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How I created my own start-up despite having no business experience

I first came up with the idea forOz Fair Trade when I took a trip to Southeast Asia. This was meant to be a relaxing holiday but proved to be a life changing experience. It was the first time that I had witnessed extreme poverty and met so many hard working people who struggled to make ends meet. I was able to do many things that they could only dream of, such as travelling to another country.

I had a burning desire to better the lives of the people I met. I always donated to charities but I felt like this was just relying on others to make positive changes, which was not enough for me. I wanted to do more and be able to see the results first hand. After a great deal of research, I realised that fair-trading had proven to alleviate poverty; and soOz Fair Trade was born. Whenever I make an order with a supplier, I know that it’s going to better the lives of a group of people who work really hard. Whenever I gain a new customer, I know that I have pushed the Fair Trade Movement one step further.

At the time, I had no idea how to build a website or start a business, but I was determined to find a way. I accidentally discovered a web building service called Moonfruit, which enabled people like me who had no coding knowledge to build a website by drag and drop. I was surprised by how easy it was to use, so I jumped on board. In hindsight, I should have conducted more thorough research of other web building services and learned more about what features I needed for my website. But I was too excited! I thought it was wonderful that even I could build a website.

Within four weeks I had a website up and running. Looking back, it was terribly designed with pretty bad product photos. But at the time, I was very proud of what I had achieved. I sent a few emails to local newspapers and landed two articles. Despite the poorly designed website and bad photos, I started getting sales. I am forever grateful for the support that the local press and my first customers have given me.

I have been on a steep learning curve ever since, and I enjoyed every aspect of it. I have improved my photography skills, and learned so much about website design, search engine optimisation and even a bit of HTML coding. I strongly believe that skills can be learned, and if you follow your passion, lack of experience is not a problem.

Advice to anyone who wishes to start their own business

-   Start-ups need to focus on getting the word out. This is especially true for e-commerce. No matter how great your products are, your online shop will be like a shop in a desert if no one knows about it

-   Find your best social media platform. Compared to traditional advertising, this is often a much cheaper alternative but with so many social media platforms out there, you need to determine which is most suitable for your business. My typical customers are women aged between 24 and 45 and research tells me that this demographic uses Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest more often than others such as Instagram. So I set my focus accordingly. For a solo entrepreneur, it’s better to have a focus than spreading yourself too thin. I’ve also learned that posts need to be suitable for the platform. For example, hashtags are great on Twitter but not so cool on Facebook.

-   It’s worth taking some time to choose a brand name, because it affects many things like website domain, social media usernames, Facebook page name etc. I had to change my brand name after ten months when I realised that the reason people were buying from me was not because my products were handmade, but because they were fair trade. So a brand name that clearly says what the brand stands for is much better than a brand name that describes what products it sells.

 

-   Seek advice. I have joined and participated in forums such as Flying Solo. It’s great for networking, information, feedback and also SEO.

-   Read stories behind your competitors and other successful businesses. Learn from their experiences and be inspired. Also approach successful people you admire. It never hurts to ask for advice, and you’ll be surprised at how much people are willing to help

WORDS BY QINNIE WANG, founder and CEO of Oz Fair Trade (www.ozfairtrade.org), a Canberra based not-for-profit business that aims to reduce inequality in the supply chain and help the world’s most vulnerable. Qinnie Wang runs Oz Fair Trade alongside a demanding full time job as an actuary.

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