Many stylish Australian women have long loved Samantha Wills’ jewellery designs and now the homegrown success story is enjoying popularity and recognition from the US market. Recently hailed as a ‘Break-out Star’ by The New York Times, this young entrepreneur has officially made it onto the international map.
Pretty impressive given Wills was selling her jewellery as a hobby at Bondi Markets just eight years ago, don’t you agree?
It hasn’t been an easy ride to the top though, with personal time taking a backseat during her twenties as Wills built her business and worked toward achieving her goals. But would she have done it any differently? Absolutely not.
Wills talks to Dynamic Business about making sacrifices, and how patience and persistence are the secret to building a brand capable of international expansion.
1. You’re now based in the US and the Americans are embracing your jewellery (congratulations!), but how hard has it been to kick off international operations? Any advice for other entrepreneurs on how best to do this?
There are challenges with any aspect of a growing business, but international expansion is certainly a project that requires a lot of time, research and consistent hard work! Time is crucial. It’s not a goal to rush and takes many years to build a brand, it is easy to make quick money here, but to a build a brand takes patience and persistence (two traits I was not born with, so its a huge growth journey for me also!).
The US market is a market of its own, you cannot take a successful Australian business and assume to replicate it here. They do business differently and you have to have respect for that, especially as a foreign brand. My advice is spend a lot of time researching, understanding the market and your positioning within the market before you introduce your brand, this includes both retail positing and PR positioning. Your digital positioning may also differ from your bricks and mortar positioning.
Having a confident brand message is crucial before taking the leap into offshore opportunities, if you don’t know or believe what your brand stands for, how do you expect anyone else to?
2. Do you think youth is a help or a hindrance to entrepreneurs and business owners? Why?
I’ve always believed that age is truly just a number. It may be because I started my business at 21 or that I have a young team, but a creative mind and hard work doesn’t just exist within certain age groups. I’m lucky enough to have a team that consists of some of the most creative individuals and they come in all ages.
I do think however, as a young entrepreneur or business owner you have to be prepared to listen; to learn and absorb. There is a very fine line between confidence and having your head stuck up your you-know-what. You cannot assume you know it all. Surround yourself with good people and find older people who have walked the path before you.
Ask questions and identify your weaknesses, there is no hero in being obnoxious!
3. What are some of the biggest sacrifices you’ve had to make while setting up and growing your business?
Personal time, the entire decade of my twenties! A start-up business absorbs all your time and every ounce of effort is required to achieve your desired success. Within any phase of a business cycle, when it’s ‘your’ business it requires ‘your’ energy. But I was very well aware of the sacrifices I was making at the time and I made a conscious decision to sacrifice travel and world exploration in the divine hope that I would be able to do it on a grander scale with my business, and I thank a higher power every single day for this.
It’s not lost on me how far the business has come, nor are the people who took this journey with me to get the business to where it is now and to where we’re going.
4. What’s your proudest business moment or achievement so far?
We were recently hailed by The New York Times as the next ‘Break-Out Star’ this was a truly surreal moment. I mean, it’s The New York Times! And they featured Samantha Wills!
Growing up in Port Macquarie, I would watch films and dream of going to the places I saw in the movies, but it just seemed so far away. The New York Times is like something out of a film to me (still!) so to be featured in there was beyond anything I could dream of.
5. Looking back, what do you know now that you wish had known when you were establishing your business?
I wish I had more business knowledge when I started. My strengths were in the creative; both design and branding. For a long time, the profile of the brand outweighed the systems and processes. I was fortunate enough to meet my business partner at the right stage of my journey and I’m continually in awe of his business mind. But the truth is, you cannot ever know it all. You need to focus on what you are good at and surround yourself with people who are good at what they do.
I think that’s what I am good at – surrounding myself with good people!