Self-Start Mums showcases mothers who have created their own self-employed business. I’m very happy to share my interview with Kelly Ferguson, Founder of Kooki U.
This series includes sponsored content.
An Interview with Kelly Ferguson, Founder of Kooki U
1. Tell me about yourself?
My name is Kelly, I am English by birth, but have lived in Australia since I was 12 so call myself proudly Australian.
I grew up in Adelaide, lived in Melbourne for a few years where I met my husband and then we moved to Brisbane for the warm weather and some sea change 15 years or so ago. Our plan was to stay for a year, but we are still here and had our children Isabella 11, Pascale 10 and Rafferty 8 all in Brisbane. We love the lifestyle here!
2. Tell us about your self-employed business?
My business is called Kooki U. It’s a cosmetics and body products business especially for kids to tweens, providing Australian made makeup for fun and performance.
It was started by myself, created after I kept finding my two young daughters constantly in my make-up bag.
My girls danced in concerts and I was tired of finding my favourite lipsticks broken and eyeshadows smashed, and I thought other mums would feel the same. The girls were excited about having their own makeup kits for dancing, so I started to look around for an Australian made range and couldn’t find one.
Kooki U launched in mid-February 2018, but it’s been a two-year process to get to launch point.
3. How did you transition to working for yourself?
I worked for myself, after Pascale was born, as a Graphic Designer. I retrained whilst the kids were little and then started up a freelance Graphic Design business called Somagraphics working for myself for a few years part-time.
When I got bored of my own company at home, I worked part-time for St Vincent de Paul fundraising for a year, and then decided flexibility was the key to balancing motherhood and working, so decided to get Kooki U off the ground. We had been discussing it for a few years, so it was time to act!
I worked all the school hours I had to get the business off the ground to launch. I haven’t found the transition too difficult but did under estimate how much time it would take.
4. What was your previous career?
I have always had a career in corporate sales and marketing, I have worked for Sports Agencies, Promotional Products businesses, Graphic Design companies, for Diageo marketing brands like Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff.
Then I transitioned into the world of Campbell’s Arnott’s for over nine years in various state and national based roles managing soup, biscuit and snack products. Brand marketing and account management of clients and portfolios was where most of my time working for others has been spent.
5. Describe a typical day in your working life?
Up early and to the gym if the motivation is there, get the kids to school and then I’m usually back home at my desk by 8.30/9am.
My work days usually consists of meetings, following up and chasing up production, logistics or creative pursuits, and lots and lots of time in front of the computer.
I will work until 2.30pm and then off to pick the kids up, take them to various afterschool activities four nights out of the week and then home to organise the evening routine.
Once a week I will squeeze in a coffee with a friend, just so I don’t feel like I spend the whole week by myself, as working and living at home can have its conveniences and also its drawbacks.
During the week I also squeeze in the running of the household chores, so we don’t spend our weekends doing these, as sport tends to take over each weekend.
6. How many hours do you work per week on your business?
In the first year I estimate I would do 15-20 hours a week on the business but once we started to ramp up into buying in 2017 this increased to around 30 hours plus a week. I try to fit everything into school hours, but now that we are up and running I am finding that it’s not really enough time.
Realistically I need to work full time, but I am trying to juggle not putting the kids into after-hours care and working so they are not impacted by the business. I do work evenings sometimes, and my mind never really switches off from work, so I think about the business all the time.
I have subcontracted out certain roles so that I can get the specialised focus where I need it, and I believe this would equate to an additional 10 hours per week of time that is spent on Kooki U in addition to my time.
The aim is to be able to fit everything into a 40-hour week plus the subcontracted roles.
7. Do you supplement your income in any other ways?
Not now that we have launched, I am lucky in that my husband works so we have a steady income. In the prior two years I did do some Graphic Design work with Somagraphics to earn some extra income.
8. How do you manage your family and working for yourself?
Both of our families do not live in Brisbane, so we make it all work by having a network of very supportive friends around us who can do picks ups from school or help if needed, and we plan well in advance if we need extra support. Our families are happy to fly /drive in to assist us if we really need it.
My husband is very supportive and we couldn’t embark on Kooki U if he wasn’t around to do the occasional drop off or help out with the kid’s activities. We balance it as a team as best we can.
We don’t use child care during the school terms, but the kids sometimes go to holiday tennis camps to cover off school holidays. These are the times which are most difficult to manage being self-employed as work doesn’t stop but the kids also need a break from school and downtime.
9. What challenges did you face in setting up your business?
The biggest challenge I believe has been the IT side to the business, setting up three systems so that they all talk to each other to run the website and also provide me with the information I need to run Kooki U. They also, by nature, are refined ongoing as the business grows and develops and new challenges are presented along the way, the learning of the systems doesn’t stop.
In total over the last two years during the process of setting up Kooki U, I have had to get my head around over 10 IT operating programs to run and market Kooki U. This also doesn’t include having to keep the social media side of the business current and running which involves no fewer than 7-8 platforms to manage.
Keeping up with content for the social media and marketing of the business is a challenge from a time perspective, keeping your brand fresh and current in the marketplace. We don’t have a shopfront, so our social media and website is our shopfront, and needs to be updated regularly just as a retail store would be.
Its really easy to waste time in the social media space, and I think too much time was spent on this initially. Now I tend to approach it all in a more measured way, and if it doesn’t work in terms of monetising and sales then we don’t pursue certain activities in this space. There have definitely been some social media promotions put into place that haven’t work, but with a new brand there is always going to be an element of trial and error with marketing.
10. What’s the best thing about working for yourself?
I enjoy being my own boss and, luckily, I am highly organised and enjoy my own space so working alone most of the week doesn’t bother me. It also means decisions can be made quickly and there is no corporate red tape or a mountain of processes to slow things down.
It’s also rewarding to see work that you have put into place come to fruition and know that you did it all and made that happen.
11. What’s your best advice to another mum who is considering setting up her own business?
Do your homework and research well. I know that in the excitement of a new business idea you just want to make it happen, but it pays to put things into place properly from the get-go and make sure your processes are going to work before you go public. It took me two years of preparation and I still felt as if another 3-6 months would have been a good thing, but there is a balance of timing in play.
You do reach a point where you must push the green light, move onto the next level, and trust that the work items not finished will fall into place along the way. Which they have.
Get your support network in place. No-one is a master of everything in business so it’s necessary to have the support crew there to advise and assist you in the journey. Being able to identify your strengths and weaknesses is important.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and a new business isn’t much different!
12. What’s next for you and your business?
We are still in launch phase, so we are refining our sales and marketing plan ongoing. At present we are an online business for retail. But the plan will be to include a wholesale division and maybe to venture into other sales channels.
We also have plans for our range and Kooki U will expand to other categories as we grow.
We have a long-term goal for the brand and whilst we are focussing on our national landscape, there are options to look at a bigger picture in the long term.
Check out Kooki U in the Self-Start Mums Directory or search for other mums in business!
Are you a self-starter mum? Read more interviews with self-employed mums here.
To chat about taking part in this series and sharing your story, contact Mim here