Top 5 business tips for building a cult beauty brand

Anna Ross, Founder of cult beauty brand, Kester Black, started the nail polish brand back in 2014 when the need for ethically sourced and manufactured beauty was just taking off.

Now, she lays claim to it being Australia’s most ethical beauty brand, with all the products cruelty free, palm oil free, vegan and the company B-corp certified.

Her head office is based in Melbourne, Australia, but her cult-status nail polishes are stocked across Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland and Malaysia.

We caught up with Anna Ross to get the inside word on how to create a cult beauty brand.

What are your five pieces of business advice for budding entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting a beauty brand?

1. It’s not about the product, it’s about the brand. There are a lot of crap products on the market and they sell because they have great branding. Make sure you are really clear from the outset who your audience is and the type of brand you want to create including photography style, colours, tone of voice etc. Frank Body is a great example of getting the brand right. It is easy to copy coffee scrub, heaps of people have, but it’s a lot harder to copy their brand – it is brilliant.

2. Get your core messaging right from the start and communicate it well. We’ve always been clear about our purpose and what we stand for, but we have made a mistake in that we haven’t communicated it clearly. I can honestly say we are the most ethical nail product on the market, but not many people know it. There are other brands that 'look' more ethical than us, even though their product isn’t as good, and they are outselling us in wholefood stores because they appear more ethical, sustainable and organic – even though they’re not. So it is all about the brand.

3. Website is key – get it right from the start. If you want to create a product and sell it online, you need money for a good digital strategy and website. We unfortunately didn’t develop our website with its main purpose to sell product - I really regret doing this. We are now having to go back over work that’s already been done, and spend more money to tweak around the edges to make it a better user experience.

You can get great e-commerce inspiration just by looking at other successful online beauty retailers such as Net-A-Porter, Sephora and Go-To-Skincare – they’re all set up to drive online sales. We unfortunately didn’t do this. We created a website that looked nice, but wasn’t that user friendly.

4. Learn quickly from your failures. I only know what I know because I’ve tried a lot of different things and made mistakes that I’ve learnt from.

5. Get advice from people who’ve done it before. This is an imperative. Paying for business advice is incredibly valuable if you know exactly what your questions are and you have the right experts to speak to. But it doesn’t always need to be paid, for example, you can test EDMs with friends and family for free and the same goes for product sampling. But with any advice, whether it’s paid from an expert or unpaid from friends and family, it’s up to you whether you take it or leave it.

It is really important to filter all the advice you receive and don’t take it on face value as there may be different agendas at play. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting expert advice from a consultant or an agency that is then going to try and on-sell a service or more work.

So, if you want to start the next big beauty brand and get it stocked in Sephora, do not start in your kitchen mixing ingredients. You’ll never get to Sephora. Start how you intent to run it.

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