’m often still up at 2am.”
Megan admits this isn’t ideal, but there’s no denying that the work she’s putting in now is paying dividends. With more time to focus on growing the business (she recently launched event series the Bride Tribe and has added anniversary journal I Still Do to her product line), she’s earning more now than she ever did as a lawyer.
A dream case study for turning a side hustle into a main gig, Megan’s words of wisdom are worth paying attention to. “Hustle takes sacrifice. If it’s your passion, you’ll do and spend anything and everything necessary to make it happen — every waking moment and every last dollar. If you’re willing to do that, take the leap now.”