PEOPLE: How Stephanie started two businesses at home with $1,000 each

Stephanie Ferrara is an entrepreneur at heart. She started her first business while studying design, and then expanding into a second business as well as continuing a career as a designer.

In this interview, Stephanie shares how, from humble beginnings, she built two brands and hundreds of products she’s proud to call hers.

  • What’s your first memory of you as an ‘entrepreneur’? When did the journey begin?

I was working in our brick and mortar retail store for Life in the Sun (Which was previously known as My Store Sydney) and I had the phone ringing, emails flowing, orders coming through and I was sending out wholesale contracts for new stockists of our Label Gerrycan Active and I had just finished my design degree and at that moment I knew I was onto something. 

So cliché, but hard work will always be the first and foremost important element to becoming an entrepreneur. Within a few months of graduating I was already working as a successful designer, having launched a label during my studies in 2015. Gerrycan Active + Swim was with my mum Olga Harmat. The brand went from selling five items per month to over 500 per month, with online stockists and estimates that they would reach 1000 pieces per month by the end of 2018. 

  • At the age of 25, you already have two businesses of your own. How do you prioritise each of their needs and the time to dedicate to each of them?

It’s never simple. Not one day is the same as the day before or day after. I spend most of my time buying overpriced stationary and desk accessories to mentally prepare for the many hats I wear. 

At different times of the year, the two businesses demand more attention. 

My business partner Olga and I are both a team and so we really play on our strengths. I am very operational and creative and Olga is more creative and bigger picture. Our CFO makes sure it all happens without any disasters. We can both get hot handed with a credit card when we have these big dreams in front of us. 

I have both emails flowing throughout the day for both businesses. I try and split my time by first and second half of the day with priority lists for both, complete by 11am. 

I start early and finish late but I dedicate an equal balance and so does my business partner. We alternate and we are only working on the same business in meetings, other than that she is focused on the opposite business to me day to day to ensure we never neglect demands of each business. 

  • What’s your advice to other business owners, currently doing it tough in terms of how to plan ahead during a downtime?

I may be young, but I started both businesses with $1000 dollars. Yes, you heard it right. Start documenting all costs associated with your business. Make sure you itemise what is important, what is key, and what is a luxury. More often than not, cutting costs can be more refreshing than you can imagine. It allows you to regroup and adjust your focus. 

For example, we were paying $14USD for an app that was great 3 years ago on our site. Now, I cancelled the app and instead learned how to embed our Instagram feed once and for free. YouTube and education, as well as research on how to stay relevant and up to date is vital, and so is the extra $14USD in my bank account. It means I can put that into apps or programs that will enable conversion and visibility. Education and thinking are the most important, whether you have $5 in your bank account left after your bills, or $5 million. We all have the same amount of hours in a day. Find value in yours and put into play what you learn! 

  • What’s your approach to business planning and how are you maintaining or change that at the moment?

At the moment we are seeing a big focus on website design and user friendly accessibility, and we are focusing on expanding ranges but being able to deliver them in a really beautiful way that is easy for our target market to use, or for new shoppers and clients who might be new to our target market. 

We want to be accessible to all and by looking at new ways of displaying our websites, we hope to be able to make life a little easier as we navigate this new way of the world working. 

Business planning needs to be flexible, adaptable, reactive but forward thinking. I never thought I would be selling Activewear to 70 y/o Susan from London from my inner city (tiny) studio. But I now know my reach and I need to be able to cater to everyone, not just the first target group I established when starting each business. 

  • What are you most excited about in the graphic design world for 2020?

If you follow me on my personal Instagram @stephanieferrara_ or on my design filled @laidbacklee_design you will see that I am an avid fan of muted tones, monochromatic themes and bold lettering, fonts and shapes on a neutral base. I think 2020 is a time where people have more time for fun, for art and for design. I am loving that people are exploring their passions as we are all working from home and isolating. I love seeing the emergence of flowing lines and shapes, genuine and authentic imagery (moving away from dreaded stock photos), simple and heavy fonts – love a bit of drama. Last but not least, abstract and dreamy illustrations and graphics. 

I hope in both Life in the Sun and Gerrycan Active + Swim, we are able to implement and appropriate some 2020 graphic design trends in what we offer our clients! 

About the expert

A designer, swimwear enthusiast, entrepreneur and fashion + beauty lover. Stephanie is someone who loves helping make a noise for people who need to be heard. With two retail businesses selling worldwide and a design and styling hustle on the side, there’s no stopping Steph with her ambitions to be able to provide to all. From designing swimwear, to head buyer for Life in the Sun Store, or meeting with clients for their latest interior design projects as part of Laid Back Lee Design services, the hub of business, the teams for success and the clear vision for each company, Steph has mastered the art of wearing multiple hats and dominating markets. All it took for her was a degree in design, a mood board for each company and a lot of hard work. Stephanie is your go-to for motivation and inspiration.