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Born To Succeed

Buying online is the new convenient way to shop, especially for those weighed down by pregnancy or at home with a new born. www.sweetlillymaternity.com.au is designed to cater for both, and founder Sally Hainey told Nicola Card that the business is bouncing along nicely.

www.sweetlillymaternity.com.au is the brainchild of once-corporate marketer Sally Hainey, whose talents over the past year has swelled to business entrepreneur, website developer, clothes designer and more latterly, authority to Google AdWords.

It was following the birth of her daughter two years ago that Hainey decided to tailor a business to suit her life: a home based business in the “undeveloped are” of online maternity and baby wear. Now her residence in Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast is home-office for the burgeoning online business Hainey launched in winter last year.

One of Hainey’s first jobs was to secure several fashion labels, which involved scouring the net, trade shows and trade related magazines for trendy maternity suppliers, an investment that came to around $25,000.

Then followed the outlay of $3000 for website development. Having selected a web hosting company only after checking competitors’ websites and gaining references, it then took Hainey “ages” to set up and manually upload all of the information, products with photos and descriptions… all up about six months.

And now there are lots of ongoing costs to the bank merchant facilities, annual website costs, postage fees, advertising, but at least there’s no hefty shop retail lease to pay” she adds.

Hainey says establishing a presence is particularly vital to new business success and it’s all about name generation. “People think that running an online business is easy: ‘build it and the sales will come pouring in” This is so untrue. Not only is the financial commitment ‘up there’ but you have to be continually telling people about our site, otherwise you get no sales, Hainey says, which is why she is ploughing most profits back into marketing and advertising.

Part of her strategy involves targeting relevant magazines such as Cosmopolitan Pregnancy, Mother & Baby, Pregnancy & Birth and My Child. Publicity is also generated courtesy of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and singer Kerry Katona sporting sweetlillymaternity wear, “which is just about the best and cheapest promotion possible”, Hainey said.

The other effective marketing tactic is tapping into the pulling power of Google AdWords. “We use Yodel Australia – Google’s reseller for Australia,” said, Hainey. “And bid higher amounts for words that generate greater placement, appearing closer to the top of the list. For example if we spend $40 a day – a high amount for the maternity industry – our add appears throughout the day on that ‘all important’ first page. It works by bidding on ‘key words’ which in our industry are ‘maternity wear’ and ‘maternity clothes’. You could bid on less expensive keywords such as ‘maternity jeans’, or ‘formal maternity wear’ but you can’t avoid using the word ‘maternity’ so of course, the bidding is going to be high!”

The effectiveness of the AdWords campaign is monitored by the number of ‘impressions’ (how many times the ad appears when someone searches on ‘maternity clothes’) and the percentage click through rate’ (people reading the ad that subsequently click onto the website).

We have noticed a direct correlation between the amount we spend on Google AdWords and sales. It’s not just the dollar spend, we can also track the number of unique visitors to our site or the increase in people adding themselves to our database – both a result of using Google AdWords.

“But you’ve really got to monitor your daily budget because it can become really expensive and won’t always deliver instant results.”

Hainey also pays for visibility on high traffic sites that share the target audience, such as www.birth.com.au Website optimization is another matter that requires dedicated ongoing attention, according to Hainey. “Websites needs daily, constant attention. You need to be constantly searching out and adding reciprocal links to your site to encourage good quality inbound links. That way, your business will be ranked higher by the search engines (organic listings). You need to ensure that your website is tagged with a description for the search engines to find you. This is called ‘meta tags’ and having lots of keywords associated with your site.” She adds it’s worth finding a company to do this as it can take a long time to get grips with.

Despite lining up a series of what appear to be fail-safe strategies, there are never any guarantees. Some days produce zero orders, others, several orders worth hundreds of dollars (and a rush of work for the sole operator whose husband steps in when necessary), and then a step backwards: those days when customers request refunds for unwanted clothes.

The technology surrounding electronic marketing, which necessarily underpins sales, seems a long way removed from Hainey’s core business of trendy maternity and baby wear which includes Australian Ripe Maternity, Belly Button Maternity, [bump]babies, Chix and Miky Way Nursing Wear from LA, Yim Jeans, Spud Baby, Baby Plum and new and fast growing local brand Soon Melbourne.

Some suppliers she says only allow ‘drop ship’ whereby Hainey places images and descriptions of product on the website without actually buying the stock beforehand, but pays an additional fee plus postage to cover the arrangement. Others have policies, which prevent online businesses, preferring only to sell via shop fronts: a lock-out that frustrates Hainey.

Orders are processes and dispatches within 24 hours for next-day delivery, longer if destined for the UK and US, which comprise about 20 per cent of sales.

UK born, Hainey frequently flies to London, where she says, the range of maternity wear is nowhere near as trendy as Australia’s. Several friends and other ‘good, strong contacts’ there are helping spread the word, and she’s looking for UK retailers interested in stocking the sweetlillymaternity range.

Now keen to create her own niche-within-a-niche, Hainey is about to launch her own label ‘Lilly B’ named for her daughter. Working with exquisite fabrics sourced from around the world and hand crafted by a fashion couturier” her special edition pieces will “epitomize style and maternity chic.

Hainey’s earlier experience as a designer of baby toys will come in handy for this creative offshoot, and she swears by the powers of networking to promote new business ventures in particular. She also credits her mentors and the government-run 10-week course ‘Women in Business’ for honing her marketing savvy.

Hainey’s advice for other online start-ups is to not just rely on luck. “The best bit of advice  I have received from business minded people is to ‘ask for it’ and also to get out there. First you must clearly define your target customer.

Think, ‘Who had them before me? Also, don’t over stock. The best way to succeed is to offer a product or range that nobody else has, thereby attracting the interest of shoppers and relevant media.”

For more information: www.sweetlillymaternity.com.au
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