This week’s Ambassador Feature is with Emma McNeilly, Expressions Australia
2018 AusMumpreneur Business Excellence Award gold winner
Tell us the story behind why you love what you do and why you’re so passionate about sharing your message.
My aim was to create a business that helped others, earned me an income and that would allow me to be actively involved with my children throughout their childhood.
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 part for grass roots communities and volunteers’ hours are precious. It can be hard work, but the efforts of fundraisers make an enormous difference to the resources a school or club can provide.
I love bringing a simple, stress-free solution to thousands of schools, childcare centres and community organisations. Supporting the volunteers who make an enormous difference to grassroots communities drives me. I am especially passionate about fundraising events that bring community together, it’s so important for the families and the kids. I love that I’ve created a business that delivers exceptional service, beautiful products and helps others.
Tell us a story about a challenging time you faced, how you overcame it and what lesson/lessons/wisdom this experience has taught you about life and business.
Cash flow has been my biggest challenge in business: to import, pay for and store whole container loads of stock – which I would not print on and on-sell for up to 6 months later has been testing and expensive. For years I was chasing my tail, juggling finances and playing catch up with loans and it wasn’t sustainable. I negotiated a significant change of terms with a long-term supplier, leveraging trust due to our history and switched to a pay-as-I-use model, so I am now being invoiced for stock at the time that I am invoicing my clients. This was a true turning point for Expressions.
Another challenge is keeping prices affordable for our market, in the fundraising industry it is all about the dollar; while our suppliers are looking to increase their prices, we always strive to keep prices low while maintaining our quality and increasing our profitability. To do this, we have collaborated with suppliers and negotiated cost reductions in the key areas of printing, stock and shipping. We have also run joint marketing campaigns, allowing us to share postage costs and reduce campaign expenses as well as increase customer reach.
What are 3 pieces of advice you would give someone starting out in business?
1. It’s Ok to ask for help. In the business or at home, outsource if and where you can, it will change your life. The key to balance for me was learning to let go and delegate. I found this very challenging in the beginning, however I realised that for my business to grow and for me to keep enjoying life, I needed to hand over some of the workload. There’s lots of talented people out there, so when and if you can, share the load.
2. Establish clear processes for all your business functions to ensure you run efficiently. Systemise and define a method that works, then document and develop an Operations Manual that details every aspect of your operations. The aim is that your business is secure and can operate without you; it will also provide a valuable resource for your staff and ensure that every customer gets the highest standard of service and product.
3. Hire people that are better at something than you are and then let them do their job. Consider flexible working hours to widen the reach of potential staff. There so many talented mothers with amazing skills and experience who would love to work and fit around their family. I have 4 mums working in my team and embrace a family first approach, which results in long serving loyal staff.
What is your proudest business achievement? Why does this mean so much to you?
As part of our marketing plan for 2018, I committed to stepping out from behind my desk and to actively pursuing a promotional campaign Expressions. I am proud to say it was incredibly successful, and I was featured in several online magazines and my story written about in the business pages of multiple newspapers. I entered the AusMum business awards and was thrilled to bring home the Winner’s trophy for Business Excellence.
(Image credit: Alex Anderson, Jam on your Collar)
On top of this, Expressions had the amazing opportunity to be featured live on The Today Show with the weather team for an entire morning, with 6 live to air crosses (resulting in 2400 website hits before 9am). I was also interviewed live on Sky Business about the story of Expressions and tips for small business.
It was a valuable exercise to reflect on what Expressions has achieved; from tiny remote communities to big city schools, we have close to 3 million tea towels in kitchens and keepsake boxes in every corner of Australia and around the world. We average 25 fundraising projects for each week of the year and I know that equates to millions of important fundraising dollars, everyone benefits and it feels great
Finally, what do you believe is the secret to success?
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 and unfailing attention to detail. No one wants to feel like a number and sometimes the little things really do matter and the little things, done exactly right, make a big difference and will stand you above your competitors.
Customers want an experience these days, not just a transaction. Work to build a community and keep the communication regular, it’s not just one sale anymore, it’s an ongoing conversation, achieved by sharing stories and talking about the customers’ needs and interests. The goal is to inspire and involve customers in a sustained relationship, remembering that it isn’t about you, it’s about them.
About our AusMumpreneur Ambassador
Emma McNeilly is the founder of Expressions Australia (and mother of 3), she started as a one-woman operation, working with a handful of schools from a back bedroom in 1999. Now, Expressions has grown into a national award-winning brand and trusted name in the fundraising industry that has worked on over 18,500 community fundraising projects, helping raise millions of dollars for schools, childcare centres and community groups in every corner of Australia.
Expressions specialises in printed tea towels, aprons and bags. Children’s hand drawn artwork is compiled to create gorgeous mementos which provide a much-loved community fundraising option. Funds raised, proud children, delighted clients and happy staff – everyone wins! To learn more, please visit Website, Facebook and Instagram.