The story behind the Inspiring Beauty Academy out in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is just as inspiring as its name. It’s the tale of two women with a passion for massage and beauty, of setbacks and injuries and redundancies, and two paths that eventually converged into a successful beauty academy in May this year.
When I talk to Natalie and Robyn, the founders of Inspiring Beauty Academy, the rapport and friendship between them is obvious.
“I haven’t met anyone else with whom I have as much mutual respect towards,” Robyn says when I ask why they partnered with each other.
Natalie agrees. “We clicked. We had the same ideals, and passions. There’s definitely a large element of mutual respect, and I knew Robyn would support this venture 100%.”
Not that it was an easy road. Robyn and Natalie have been working in the industry for years. Natalie started her career in a day spa before being asked if she’d like to give teaching a go. Robyn, on the other hand, started off as a remedial masseuse.
“I loved it,” Robyn tells me. “I always had a passion for massage. Then I was injured, and I wasn’t able to continue.” But there’s a buoyancy in her voice that belies her words. “Natalie and I met when we worked together at a community centre doing training programs,” Robyn explains. “We worked together for two years, until the centre was taken over.”
Natalie’s department was one of the first to be cut. She found herself out of work, with a family to support. Then Kerry Atherton from Answers2Hair rang.
“I actually thought it was for a job as a beauty trainer,” Natalie tells me, laughing. “But it was actually an offer to sub-lease a beauty training school!”
I ask what made her decide to jump in. After all, running your own business can be risky and requires far more work than being an employee.
“I could see there was a gap in the industry,” Natalie says. “There were no other beauty training facilities in the area. The only option was the big institutions in the city, and what I call conveyor-belt training.” She pauses, and with her next words it’s clear how much she truly cares for all those she teaches. “Many of the students who needed that one-on-one attention really struggled. So when Kerry offered me the opportunity, I took it.”
Of course, the first thing Natalie did was ask Robyn if she’d like to partner with her in starting up this school.
It wasn’t an easy choice for Robyn, however. “I was in a stable job, and I had my family to think about. I knew what I wanted to do, but there’s always that fear of the unknown.” After much agonising, she decided to take the plunge. “And having done this, I know I wouldn’t be able to work in a role like my previous job again!” she concludes.
Not that running their own business has been easy. Getting funding was one of their biggest challenges.
“We went to so many banks,” Robyn says. “Some didn’t get back to us, while others wanted a lot more paperwork and detailed proposals.” She laughs. “All we had was a scrap paper of our costs!”
“So it was incredibly encouraging when we talked to Carly from ANZ, and she was genuinely enthusiastic about what we wanted to do,” Natalie says. “ANZ were doing their $1 Billion Lending Pledge to lend to small businesses, and our loan was approved.”
“We were so excited when we heard we got finance, there may have been tears!”
I ask if getting finance was the end of their problems. Their amusement is palpable.
“We’ve definitely had some ‘oh my God’ moments,” Natalie tells me. “There’s also the long hours, not to mention the marketing and getting our name out there.”
“Natalie’s amazing at pounding the pavement and promoting us,” Robyn adds. “I don’t know how she does it!”
But both of them agree that despite some hairy moments, they never had any doubts. “Though these past four months have been a huge learning curve, everything’s flowed really well,” Natalie says. “Sometimes you just have to say ‘It is what it is’. Face the problem, and then move on.”
When I express my amazement at how they’ve managed to make their business such a success in a short four months, they are quick to point out that they haven’t done it alone.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of my family,” Natalie said, and Robyn echoes the sentiment. “They’ve never told me to give up on this, even though we work long hours, six days a week.”
It’s not only their families who are behind them. “Kerry from Answers2Hair also helped us a lot,” Robyn continued. “She’s so experienced, and her support and guidance this whole time has been invaluable.”
Seeing how far they’ve already come on their own journey, I end our chat by asking them where they see themselves in the future. Do they have any plans for growth, to become a more personalised rival to the big academies in the city?
“Not at all,” Natalie says. “We don’t want to be the next big school. Our goal is to keep it small and boutique—but saying that, we want to have students graduate from our academy and have others see them and say, ‘I want to train where they trained!’ And we want to be viable and sustainable, of course.”
“We wouldn’t mind being able to employ another trainer as well,” Robyn adds. “That would leave us free to focus on marketing and compliance.”
“And stop working six days a week!” Natalie says emphatically, and they both laugh. “I miss having normal hours and five-day weeks!”
“Me too,” Robyn agrees. “But you know what? I don’t regret a thing.”
This post was supported by ANZ, who have upped the ante this year and are in market with a $2 Billion Lending Pledge for new small businesses. If you’re also thinking about pursuing your passion and starting your own business, Leaders in Heels is hosting a live Twitter Q&A on Wednesday 29 October at 7pm, with experts from ANZ who can help you on your way. Follow #SBChat to get expert tips.
This article is sponsored by Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited ABN 11 005 357 522 (ANZ). The views and recommendations that are made in this document are those of the author and interviewees, and not ANZ.