What aspects of starting your business do you need help with?


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Blondies of Melbourne

A business with a bright future              

Karen Lewis and Rowan Williams are injecting some welcome colour into the lives of Karen’s hairdressing clients thanks partly to help from the Small Business Mentoring Service.

Karen, who had worked in hairdressing and managed salons for 11 years, and Rowan, her partner in business and life, wanted to run their own salon. But they became frustrated and disheartened after being knocked back for numerous commercial properties.

Karen brought great figures into the salon she worked for, but on paper her wages were low. “Estate agents kept refusing us properties saying we had never run a business before, even though I had managed salons and had saved up enough money to fit out and open the salon,” she says.

“We felt stuck. We couldn't get a shop because we had never had a business before, but we couldn't start a business without a shop.”

Enter SBMS mentor Leah Supple. After working with Leah, Karen and Rowan established Blondies Of Melbourne, which is already making its mark – literally. Blondies specialises in hard to achieve colours using skill, knowledge and the confidence to go where others fear to tread to produce everything from traditional blonde to whimsical pastels and jaw-dropping bright, bold colours.

“We achieve dramatic results which most other hairdressers cannot or would not,” Karen says. “We also provide an extremely relaxing atmosphere, where you are not a number in a production line. You are a valuable client, with a fully qualified hairdresser working with you from start to finish.”

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Karen and Rowan achieved their dream after deciding they needed help with the logistics. Unsure where to start, they completed a small business course through Small Business Victoria. As part of this, they received a voucher to see an SBMS mentor free of charge and were matched with Leah Supple.

Karen chose Leah because she had red colour in her hair and Karen felt Leah would understand the unique needs of her business. She was right, but not just for that reason.

Leah is an experienced Certified Practicing Accountant who helps small business grow and meet compliance obligations. Her strong technical background in accounting and management includes costing, budgeting and cash flow, designing accounting systems to suit a business, business structure and planning, technical comprehension, understanding the business and designing management reports around its KPIs.

SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business.  It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients like Karen to it. Karen had five sessions with Leah and Rowan had four over a number of months. Mentoring is continuing.

As they had never started a business, Karen and Rowan felt they needed someone to ask “the silly questions”.

“We had drawn up a very basic (and now reading over it) bad business plan, and were wondering why commercial real estate agents would laugh at us and wouldn't take us seriously when we applied for commercial properties,” Karen says. “Leah took us through our business plan and helped us write out applications to give the estate agents no reason to knock us back. Starting a business is hard, and we wanted to do it right.”

Blondies of Melbourne 

Leah went through the documentation with them and became a referee for their property applications. “They had written a business plan, they’d done some financials, they had a marketing plan, they literally had every document, but no real estate agent would look at them because they were a new start-up,” Leah says. 

Eventually Karen found suitable premises that were tiny and off the street, but suited a unique one-person operation that sources much of its business from word of mouth and Instagram – Karen has more than 6200 followers. Leah also helped set up the cloud-based SAASU accounting system for the business, avoiding the need for an expensive computer.

As a result, Blondies of Melbourne instantly took off and continues to thrive. Leah says Karen and Rowan have also managed the income well, planning for the future. “She’s been making money from day one,” Leah says. “She’s doing amazingly. She’s always booked out and if she does have a cancellation she puts it out there … and someone gobbles it up straight away.”

Blondies Of Melbourne now offers most hairdressing services, but specialises in hard to achieve colours and colour corrections. Karen is the hairdresser, while Rowan helps with the bookwork and sometimes around the salon.

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It is hard to quantify the mentoring results, as the business had not opened when Leah became involved. But Karen and Rowan are both convinced it made a big difference. Their business is already making money and has a loyal following.

Without Leah’s help, Karen and Rowan say they would be “desperately applying for commercial properties still dreaming of opening our salon”. “Leah helped us set up and organise everything; from being on the verge of tears over councils stringent permits, setting up accounting software and leading us through it all,” Karen says.

“It has relieved a lot of the stresses, and has felt good to know we are on the right track. I tell everyone the mentoring is the best move we made starting this business, it has completely changed our lives and had it not been for Leah’s help we would still be miserable working in our over worked, under paid jobs.”

Since seeing Leah, Karen and Rowan have met many more young adults starting businesses and told them about SBMS. Says Karen: “The free voucher was a great idea, because we felt other than time, we had nothing to lose and if it was worthwhile after the first session we would continue to book more sessions, which we did!”

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