One in three Australians are considering starting a business in 2021, according to research from GoDaddy. But the research highlights a gender gap; 40% of males said they were interested in starting a business this year compared to just 27% of females.

The women who have already made the leap to entrepreneurship say backing themselves has led to more freedom outside a 9 to 5 and greater professional satisfaction. 

In particular, women are finding success as independent online retailers by harnessing digital marketing platforms and technology solutions to build sustainable businesses. At ShipStation, we see women taking advantage of technology to grow their business. 

For International Women’s Day, the women behind 11 successful Australian ecommerce businesses share the stories behind the highs and lows of running an independent business and give advice for aspiring retail leaders and entrepreneurs. 

Dr Lisa Chimes, Founder & CEO, DOG by Dr Lisa

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Work out your core values before you start your business. People will try and persuade you otherwise along the way — just stick to those values and you will build a brand that you can be proud of. 

What is the biggest challenge you faced and how did you pivot or overcome that obstacle?  

We had some issues with manufacturing early on when our Australian manufacturer was suddenly unable to produce our products due to COVID-19. We had to urgently find a new manufacturer that could produce quality products in a short period of time to meet our customer demand. I made sure that we didn’t cut any corners and spent a lot of time sampling products until a suitable supplier was found. I chose not to take any shortcuts, but rather partner with a manufacturer we can build a long-term reliable relationship with.

What are the biggest rewards that come from running your own business? 

There is something very special about having an idea in your mind for a long time and then seeing it in the hands of happy customers. I feel so privileged to be able to work with people and their animals. It puts a smile on my face to see the products that I once dreamed about now making a difference to the health and lifestyle of pets and their owners. 

Bianca & Briggett Roccisano, Founders, Booby Tape

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Invest your money in your business if you believe in it and your product is well received. We made our first $15,000 and put every cent back into the business to make $30,000. If you made $15,000 and invested $1,000 back in, it’s much harder to grow. Another thing we live by is we were raised that we could do anything. Always think you can achieve anything, and having that mindset will help you to manifest and achieve your goals. If you don’t believe in yourself, you cannot achieve.

What is the biggest challenge you faced and how did you pivot or overcome that obstacle?

Being a woman! It’s incredibly difficult in business. We feel that we have to work twice as hard as a man to be recognised. We can’t wait until we live in a society where women and men are equals.

What advice would you give to women just starting out or looking to advance their careers? What would you do differently if you were starting a business today? 

We wish that we had the confidence in ourselves to start our business 10 years earlier. It’s always so daunting and people scare you into starting a business, but we wish we were confident in our ability and had persevered earlier. If you are passionate and hard-working the world has unlimited options for your career goals. There are going to be failures along the way. You just need to persevere, and these setbacks should make you more resilient and stronger.

Kasia Gospos, CEO, Leaders in Heels

What advice would you give to women to want to start their own business?

When I started Leaders in Heels it was just a blog. From there I learned what my readers wanted, which became my first notebook. So, my advice is to just start somewhere. Learn a little bit to see where that takes you and then choose your next step from there. Life is like a puzzle, you don’t see the whole picture. You just have to put a piece in front of you and start small. Then another, and another, and with every piece you grow.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

I love this lesson from a Masterclass I took with Anna Wintour: “stop looking to the left and right at what others are doing.” For me that means, looking too closely at what others do is a distraction. It limits your creativity and your potential. When we are distracted by what others are doing, or how to do what they do we become inefficient and lose precious time.

What do you think are the most important traits of strong female leaders?

In all the successful female leaders I’ve interviewed I’ve noticed six traits are common: passion, creativity, innovation, confidence, determination, and kindness.

Niki Skontos, Founder & Co-Director, eCom Logistics 

What advice would you give to women just starting out or looking to advance their careers? 

When starting out or looking to advance your career it’s very important to network, network, network. Be knowledgeable of your subject matter and demonstrate that you are up for the challenge. There is no need to rush. There is no right or wrong way, trial and error is what always works to find who you truly are. 

What is the biggest challenge you faced and how did you pivot or overcome that obstacle?

Multi-tasking is the most challenging part for a start-up when you don’t have a lot of money to hire or outsource certain functions. I would have earphones in my ears answering customer service calls and at the same time moving boxes and putting stock away in the warehouse. I would be doing sales calls while driving to make deliveries.

For me, as my business grew my productivity was decreasing as I was trying to do everything on my own to save money. I then made a pivotal decision to start outsourcing and hiring people to help me, even though it wasn’t in my favour financially at the time. In the long run, there would be many more benefits. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

It doesn’t matter how many other businesses there are like yours in the market. You do you. You do your business your way. People will love you and want to work with you because of your values. Adding value and creating something different for the client is what will make you unique. And that’s what I did.

Deborah Kinney, founder, DeBra’s 

What is the biggest challenge you faced running your business?

I opened my dream store in Sydney in 2019 and 10 weeks later the store was completely wiped out by a storm — it remains permanently closed to this day. We pivoted quickly to direct our in-store customers to our other physical store location in Sydney, and we also ensured that every member of our staff could keep their jobs. We also shifted the focus to expanding our online presence, and from this we can now help women Australia-wide find the perfect fit. We overhauled a lot of our systems and platforms, including our ecommerce, email, and social platforms, as well as our virtual fitting service and customer service initiatives to ensure our customers have the best possible experience when shopping online.

What are the biggest rewards that come from running your own business? 

Being able to help women solve their problems in our fitting rooms every day for over 21 years now is one of the most rewarding parts of my business. The other biggest reward is being able to provide my staff— women of all ages—with the professional opportunities that DeBra’s offers them. Our team ranges in age from teens through to 60s+. I’ve taken a chance on hiring many inexperienced young women, who through this job have built so much confidence both at work and in their personal lives. Our more mature staff often become fitters as a second career, after kids move out of home, which gives them energy and purpose.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. After more than 21 years in business, you learn that you can’t change things that have happened, you can only learn from experiences and move forward. 

Anna Mitsios, Founder & Naturopath, Edible Beauty

What advice would you give to women just starting out or looking to advance their careers? 

The best advice that I could give is to be incredibly passionate about your product or service and your dream. Having a clear purpose that is not money-driven is also key. This is one of the most important drivers propelling you to move on when things don’t seem to be going your way or when you face adversity.

What do you think are the most important traits of strong female leaders?

Compassion and emotional intelligence is often what sets us apart from our male counterparts. Showing empathy, thinking creatively, positively, and being fluid in our approach to challenges is what creates strength as a female leader.

What are your favourite productivity hacks? 

Morning exercise, coffee, and reflecting at the end of the day are three things that boost my productivity. A coastal walk in the morning helps me to clear my head and prepare for the day. I love tea but am a fan of coffee in the morning as it gives me a bit of a kick start. I also try to spend at least ten minutes at the end of the day meditating or just spending some time to reflect on the day.

Geneva Valek, Co-Founder & Product Developer, Shampoo with a Purpose 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

It seems straightforward, but to make sure what you’re doing is good. If your product or service is truly good, then no matter how you get the word out there, it will do well. Be confident in your product and in yourself and things just might work out.

What do you think are the most important traits of strong female leaders?

The best female leaders are fastidious, organised, creative, and kind. They bring empathy into authority and empower their workers with thoughtful leadership.

What does female empowerment mean to you? 

Female empowerment means embracing your own value and raising up the women in your life.

Suzy Kemp and Michelle Arvaj, Co-Founders, 39 Degrees

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

“No one has control over your life but you.” This has helped us create and continue creating 39 Degrees. People often have a romanticised notion of what running a business looks like. While there are definitely “take-your-breathe-away” moments, it’s a great deal of hard and at times nerve-wracking work. But remembering that we chose this life for ourselves—we chose to walk about from our corporate jobs in search of something great— is what helps keep the passion alive.

What are the biggest rewards that come from running your own business? 

Having the flexibility to bend our work schedules around our personal lives in a way that just wasn’t possible before. We chose to set up 39 Degrees so we could spend time with our family, even when we’re at our busiest.

We also love that we don’t have to worry about “chasing our dreams” anymore. We were always asking each other whether we thought our corporate jobs were fulfilling us or not, but it just doesn’t come up for us anymore.

Alyce Alexandra, Founder, Alyce Alexandra

What advice would you give to women who want to start their own business? 

I get asked this question so often and my advice always is: embrace the side hustle. Don’t quit your job and jump straight into something you’ve never done before. Start the business while you’re still working elsewhere. Do it after work, do it on weekends. 

Sounds like a lot of work? It is, but that’s what it takes to start your own business. If you don’t have the drive, passion, or energy to run the side hustle, my suggestion would be it might not be the right fit for you. Starting a business takes dedication, usually for low (or no!) immediate financial payoff, so you need passion to drive you.

You might also learn the job’s not exactly what you thought it would be—I’m a cookbook author who spends a surprisingly small amount of time at work cooking and writing. It’s emails, logistics, website development, social media, meetings, stock management, and customer relations that dominate my day.

What are your favourite productivity hacks? 

I have a weekly to-do list that I use week after week that contains my focus points, not just for the day-to-day runnings of the business but also from a business-building perspective. So there’s the standard tasks like check inventory levels and order stock, but then there’s also create a new piece of content (blog post, recipe, video, etc) that adds value to customers. I find it easy to get sucked into the things that need my immediate attention—emails, etc.—and the bigger picture can fall by the wayside.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes in business (and life generally) things can just feel so overwhelming. Whenever I feel like this, I always remind myself “just do something, just keep moving”. It reminds me that “I’ve got this,” even when I don’t always feel it.

Marisa Taschke, Owner & Director, The Lullaby Club

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

“Successful people are just unsuccessful people who know how to recover from their mistakes.” This has always stuck with me. In business, there will be times where you will fail but the most valuable trait you can have is resilience.

What do you think are the most important traits of strong female leaders?

Being unapologetically you. I find as women we are always apologising for being too straightforward, too opinionated, too anything really. It’s important to own your strengths.

What is your daily motivation as a woman? What are your favourite productivity hacks? 

My biggest motivation is my family. I love that I can show my daughter what it means to work hard and that girls and women can do anything they set their mind to. My favourite productivity hack is setting clear goals for each day, writing them down, and setting my intentions. This keeps my mind focused.

Diana Sargeant, Founder, Silkies Rose Farm

What is the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it? 

Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges in our business history was physically relocating the ‘roses’ part of our business from Silkie Gardens Rose Nursery & Café, Kilmore, to Silkies Rose Farm, Clonbinane back in 2012. 

During 2013 there were many times when we discussed closing the business. However, the newly invented online store Rose Sales Online was creating sales. Rather than post our Rose Rambler newsletter four times a year, we commenced an online database and emailed a weekly newsletter—the newsletter contained cultural notes, photos, and always a simple but funny joke. Today, the newsletter reaches over 8,000 inboxes and customers must subscribe to receive the Rose Rambler. With online sales increasing, I challenged the roses and started posting them throughout the flowering season. There were some failures due to extreme heat and lengthy transit times but losses were minimal.

Within two years, I had created a special boxing system that made it possible to post two x 20cm potted roses end-to-end in a 75cm long box and stack three boxes in one consignment. Our customers could now create ‘instant rose gardens’ with potted, flowering roses being posted to their door throughout all seasons. 

What would you do differently if you were starting a business today?

If I were starting a business today, I would ensure that I had the most reliable, honest, and like-minded team of people around me. They introduce and maintain systems which, in turn, enable me to do what I do best in my business— consult and sell our customers beautiful, organically managed roses to plant in their gardens.

Camila Lima is field marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand at ShipStation