Your bookshelf’s graced with Losing My Virginity and back issues of BRW. You’ve got a killer idea, and MYOB. What now? The four “Ps”, says Naomi Simson, founder of and author of I Want What She’s Having: “Passion, purpose, the right people and persistence.” Here, Australia’s most successful businesswomen on what they wish they’d known when starting out…


Talk to an accountant to find out if your business idea is feasible, says Suzi Dafnis, 41, general manager of Australian Businesswomen’s Network. And think, is there a market for your idea? “I knew Australians spent over $2 billion on gift cards per year,” says Simson, 43, whose company sells gift vouchers for experiences and turned over $20 million in 2007. “So I offered something innovative, something consumers hadn’t seen before.”


“You shouldn’t leave your job on a Friday and presume you’ll earn a living from Monday,” warns Carolyn Cresswell, 34, founder of Carman’s Fine Foods. Cresswell started with just $1000 – and her mueslis are now sold in 17 countries. “Get the business started while you’re still working, so it’s a viable entity by the time you work on it full-time,” she says. You’ll need about six months.


According to Simson, you don’t need to spend money on advertising. “Do anything and everything for free, as long as it fits your brand,” she explains. “I walked down Pitt Street Mall in Sydney with red balloons attached to my suitcase.” Cresswell says PR is more cost-effective than paid ads. “If your story’s interesting, the press might write about it.” For free. If you do advertise, make sure it’s “direct response advertising”, urges Dafnis. “This might mean a free trial, discount or gift with purchase."


It may be five years before you make a profit, warns Cresswell. Dafnis agrees: “I went backwards about $40,000 in my first two years. Small business isn’t for everybody; you’ll need to work harder than ever before,” she adds. You might have to perform new roles: the mail person, the receptionist, the IT guy.


Swedish-born Kristina Karlsson, 34, founded stationery brand kikki.K when her English was so poor she thought “invoice” had to do with talking. And she knew nothing about business. “Networking and having mentors helped me bridge the skills gap,” says Karlsson.

“I also read as much as I could, did training courses and sought out inspiring speakers; one of my favourite books is John McGrath’s You, Inc..” Dafnis regrets not having a mentor when she started. “Find someone you admire, who’s been there before, whose brain you can tap into, and buy them a coffee,” she says. Check out

On your marks

How to get started
Step 1 Register your business name with ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission). See if your name is unique at

Step 2 Get an ABN (Australian Business Number): this will be used in dealings with other businesses and with government. Go
to for more.

Step 3 If you’re aiming for sales over $75,000, register for GST.

Step 4 If you’re registered for GST, you’ll need to lodge BAS (Business Activity Statements). These report your sales, purchases and wages for the period (usually quarterly) and determine whether you owe the government money, or vice-versa.