by Raelke Grimmer
Long-time friends Ashleigh and Belinda spent a couple of years working in the same workplace, before Ash left for another career opportunity. They missed the fun they always had together at work so much that they made it their goal to go into business together one day. In October this year their dream was realised when they launched their business Belash, selling handmade soy candles and reed diffusers. I spoke with Ash and Bel about what they love so much about running their own business.
What was the inspiration for starting Belash?
We became best friends at first sight and we always knew we’d do something magical together; something that would combine our passion for creating beautiful spaces in our homes with our love of being creative.
We noticed that no matter where we are- at home, at work, wherever- candles have an almost mystical power to bring happiness, calm and beauty. For those reasons we have forever been candle fans, but now we are candle makers!
Our eagerness to start the business grew when we went to a candle party and learnt about the dangers of paraffin wax and the benefits of soy wax to your health. Paraffin wax is a by-product of the petroleum industry and has been shown to release an alarming range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), substances that can be problematic to health. For years we had been spending a lot of money on a brand of department store candles, without realising they were full of toxins and nasty chemicals.
ASH: My partner has asthma so it’s great to have a natural candle that we can burn in the house that doesn’t cause him any problems.
We wanted to make a cheaper and healthier and just as delicious version of our favourite brand. We thought, well, let’s make some and start our own business! We laughed that we could call it Belash because we thought it had a nice ring to it (Belinda and Ashleigh combined).
What motivated you to start your own small business?
Firstly, we have always had a passion for candles! We always have them burning in our homes and wanted to try and make them ourselves.
We also wanted to prove to ourselves that we could start our own business (and stop talking about doing so). So
many times we have looked up to successful entrepreneurs and thought they were so lucky to be where they are. We soon realised they were not ‘lucky’ and have worked bloody hard to get to where they are. We put our heads together one night and decided to take a risk and made a promise to work as hard as we could to make a business we were proud of.
How long did it take from the initial idea to launch?
It took us about 4-5 months of researching, experimenting and talking to other candle makers to get it right. We kept it very quiet when we began because we didn’t know how long it would take to get the scents right. We tested over 60 different fragrances. We now finally have 11 fragrances that we are really happy with.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in launching Belash?
It’s definitely not easy starting your own business. It takes a lot of support and time. We are juggling full-time work with running a business. We have had to make a few sacrifices and thankfully our family and friends have been so supportive.
After the launch in October, we were working full days and then coming home and making candles and packing orders until 1 in the morning. We really did wear ourselves out from “burning the candle at both ends”!
Another challenge is having to spend a lot of your own money to get started. It’s such a risk because you don’t know if you’re going to see that money again! We did put quite a bit into the business but have learnt that entrepreneurs generally run at a loss for a while.
I believe you used Kampus to find a student to help with graphic design?
Yes, Kampus was fantastic. We needed help with a small graphic design job and saw a post from a student who was looking for work experience in that field for a small fee. We have another graphic designer who has done our labels but needed a gift certificate done – our designer was busy so we contacted the student and were so impressed with the outcome.
Kampus was so easy to use and it was great to give students work to do and pay them a small fee – they benefit from getting the work experience and growing their portfolio and we benefit from paying a lower price for the service (we are trying to be as lean as possible so every penny we can save counts!) and we get that nice feeling that we have helped out a student.
We would really like to use Kampus in the future to post opportunities we may have as our business grows.
What distinguishes the candles and diffusers Belash creates from other candles and diffusers?
We really love being able to call SA home and feel lucky to live somewhere so beautiful and diverse, which is why we decided to name each of our fragrances after regions and places in the state. Our candles are made from 100% soy wax and have a wooden wick which gives off a beautiful crackling sound which sounds like you’re near a campfire. We also do diffusers which are great if you’re worried about burning candles at your workplace or home or just want something a little different.
We will also happily refill your jars once they’re finished and you’ll get a $5 discount for being a healthy earth crusader!
We do candle parties too. These won’t be your Tupperware style party though. The idea is to invite 5-10 friends over and tell them to wear their comfiest clothes, (trackies and onesies welcome!) Your friends will indulge in a night of relaxation, cups of tea, candles and chocolate, all our favourite things.
What do you love most about running your own small business?
The satisfaction you get from hearing positive feedback from customers saying they love your product. When you work so hard on something and you see it paying off, there is no better feeling. We love the flexibility to work when and where we want and being able to work with each other! We also love coming home from our day jobs, lighting a few candles, making a cup of tea and putting on some sweet tunes whilst we pack orders and make candles.
What was it like for you when you finished university? Many students believe when they graduate they will get a job. What do you think about this mentality, and what was your experience?
ASH: I finished my degree in Marketing and Communications in 2011. I went overseas for a while after I finished and I assumed it would be quite easy to get a job in my field- I was very wrong!
I was unemployed for a while and ended up getting work at a call centre whilst applying for every marketing job advertised. Every job I looked at said they wanted someone with 3-5 years’ experience so I wasn’t even getting an interview. At this point I was ready to move interstate in search for work in my field.
I ended up applying for an administration job with a corporate organisation. I was lucky enough to work my way up and become the Marketing Specialist over time. I have now moved into another role within a university and I really enjoy what I do.
While unemployed, I did unpaid work experience for 6 weeks at two different places. I really loved this experience! This work experience actually scored me my job at the university. It was through word of mouth that I was hired.
My career goal is to eventually work part-time for a company and part-time on my own business.
If you’re struggling to find work, here are some tips which could help you get a start:
- Don’t expect to fall into your dream job straightaway
- While you are unemployed/working casual, go and visit places that you would love to work and offer your time for free
- Don’t rely on job search websites like Seek when looking for work. It’s more about who you know (especially in Adelaide) so look up networking events and go to as many as you can so you meet people and are in the back of their mind when looking for work
- Take a receptionist job/clerk role in a place where you can work your way up
- Become an NVI Brand Manager next year. It’s voluntary and you can do as little or as much work as you want. You will get to learn from heaps of amazing and successful entrepreneurs http://nviflinders.com.au/brandmanager/
The start-up and entrepreneurial scene has grown drastically over the past few years in Adelaide. Do you see innovation and entrepreneurship as the future for South Australia’s economy?
So many students (like Ash in 2011) feel like to score certain jobs they need to move interstate to look for work. I think we need to plant the seed in the minds of students that they don’t have to be an employee; they can actually use their university skills to build a business for themselves.
We see Adelaide as a low-cost starting point to starting a new business. We believe that all large businesses started small and the answer to SA’s economy is to create more entrepreneurs. As the saying goes “if your business works in Adelaide, it will work anywhere!”
What advice would you give other young people looking to start their own business?
- Give it a go. You’ll never know if you never try
- You’ll have to work really, really hard in the first few months, but it will be so worth it!
- Seek as much help and advice as you can before starting out. Google the shit out of your competition, talk to people about your idea, reach out to successful business people, attend networking events and get help wherever you can.
- Follow your own instincts and do things differently than others
- Know your target audience
- If you’re launching a product, make sure you get high quality photographs taken. They really make all the difference. Invest in a good photographer and you will see the rewards later. We got a lot of comments on how professional our website looked and that was mainly because of the images.
- Do something you are passionate about. Life is too short.
- Do it with someone. It’s hard to start a business with someone let alone starting all alone. We love bouncing ideas off each other and that is where we are able to get really creative.
- It’s important not to rush things. We are so glad we made sure everything was set up properly (ABN, Domain, Website, Bank Account, etc) so we could deliver something we were super proud of
You can find the gorgeous range of Belash soy candles and reed diffusers on their website, http://www.belash.com.au