finance

Ask a side hustle: 6 things Floss Kelly, Co-founder of TileCloud, wishes she knew before starting her business.

Commonwealth Bank
Thanks to our brand partner, Commonwealth Bank

When it comes to tiles, I know my stuff.      

I’m Floss, I’m 30 and I live in Sydney with my husband and our labradoodle. I’m the Co-founder and Head of Creative at TileCloud, an online store for tiles.  

Basically, it's tile shopping simplified, hassle-free sampling and we deliver everything to our customers’ door. Most of them we find are renovators who can now design their dream bathroom from their office desk, while they binge Netflix or when they are waiting for their morning coffee. We try and make it as easy as we can for them to bring it all to life, in a nutshell.

My co-founders and I started the business in 2017. My partners both have a background in construction while I studied design at University and then worked for the Australian design company Mud Australia. 

When we started I was the only full-time employee and my desk was in a communal kitchen (I have to laugh about this now). 

Now I'm so proud to say we have a team of 16, and we’re on to our third warehouse. In October last year, we also opened our flagship showroom in Sydney.

Meet the TileCloud team. Image: Supplied.

But these bites of success for us didn't arrive overnight by any means. If I could go back in time to 2017 when this was our side hustle and we were just starting the process, these would be the 6 tips I'd want somebody to be giving me (and what I always tell other side hustlers and Lady Startups like I once was).

1. Start an Instagram account. Right now. 

I did this one by accident, because I was so excited to give TileCloud a presence and start interacting with potential customers. 

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It’s the advice I give any friend starting a business so I'd always recommend this to anyone who will listen with a new business in their hands: before your website is live or your product/service is even finished, start an Instagram account and just see If people are interested in what you are doing. 

It's the best getting direct feedback from the community, and getting to gauge in real-time how your content is being received.

The best thing about this is it is free, you just need to put in the time to creating content that people want to know about you and your industry, and actually engaging in a back-and-forth with your audience. 

And, if you can’t create original content, that’s okay too; when we started we didn’t have any physical tiles to make content out of, so we made our Instagram account in the beginning using a curation of images that reflected our inspiration and aesthetic, and what we would go on to sell. 

2. You can learn as much from a customer that doesn’t buy from you as one that actually does. 

We built our website to be incredibly beautiful and stylish. 

But after a few months our conversion rate wasn’t great and we wanted to find ways to improve it, so we ran some focus groups (which was basically me getting on the phone with customers who had ultimately decided not to buy through us). 

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The feedback was overwhelmingly that they loved our product but assumed we were more expensive than competitors because of our fancy website – even though we’re actually one of the cheapest in the market.

Such valuable insight to us.

We immediately changed our brand positioning, website and socials to feel much more affordable in order to stop confusing our customers, and adopt a more accessible approach. 

I wish I could go back and tell myself to stop obsessing over creating the perfect, premium website and start talking to potential customers sooner. We've learned so much from doing this over the years, and something that every Lady Startup can start doing.

Experiencing TileCloud in person. Proud Lady Startup moment. Image: Supplied. 

3. Networking isn’t just for corporates. 

When we first started I had zero interest in attending networking events – and my first was equal parts cringe and riddled with imposter syndrome. "It's definitely not my thing", and "I shouldn't be here", I kept thinking each time I would attend one.

But it turns out that small business and startup community events are a great way to meet other people going through the same challenges. What's even better: they’ve been through them, have come out the other side, and have advice to help you. 

So much to learn, so little time. It's honestly been one of the best things in disguise.

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At a networking event run by our shipping company, we actually met a digital marketing agency that day, and after hearing all about how they work and more about them as people, we’ve thankfully worked with them ever since.

4. Write a business plan (but actually, do it). 

It’s not an original, I know, and yes it might sound a tad boring.

Maybe it even feels like overkill, as you know what you're all about and what you want to achieve in your head. But I promise it’s not. 

We always waved it off as being “too early” to make one, we were “too small”. 

Then suddenly we weren’t. 

It wasn’t until we were knee-deep in the business that my two business partners and I realised that we didn’t have exactly the same vision of where we were going and how we’d get there. 

It worked out fine in the end (thankfully, after lots of communication and planning), but if we’d have put it down on paper super early on, the process could have been a lot smoother and aligned across us as co-founders. 

If you don’t know how to get started, I really recommend this free guide from CommBank. Behind every organised business is a solid business plan, and I know this now. This guide makes sure you cover what you need for starting a business successfully.  

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5. Decide how much you personally are going to invest in the business (and stick to it). 

This was actually advice I was given from a mentor of mine, and I’m so glad I listened. 

I’ve seen other business founders throw dollar after dollar at their business, which has been at the expense of buying their forever house or going on that holiday they've always wanted. 

Open a specific business bank account, even if you aren’t making money yet. It sets you up from the outset to separate your business and personal expenses (more about that here on why this is so important). Plus it gives you boundaries, keeps you accountable, makes tax time easier and if you need to get finance in the future, it’s honestly a must-have.

6. You can’t shy away from awkward money conversations. But you can bring in reinforcements.

The bit I hated most about my having a small business was chasing people for outstanding payment. 

How awkward. Not a fan.

These days we have a wonderful team who do this, and do it respectfully, firmly and effectively. But in our first year I created “Mary”. Mary doesn’t have a birthday, or even a body, but she has her own email address and she will keep pestering you until that invoice gets paid. 

Removing my personal identity made these conversations about money a lot more productive and a lot less stressful. I highly recommend doing this. It really did alleviate all of the worries, guilt and fears I had at the thought of doing this from my own work email, but having Mary in my back pocket meant I was able to push forward, and just get it done.

You can also get the know-how, advice and resources you need to set up your business with CommBank. 

A handy option from CommBank I've found has been the Business Transaction Account. It has a $0 Monthly Account Fee option, and just helps give you the peace of mind as a business owner to separate your personal and business finances, which is especially important when you're starting out and trying to establish great money habits. 

It's only one way CommBank can help get your business up and running in no time.

Want more tips on what you need before starting your own business? Find more from CommBank here.

This content is written by Floss Kelly of TileCloud. As this is Floss' own experience regarding her own business' circumstances, CommBank doesn't guarantee the accuracy or appropriateness of the information presented for everyone. This article is intended to give general info of an educational nature only. It doesn't factor in the financial situation or needs of other readers and shouldn't be relied on as financial product advice. We recommend contacting CommBank for expertise on what might help support your own business' financial needs.

Commonwealth Bank
Starting a side hustle or new business? Get the support, expertise and solutions you need to set up a business with CommBank. The Business Transaction Account has a $0 Monthly Account Fee option giving you the peace of mind to separate your personal and business finances. Just one way CommBank can help get your business up and running in no time.