Online Beauty Products Business Startup Case Study: Serene Goddess

Name: Alliyah Shabana Dawud

Age: 22

Business: Serene Goddess

Type of Business: Natural based bath and beauty products and hampers

Start date: October 2005

Q. When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?

I was at my uncle's wedding in Pakistan when I realised I wanted to go into business. I'd graduated from university in 2004 with a degree in journalism but couldn't find a job that was motivating. So I was looking for inspiration to do something more fun.

Tell us about your business

Serene Goddess is an online shop selling handmade, natural based, alcohol and animal fat free products that come in minimal packaging. Nothing is tested on animals. I also sell Asian costume jewellery and a range of other accessories to add some Asian funkiness to your wardrobe.

Q. Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?

Yes, this was my first idea. It came from me watching family members not using expensive chemical filled beauty products. There's still women out there who don't use creams and lotions if they don't get what's in them so they turn to age old remedies which to be honest are tried and tested over generations and never fail them.

Q. Was your decision to start a business inspired by other companies or individuals? If so, why?

No, no such person inspired me. I get inspired by people like Mohammed Ali, Rosa Parks-people who've made a difference. Gandhi and Jinnah are up there too for inspiring me, I guess I'm more politically motivated than by business people.

Q. What makes you think there's a market for your business?

The fact that I did research into what I wanted to sell. There's currently a niche market for these types of products-some women on religious grounds cannot use products that contain alcohol or animal fats. People are also becoming more and more aware of the environment, chemicals and things that may not be all there cracked up to be. We're asking more questions than we did in the early 1990's.

Q. Once you'd decided to start a business, what did you do first?

I did plenty of research into the field and contacted the Princes Trust for financial support. They then gave me information, helped me put together a business plan and got me to contact my former university (Staffordshire University) for financial help too.

Q. What research did you do?

I spent endless hours reading through business books, reading up on issues on the internet, speaking to other business people and surveying loads of people.

Q. What advice did you seek?

I was given advice by the Princes Trust who got me into contact with Business Link. I also got help and advice from my former university's HE Full circle project. Without the Princes Trust and Chris at HE Full circle I would have been lost. I also attended the Business Link 3 day business course. It was okay, I learnt one or two things but to be quite honest I felt I'd learnt more from books than from the course.

Q. What other help did you get?

I was given constant support by the Princes Trust who gave me a mentor and I was given loads and loads or support from HE full circle who also have me a mentor.

Q. Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?

Yes, without a doubt! There's not enough information out there for young people who want to go into business. And funding is a huge issue 'where do you go for low interest funding?' There's literally no-one who will help you. They all want your money before you've even sown your first seed of success. The government needs to get its priorities in complete order over this issue, we the young businesses are the future of England. Help us!

Q. Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. How did you find it?

The Princes Trust gave me a template to work through. That was it, easy. I then typed up all the information so I had a business plan for other organisations too.

Q. How useful has your business plan been and do you think you'll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

I doubt I'll stick to it. It was useful in the sense of my goals are more clearer after writing them down.

Q. How much did it cost to start the business?

Approximately £5,600

Q. How did you fund this?

I received a loan from the Princes Trust, I then got a bursary from my former university and the rest was personal savings. The Business Link has a local grant available called the NRF Seed Corn. I've applied on several occasions and got turned down loads of times. This is what I mean by the government needing to help young people more. Why should young people help build the financial security of a country if every time we ask for help someone sitting on a panel says "nope, you can't have the money".

Q. Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?

I'm living on my credit cards and with the support of family.

Q. Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them

I've got my CV on file at some local firms in case I need to get a part time job.

Q. When did you stop working?

I stopped working in April 2005 as the planning and making of the products is and was a full time job.

Q Are you working from home or for premises?

I'm currently looking for premises that have a retail outlet and workshop space too. But to be honest the most important thing is workshop space and storage area.

Q. How many hours are you working at the moment?

64 hours.

Q. How are you managing your day and what steps have you taken to ensure you're able to get everything done without working around the clock?

I literally just work all day-that's the only way to manage it. As the business takes off though I will regain some of my day back.

Q. What about staff, is it just you?

It's just me.

Q. Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?

No, if you treat people with respect, don't pay them peanuts and don't expect them to do stuff you wouldn't do you should be fine. Plus, you can always seek advice on things like this.

Q. What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

I've sent samples out to magazines, I've had articles in the local press, I've been on local radio and well fingers crossed someone on a national level helps me further up the PR ladder.

Q. Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?

I hope to be shifting loads of stock and a week and to have a top ranking website which is one of the first places people (men in particular) turn to buy their loved ones gifts.

Tell me about your website

My website and my eBay store is my business, the heart of the operation. I had input into the design of it but a designer put it together for me. I needed a website that was easy to operate-so anyone could use it. I also needed something that was simple and that had no flashy ads and pop-ups that look trashy. The process was pretty smooth my designer is a star, she listens to what you're saying and never lets you down. I know people who think I paid double what I did pay because it looks fresh and funky.

Q. What have you found difficult about starting up and do you wish you'd done anything differently?

I've found that I've hardly had anytime to myself and have lost contact with friends. I think if I did it again I'd try and make more time for people.

Q. What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

You need to be strong, not afraid of hard work and committed to your business idea. Self-motivation is a big thing though.

Q. So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

Go in with your eyes open, read every book you can, and never forget to read the small print! And remember, all good things come to those who wait. My motto: reach for the moon, you'll land on a star.

Story from Startups:
Published: 23/01/2006
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