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Liberty Watson is a Sydney based fashion designer and entrepreneur. Her small business Watson X Watson keeps her busy working 6 days a week with her 10-month son Bastien always by her side. She shares her secret to chasing up late payments with a sweet smile and getting great results.
Q. When did you start your small business?
My sister Somer and I are both fashion designers and we started our business more than five years ago. We have done five big runway fashion shows and we had the biggest show in the 2016 Mercedes-Benz Fashion week. We came in with a bang. It was a 1200 seater show!
We have both always worked in fashion so when it came to our own label we decided we wanted to make locally. We have two big retail stores with a couple more on the way and we still make everything in Australia.
Q. How do you balance small business and being a young mum?
I have a 10-month-old boy called Bastien who keeps me really busy and I also work 6 days a week. It is pretty crazy. I was back at work after two weeks of ‘maternity leave’. When you’re an entrepreneur you have to just jump on it. My business was in a really high growth stage when I had my little one.
I took a year off from Mercedes-Benz Fashion week but I’ll be back with a big show in 2018. Predominantly this year we wanted to focus on opening another boutique. We have two flagship stores. Now we are scouting locations for number three and four.
Q. What’s your best advice for others juggling family life and small business?
It is hectic. I think there needs to be a little bit more support for mums who are going back into the workforce (and parents in general). Obviously there is a little bit of government support but for me getting a great nanny was crucial.
I wanted to have the baby with me all the time and not have to be palming off my child to someone else constantly. I love spending time with my baby Bastien. It is a real joy for me to have him with me at work. My customers absolutely love it. They come into the stores to see both of us. He is a little bit of a draw card now. The opportunity to work while being a mum was amazing for me. I’ve always loved my work and am really passionate about what I do.
Q. Biggest challenges?
Cash flow and late payments are definitely the biggest issues for us! My best advice for dealing with cash flow and late payments is to think outside the box. When people didn’t pay me on time I would send flowers, a box of Haigh’s chocolates and a nice note saying, ‘It would be really sweet if you paid me’. That sweetness really worked. It made them go ‘she’s really nice, we’ll pay her first’ and sometimes they owe us $30,000!
Kill them with kindness is our motto. For the cost of a box of chocolates it has made a really big difference to our business. Being the sweet person on the telephone rather than being angry person or getting a debt collector to do it. This is more personalised and makes them feel a little bit obliged to pay us first.
Doing this one thing really transformed out business. Taking the person approach rather than handing it off to an anonymous accounts person worked. For us going direct to the customer was really important. We used to do wholesale and then we restructured out business to do retail.
Q. What do you love the most about running your own business?
I feel really proud to be an Australian business woman, to do my own thing and not have a boss. I’m proud I work six days a week building women’s wardrobes and I love that they come back and thank me. For me its not the moments in Fashion Week that are the best. It’s someone saying, ‘My husband called me sexy for the first time in years’. Or, ‘I felt so good at my birthday’. I really love making people feel great. We aren’t saving lives, its fashion. But we are making people feel good and look good and that’s good enough for me.
Q. Do you outsource anything?
I do most things myself with the help of things like Optus Loop which means customers can always contact me or a well trained staff member directly and get all the information they need. It is just a real personalised service and means they aren’t speaking to some random computer. We do also outsource all of our accounting. That’s one of the best decisions we have ever made!
Q. What would you say to others starting out in small business?
Get some money behind you before you start your small business. I sold both of my properties and that was my go ahead to actually launch into small business and have a nest egg behind me. When you do fall on tough times you need money to draw upon. You don’t want to be getting into debt. That personal connection for small businesses is really important and is a real asset.
Q. What are you looking forward to next?
Opening more stores, dressing people and making them feel good about how they look. Also, spending more time with my family. There has been a lot of sacrifice with my time so I’m really grateful I can have my time with my son.
Optus Loop is a cloud-based phone system (PABX) that also includes virtual meeting rooms, voice and video conferencing, options for phones to ring simultaneously so you never miss a call, automated phone attendants and so on. The system ensures that calls are always answered so new small business opportunities are never missed.