Business case studies: how to achieve online success

Natalie Cutler-Welsh.
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Natalie Cutler-Welsh.

Four online business owners share their secrets to success.

Go To Girl - Natalie Cutler-Welsh

Giving birth to her third child on the day of the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 – also the same day her husband lost his job – was a catalyst for Natalie Cutler-Welsh to transform her life. After her "forever" home was deemed unlivable, her and her family relocated to Auckland, where she set up what was to become a global coaching business Go To Girl, to encourage women entrepreneurs.

With a new baby, a preschooler and a child at school, after chatting to other stay-at-home mums who wanted to return to their workforce and work their own hours and dictate their incomes, the business was born.

Go To Girl started – with no money – by offering free business coffee groups.

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Four years later, Cutler-Welsh has coached thousands of women into their own online businesses and turns over $15,000 a month. In effect, she has taught her clients what she  has been learning on the fly.

Besides hosting real-life networking events in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the essence of what Cutler-Welsh does is "connecting" through one-on-one business coaching and group sessions online. 

Her free podcasts have been downloaded around 100,000 times, and she now uses a "blab" app: livestream video software that allows four people to speak on screen at once. "Anyone at any time can join in the discussion," she says.

She also teaches clients how to use social media to raise their business profiles. Corporates are also  on her books as well as high-profile "influencers" such as MasterChef 2013 finalist Vanessa Baxter.

Being an "out there" Canadian (her parents are Kiwis), Cutler-Welsh sees herself as helping women to blow their own trumpets. "Kiwis have a humble nature. That's why I like to make it my mini-project to shine the light on others because they're not always great at shining it on themselves. 

"I'm on a mission to help women in business to do and be more than they ever thought possible."

Richard Knight - raising his glass to selling wine direct 

Richard Knight dipped his toe into the calm ocean of the internet in 2000, so when it turned into a tidal wave, he was able to ride it like a pro-surfer. In the past 16 years he has grown  a pioneer retail wine business that has changed the way many Kiwis buy their vino.

Richard Knight.
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Richard Knight.

A marketing guru with a wine pedigree – he studied at a major winery and was a bigwig at a global market research company – he decided to cut out the middle man and sell wine direct to quaffers.

The result is Black Market Wine and Kiwis are lapping it up – up to 200-300 people join every 10 days.

More than just a retail site, the site hosts a community that discusses, critiques and recommends wine to members, friends and family.

"Wineries were doing great business with 'friends and family' wine deals. I saw this as a bigger opportunity and viewed the internet as a conduit to allow wine lovers access to great bargains."

In fact, word-of-mouth promotion of the site is so robust the company doesn't need to advertise.

"We rarely blow our own trumpet: consumers do this for us. We deliver quality wines at exclusive prices, no fluff, no misleading marketing, it's simple and easy," says Knight.

They also boast 1000 restaurants, bars and corporates on their books and supply a huge range of local and imported wines. For those who can't decide, the mystery wine options are popular.

Knight knows his highly successful business (he hinted his re-vamped website cost in the region of $1,000,000) is an exception rather than the rule in a wildly unpredictable internet environment.

"I went to a web business seminar where they asked people to put their hands up if their business had made any money." Only Knight raised his hand.

Emily and Evie Johnson - none of mum's traditional expectations

Evie and Emily Johnson.
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Evie and Emily Johnson.

When twins Emily and Evie Johnson were small, their Filipina mother expected them to take on a traditional role of a nurse, or maybe a cleaner.

Growing up in Hawke's Bay opened more doors for the girls however, who spent their childhood learning how to sew – "another thing Filipina women are good at!" - to make clothes for their dolls.

They went on to study for a Bachelor of Fashion Design at Massey University. Now 23, they graduated with honours in May and launched their own fashion label EVEM online in 2014.

But wait, where's the bit about poverty-stricken students having to intern for mercenary fashion designers before working as a shop assistant in someone else's boutique?

Combined with their talent, marketing savvy and elbow grease, the internet has turned that traditional tale around for the Johnson sisters.

EVEM has been under construction since 2014 when the pair launched a YouTube lifestyle channel. "We began the channel as we knew an online media presence was essential in the current and evolving industry and we had always wanted to be a part of it."

Despite being recent graduates, the sisters have managed to buy industrial sewing equipment to create high-end fashion from the living room in their Wellington apartment.

Working together is natural for the identical twins. "Our design aesthetics have always been in sync. They relate to each other yet still hold their own distinct personality, which we feel makes for an intrinsically beautiful collaborative idea."

Although the pair have big dreams and are already selling pieces from their university-created collections, as well as one-off pieces to clients, their "empire" is still in its infancy. That means full-time day jobs are necessary - Evie designs hats and Emily co-manages a menswear store.

Merilyn Havler -  boxing up with beauty market

Much to the chagrin of traditional bricks and mortar beauty retailers, Kiwi women are increasingly turning to online shopping for their lipsticks, nail polishes and every cosmetic in between.

Merilyn Havler.
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Merilyn Havler.

But one of the problems facing online beauty retailers has been navigating buyers through the dizzying hoards of products with tiny images.

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Enter beauty boxes, which contain a selection of themed cosmetic goodies that make it easier to click 'buy now'. The service has been successful for many online retailers. Most sell them via a subscription service, ideally ensuring repeat purchases from a loyal customer database.

Merilyn Havler created The Best Beauty Box Ever, focusing on full-sized, top-brand products. The contents of each box are a mystery, and a no-surprise option is available. The limited-edition boxes, usually about a 1000 at a time, are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and have themes such as nails, eyes, hair, ball season and top-selling products.

Rating products is the core of Havler's other business, Beauty Review, set up three years ago, and the reason she launched The Best Beauty Box Ever, offering trials and samples to members in exchange for beauty products. The new site has clocked up more than 98,000 reviews since it launched in February. From the trial, members can earn points to exchange for beauty products from a "beauty vault", that opens four times a year. Discounted products are also available.

A long-time marketer in the beauty business, Havler reckons the changes in the makeup industry better cater for time-poor, makeup-mad women of today.

"Everyone wants to look their best so why not have some fun while you're doing it?"

 - Stuff.co.nz

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