2020 Silver winner AusMumpreneur of the Year award and Silver winner AusMumpreneur Regional Business award, Emma McNeilly is a mum of 3 and founder of Expressions Australia.
Expressions specialise in custom printed tea towels, aprons and bags. We create products used for unique and profitable fundraising projects, as well as high quality merchandise used to promote brand awareness, commemorate special occasions or as custom retail stock. The business provides high quality, ethically sourced products, designed, printed and shipped in Australia. After two decades of happy customers, we’re incredibly proud to have helped thousands of schools and community organisations, from tiny remote communities to big city schools to create beautiful quality keepsakes and raise millions of dollars. Our products have become a tradition and can be found in kitchens and keepsake boxes in every corner of Australia and around the world.
When did you start your business?
Using children’s hand drawn self-portraits we produced our first fundraising tea towels in 1998. Since then, we have grown into a trusted brand and national business working with thousands of schools, childcare centres, clubs and grass roots community organisations. Artwork from millions of Australian children has been used for over 25,000 fundraising and personal projects..
What was the inspiration behind starting this business?
My aim was to build a positive business and income, that allowed me flexibility with working hours so I could be actively involved with my children’s upbringing.
Prior to starting Expressions, I was working in the fundraising industry and a lot of fundraisers involved selling something sweet and I saw an opportunity to instead use childhood mementos to raise this much-needed money. Fundraising plays a vital role for grass roots communities and makes an enormous difference to the resources a school or club can provide. Fundraising events can also bring community together and give children the message that their world is worth investing time in.
What inspires me is providing a creative, personalised, easy fundraising solution. We are proud to create cherished keepsakes that help others raise much-needed funds.
What are you most excited about in your business?
Community fundraising is relied upon to prop up funding shortages within the school system. I believe our adored quality products, exceptional service, coordinator support, low time investment from families and high return for organisations sets us apart.
Our products are celebratory and inclusive, and the business has a genuine feel good factor. Proud children, delighted clients, dollars raised and a healthy business – everyone wins with Expressions!
What has been the most challenging thing about starting your business?
Cash flow has been my biggest challenge: to import, fund and store container loads of stock that isn’t printed on and sold for up to 6 months has been hard, for years I juggled finances and loans. I realised it was essential to change, ‘to work smarter not harder’ so negotiated a significant change of terms with a long-term supplier. The result was switching to a pay-as-I-use model, this was a true turning point for my business.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting a business?
Put the customer at the forefront of all your business decisions, put yourself in their shoes and plan from there. Always give 100% commitment to great customer service. No one wants to feel like a number and sometimes the little things really do matter, they can make a big difference and will stand you above your competitors.
It’s ok to ask for help. In the business or at home, outsource if you can, hire a cleaner, engage a bookkeeper, whatever works. There’s lots of talented people out there, so when and if you can, share the load. Hire people that are better at something than you are and then let them do it. Systemise your business, document all your procedures and establish clear processes for all your business functions to ensure you run efficiently. The aim is that your business is secure and could operate without you and clients consistently receive the highest standard of service and product.
Why did you enter the AusMumpreneur Awards?
Awards are a wonderful way to recognise our hard work and a great opportunity for promoting business. I am so proud to have been part of the Women’s Business School and AusMumpreneur community for the past 5 years.
What did you enjoy the most about being part of the awards?
I’ve met some remarkable business owners and made valuable connections and friendships. It is such a thrill to be nominated, become a finalist and the excitement and pride of going on to win several awards for Expressions over the years has been fabulous.
What surprised you most about the awards?
The free marketing and networking opportunities that came from entering and winning. It has given me so much confidence in the business, it’s an endorsement that all the hard work is worthwhile.
How did the awards help you in your business?
The awards helped raise the credibility and increased visibility of the company, our brand and products. It opened up valuable PR and media opportunities.
What advice would you give to others mums thinking about entering the awards?
Just do it. Awards recognise the hard work and achievements of you and your employees, they help boost staff morale and improve motivation. You can focus on what’s great about your business and feel proud of it.
What’s happening next in your business? Any big plans for the future?
As a natural addition to our usual offering for schools and merchandising, we plan to build on our ‘design your own’ options by offering individual packs, direct to customer, to create their own artwork at home and convert it into usable practical products and meaningful gifts and keepsakes. These are not just tea towels, these are a one-of-a-kind artwork printed onto quality fabric which can be turned into instant art and proudly hung on display. The artistic possibilities are limitless, create a unique piece of artwork and if it can be scanned or photographed, we can print it.
All images featured here are from Emma McNeilly.
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