Startup Diaries from Australia: Biggest Challenge? Marketing

 Melissa Lowe explains how she came to found Harmoni Organics, a leading manufacturer of natural and organic personal health products; describes the challenges she encountered with marketing her brand; and shares the top ten lessons she’s learned on her entrepreneurial journey.

At a young age, I found that I had severe reactions to personal care products containing specific chemicals, especially those in anti-perspirants.  After the birth of my first daughter Claudia, I became truly passionate about natural healthcare products and the environment and seriously considered setting up my own personal body care company. 

The leap into starting my own business was huge and very scary; you put everything you have into this wonderful idea and there’s always that possibility of it not working out. Even with three daughters, I always coordinated my time perfectly so all aspects of my life got my attention and care. It is definitely a challenge to start a business and give it all you have with young children who need to be picked up from school and have their lunches made; organisation is undeniably key.

I started by launching my products through David Jones and Woolworths, however the high cost of supermarket and departmental store entry combined with an Australia-based manufacture has made it difficult for Harmoni Organics to compete against imported products in the Australian market space. Starting a business can be tough, but working with amazing people who are passionate about natural and sustainable health care products, our planet and people in need makes it worthwhile and enjoyable. There are going to be rough spots and times where giving up seems like the right option, but it’s not, it’s the easy option. So surround yourself with people who are positive and are going to lift you up, and running your business will become a joy, not a chore.   

My biggest accomplishment professionally was to be recognised by Commercialisation Australia for having an innovative business concept that had national benefit.

To be recognized as having a product that is innovative and important is very uplifting.

It makes you want to try harder and develop more products that will hopefully change the world.

When starting your own business it’s very important to plan and strategise. Harmoni Organics has changed its strategy several times to adapt to new markets and the changing market space. Make sure to be flexible and adaptive, utilise new technology if it’s available and make social media your new best friend. I have also added new products to my product line to facilitate market niches or trends. Harmoni Organic’s product line currently includes deodorant, facial skin cleanser, toner and moisturiser,body lotion and feminine hygiene pads.

In the course of research and development we found our way onto the shelves of prestigious retail and initial signs were really positive.  

I was confident that the brand would speak for itself as the "new challenger brand" and we now had to successfully launch Harmoni's Kiss as a legitimate alternative to market leaders to our target market.  We created a very intensive marketing plan which we believed would drive our target market through the prestigious retailers doors. The marketing plan was exactly what I wanted but the budget associated with it was not. 

I also learnt that even if you are working with a well known or a new marketing company you must have solid KPIs or accountability processes in place or a company can spend your money working on activities that don't actually support the marketing strategy you initially signed off on. Your marketing budget can evaporates before you can get your core message out to your target market.

The marketing plan through developing the strategy also revealed that I had lost my original vision of product placement and I got caught up in developing products for a high end retailer specialising in "beauty"  instead of being positioned with FMCG or independent healthfood/pharmacy stores that supported their customers who are passionate about healthcare products, which was my original passion.

My greatest challenge with my business was the execution of the marketing plan.

I overcame the challenge of executing a marketing plan by simply letting go of "mistake" thinking  and the choice to support a high end retailer.  I overcame this obstacle and other issues associated with it by talking with people who I respected in business.  They advised me I shouldn't beat myself up about the money that I felt I had wasted and could have been used more effectively and that I had not made a "mistake or wrong" decision but I simply took a different path and it has lead me back to my core reason for starting this brand in the first place.  

I have learnt that:

1. You have to trust yourself and understand that you are where you are meant to be at that point in time.  

2. Research is vital - know your customer and what their needs are and always review and update.

3. Matching your customers’ needs with a Marketing company to successfully deliver your message is key.

4. Working with your marketing/pr company you must set solid KPI's and make sure the KPI's are met in a contract form otherwise set agreeable consequences

5. Planning is vital - have a solid daily, weekly, monthly, three monthly and twelve month plan and tasks in view.

6. I need to be adaptable, life and business can change in a moment, how I handle that change is vital no matter how strategic/routine based I am. 

7. Working with experts in their field who are also passionate about supporting you is a strong key to your business success.  

8. Checking your attitude every now and again helps overcome that "stuck" feeling I sometimes get.  When I change my attitude to "I can do" everything is achievable. (and I feel less "stuck”)

9. I must stay true to why I established the brand in the first place.

10.  That although our brand is more about "cause" it is still a business and need to act and perform like one.

Overall, the journey of starting a new business can be very intimidating and stressful, but it’s also very rewarding, intellectually stimulating and gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

Melissa Lowe is the founder and managing director of Harmoni Organics.   Harmoni Organics is a leading Australian owned and operated manufacturer of natural and organic personal health products based in Wagga Wagga, NSW.  Melissa founded the company in September 2009 and is Australia’s first brand to wear the Australian Certified Organics – Biological Farmers Association Cosmetic logo.

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