Growing up in New Zealand, Anna Ross has developed a deep sense of care for the environment and animals. Such values have helped shape the direction of her business, Kester Black, which prides itself as Australia’s most ethical beauty brand.
Going towards that route was more of a “common sense rather than a business decision” for Anna. But she clarifies, “We're not an activist brand, but we do highlight issues in the industry. You buy our product, and then later you find out that we're vegan and cruelty-free. If you want to learn more about vegan and cruelty-free and what that means, then we've got the information available. But we don't ram it down your throat. We only talk about what we do. We don't pinpoint or poke fingers at anybody else in the industry.”
Anna’s exemplary business performance led to her winning the 2016 Telstra Australian Young Business Women’s Award. The recognition earned her several opportunities, including interviews and speaking engagements. She is usually invited to talk about ethical business, design and sustainability in business.
However, before she accumulated the learnings from her experience, she received a lot of advice from people around her who mentored and guided her along the journey. The top five pieces of advice she received during her entrepreneurial experience were the following:
1.) Run your business with personal values
There may be companies that declare they are ethical, but half the time they’re not. For Anna, she thought, “To prove that my business is doing everything that I say it is, we need to get accreditation and be transparent. We started posting everything up online, all of our ingredients. We started to open source everything. We live by honesty and transparency.”
2.) Treat your company as a sales company
“I've recently been told that ‘You don't own a brand. You are a sales and distribution company.’ In the beginning, we were focused solely on marketing. We didn't focus on sales, which was not very strategic,” Anna said. “We hired a marketing manager first, and then a sales manager second. It took five or six years for us to hire a sales manager. We didn't grow as fast as we could have grown. We have lost some customers over the years because we didn't service them properly.”
3.) Outsource as much as you can
“We tried to do things in-house, and it restricted our growth,” according to Anna. “I didn't pay for marketing because I didn't believe that you should pay for something that you could get for free. I never realised the value of paying somebody to do copywriting. We've always scrimped on copywriting, but now I realise that if we had done it six years ago, our SEO would be through the roof,” she added.
4.) Implement systems and procedures
“Systems and procedures should be implemented from day one. Now, we’re going back and trying to do it, and it's difficult. It has taken a long time,” Anna shared. It helps to have processes in place to ensure a smooth flow of operations and for easy monitoring and reporting.
5.) Know your numbers
“I didn't understand my numbers properly. Luckily, I joined EO Melbourne, and the guys in my forum taught me what to check because I was checking the wrong numbers. I was only looking at the revenue, but I wasn't focusing on the gross profit. We weren't even reporting on it. I knew what cash flow was, but I needed somebody to give me reports,” she described.
Apart from these tips that helped her in running her business, Anna adds her dose of realisations that other entrepreneurs may find helpful. She gathered this wisdom through the mistakes she has committed and her engagement with other people.
6.) Ask for help
“The things I didn't do that I wish I did early on were foster relationships and ask for more help. If I had asked for help earlier on, I probably could have made a million bucks before I was 30,” she laughingly said. “There were strategies that I didn't think through very well because I didn't understand them earlier on. I didn't ask for help, so I didn't know about them,” she added on a serious note.
7.) Learn to say no
When Anna won the Telstra Australian Young Business Women’s Award, so many opportunities came in that she said yes to everything. However, she experienced fatigue. Some of the engagements took her away from her business. Since then, she learned to sift the invitations, choose wisely, and say no to those that are not at her top priority.
8.) Listen to your customers
Listening to customers has brought a pivotal change to Kester Black. “We were at a market selling our nail polish, and a young Muslim girl asked if we made breathable nail polish,” Anna narrated. After finding out about their religious belief and how she could address their needs through her products, Anna shifted her products to be halal-certified. She found a niche through her halal-certified, vegan and cruelty-free products.
9.) Focus on the next steps
Running a business can be overwhelming. It includes hiring staff, sourcing out materials, producing the products, selling them, and overseeing the finances. “The hardest thing for a new business is that there are so many things to do. You can do this by thinking through which next steps to take and focus on what’s necessary,” she advised.
10.) Develop incredible resilience
“People think that starting a business is going to be easy. It’s difficult. One has to develop incredible resilience. You also need the discipline to get to your goal. You have to use creative thinking to think outside the square and get around problems that are always going to pop up,” imparted Anna.
All in all, Anna finds her entire experience as a real positive journey. “A lot of it has been difficult. But I seem to like difficult things because I get things that make me learn the most. It's incredibly rewarding,” she remarked.