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Her Business May 2010

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Her Business Magazine

May 2010

Breastmates began five years ago with a budget of $50, a baby, and very little business or internet knowledge. What began as a two page website and a few auction sales has blossomed into an award winning business with international reach, a 1600+ page online store and resource centre, and a credible turnover. Frances has successfully juggled homelife and business to establish Breastmates as a recognized brand and herself as an expert in the breastfeeding and maternity field.

"Being a mum at home with a passion for something isn't the same as being business savvy. Being successful is constant hard work, constantly evolving and being creative".

The young mum started out making reusable breast pads for her own use to save money rather than buying disposables. She listed extra items on auction sites, found that there was a demand and discovered a niche market. The original plan was to simply sell a few pairs each week, to make a little spending money while on maternity leave.

"My light bulb moment came after an experience when my son was 6 months old. I went to a local baby shop to inquire about breast pumps. The sales assistant couldn't really answer my questions and I left even more confused than when I went in. That was when I started thinking."

It was then Frances realised that perhaps she should increase her range of products, find suppliers, and focus on creating a specialty website with a simple core focus on breastfeeding. Product awareness, expertise and supporting mothers became her driving factors.

"A mother asking a question needs answers," Frances says.  "She's already tried everything else, she needs a solution, a listening ear, and to know that she's not alone."

Frances didn't have a secret investor, nor piles of money to invest, so she has grown the business slowly by plowing back all profits, initially doing everything herself, and investing her time. But having no money to launch a business was not going to stop the young woman with her idea. "You don't have to start off fancy.  You just have to make a start before someone beats you to it."

Frances has learnt business and marketing skills along the way to turn the online store into a thriving small business with more than 30,000 visitors per month. The five consecutive Hitwise Top 10 Awards she has received are testament to her hard work. Frances attributes being inthe target market with babies of her own, her advantage over competitors, although she does add that her strategic future plans don't include having another baby for market research.

One approach to marketing and extending PR was through the Bras for Africa campaign that Frances was involved with during 2009, an initiative from her HOTmilk maternity bra supplier. Frances collected over 16,000 secondhand bras.

"This was a one-off collection, and I still get people calling me now asking if I want their old bras. The collection appealed to people."

For 2010 Frances has plans underway with Breast Cancer Research Trust, which is a good fit with her core business focus and which relates to the thousands of women on her database.

"I'd like to utilize the database that I've grown for good purposes such as this," she says.

After running her business with a home made website for 4 years, the site was re-launched in August 2009 with a content management system so that Frances could more easily manage and add information to the growing 1600 online pages - made up of store pages and articles. The inclusion of these article is what has redefined the Breastmates brand.

Frances says that "being a 'work at home mum' is overrated.  "It's fine when your business is at a hobby level but it gets harder as your child gets older and your business grows. There comes a time when you have to assess whether you are a work-at-home-mum with children under your feet, or whether you ask for help. It took me along time to realize that no one expected me to do everything and I was trying to be superwoman."

With her oldest son now at school, and her two year old in daycare, Frances has 100 percent focus on work during the day, and 100 percent focus on kids after school. "I reached a level where I couldn't juggle working at home with my kids while providing the customer service that people expected. I tend to think that daycare is now one of the keys to customer service, and I've learnt to delegate and outsource."

In recognition of her efforts Frances was named New Zealand's small business hero of the year in The David Awards 2009, as well as winning the award for most inspired use of marketing.

When asked about the key to her success, Frances says "I'm still working on the success - I'm not there yet. But I think the key is to simply care about people. I like the woman and business that I've grown into.  I'm in the right place, this is where I'm meant to be".

For more information, check out www.breastmates.co.nz
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Picture Caption: Leave the superhero business to the kids.
Frances and her sons Angus (5) and Lochie (2)