Stories, ideas and tips to help women build fabulous businesses and to help you build your best business.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Are your profits going down the plughole?

This morning I did my once-a-month fridge audit. It doesn’t seem to matter how carefully I undertake day-to-day fridge management there always seem to be a few green cheese and slimy mushroom gems hidden at the back of the fridge. Today though I was moderately taken aback to find quite a stash of Dora the Explorer Banana Yogurts that seemed to have silently slipped past their ‘best –before’.

I blame it on the children. They take a liking to something, I see it on special, buy it in bulk and then, well then, they go off it.

This afternoon I visited a beautician friend. She was in the middle of the day- spa version of the fridge-audit. It wasn’t a good day. She had uncovered a stack of product that was past its best and I arrived just in time to see her pouring the ultra-expensive-very-special-preservative-free face gunk away.

It turns out that sometime ago she had stocked up on the product (when it was the face cream of the day-spa set) and had sourced herself a very decent volume-discount in the process.

So what’s the nibble?

As a Kitchen Table Tycoon it’s easy to get seduced by the bulk discount for the popular product but it’s often better just to make do with buying a little less and paying a little more.

It’s one thing to have to tip eight mini tubs of sugar encrusted dairy produce down the plughole. It’s quite another to send your profits down there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How lipstick could change your business

It could be time to buy a new lipstick.

According to Rae Morris a guru on all things cosmetic, sales of make-up go through the roof when there is a financial downturn. And the reason is simple - it’s because make-up makes people feel good.

The charity Look Good…Feel Better, knows all about this. According to these guys make-up helps women have a positive outlook, renewed confidence and greater self-esteem – and they should know, they provide cancer sufferers in the UK with free make-up workshops and they have unequivocally proven that if you look good, you feel better. (

So it’s not just about the mascara wand - make-up is a magic wand. It seems a new lipstick is less about buying a bit of lip gloss and more about buying a bit of life gloss.

What has this got to do with Kitchen Table Tycoons? Here is my nibble:

The media are doing a fabulous job at spreading doom and gloom about the economy and it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity - but that won’t help your business.

Instead live and breathe a positive outlook. Even if you have to fake your confidence at first it will soon become natural. You will quickly find that people will prefer to do business with you rather than your down-in-the-dumps competitor.

And how do you create a positive outlook?

Invest in a new lipstick of course!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Has your business got style?

This morning, while I should have been busy doing very important stuff I stumbled across a book review for “Style Statement: Live by Your Design” (Danielle LaPorte and Carrie McCarthy). It caught my eye because the opening paragraph noted that some of us have an odd collection of clothes hanging up in our wardrobes which we have never worn.

That’s me.

So I delved a little deeper into the article and it seems the thrust of the book is this: come up with a two word style statement and use it to anchor your clothing choices.

Makes sense.

The authors’ two word style statements are “sacred dramatic” and “refined treasure”. I can’t say they mean anything to me but that’s fine, the purpose of the style statements is to have two words that mean something to you – who cares if no-one else gets it. The important part of course is that it actually helps you make choices. No point in being “sacred dramatic” if you can’t hold up a pair of yellow stacked wedges and decide if they belong on your feet or not.

What does this have to do with being a Kitchen-Table Tycoon? Well it strikes me that every day we are faced with many choices about our businesses and are way too busy to spend ages making decisions.

So here is my nibble. How about a business style statement?

And I don’t mean a tortuous ‘value statement’ or an in depth analysis of your ‘purpose’; just a tidy little two-words which sums up the style of your business.

I decided mine would be ‘elegant sunshine’. I liked ‘elegance’ for its simplicity and ‘sunshine’ because of its association with warmth, good feelings and happiness.

Who knows, I could even apply it to my wardrobe and get rid of some of those made-for-somebody-else-but-not-me dresses.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bean and gone

I love hot chocolate but because I don’t love its contribution to my waist line, I drink it sparingly. So sparingly, in fact that I have taken to limiting myself to only choosing hot chocolate when I am in one particular café.

The café that I selected as my hot chocolate place does do exceedingly good and large hot chocolates but that is not the reason that why I picked it. No, it had nothing to do with the hot chocolate itself but everything to do with the fact that two delicious little dark chocolate coffee beans nestle in the teaspoon accompanying every mug of hot chocolate. I love them.

Now this café is actually at the top of a very large (and can I add fantastic) shopping centre, a shopping centre that is generously stocked with coffee shops and cafés. So, annoying as it is, I always drag my 3 young boys, toy cars, footballs, shopping bags and tired legs all the way up 5 escalators just to get my hot chocolate.

Not any more.

Last week the café stopped dispensing the two delicious little dark chocolate coffee beans. “Too expensive” they told me “but if you want to buy some we are still selling them”.

Buy some? Are you mad? The whole point was that the two delicious little dark chocolate coffee beans were a gift. Of course I know I can buy them but I don’t want to buy chocolate; I want to be given it and then feel that it would be rude not to eat it. And I want to feel looked after, treasured and cared for and, to be perfectly honest that’s how the free chocolate coffee beans made me feel.

So I wouldn’t have minded if the café had added a few cents to the price of the hot chocolate to cover the cost of the beans. But I did mind that they just stopped the beans altogether.

And now there is no point in trudging all the way up to the café at the top of the shopping centre so I take the much easier option of just stopping at the place most convenient to the shops that I frequent. And hey, I might even give up hot chocolate all together.

Here is my nibble:

Your business, like many others, may be suffering from rising costs and falling revenues and it makes sense to save costs by cutting out frivolous stuff. But before you give it the chop make sure that it actually is frivolous; it might in fact be the whole reason that people are buying your stuff.

Like two delicious little dark chocolate coffee beans.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Exposing your hidden talents

The other day I stumbled across a short paragraph that someone had written about me when nominating me for an award.

The nomination was a fantastic surprise but I nearly fell over when I read what the person wrote. It turns out my nominator thought I had an amazing ability to do ‘something’….a ‘something’ that I didn’t even realise I did!

I felt quite chuffed with my new found ability so I slipped on the coat of self-confidence that comes free with someone telling you that you are good at something and off I went to try out my newly discovered skills.

And it turns out that I actually do have them.

Maybe my new found prowess is just the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe I have unearthed latent skills or maybe I was doing this stuff anyway. But who cares, I have a new string to my bow and I’m delighted.

So here is my nibble: when your customers are giving you feedback listen out for surprises – stuff that customers think you are doing well that you don’t even realise you do. Then do this stuff more, make it your calling card and you never know - it could be the very thing that boosts your business.

In the meantime I should probably check that the nominator hadn’t confused me with someone else………

Friday, May 16, 2008

Paper planes

I have been making lots and lots of paper planes.

My middle son got a paper plane kit for his birthday. Well it’s probably a complete exaggeration to call it a kit – it’s actually just 40 pieces of same-sized coloured paper and a how-to-make-paper-planes booklet.

But it is brilliant.

You see, somehow I had managed to get to this point in my life without mastering the how-to turn-paper-rectangle-into-flying-object skill. And this is despite six years of trying. Seriously my boys had even taken to asking God for a mother who could make a paper plane that did anything other than plummet like a stone.

God is off the hook now. One birthday present, a few simple instructions and a diagram later and I am mistress of the skies. My planes fly fast, travel long distance, sky dive and (applause please) loop the loop.

My nibble is this: there are things which you feel you should just have been born knowing how to do. But if you didn’t inherit the know-how gene don’t waste time – just get help.

And I have another nibble too: isn’t the paper plane kit a great example of a simple idea elegantly executed?

The only issue I have now is that my son wants his present back…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Tiffany's

There was a time when a Tiffany Celebration ring would have been more than enough.

Nestled in an eggshell-blue box tied up with a white bow, a platinum band sprinkled with diamonds was the once-in-a lifetime gift to celebrate a most important moment.

And then Tiffany came along and told us we had got it all wrong.

We weren’t celebrating enough.

There are lots of times to celebrate; they said “Maybe there's a baby. Maybe it's your anniversary. Maybe just because. Capture your life's important moments. For all time”

“Good point” we thought, “we can’t let life’s important moments pass by unrecognized” but what should we do, we couldn’t mark them with a Tiffany Celebration Ring because we already had one.

Build a stack” they suggested.

“A stack?” We replied

“Yes, a stack of rings” they cried “Each of life’s important moments turned into stunning brilliance”.

And so ring by diamond ring, Tiffany achieved stunning brilliance themselves. For they found a way to sell the same thing to the same people time after time after time.

My nibble is this: Getting a new customer is costly. Developing new product lines is costly. So how can you take a diamond out of Tiffany’s book and work on increasing your sales of current product lines to existing customers?

Oh and if my husband is reading this it’s Mothers Day on Sunday. I think that counts as one of life’s important moments…

Monday, May 5, 2008

When is BIG too big?

I have been reading Cathie Black’s book “Basic Black”. Cathie is the president of Hearst Magazines and the book is really just a collection of career lessons. I don’t agree with all of it – in fact I felt quite irritated when she wrote about dressing for work and stated “when in doubt wear black” – but some of the stuff is great, especially the stories.

One of the most illuminating tales is Cathie’s take on the rise and fall of Talk Magazine.

If you aren’t familiar with Talk; it was a magazine launched by Hearst in 1999 amidst a buzz of enormous expectation and dribbled to a close just over two years later.

Cathie mentions a number of reasons that Talk failed but one in particular stands out:

The first edition of the magazine carried an interview with Hillary Clinton in which she spoke for the first time about her husband’s infidelities.

This spectacular interview set the expectations of its readers at an impossibly high level which it just couldn’t meet, let alone exceed, issue after issue. The magazine’s fans felt let down, subscriber numbers fell, the advertising dried up and the magazine closed.

Seth Godin says in has blog today “Make BIG promises; overdeliver”. Talk magazine’s mistake was making the BIG promise so big that it couldn’t over deliver.
So my nibble is this: If you are starting a business make sure you don’t make your BIG promise too big. Better to overdeliver on a smaller promise.
There’s nothing worse than setting off with a big bang and running out of ammunition. Well, maybe there is. Wearing a colour other than black.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Kitchen Table Tycoons can learn from Chanel

The Chanel label is nearly 100 years old. The man at the helm is the 70 –something Karl Lagerfeld and he has been there for some 25 years. Put like that it’s hard to imagine cashed-up gen-Y-ers loving the label. Yet they do. Passionately.

The reason that he can design stuff so appealing to his young worshippers is in his choice of muses - Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse ,Irina Lazareanu, Cat Power and muse-to-be Frances Bean.

His muses are cashed-up fashion-leading gen-Y-ers, and his market is cashed-up fashion-leading gen-Y-ers.

So while the label may be old, and the leader long in the tooth, the source of his inspiration is still young and fresh.

My nibble is this: all businesses need a muse.

Your business needs a source of inspiration as much as an artist does. And like an artist your business needs a real person as its muse. So real that you know where she lives and what she buys, know what she listens to and eats, know where she works and what she wears, and know who she dates and who she hates. You will have a picture of her on your office wall and her number on speed dial.

Just check in with her first. You don’t want to be accused of being a stalker.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Can’t afford employees? How about getting your customers to do the work for you? will sell over 1 million must-have too-cool t-shirts this year earning them something in the order of US$20 million in revenue.

Guess how many staff they have?


Yep, that’s right. Just 35.

As a very rough rule of thumb a business is doing pretty well if it employs just 5 people for every US$1million in revenue earned. Or, put another way, it’s a good business if every employee adds US$200,000 to the top line. employs just 1.75 people for every US$1million in revenue. Each employee adds a phenomenal US$571,000 to the top line.

So how does Threadless out-do the best companies?

They use their customers to do the work for them.

Customers submit t-shirt designs to the website, customers vote on the best design of the week and customers run a magnificent word-of-mouth marketing campaign.

The only thing that has to do is to print t-shirts with the winning design and sell them on-line (for about US$15 each).

My nibble is this: what can you change about your business to get your customers to give you a free hand?

And having built my own furniture (thank you Ikea) and assembled my children’s bicycles (thank you Toys R Us) t-shirt design can’t be that hard.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What does everyone know that I don’t?

I recently discovered the Ozganics grocery line -yummy yummy organic foods and sauces - and the story behind the business.

The founder Anni Brownjohn literally stumbled over a jar of American organic jam in her local Aussie supermarket. Because she thought it was complete madness that this stuff was being imported from half way round the globe she started a business producing an Australian version.

It was a lot tougher than she thought.

The ingredients were hard to find and extraordinarily expensive, and to top it off Australian’s weren’t even that bothered about buying organic food stuffs! (I should point out that Aussies aren’t complete philistines - this was a good ten years ago).

Even though the business is now a great success Anni says that she wouldn’t have started the business if she had known the difficulties ahead.

My nibble is this. Sometimes spotting a gap in the market can be an opportunity that is too good to be true. Being a pioneer is both expensive and exhausting. Maybe the reason that there isn’t a local presence in your market is that your would-be competitors are waiting for someone like you to come in and break the ground so that they can then glide in.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Are you too busy to exercise?

What’s the first thing that you are too busy to do? For me it’s exercise. Or should I say for me it was exercise.

After discovering “Brain Rules:12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school” by John Medina ( I am now going to have to find something else to be too busy to do.


Because according to John exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic bullet for our brains and:

we learn 20% faster immediately after exercise
exercise improves our brain’s higher-order functions (complex problem solving, reasoning etc)
we are best at decision making when our heart rate is up
we get better outcomes from business meetings when we hold them while walking at 1.8 km per hour (sounds funny but I think it works –I feel much more eloquent when I walk about while using the phone)
exercise will improve our long term memory

My nibble is this. I find it easy to be too busy on my business to get all hot and sweaty, even though I know how important it is to look after my physical health. But knowing that 45 minutes spent exercising will have a positive and direct impact on my business, well it’s a no-brainer.

Oh and if you are thinking this guy is just a quack you might want to know that he is actually a developmental molecular biologist whose work focuses on the genes involved in human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders.

And he’s very entertaining. Take a look at his website (

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lessons from the leg wax

The other day I notched up my first one year anniversary with a beauty salon. While this might not sound like much of an achievement it has left me totally delighted.

After two decades of growing body hair I have finally found a leg, bikini, and eyebrow defuzzer which I actually like.

So while I was enduring last week’s leg wax I decided to work out what I liked so much about this particular Temple of Pain and Endurance. Here’s the list:

· It’s clean
· It’s convenient
· The parking is ok
· They stick to appointment times
· The therapists are friendly in a low key way
· The beauticians don’t indulge in inane conversation during treatments
· You get an aroma therapy eye pack while having your legs and bikini done
· It smells nice
· They don’t try to sell products to you

The interesting bit though is that I have no idea whether this beauty salon is expensive or cheap.

My nibble is that although beauty places are ubiquitous, individual salons are unique. So, be bold with your pricing - if your service and ambience are great your customers won’t notice the price; well not much anyway.

Of course I now spend a lot more time and money in my salon ( Massage anyone?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Being discovered

When I was growing up people got “discovered”. Kate Moss got “discovered” by a model agent at JFK airport. Naomi Campbell got “discovered” while window shopping in Covent Garden. The formerly voluptuous Sophie Dahl got “discovered” on a London street by the fashion maverick Isabella Blow.

These three enormously successful models were also girls that didn’t fit the model mould – Kate was too short, Naomi to exotic and Sophie, well, too voluptuous.

And they still got discovered; there was hope for all of us.

Fast forward to today.

If you are a jewellery designer/cake maker/ novelist you may get “discovered” by Oprah and unveiled on her show

If you are a dress designer you may get “discovered” by Nicole Kidman or Angelina Jolie and worn to the Oscars

If you are a shoemaker you may get “discovered” by Vogue magazine and become the next Jimmy Choo.

Interestingly though, people who get “discovered” are rarely surprised that they have been found. In fact the opposite is true - they have usually been working their little behinds off to make sure that that they get noticed by the right people.

So don’t wait for your business to be discovered. Work out who needs to find you and set about making sure that they do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A daily dose of goodness

I can’t remember how I stumbled across this now, but I did, and I love it.

It’s called the Daily Good and it’s a free email service that delivers a little bit of inspiring goodness straight into your in box.

So every day I get to read a little story that leaves a big impact.

It feels good. It revitalises me. And it reminds me about what’s really important.

Check it out at

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A midwife in every village

How would you feel if you gave birth to a baby that had died because it’s head got stuck in the birth canal?

How would you feel if that baby’s skull had rubbed a hole in your bladder or rectum giving you uncontrollable urinary and faecal incontinence?

How you would feel if you were then abandoned by your family and cast out of your village because the incontinence made you dirty and smelly.......

This happens to 9000 women a year in Ethiopa.

The childbirth injury is called a fistula injury and it can be completely fixed.

I have been looking for a charity to support with my book (it’s not too late to enter a story: email me at and I have decided to support the Fistula Foundation

In 1959 Catherine Hamlin went to Ethiopia with her husband to set up a midwifery school. Seeing the plight of the Ethiopian women they set about changing it and they never came back

Today Catherin Hamlin is 84 and she is still working at achieving her dream of putting a midwife in every village.

It’s an amazing story. Visit the website and see.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It’s the little things that make an impact

I love Jo Malone and as a natural extension I tend give Jo Malone stuff as gifts.

So yesterday I popped in to buy a candle for a friend and they asked me if I wanted to join their mailing list. I often say no to mailing list requests but I do like their stuff so I dutifully obliged.

Today the postman delivered a lovely handwritten card from the Jo Malone team inviting me in for a complimentary hand and arm massage.

Now I know the massage is just good marketing to get me back through the front door. But because it was handwritten, personal (“I do hope you enjoy your new candle”) and quick (I gave them my address less than 24 hours ago). I’m taking them up on it. Tomorrow.

And it also reminded me how easy it is to overlook the little things which make the biggest impact.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Styling the hairdresser

My hairdresser, George, is great at cutting and colouring hair but he is hopeless at training and managing staff. So hopeless in fact that except for a lone hairwasher-tea-maker-general–sweeper-upper he works alone in his salon.

And he makes more profit than ever.

How has he done that? By skilfully changing his business model.

In the old days George made money in the traditional hairdresser sense by having a team of hairdressers working for him.

Now he makes money by selling niche, luxury, hard-to-find skin care and cosmetics to his customers.

Because George isn’t running around managing staff he can devote himself entirely to his clients which gives him ample opportunity to showcase his products and persuade his clients that they can’t possible live without Tracie Martyn cleanser and Eve Lom lip balm.

The model works for lots of reasons: the products that he sells earn him a very high margin; his clients trust that he will sell them only the best and he has the ultimate captive audience – the client is rather stuck in the chair/under the heater/prone at the basin

When George had staff they were a cost to the business - he couldn’t keep them long enough to be useful.

I think the message here is that if there is part of your business that you are really hopeless at one option might be to look at how you can change your model so that you play to your strengths.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The smile train business model

Put simply your business model is the answer to the question “how does your business work?”

So how does your business work?

Puzzled? This question is so often greeted with bewilderment that I thought I would showcase some business models.

My inspiration for this was a fabulous article on It’s a story about Smile Train, a charity that fixes children’s cleft lips. Initially the charity used the donations it raised to send a team of doctors to treat poor children in countries such as Vietnam and India. Frustrated by the relatively high cost of doing this and the low number of children they could treat, they changed the business model. Instead of sending American doctors to treat the children they used the donations to train local doctors. The result – same amount of dollars, many many more children cured of their cleft lips.

How can you improve your business model to make the money go further?

Would you like to feature in my book?

I am writing a book. Well I’m editing it actually because it’s all written - I am just going through the making-it-better bit.

The book is called The Art of Baking a Business: Recipes for the Kitchen Table Tycoon - and that’s exactly what it is - a collection of recipes and fun stuff for baking a business.

As well as the “how to” recipes the book has lots of tasty tales - stories about successful former Kitchen Table Tycoons.

I am also profiling a selection of Kitchen Table Tycoons who right this minute are starting or running their small business. But rather than just feature women that I know I thought I would run a sort of competition to get the best stories from around the world.

And so I am inviting you to be part of the book.

All you have to do is email me: and let me know 3 things:

What your business does (just in your own down-to-earth words – no pompous crap)
What you find exciting about starting and running your own business
What has gone wrong - this can be funny or serious or something that was serious that now has a funny side

Just send through your quick thoughts - I won’t be publishing your stuff without speaking to you first so there is plenty of opportunity to worry about the niceties of wording it later!

So why would you want to do this? Well I am hoping that by being involved in this book your business will get some fabulous free publicity - and if you are like most of the Kitchen Table Tycoons I know, it will surely come in handy.

What can be seen in Agyness Dean

The other day I was reading an article about the English model and style supremo Agyness Deyn. It is pretty well known that she started life with a much more ordinary name (Laura Hollins) but there is a bit of controversy over whether she was “discovered” working in a fish and chip shop in the bleak North of England or whether, in fact, she skilfully engineered the launch of her astonishingly successful career.

The article I read put it well. While I can’t remember the exact words it went sort of like this. “Isn’t it better to be architect of your career rather than the passive participant?”

Hollywood movies roll out the passive participant story with impressive regularity. The best feel good movies have the nice-girl-just-going-along-doing-her-thing-wins-the-competition theme. Which I think is highly ironic given that no-one with any connection to Hollywood could be accused of passively participating. In fact the opposite is true. They are all gung ho-ly architecting and building their careers.

And so must each and everyone of us.

Nothing compares to U

More on the theme of things that worked 10/15/20 years ago but don't work now.

I saw a picture of Sinead O'Connor in the paper today. About 15 years ago, maybe more, I wished I had her sort of face that could look awesome with short hair -my face was too moonlike to do anything other than long.

Sinead still has the same hair cut but the 15 extra years don't do it justice.

It's hard to update yourself - I no doubt have some wardrobe shockers -but it's easy to update others.

Maybe there is an opportunity for you to update a business idea that's in need of renovation.

Friday, March 21, 2008


For the life of me I can't understand why Tupperware don't sell their stuff on the internet.

50 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago it was probably fun to go to a Tupperware party and stock up on plastic containers. But surely today most people just want to buy the wretched stuff with one click of a button.

The other day I tried to order some Tupperware:

I phoned the Head Office and asked how I could buy some tupperware without going to, or hosting, a party. The friendly receptionist suggested that I call the Regional Office and added that she spent much of her day fielding calls from potential customers wanting to buy on-line......

The Regional Office said they would contact my local distributor.

My local distributor called me 2 days later and gave me her address so that I could send her my address so that she could then send me a form to complete and send back to her. (Yes I was completely stumped by that too).

I later found out that the distibutor makes just one trip a week to the warehouse to collect orders and then posts them out in the ordinary mail. So had I ordered the tupperware from her it would have taken roughly two to three weeks for me to receive the order whereas it takes two or three days to get a book from Amazon.

In 1950 when Brownie Wise came up with the idea of selling Tupperware at parties it was very forward thinking. Because the Tupperware concept was so new people didn't understand how the Tupperware seal worked - demonstrating it was key to selling it.

58 years later plastic boxes with lids are ubiquitous.

Tupperware does make the best stuff, but what's the point in making the best stuff if you don't make it easy for your customers to buy it?

getting things done

I've just discovered Getting Things Done by David Allen. His website is worth a look. There's great free stuff. Just got to find time to read it....

Shopping trolleys

My fave grocer has just installed those pay-to-borrow shopping trolleys. So what did I do? Used a basket instead and bought less.