Discovering my 'new normal' after breast cancer diagnosis at 34.

25 May 2011

Bizness Babes: Graduation Guest Speaker

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the Graduation of the May 2011 Brisbane class of Bizness Babes. I was delighted to be asked and I spoke about my own business journey with Hatiheri.

Here is what I said...

Before I start I would like to acknowledge that this graduation ceremony is being held on Aboriginal land and I recognise the strength, resilience and capacity of the Aboriginal people of this land. 
Thank you very much for having me today.  My name is Tish and I am a Bizness Babe. My business is called Hatiheri in which I make and sell headwear and accessories for hair loss. 
Today I am going to talk about the interconnection of my personal and business journeys, my business role model, and mention some practical advice about keeping on top of your own wonderful businesses.
I would first like to acknowledge those who have guided me on my own Business Journey: in particular Liana, Sam, Vickie, the Business Babes who have paved the way before me, those who trained with me, and now you who sit in front of me today. I look forward to learning more about your enterprise and entrepreneurship.
I took part in the August 2010 Bizness Babes course, and - I am sure like many of you - my business idea began much earlier. I know that mine was in April 2009 to be precise.
Unlike many of my “co-babes”, I didn’t take time out of a blossoming career in education management in order to have children, instead I took time out to ingest a whole lot of nasty chemicals which made me very very sick but also inhibited the potential spread of cancer beyond my breast and into my body. Thanks to those horrible drugs, as well as the care and attention of a bevy of medical specialists, my family, and my friends, I am happy to report that I’m now on the mend. 
What does this have to do with my business idea?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2009, and after making my news public, many of my friends sent me beautiful scarves as a thoughtful gift. Chemotherapy made me lose my hair and I was completely bald for approximately three months. It was at this point I discovered that many of the scarves, although gorgeous, were impractical for several reasons. They were too slippery, too thin, had tassels, or were the wrong shape. Hats were great but not appropriate indoors.
In addition to dealing with debilitating side-effects from chemo, one of my main concerns was this new experience of being bald. It wasn't only the feeling of looking different but also the little things like being cold on the back of my neck (especially at night) and not having hair as protection from the sun, the wind, and also stray branches and cupboard corners. If you know what it's like to have long hair cut short and your ears feel exposed, imagine what that's like over your whole head.
When I did feel ready to go out in public - and later return to work part time - I had difficulty finding a suitable scarf that matched my wardrobe as I certainly didn't have the energy or interest in matching my wardrobe to my scarf. Why should I have to change even more of my lifestyle to accommodate stupid cancer? That was the last straw and I started to think of a design for beautiful, easy-to-wear head scarves that were comfortable and functional.
To say “necessity is the mother of invention” is certainly true in the case of my business.
While still suffering from side effects of hormonal treatment (including fatigue, migraines and nausea), I bought a $150 sewing machine from Big W with the idea of keeping occupied and giving me the opportunity to do something practical - because in moments of normality, snatches of my “BC” existence, I craved a purpose. I am no seamstress but sewing seemed a practical, meaningful activity that I could learn to do at home and challenge my brain to work again. Meanwhile, I had heard about Bizness Babes, investigated them further on their website, took the plunge, and applied.
As a result, Hatiheri was born, born out of this very frustration of not being able to find a subtle, simple, elegant, and practical headscarf while coping with hair loss. I never want anyone to need one of my scarves, but if there are in the situation where they do, I at least want them to feel as comfortable as possible.
Bizness Babes was the perfect timely opportunity for me to take my idea and run with it. But not without reflecting back on a little business inspiration first.
After my own mother and stepmother, one the most inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure to meet – and the person I consider as the original “Bizness Babe” - Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop International plc.
Aside from loving The Body Shop’s products, I also love their principles, and, if it were not for TBS Australia and the Wise Foundation we would not be here today as Bizness Babes ourselves. (So I say thank you to the Wise Foundation for this opportunity.) Started by Anita Roddick with one small shop in 1976, TBS now has 2400 stores in 61 countries and was sold to the L’Oreal group in 2006 for the equivalent of $AU 996 million. Anita and her husband Gordon made $AU 198 million from the sale. Hmmmm. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Having said this, I also get inspired by remembering that Anita was not initially the successful businesswoman we think of today when we imagine this “woman behind The Body Shop”. She and her husband Gordon had two businesses, first a restaurant and then a hotel, which they tried – not so successfully - prior to starting up The Body Shop. This experience paved the way for their next, slightly more successful business.
It wasn’t until Anita was 34, with two young daughters in tow and a husband trekking on horseback across South America that she started her little business of selling naturally based skin and hair care products.
My personal insight from this is that it’s OK not to be successful with your first ideas. Sheer perseverance and audacity, with a bit of luck and timing thrown in, makes TBS what it is today, and can make your business grow and succeed. Anita herself reflected, “when you make a mistake, you have to face up to the fact and take immediate steps to change course." When overcoming hurdles, I like to: Take time. Rethink. Have a cup of tea. Make a list. Regroup. Make some changes. Try again. But please don’t give up!
Finally, seven pointers from one Bizness Babe to another:
  1. If you haven’t done so already, finish your business plan. The numbers do count - remember that it is a business. And the purpose of a business is to make a profit. 
  2. Include a wage to yourself in your costs. This will help later down the road when or if you want to outsource. When doing my figures, I worked out that I could sew approximately three scarves in one hour, so I incorporated a wage of $25 per hour, or $8.33 per scarf. Now, I outsource to a trusted seamstress – who can work much faster than me -  for $5 per item. There is a little extra time involved for me to deliver the material and pick up the completed scarves, but that’s still an extra $3 or so to play with. It means I can have different retail and wholesale prices.
  3. Get a website or a blog. I got mine for free using Google’s “Sites”, which is part of Google’s package, including gmail. Using this, I was able to create my own basic site. As Liana said to us, a web presence is all that is necessary to start with. The rest can be built on and built up later.  
  4. Write a daily plan of attack. Working from home can have many advantages, but it also has disadvantages. Your time slips away and before you know it, the washing is put out, brought in, folded, and put away, the dishes are done, and the flat car battery rescued and the car driven around for 25 minutes to recharge it. But your business is still waiting. I make a list, hour by hour, of all the things I want to achieve that day. It has to be realistic and factor in the mundane tasks too. As I go, I tick off each item. Then, at the end of the day when my partner says, “What did you do today?”, I can account for every moment. This has now evolved from practice into authentic invoicing which includes accounting for work completed on a daily basis. Use a kitchen timer or alarm function on your phone. I put the timer on for one hour, for example one hour of housework. Then stop. Then one hour of business work. Then stop. And so on.  
  5. Take some deep breaths and get over the anxiety of making an initial phone call, email or that initial visit. I always get really nervous before phoning someone about stocking my products. I’ve had a couple of knock backs, but on the positive side, a couple of yes’s. My headwear is for sale at the Atrium Plaza Pharmacy at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. and at Kim Walters Choices (a support group for breast and gynaecological cancers) at the Wesley Hospital.  
  6. Use media, promote yourself, promote your business, tell your story. In the lead-up to the recent Mother’s Day Classic, I contacted the organisers through a “tell your story” link on their website. From this, they got in touch with me about a possible news article in the local free paper, which then developed into an article in the Courier Mail. On the day, I was interviewed on stage about Hatiheri and my “new normal” as part of the lead-up to the actual run… and then I ran 4.5km in a personal best time. Our costume inspiration was “Rosie the Riveter” – I felt a connection to her because she was working in a time of adversity while wearing a headscarf … just like me!  
I wish you all the very best for your own journey. I would like to end with a traditional African quote often used by Anita, “If you think you are too small to have an impact, then try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”
Oh and the seventh point? “We Can Do It!”

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