Styling You is a home-based business on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, founded by former journalist Nikki Parkinson in 2008.
In addition to working face-to-face with clients as a stylist, Parkinson has attracted an online following as a result of her blog, which recently won the business category in the Best Australian Blogs 2011 Competition for its personal yet professional approach.
Parkinson talks to StartupSmart about the art of business blogging and the emotional process of re-clothing clients.
What inspired the idea for Styling You?
I was working as a journalist and, in the last five to 10 years, I was the fashion and beauty editor for the Sunshine Coast Daily.
I would work with a lot of models on photo shoots and be involved in that way, and on the side I used to help style family and friends and sort their wardrobes.
I had a now-or-never moment and decided I was going to cash in my long service leave and try and make a business out of styling.
I had it in my mind from the get-go to have an online presence as a marketing tool. I wasn’t really up with the blogging phenomenon, which really wasn’t that big in Australia at that time anyway.
I told my web developer that I wanted something I could update myself, and he pointed me in the direction of a WordPress blog.
It was custom designed – I didn’t start with a free one – but it was a very good low-cost way to have a web presence and to continue writing.
Initially, it was just so I could have all my services [information] in one online place but as I got into the groove of it, and particularly about 18 months ago, I realised that blogging could actually be revamped to be an integral part of the business.
How did you go about achieving that?
I had really started to get into this blogging thing and was reading other blogs. I was like, I think I want to change the look of mine – what are the things that I want to have on there?
I looked at a lot of websites and chose the best things that I wanted for me out of other people’s blogs.
Because I come from that editorial/advertising background, I set it up so that there’s a distinct advertising area and a distinct editorial area.
How did you go about attracting advertising clients?
One of the services I offered was as a public relations consultant, so I would do their PR for them. These were fashion and beauty companies, locally based, who I had met and got to know as a journalist.
They were quite small enterprises and certainly weren’t ready for a big agency but needed something, so I was kind of like a perfect fit for them and they were a perfect fit for me at the time too.
How do you juggle both the editorial and advertising demands?
It is challenging. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or offline. When you’re in a small business, there’s not a lot of escape.
The big upside for me is that I still have the flexibility that I didn’t have when I was in a paid employee role.
I have three children and, at that time when I decided to make the leap, it was crucial that I have a position that would allow me to drop everything.
Obviously when you’re running a business you can’t drop everything but if I have to do something for the kids, I’m just not available at that time.
It’s home-based – I am literally in a corner of our lounge room. Even when the kids come home from school, I can be there to help but I can still be answering emails.
What were your start-up costs?
My start-up costs would’ve been the website, which was $2,000, and some marketing material – probably about $500. I already had a computer and I already had a phone, so pretty low.
If I’m not online, it’s one-to-one with someone, so I don’t actually have to have inventory and stock.
How does the offline component of the business work?
Either I’m taking clients shopping or I’m sorting through their wardrobe, so I’m going out to them.
By the time they’ve come to me, they’ve either been following me online, or they’ve met me, or a friend or colleague has recommended me.
It’s very much a word-of-mouth thing because there’s a huge element of trust, more so when someone’s letting me see their wardrobe.
People tie a lot of emotion to clothes, or can do. When they contact me, they’re motivated to change that and get out of a rut or “let go”.
It can be quite an emotional process and I think that’s probably where the biggest rewards come from, and where the blog can stay fresh because I’m always getting great ideas from real people of all ages.
What are your revenue projections for 2011?
My weakness in the business is the financials. Because I am someone who has been a word person, that is definitely the weak spot.
I keep on top of it and I’ve got a great accountant but I don’t really set the targets that I should, although I’ve got a minimum that I like to meet.
This year, I’ve actually devoted more time to trying to make the online side work, so I’ll probably earn less this year than previous years because I’m devoting time to something that isn’t bringing in as much income now but it will in the future. It’s probably the next financial year that it will all click in.
My aim would be to earn $5,000 net a month.
What is the biggest risk you face?
It’s quite a saturated market in the offline space, with stylists in almost every shopping centre now.
But if you’re online, you’ve got the capacity to really show your difference by who you are. If you’re blogging and writing online authentically, you can’t hide from that, and people will be attracted to that or they won’t be.
How is the blogging sphere changing in Australia?
The blogging community is becoming more cohesive because everyone’s finding each other. That’s only going to be an absolute positive thing for bloggers as a whole.
What I love about the community – and I think this is why I just love that side of the business – is that everyone supports each other.
There’s a real camaraderie because everyone’s generally working on their own but they’ll come together. Increasingly, brands are following the American path of tapping into the blogging community.
From there will be an increase in brands spending on digital advertising and associating with bloggers for brand sponsorships and that sort of thing. That’s definitely part of my income model for the future.