Ten years ago, at the age of 42, I decided to go back to school. I knew that the only way I could support myself and my family was to tilt the odds in my favour by upgrading my skill set.
When the girls were little, I had worked many odd jobs while surviving on the sole parent pension and still being around as a mum for them. I knew from experience that the maximum I was going to get in the workforce was $20 AUD per hour. So I tapped into my passion for food and went to study Nutritional Medicine.
This is when I faced my first major challenge.
I had never sat an exam before. When growing up, I was sent to the local school in my street. It was an alternative school where the education system was exploring different styles of learning and there was none of the usual rigorous structure of today’s schooling. It suited me fine at the time but it made my return to the system that extra bit harder.
At university, I experienced a feeling of excitement during enrolment. I felt like I had a renewed purpose in life and I had the power to change my future.
However, it was short lived.
As the first assignment due date was impending, followed by an exam, there was a growing feeling of doom in my gut. I remember calling my friend and her husband, who were both teachers, saying that there was no way I was going to be able to do this and why had I ever thought that I could? In the end, I realised that I just had to knuckle down and get through it. I faced the eye of the storm.
I reached out for support and advice from my fellow students, most of them half my age, and I focused on finishing one assignment at a time. My walls at home were covered in butcher’s paper with biology diagrams and chemistry processes drawn on in black texta. My kids were constantly testing me on answers relating to what was on our walls at the time. In a way, we learnt together and that was awesome. I would not have got through those exams without them. One small achievement after the other and before long, it was complete. Four years of studying allowed me to practice as a nutritionist and I quickly got work in a clinic and a gym with my new found career.
Although most people would settle there, being the crazy person that I am, I wanted to do more.
At this stage my two daughters had become teenagers and, despite my efforts to steer them in a direction that I knew was best for their health, their eating habits had completely changed. My youngest, always the fussy eater, had just decided to stopped eating breakfast and lunch. She ate most of her meals between 4-8pm and was struggling at school with low energy levels. I knew I had to do something about it and so I created Smoothie Bombs. The whole purpose was to get her drinking a nutritious smoothie in the morning. When I found it worked for her, I decided to test it on my clients, family and friends. I even approached a couple of friends who owned cafes to give them a go for their drink menus. I had that entrepreneurial voice in my head saying “This can help other families!” And so I went about my next big challenge of creating the retail product from scratch.
I went from hand rolling the ‘Bombs’ at my kitchen bench, to finding a commercial kitchen and then as it grew again, seeking out a manufacturer to help produce the volumes needed. Along with production, I developed the tube concept, the brand design and registration as a food business (and all the complications that are associated with that).
I learnt very quickly that business is laden with challenges. The bigger I grew, the more challenges arose and the more I needed to be “switched on”. When starting out, I definitely encountered the business “sharks” that people talk about. I have had companies copy our IP and marketing teams bamboozle us with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) jargon and then not deliver. I have also constantly had to navigate cash flow issues due to late payers. Another trial of upscaling is sourcing ingredients, especially when you’re looking for certified organic in large volumes.
Sometimes, it all felt overwhelming…
But the small wins along the way kept me motivated and focused. Some of the amazing highs along the way have included our online store breaking sales records and recently taking out 2 silver trophies in the AusMumpreneur Awards for Product Innovation and Customer Service. It was also awesome landing Chemist Warehouse as a national stockist.
I have had people question my business move to the giant retailers saying that it might damage my organic niche market but that’s just ridiculous. Having been a single mum, I know the struggles of managing money while getting good food into my family. If I have made it possible for other families on a budget to get a truly nutritious option at an affordable price, then I have done my job.
Every process was completely new to me and there were so many challenges! In hindsight, I wonder if I had a different mindset, whether it would have got me this far? We all get told that business is hard and I agree you need to have thick skin, a sharp mind for numbers and the ability to be flexible with your goals. But those things won’t guarantee success.
That extra piece to the puzzle is having the focus on why you started in the first place.
There were plenty of times that I could have closed the doors and just gone back to working in a clinic, but sticking to it always felt better.
Everyone defines success differently, I know many young entrepreneurs place monetary value on making it in business but that doesn’t cut it for me. My ‘winning moment’ is based on changing the course of my life rather than what my bank account says. I have reached a place that allows my passion to thrive. It has come with it’s hurdles to jump and, at times, what seemed like insurmountable challenges but I’m now at that fortunate position of looking back and smiling. What have I learnt most along the way? It’s never too late to try.
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