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AMBER SMITH has done what many of us aspire to. She had the guts to give up her day job as an auditor for a chartered accounting firm and start an online fashion store. Now the glamorous Sydneysider makes money doing what she loves. Oh, and did we mention she also spends half her time in Bali sourcing product? While it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, Amber, 27, has learnt a lot along the way. So on the eve of her company’s Oberoi St’s first birthday, we asked her to share her top tips for making an online business work.

1. Be realistic Be realistic about what you want to achieve and why you are starting the business to begin with. It is easy to be blinded by an incredibly attractive industry, filled with travel, creativity, fabulous events and beautiful people. Reality is never as glamorous. The vast majority of your time with be spent managing inventory, managing employings, trying to find and generate press, sales and marketing opportunities, coordinating suppliers and customers the world over who are often operating in different time zones and want responses 24 hours a day, and trying to eat, sleep, shower and socialise somewhere in between.

2. Assess your own skills and fill in the gaps Outsourcing helps you to focus on the things that you not only enjoy, but do well. It is better to be able to focus on what you can do, and hire an expert to help you build everything perfectly, than to take on too much and be unhappy with the results. Leverage your contacts list, no doubt there is someone one there who either has the skills you are looking for, or knows someone who does.

3. Create a name and purchase your domains You want a name that is easy to remember, and relatively easy to spell. Owning a domain is not cost prohibitive, so consider purchasing both the .com.au and .com versions of your site, or even alternate spellings, to capture customers who have misspelt it by accident. Be wary though that some payment gateways require the domain to be spelt exactly as the business registration, or you will need to apply to “trade as”. Eg: to use certain payment gateways, Oberoi St Pty Ltd had to apply to “trade as”  the spelling was different to the registered company name.

4. Find or create a point of difference in an oversaturated market When there are an innumerable amount of online retailers, what will make your customer purchase with you, and return to you again and again? When launching the site, we found that so many retailers cater to either 16-21 year olds, or 35+. There was a real gap in the Australian market for beautiful, unique and high quality pieces, at a relatively low price point, that caters to women 25-35, and aim to bridge that gap.

5. Research postage options and stay on top of delivery at all times Your stock has to get to your customer somehow! Find out what is important to your customer, listen and respond to feedback. We have found that our customer wants next day delivery, so express post with tracking is our only option. We split the cost with the client, charging $9 for orders under $200 and free for orders over that threshold. If and when you face the rare but inevitable delivery issue, listen to the customer, respond quickly, keep them informed and be super proactive in helping to locate or replace their order.

6. Create an appealing and fully functioning website Both of these elements are equally as important, but unless you are using a “kit” or predesigned tool, do not be surprised if this cannot be covered by one person. To build our site and for any major changes it takes a project manager, a web developer (John from kimit.com.au) and a graphic designer. Make the site and the fashion look appealing to draw people in, and then make it easy for your customer to make a purchase by having a check out process that flows. You do not want to lose customers because you have overcomplicated the experience.

7. Use social media to build awareness and confidence surrounding the brand Social media and fashion go hand in hand. Social media is a great way to show your customers what is new, offer styling tips, and connect in ways that aren’t always the hard sell. Customers can form a connection with your brand via social media and build a deeper connection and longer lasting loyalty. Aligning with bloggers with a similar target market to yours helps to build credibility- people respond well to personalised style and recommendations from others.

8. Avoid working with egos and maintain a strong social network In a notoriously egotistical industry this is a tough one to navigate, but you will save a lot of time, money and heart ache by working with people because they are hard working, and your creative vision is aligned, not because they are the latest fad in the industry. Maintaining a social network external to the business is important because, particularly in the early days if you do not have any staff, working alone and with limited face to face contact can be isolating! Surround yourself with people that support and inspire you both inside and outside of work.

9. Analyse what works and what doesn’t A huge benefit of operating an online store as opposed to traditional bricks and mortar is the huge amount of data and analytics tools at your fingertips. Keep an eye on what you are doing and what your customers are doing. Track your progress. Adjust your offering accordingly, whether this means changing your product offering, increasing or reducing your size range, or targeting specific locations and demographics.

10. Hold on to your passion Running your own business can be stressful at times, but don’t let that detract from your dreams and your goals! Your passion will resonate throughout everything that you do and it is contagious- you will make people enthusiastic about your product by being enthusiastic about it yourself! At the end of the day, remember that it IS a business- you will have successes just as you will have failures, adjust what you are doing as required, but never ever lose your passion or your drive! Remember why you started.


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