A checklist for success from Australia’s top female entrepreneurs

naomi simson entrepreneur advice

"Keep learning": Naomi Simson.

Looking at some of Australia’s most successful businesses in 2017, what do they have in common?

SmartCompany’s 2017 list of Top 30 Australian female entrepreneurs shows that while a quarter of the group hail from the beauty and consumer goods sector, the women behind each multi-million dollar operation paint a diverse picture.

Many women who made the list came from humble beginnings, armed with courage and a compelling idea. Each has navigated their way through the complexities and uncertainty of the business world and achieved winning formulas for success.

Here, some of Australia’s most successful female business women share their wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Read more: SmartCompany lists Australia’s top female entrepreneurs.

You gotta love what you do

Fitness queen Michelle Bridges has long touted the force of passion to maintain motivation and achieve goals, and believes intrinsic motivation is an essential component of success.  

“I think first and foremost, it’s got to be something that’s living inside of you — it’s got to be something you truly believe in,” Bridges told SmartCompany earlier this year.

Similarly Jo Horgan, founder of Mecca Brands, also thrives on a meaningful relationship with her work, stating it’s not money or prestige that drives her.

“Money has never floated my boat, it’s not what motivates me,” she said when quizzed about her company’s net worth in an October Fairfax interview.

“Thinking that we can do something really interesting and innovative in beauty, and actually look after women, is the thing that gets me going.”

Katie Page, chief executive at Harvey Norman, was the top female entrepreneur in this year’s SmartCompany list. When asked in a Vogue interview last year what motivates her, Page said “growing a great business. I always wake up thinking ‘What’s next?’”.

Know your strengths, and play to them

A seasoned risk-taker, Grace Lever takes pride in educating female entrepreneurs on how to bring their ideas to life.  

Lever, who is responsible for launching several successful businesses, says recognising your ‘genius zone’ is the key to success.

In her recent interview with Huffington Post, Lever said a person’s ‘genius zone’ is “the one thing they excel at that everyone else is in awe of but which comes naturally to her. It doesn’t matter how much money you make unless you’re doing what you are best at as this is what you’ll enjoy and inevitably thrive at”.

Identifying what you’re good at, then combining that with what the market needs or wants, lies at the heart of a winning formula.


janine allis

“Without mistakes you’re not trying hard enough”: Janine Allis.

Never stop learning

Naomi Simson, founder of online experience and rewards company Red Balloon and resident investor on Network Ten’s Shark Tank, shared this piece of advice for her 22-year-old self when asked to reflect on how far she’s come.

“Keep learning. I always thought I knew everything, and now as I get older I realise how little I know,” she said.

Fellow Shark and founder of Retail Zoo (Boost Juice) Janine Allis is similarly thankful for the benefits of experience and hindsight, crediting professional setbacks as an important learning tool in business.

“Without mistakes I would not have the business I have today… Without mistakes you’re not trying hard enough,” she told SmartCompany.

Care about your customers

Lesley Gillespie, co-founder of Bakers Delight and recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia for her contribution to community and charitable services, cites the importance of listening to your customers.

“Gaining a real connection with your customers and being able to give back on a daily business is the most satisfying part of operating a business,” she told SmartCompany.

Stay focused and don’t discount yourself

Starting a business will inevitably pull your attention towards competing priorities and subject you to criticism and doubt, calling for tenacity and self-belief.

Tammy Barton (formerly May), founder of MyBudget, said starting her business “certainly was tough at first”.

Speaking at the inaugural Female Entrepreneur Awards in 2015 after she was named Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Barton said many people told her MyBudget’s business concept wouldn’t work, demonstrating the value of persistence.

Janine Allis also offers valuable advice for times of doubt, encouraging entrepreneurs to keep moving through the challenges.

“Your business journey might take very different routes but you have to just keep at it like a dog with a bone. Then you will come out on top.”

Seek support

It is vitally important to have a strong support network to help with overcoming business challenges and to mitigate the unique factors which expose entrepreneurs to mental health issues.

Kristina Karlsson shares the credit for her expertise and success when launching her international kikki.k stationery empire.

Speaking to Marie Claire in 2016, she said, “since I didn’t know anything about the industry, I’ve had many mentors. Mentors are like friends; you get different things from each one of them. I’ve had mentors for specific things”.

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