Gold Coast beautician and entrepreneur Debbie Majella Nolan, 54, is all too familiar with the adversities that come with being a single mum. In 2007, she launched her own online-based organic skincare range, Door of Youth, in pursuit of a better life for herself and her son.
But the journey from single mum, to skincare entrepreneur, to Telstra Business Woman of the Year nominee, was rockier than she anticipated.
The inspiration for creating a skincare range came after Nolan did some digging, and unearthed some harsh truths about skincare products in the market. She was shocked and disappointed to find out that products marketed as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ were actually not. They were packed with chemicals that are harmful in the long run.
“A lot of women are using products that are detrimental to their skin. And those that willingly switch over to ‘organic’ products don’t see results because those products are not actually natural or organic,” says Nolan.
The truth about these off-the-shelf products became an awakening for Nolan. She spent many years formulating a unique combination of ingredients for her own skincare range, but finally decided to create a commercial product – knowing all too well that she was breaking into a billion dollar industry.
“Creating a skincare product is like making a cake without a recipe,” says Nolan.
“The most important thing for me was to make sure the product is completely organic, has no chemical compounds and is not tested on animals.”
However, the initial years were fraught with challenges – when Nolan was balancing a full-time job with getting her business off the ground. Though Nolan carried three decades of experience in the beauty, image and self-development industry, her knowledge of running a business was limited. As such, she lost $60,000 in the first two years.
“I was novice when it came to online marketing. I listened to the experts on how to market; spent money on SEO and TV advertising; and did a production run of 3000 units of skincare – only to fail,” says Nolan.
“I had to throw away products as it had passed the use-by date. At that time my self-esteem was shattered, so I had to rebuild my confidence.”
In 2011, persistence overcame resistance. Determined to disrupt the skincare market, Nolan decided to give Door of Youth another shot, and it’s been uphill ever since.
She admits the business landscape has changed drastically over the past seven years – particularly with the advent of social media.
“Social media makes a huge difference to newly-founded businesses. They have more opportunity to get their product or service out to the masses with little financial investment,” says Nolan.
“Back in 2007, I invested thousands of dollars into advertising, expos, and events – with little return. Engaging with consumers on social media, being involved in networking groups and speaking at women’s events has been the key to getting my product known.”
Nolan says that over the past seven years, she’s been able to uncover an “astonishing array of information” that has not only helped her business grow, but has motivated her to share this knowledge with other women. She has packaged this information into her Designer Women Australia programmes, launching this month.
“Your website is the front door to your business. You can’t just get the key, open the door, walk in and expect everything to run by itself. Similarly, you can’t build a website and just leave it there on the internet. You have to be forever evolving and forever growing. And that’s what I’ve been doing over the past several years,” says Nolan.
One observation she has made throughout her journey is “a fear of success” among early-stage business owners.
“People give up too easily because of their fear of success. They get so close, they could probably taste success at the tip of their tongue, but then they do self-sabotage,” says Nolan.
But why fear success? Nolan believes it’s the aftermath of success that business owners fear.
“They think ‘if I succeed, then I’ll be known for it. Then I’ll have to go to places, speak publicly.’ There’s also an underlying paranoia. ‘Am I worthy of success?’ ‘What if other people don’t think I deserve this success?’” says Nolan.
“But six to twelve months later, they realise how silly their fears were. They regret giving up. They think ‘I was so close’.”
The other observation Nolan has made is how eager women are today to become founders, leaders and entrepreneurs.
“I think women are ready to roar. We’re evolving. We’re not just wives, we’re not just mothers. We have something to offer. We have ability to achieve great things,” says Nolan.
Nolan’s proudest achievements throughout her tumultuous journey have been seeing admiration in her son’s eyes, and hearing him say, “I believe in you. I’m proud of you.”
“My son, now 23, has seen me go through the challenges. Nothing beats the feeling I get when my son makes a comment on how amazed he is of my persistence and how proud he is,” says Nolan.
She believes 2014 will be a big year for Door of Youth, as she’ll be launching her body range. Nolan also plans on gaining 900 subscribers product by the end of the year who will have the Door of Youth Trio Pack (3 Step Skincare) delivered to them every three months for $99.
On a final note, Nolan shares her top tips for single parents and women aspiring to start a business:
- Focus on short-term goals (3 months at a time), not five-year plans, to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed. Progress with baby steps.
- Find a niche market to target your product to, even if your product is relevant to a wider market. If you market to everyone, you will reach no-one.
- Find a mentor who is experienced in the industry you’re trying to break into, who can provide exclusive insights.
- Get legal and financial advice if you’re unsure about anything. You may have to pay for it, but it’s worth it in the long run.
- Check if your brand name is available.
- Trademark your brand.
- Work on a self-development or personal growth programme everyday. (Healthy mind. Healthy body. Healthy life. Healthy business.)
- Have faith in yourself and never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up! Find a way, but never give up.
For more information, visit www.doorofyouth.com.