Tell us about you & your creative business. What is it that you create? What is your signature style ?
We are Erin and Lisa from The Sunshine Collective and we make Brilliant Boxes – home-delivered boxes packed full of fun, hands-on, educational activities for pre-schoolers and primary-aged children. We believe learning should be fun and every child (and parent) needs a little more brilliance in their lives!
What is your signature style ?
Our visual style – from logo, colour palette to filtering of photos is all about evoking a sense of ‘childhood unplugged’; a little bit of sunshine, little bit of fun. In terms of our written style, we write the way we talk – we are direct and a like to convey the reality of being work-at-home-mums (good, bad and OMFG) and Lisa (the teacher) makes sure we have all of our apostrophes in the correct places.
What inspired you to make you to make the decision to start your creative business?
We live across the road from one another and met 7 years ago, as new mums with screaming, non-sleeping newborns. Over the years, we developed a strong friendship and when our first-borns started kindergarten we found ourselves working side by side on the Kindergarten Committee. We realised we made a pretty good team and we started thrashing about a few ideas for a business together. Erin’s background is varied, with a strong grounding in business and management and Lisa has been a primary school teacher for 20 years. We both knew we wanted to do something that worked in with our families, something with flexibility, that also allowed us to utilise the skills we have.
It wasn’t until our children started school, that all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Lisa’s daughter took to school immediately and loved every minute of it. Erin’s son was a little more reluctant to stop kicking the ball and start learning the word lists! On the walk to and from school each day, Lisa would give Erin ideas for games and activities that would not only interest Hugo, but develop those necessary skills and understandings.
Before too long, he was loving learning and achieving great success. The trick was when he realised that learning could be fun!
That was when we realised that there were probably loads of other kids and parents who would benefit from these kinds of activities and who would love a little extra support throughout the school years. A few conversations (and let’s be honest, wines) later and The Sunshine Collective and Brilliant Boxes were born!
What steps do you take when creating a new product? Are you a planner? Sketcher? Do you make mood boards? Research?
We are most definitely both planners. We have notebooks, diaries and pin-boards filled with ideas and scribbles! When we are planning a new concept, lesson or a new direction for the business there is heaps of research and loads of discussion and note-taking. Having said that, we also work through things pretty quickly and tend to agree and move forward without too much time or hesitation. Although we are probably both risk averse by nature, we decided, going into this business that we’d rather regret the actions we took than the ones we didn’t. As we said before, we make a good team!
Who & what is your creative inspiration? Why?
Kids are our creative inspiration. We really are passionate about making the school curriculum engaging, relevant and fun! We completely understand that different children work in different ways and we love planning activities, lessons and mini-projects that allow children to work in ways that keep them motivated. Whenever we are planning, we think about all the different children we know and what we could provide each and every one of them to keep them connected to their learning and give them the best possible chance for success. We were just at a community market last week and watched two 10 year old girls pick up some of our resources and use them to create a game – they were giggling and playing, completely oblivious to the two of us getting all teary whilst watching them. Moments like that keep us creating new products for our growing tribe of kids.
How do you deal with creative blocks? What steps do you take to shift them?Often the best way to shift a creative block can just be to take a step back for a bit. If we are struggling to write an article for the website, maybe we pack a box as a way of taking a break. If the creative block is around planning the activities, we find the best way to tackle this is to stop, relax and just sit back and watch our own children for a while. Watching them play, or complete a task almost always results in dozens of new ideas. We’re also fortunate having the two of us to talk through ideas. We don’t really have a filter with each other anymore, so no idea is too stupid or silly to voice. So, when we’re working through a block, we’ll sometimes just start running through every thought / idea / association we have around the problem at hand, calling things out and hoping to snowball something from there. Let’s be honest: this ALWAYS works best at our ‘at home’ Friday night drinks. It’s how we came up with our business name.
How do you balance your creative business / life / motherhood?
This is a tough one! As any working parent knows, the juggle is real! We are both really lucky to have very supportive families who are completely on board with our work. Thankfully our own children benefit from what we create, so that helps too. We try to section our days – Mums in the morning for the breakfast making and school drop-off, small-business owners during school hours (often with younger ones sitting on our laps) and then Mums again at 3:30 until bedtime. To be honest, a lot of the work happens after they all go to sleep! At the moment, it means a lot of late nights and weekend work when the Dads are around to do some kid-wrangling. We work from home, so it’s not like the kids aren’t seeing us; it just means they’ve had to learn that not everything happens ‘now’. We actually think it’s really great that the kids see what we’re creating. There really is no strict divide between business and work, as everything tends to get a bit interwoven. The kids know the local Post Office pretty well and are becoming experts at labelling boxes!
Social media is the be all of marketing today. What is your favourite platform? What tips can you share that have help you grow your following or sold your products?
When we started, we really thought that we’d be focussing most of our social media effort on Facebook, as most of our research suggested that’s where we’d interact with our likely customers (mainly Australian mums, around 30 – 50 yo). Of course, we do use Facebook each day, but we’re finding Instagram to be a more directly useful platform for growing our brand awareness and reaching influencers. In this stage of our business, social media is equally useful developing collaborations with other businesses and influencers, as it is for connecting with customers. It’s a long term view, but we think this is a more sustainable approach for us.
Twitter is not useful for us and to be honest, we just don’t have the time to invest in a quality Pinterest presence right now. I think it will take us longer to develop our following on Facebook, but we have plans for more Facebook video content over the coming months. In the meantime, the visual nature of Instagram has been really useful to showcase our activities and explain what we do. Once we started mastering hashtags, we unearthed whole new markets and connections that we had not anticipated.
We’re finding it quicker to connect to people on Instagram, compared to Facebook. From our experience on Instagram, building a following takes time, but is worth it for followers who have a genuine interest in your business/products. We do spend quite a bit of time on social media, engaging with other people and businesses – sometimes a few hours each day. These connections have recently helped us reach influencers for product reviews; something we would otherwise have paid for. We think it’s also more genuine this way.
What have been your biggest learning curves while running a business? How did you solve them?
There have been so many learning curves. Running a business is completely new to both of us, but we decided early on that we had to make sure we were surrounded by a great network of support. We did our research on everyone and everything we now rely on, from web-designers and printers, to accountants and from pencils to coloured pom poms.
When you’re starting a business now, there are so many different ways you can spend (or waste!) your time. For example, we’ve tried quite a few different networking and business support groups and have narrowed it down to the couple that are really useful. Don’t think that because a group is huge, it’s going to be right for you!
We’re also at the point where we need to make a bit of an assessment of the value of our time. At the moment, we do almost everything in-house. However, we’re getting to the point where we’re going to need to shift some of the admin, so we can spend time specialising on the things we do best.
Another big learning curve is on systems. It sounds boring, but there’s no point going out and creating demand for a great product if you don’t have the backend systems to manage that demand when it translates to orders! We’ve really had to map out this process to make sure we’re working as efficiently as we can be.
We have had a few stumbling blocks along the way, but learning to pick ourselves up, dust off, learn from issues and then move on, has been really important. Being natural planners, research, research, research, is how we tackle anything new.
If money was no object, what would be the one thing you add to your business to make life easier?
Without a doubt, we would outsource the packing of the boxes! This is really time-consuming and although it’s also really satisfying, it will be the first thing to go from our ‘to-do list’. We do have plans for warehousing and outsourcing for a component of this. Every time we have our kitchen benches and dining tables turned into a production line of order packing, we run through our recurring fantasy of swanning into a warehouse with a fancy inventory control system and logistics manager. Sigh.
Oh, and we want Alice. You know, from The Brady Bunch? That’s the ultimate fantasy. Some capable person with folksy charm and sensible shoes who does all the domestic work, but still making us look like mothers-of-the-year.
Advice is always something appreciated from mums who have established a business. Can you offer some wisdom to those who are also on the journey of running a business, or wanting to start one?
Choose something you are passionate about. We talked about a few different ideas for a business, but it wasn’t until education became the focus that we knew we were in the right space. Running a business is hugely time and life-consuming. In order to be at peace with the sheer number of hours you will spend working, thinking about work and talking about work, you need to be passionate.
Honestly, we have never worked so hard on something, but it also never really feels like work. That may sound really clichéd and corny, but it’s true.
One other thing that an adviser told us early on: don’t limit your thinking. Don’t think too small. If you do, how will you ever get bigger? Start planning for where you want to be in 5 years’ time. It’s not going to happen without planning – you need to back yourself to make it happen.
OK – there is one other thing, because we truly can’t resist it when someone asks for our advice: try to surround yourself with people who are ‘doers’. Not everyone is going to ‘get you’ when you tell them you’re starting your own business. We still have friends who don’t understand why we’re not just going back to comfortable jobs. However, we do have a host of friends who are doers, dreamers and cheerleaders for us (and us for them). They are the people you need around you. You know you’ve seen people writing, ‘find your tribe; love them hard’? It’s true. We have a fairly awesome tribe around us and we love them so hard their eyes are about to pop out.
Thanks so much Erin & Lisa for your story.
It's always so inspiring to hear valuable insight into how your business began, how intentional you are about it, hard working & not to mention the wonderful friendship you have due to it. What an inspiration.
To check the girls out in more detail you can contact them here;
website - http://sunshinecollective.com.au/
instgram - https://www.instagram.com/thesunshinecoll/
facebook - https://www.facebook.com/thesunshinecoll/
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