Could you realize your dreams if you just had $2000 to start with? Liz Haan, the founder and owner of Marie La Mode Boutique, did just that. Marie La Mode began as a mobile boutique and now boasts a gorgeous storefront and online store along with the mobile boutique where it all began. Liz grew up with a passion for style, a generational gift from her grandmother, which manifested itself in putting together eclectic outfits curated from second hand stores. She started Marie La Mode after a short stint ‘behaving’ and following the rules of regular business. She hated her day job and dreamt of starting her own boutique with all the style and flair she flaunted in her own wardrobe.

Liz started slow. With just $2000, she had enough money to display a few pieces at shows or farmers markets. One thing led to another, and she moved to part time at her normal, acceptable, business job…and then quit all together to launch the business of her dreams: Marie La Mode Boutique. She bought a trailer and hauled her mobile boutique to private parties, farmers markets, shows and more. She did it all with no debt. As demand grew, so did her brand, along with her inventory, allowing her to reach more customers. Soon enough, she had the demand to open a retail store. With an incredibly small loan, she got creative with her displays, snatching up second hand mannequins, and putting in all the hours with her husband to build her dream storefront.

It all sounds like this entrepreneur lived happily ever after, right?

Wrong.

Liz opened up on the Shine Strong Podcast & to Leaders in Heels, sharing the nitty gritty details and all the struggles behind the scenes. Let’s dive into Liz’s authentic advice on owning your dream business.

1. It won’t always be easy

There are so many times when Liz finds herself crying on the couch with her two dogs and husband wondering what’s going on. She says, “Just cry. Just let it all out, and then you’ll be fine.”

Another way to put it is, find your outlet. If that’s crying — great! Cry your beautiful eyes out. Release it. If it’s going for a run, run as far or as fast as you need to in order to release what you’re wrestling with. If it’s something else, do what you need to do in order to move on. Holding onto it with white knuckles is only going to make things worse.

2. Know Why

Marie La Mode is unique to Liz’s style and personality and the pieces are unlike anything you’d find at another boutique. Everything has been hand-selected by Liz herself. This is because she knows what her style is, and she knows why she founded MLM. She advises, “Stay your path. Be who you are.” No matter what— no matter if you see a similar business with a different style achieving success — stay true to who you are and why you started down your path in the first place.

Sometimes “your path” isn’t always as clear as one would think. You might find yourself veering to wear a certain outfit because you saw someone else pull it off really well. There is a difference in experimenting with something new and veering off your path. To help you stay true to who you are, it’s a really good practice to sit down and write out your passion. Why are you doing what you do? What ignites your soul on fire? Is there a reason bigger than yourself? Dig deep into your soul and dedicate at least a few hours to this practice.

And if you haven’t launched your dream business yet, Liz says with all her heart, “JUMP!! Just jump ‘cause the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and fail…you learn.”

3. Be realistic

Sometimes entrepreneurs can overestimate themselves. Sometimes they underestimate themselves. The best thing you can do is get very realistic with your situation, what you’re capable of, how much capital you’re working with, and make a plan.

Liz (someone who hates numbers) created countless spreadsheets to crunch the numbers before she quit her day job and launched MLM. She has come to realize that talking to herself is a good way to get real on what she can actually pull off. She says, “Just talk to yourself. Ask yourself, can I be this person? Can I pull this off?”

Oftentimes, entrepreneurs think they can do more than is actually possible. The best way to truth test yourself is to establish your goal – and then backtrack to identify everything needed to get from your goal back to where you are today. When Liz does this, she’ll realize, “Wow, this will mean I need to work 7 days per week for the next 5 weeks. Can I really do that or will I burn out?”. She knows herself well enough to know that by the end of that 5 weeks, she will be completely spent and need a long weekend away, with no contact to the outside world. A stretch of work that hard and long will leave her empty and it’s not something she can do over and over again, but it is possible. Clearly laying out what it takes to accomplish a goal helps her remain realistic.

4. Outsource what you can

As a business owner, focus on your unique talents — the things that energize you and embody your mission. Liz found herself spending countless hours tagging merchandise when she could have been focusing that time on finding new pieces that would wow her customers. She realized that it was a more profitable decision to hire an employee to tag merchandise and to hire an accountant to do the books. Now, Liz has more time to focus on the things that make MLM the best boutique it can be.

5. Be aware of your inner voice

Liz says, “I think that your inner voice in your head is your biggest rooter, and also your biggest downfall”. Allow your inner voice to cheer you on, give you the courage to take huge jumps, and take your dream to new heights. But at the same time, be aware of the negative things it’s telling you, too. You are the only person who hears it, so you are the only person who can control it. If it’s being more of a bully than a supporter— it’s up to you to keep it in check.

Liz’s voice tells her, “You can do more. You can do better.” That type of message can be motivating — but it can also lead to a destructive behavior of never stopping. Liz has realized when she needs to quiet the voice long enough to realize if it’s motivating her or being destructive.

6. Get out of your comfort zone

Finally, as the style and fashion expert, Liz offers one last piece of advice. Most of us don’t have the eye for incredible pieces that Liz has, nor do we have the style expertise to know what to put together. Liz encourages us to get one piece out of your comfort zone. Notice how you feel in it. Wear it out and notice the way people look at you or the compliments you receive. Then, decide if you want to explore other options similar to this style.


Leah LeRae is the founder and host of The Shine Strong Podcast. Shine Strong creates a place where driven women can come to be encouraged by the authentic, vulnerable and experienced women who are guests, like Liz, on the show. Hosted by Leah LeRae, new episodes are released every Monday at shinestrongpodcast.com, on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Find Liz and Marie La Mode at marielamode.com. She also has
Instagram: marielamode
Facebook: Marie La Mode


Passion is one of our six traits in the Leaders in Heels Manifesto. It is also an essential element in starting up your own business, and quite often it can be your passion alone that will help drive you to follow your dreams and turn an idea into a product or business. Leaders in Heels interviewed PACKQUEEN founder and MD, Monique Samara, to hear how a love for wrapping gifts turned into a successful business.

Located in Thomastown, Victoria, the PACKQUEEN empire grew from a small-time packaging business to an online store that offers thousands of packaging products and now manufactures a large majority of those products themselves. From gift wrapping, gift boxes, wine boxes and more, this business is aiming high.

Tell us about the PACKQUEEN story – how did you grow to become a leading manufacturer of packaging products in Australia?

Prior to operating my own business, my background was within law and education. I have taken a lot of knowledge from both these areas to successfully apply what  I have learnt from both industries to the operating of my own business in an area that I love.

We are not your regular packaging business.  At our core, PACKQUEEN is a leader, innovator and manufacturer of packaging products run by a talented group of women.  From start-up businesses through to large multi-national corporations, with our simplistic approach we are able to provide a solution to suit any business’ packaging requirements.

I work with an amazing team including 10 talented individuals who are passionate about what they do. Starting as “Specialty Boxes”, the business has grown and evolved considerably over the past few years.

We listened to our customers and from that feedback, we officially relaunched our new brand, PACKQUEEN. Along with our new identity and philosophy we launched our new website on a state-of-the-art platform that will provide a better user experience.

What inspired you to start PACKQUEEN?

Put simply, I love working with packaging and paper. Ever since I was a child I loved stationery and presenting things in beautiful gift boxes and gift wrapping. What evolved as a fun thing to do over the years, turned into a passion and became my business.

My family has been involved in industrial packaging and paper for over 20 years so with business in my blood, it was only a matter of time before realising my true calling. It all started with one gift box and an idea. The idea that I could help other businesses with presenting their products in amazing packaging.

Over the last 5 years, I have strived to provide our clients with packaging products that have helped them achieve successful solutions. We work with the best materials in the industry to provide our customers with high quality products at affordable prices.

Getting started – what research did you do?

I spoke with a lot of different business owners about what they required in terms of packaging. I also read a lot of business books and journals from various experts to expand on my knowledge. I am constantly learning every day and it is important to continue to strive and learn and be diverse and innovative.

How did you find your suppliers? Was it easy building relationships?

We worked hard to develop and continue our relationships with our suppliers. It is important that you treat suppliers as a partner. In any effective relationship, building and maintaining solid supplier relationship is about ‘give and take’.

It is important to respect your supplier as they should yourself. We only work with suppliers that demonstrate and express the same level of respect and understanding that we at PACKQUEEN possess.

How do you market your business and what has been successful in reaching your target market?

As an online packaging business, our primary form of marketing is online. We put a lot of effort into maintaining our online presence so both new and existing customers are well served when they interact with us online. Our new website aims to provide a better user experience based on customer feedback and we also have a blog that promotes hints and tips for our customers to customise our products.

I would highly recommend using a great marketing system such as MailChimp. A great marketing system can help you achieve and promote your products to your target audience.

What challenges did you face in getting your business idea off the ground?

The hardest part of getting our business off the ground was a mixture of challenges including finding the right staff that shared the same vision, implementing systems that work effectively in all areas of the business and developing the right sales and marketing strategy to suit our business goals.

You mentioned innovation is an important part of your business, what innovative products or systems do you use?

At PACKQUEEN, we offer a range of different biodegradable packaging supplies. For example, our fully-recyclable presentation gift boxes come in different sizes and colours. They can also be customised to our customers needs. It is undeniable that eco-friendly packaging has been trending these days. Even the most simple, recycled look for your packaging can become special once you add a creative touch using bright and colourful labels.

PACKQUEEN has come up with these great e-books to help make packaging easy for you. Tailored to specific industries with tips and tricks on things such as tying the perfect ribbons, packaging delicate items and guides on packaging design, you can download PACKQUEEN’s TOP 10 Guide to Designing the Perfect Hamper, just in time for Christmas.

What are your goals for PACKQUEEN now?

The goal for PACKQUEEN now is to expand our Melbourne team and continue to be leaders in packaging with a specific focus on small to medium size businesses. We are continually refining our systems, providing cost effective manufacturing and specialising in custom design and manufacture of packaging solutions to meet our diverse customer’s ever changing needs.

We are looking forward to evolving over the coming years and sharing this experience with our customers, it’s exciting!

Finally, what advice would you give our Leaders in Heels readers thinking of starting their own business?

Research, research, RESEARCH!

It is extremely important to research and understand your target market and the platform you wish to market through. If you are thinking of starting an online business like PACKQUEEN, it is important to understand that there can be substantial set ups costs involved even though it is online.

You can find more information at the PACKQUEEN website www.packqueen.com.au


I started my business, The Australasian College Broadway with just $1,600. Today it has been independently valued at more than $70 million.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet, but rather trying to convince business owners that you don’t need a huge stack of funding behind you to start a business. You need to be creative, strategic, driven and determined. You also need to spend the money you do have wisely.

The following are three key tips that helped me build my business from the beginning with very little money:

1. Keep overheads down

If you can, run the business from home initially. Don’t start out by selecting a stylish office in a sought after business area with a hefty monthly rent. In the early stages, you merely need a desk, laptop and phone. There are excellent serviced offices available for meetings if required that charge an hourly rate. This is a great option in terms of portraying a professional image without getting yourself into unnecessary debt.

2. Milk those contacts

It seems like a cliché but trust me, the people you know now, can actually help build your business. Don’t be afraid to reach out to all of your contacts through family, friends, former colleagues etc. Let them know what the business is about and the services you are providing and ask if they can help you in terms of introductions. Leveraging your contacts to generate leads and new business opportunities is an excellent way to kick start a new venture

You could also consider social media as a tool to assist with this. If you’re trying to keep costs down, then create a Facebook page for your business in the interim before building a website. Share the page with your contacts and spread the word virally across social networks. LinkedIn is another great outlet that you can use for free to spread the word about your business and connect with contacts.

These tactics won’t cost a thing but will deliver results.

Another useful way to leverage contacts is to have a coffee with another business owner who can offer you advice and recommendations based on their experience of starting a business. Reach out to contacts that have been finalists or winners of business awards such as Telstra Business Women and ask them how they have achieved success. It could be the best $4 you’ll ever invest.

3. Invest wisely in infrastructure

Speaking of investments, use your funds wisely on infrastructure so you can hit the ground running from day one. Think about the essentials and purchase only these in the beginning to ensure you can do the work you need to without the extravagant niceties. These can come later, once the business starts to prosper.

Purchase the right equipment, such as a reliable and reputable laptop and printer, and ensure your mobile phone is smart enough to handle your daily business requirements. Beyond that, you shouldn’t need to spend much more to get set up.

Making money clearly requires spending money. Mistakes will happen along the way and investments will fail. We operate in a risky environment so my advice is to spend as little as possible in the beginning to safeguard yourself. Ultimately it comes down to a lot of hard work, long hours and dedication. Think creatively about how you can keep costs down while also developing the business and work towards quarterly targets.

Starting your own business and building it into a successful entity with dedicated staff and a strong brand, is one of the most rewarding things any entrepreneur could wish for.

Maureen Houssein-Mustafa OAM

Maureen is the Founder and Chairman of The Australasian College Broadway. In 2011, Maureen was recognised for her leadership in business receiving the 2011 NSW Telstra Business Women’s Award – Business Owners Category. The College is considered to be the benchmark college in Australia for hair, beauty and make-up and is a highly awarded and recognised centre for learning and educational excellence. Visit www.tac.edu.au for more information.


I met Alli Grant at a quiet café in the Brisbane suburbs. A working mother who juggles family life with her own business, Alli & Co., she apologised for being late because she’d just come from a Mother’s Day event at her son’s school. Upon first glance, she seems like one of those women straight out of a magazine, who has it all together.

But as I would soon discover, she’s been through a lot of struggles to get where she is today, and freely admits that she still struggles daily. “I’m not okay, you’re not okay–and that’s okay” is the message she wants to get out there, and that’s the basis of both The Swagger Project and their Feeling Fearless event (with The Collective’s Lisa Messenger in August).

She’s been around the block, starting off in a large Australasian PR agency doing consulting work with big consumer brands. But she burned out in her late twenties –  her life was falling apart – so she packed up and moved to the Sunshine Coast (“As you do!” she says, laughing over her drink), where she worked for APN News and Media until she found the courage to strike out on her own.

What were your first steps after deciding to go it yourself?

…it made me realise how much we struggle with our vulnerabilitiesI did what I knew, which was mainly PR. Then I was asked by Profile Magazine to be their editor, where I worked for 5 years (and launched a second magazine in North Queensland). At Profile Magazine I did a lot of real, raw and honest features on women, and it made me realise how much we struggle with our vulnerabilities.

So my friend and business partner, Genine Howard, and I launched Alli and Genine, a business that was all about helping women with their issues. We published a book called Issues? What Issues? and marketed ourselves as “Chicks with Issues”. We produced magazines, wrote blogs, did a lot of public speaking, had a Queensland-wide radio show, and there was even talk of a national radio show.

I notice that your company is now called Alli & Co.

Last August, Genine felt that she had to change directions and turn her focus elsewhere. And I understand—she absolutely had to do what was right for her and her family. But it was a really hard time for me. We’d been working on this for 18 months, then it was all gone! I had to rebuild, yet again.

That must have been hard.

I wanted it to be about the movement towards cutting the bullshit, and admitting we’re all struggling.It was! I cried a lot (laughs). But it helped to have a very supportive husband, amazing women around me, and a supportive family as well. In the end it came down to a lot of self reflection and appreciating that I’d come so far. Believing it was worth it, and that the fight was worth it. So I had to pick myself up, dust myself off, and rebuild. It’s so important to me to now share my whole journey, both the highs and lows, and be the trailblazer.

After Genine left, I realised I didn’t want to do it alone. I also realised that I’d formed many amazing alliances and relationships along the way, with women who were experts in different areas—mindset, money, social media, and so on. I decided that I wanted Alli & Co. to be about the company I keep, than about me. I wanted it to be about the movement towards cutting the bullshit, and admitting we’re all struggling.

As women, we judge each other so harshly. I think it’s because we judge ourselves so harshly. The world we’re creating with The Swagger Project is one where you can share your issues – especially in business. We should be real, raw and honest and support each other—and realise that life is bloody hard.

So how did the Swagger Project come about?

You have to acknowledge that mindset and business are both intertwined.The idea of creating The Swagger Project was not to compete with anything out there, but to fill what I saw as a gap. So many women in small and micro-businesses either don’t know where to turn, or need guidance but don’t have the money for it. Most programs start in the thousands of dollars. So I asked myself, how do I bring all this knowledge down to the core level so women can afford it at $40 a week?

It was also important that the program’s content wasn’t just about business. You have to acknowledge that mindset and business are both intertwined. We not only focus on the mindset and life balance, but also technical skills. The goal is to build these women up to a level where they can afford the more expensive programs.

How did you form the team? What qualities were you looking for?

They had to be women who I already knew quite well through business, or women who had a really strong reputation. I looked at areas that needed to be covered and realised I already knew women who were experts in each of them. But what it came down to was my gut feeling. We started off with a coffee together, and now they’re all inseparable.

Feeling Fearless is The Swagger Project’s next big event—what’s it about?

There’s this thing I call “bullshit dominos”There’s this thing I call “bullshit dominos”. I’m dropping off my kid at school when I bump into another mother who asks how I am. Because she seems to have the perfect life, I bullshit about how I’m fine. She might be struggling, but she also says she has it together, because I did. And on it goes. As soon as one of us drops the façade, it makes it so much easier for everyone else to also share. That’s what the whole Alli and Co. world is about for us, and that’s what we want to start with Feeling Fearless.

I have very much seen the power of women dropping the façade in a safe environment. I saw Lisa Messenger (from The Collective Magazine) at an event in Brisbane —her talk wasn’t just about her successes, but a raw and brutally honest story about her challenges. It made me think we needed to do an event like that in Brisbane, but just for small and micro business women.

We have Lisa as our keynote speaker, and four of our awesome Swagger Expert Chicks will be speaking as well. If you come for the day (August 22nd), not only will you leave inspired, but with a lot of useful information you can put to use in your business or career to help you move forward.

Do you see these events becoming a regular thing?

I want to make them feel inspired, make them feel worthy. Eventually, I want to get a whole ton of women together a few times a year. I want to make them feel inspired, make them feel worthy. Alli and Co. isn’t an events or a networking company. We want to bring together all these women who are growing small and micro-businesses in their lounge rooms or studies, and remind them they’re not alone in their struggles. It’s about connecting online and in the real world, being inspired, learning some cool stuff, but most importantly feeling like you’re not alone – and you’re perfectly normal in your “issues”.

Finally, can you give all our readers two good reasons to come along to Feeling Fearless?

  1. Inspiration. Being in a room with like-minded women who are equally as scared, flawed, imperfect and terrified as each other – but not afraid to admit to that.
  2. Education. It’s not just all fluffy mindset stuff. You’ll leave with things you can get back to your own business, or even your career, and know that you can implement these things that will help you push through those fears and move forward in your business.

Feeling Fearless will be held in Brisbane on August 22nd, with the venue to be confirmed closer to the date. You can read more about The Swagger Project here, and pick up your tickets to Feeling Fearless here (you know you want to!)