Annette Sym’s self-published cookbooks offer recipes for “guilt-free” indulgence and have propelled her company, Symply Too Good, to leadership of her market. She tells her story between guilt-free mouthfuls with AMANDA GOME.
Annette Sym started her business in 1997, self-publishing low-fat healthy cook books. She had previously worked in catering and as a Weight Watchers instructor before setting out on her own. Her own weight loss story has been a strong selling point.
Now she has several employees including family members working in the business, which is turning over more than $2 million a year.
Amanda Gome: Tell us why you started the business.
Annette Sym: Well I really loved the idea of working for myself. Oh, I’ve done many things. My husband’s a chef and so we were in the catering industry for quite a while. Then my last job was working as a lecturer for Weight Watchers before I took on my own business.
What niche did you see?
I saw a huge gap in the market. I thought maybe there’s others out there that would like to know how to have guilt-free chocolate cake. I myself had lost 35 kilos and had maintained it for a few years and I thought ‘I want other people to know about it’, but once it was released I was bombarded with people with diabetes and cholesterol problems and heart disease and just realised that there were a lot of people and in the end everyone was my market.
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So you’ve written and self-published five low-fat healthy cook books and sold more than two million of them.
Isn’t it fabulous?
What’s it like self-publishing and why couldn’t you have got a publisher?
I did make some enquiries early on. People were going, ‘Well hello, who are you? We don’t know you. Not interested’. But when I did find out the costings of what they took and what I got, I thought, ‘Well, here I go again. Someone else is going to get all the money, not me. And so I really was very passionate about what I was doing. I saw it in my head. I knew exactly what I had to do and what I had to create and I thought, ‘Well maybe, you know what? Maybe I’m meant to do it.’
How hard was it publishing yourself?
Well, I think ignorance is bliss. I went in just with absolute passion and looked at what was in the marketplace, spoke to as many people as I could in the publishing world or in the areas that I was really wanting to have more knowledge in, and people are great. They really are happy to help and give you information if they see that you really are keen and interested.
Give your number-one tip.
Get the right distributor. I could create the book, I could find the right printer, I got there with the graphic people, I knew my vision – I could do all that. I borrowed the money from my inlaws to do the first print run, which was a bit scary, but I paid them back in six months and so having been self-funded successfully ever since, that really helps. But for me it was getting the distributor to actually take the responsibility of sending it to the stores. They will then put it out into their network in each state and then may distribute to, as I do, to newsagencies.
And how much did that cost?
I’ve got a great relationship with them. Funnily enough, when I started with them they really took a gamble with me and now I’m one of their top five publishers and this is a company that’s owned by the Packers. So I’m really happy with that. I wouldn’t want to give you a figure because it varies from whatever … like the weight, the size, how many you’re going to distribute, where you’re going to distribute it and who you are as well. If you are well known they will want you more than someone that’s unknown so that helps with the price as well.
How did you first get on their shelves then?
I used to be the person that was overweight and I think they trusted in that as well, and plus as well there wasn’t a lot like it. In fact, there was nothing.
What are you doing with this competition out there now?
Well I’m number one. It’s, ‘Hellooo, be the leader and just look back at them and go Oh, please, stop trying. I’m at the top here. I’m not letting anyone come up on the ladder.’ I’ve updated books one, two and three a couple of years ago so that they were approved by Diabetes Australia.
The books are not just about losing weight. They are about health and wellbeing and I think that marketing them the right way – I mean, I am an example of what you can achieve. Have you seen the photo of me at 100 kilos? Go to www.symplytoogood.com.au and you’ll see me in my glory.
When you ring up a television show and you say, ‘Look, I’ve got this fabulous book’, they go, ‘Oh please, yes’. Everyone says that. Oh no, but you can have guilt-free chocolate cake and they go ‘Oh, OK’. Then maybe but when I say I’ve got a lifesize statue of myself in a swimming costume at 100 kilos, I’m now 65 kilos, it’s a great before and after. Bang, they’re there.
Right, that’s a hard recipe for other people to follow.
Well you know, not many people would think that they could make a few million dollars over a fat photo of yourself. In fact, on one of the covers of a magazine it says how this photo made me a fortune. Use everything you’ve got, folks, because that’s what you’ve got to do with marketing.
So what else have you done with your marketing?
I tour the country. When I first started I would go to any newsagency that would have me and they all said yes, and I would stand out the front with my little electric wok and my little table and I would cook. I’m also a speaker so I’ll go out and do presentations at all the women’s groups and like community things and that. Now I’m getting $5000 to go and do the same thing.
Right. Now your revenue for 2006-07 is $2.3 million and you’ve got three staff.
Yes I do. My fabulous 33 years married husband – he is my operations manager. Kellie, who is our eldest daughter, who works in our office four days a week and we’ve just recently employed two or three days a week as my PA, depending how busy we are.
And how have you found handling the growth? What have you learnt?
I still to this day sometimes go, ‘Oh my God, pinch me, but I work really hard. So I mean I’m quite happy to cash those cheques, I can tell you, because we are committed to making this business a success and apart from anything else I just love that I’m helping people. When you get emails every day and letters and you’re out and about and people say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve lost 40 kilos’. I don’t have to have my bypass now.
Now you want to launch in the US and the UK. What are your plans?
The biggest block is getting someone to see it. I love English people to death but they can be a little bit, you know, Oh no, we don’t do that’ when I’m saying, ‘Look, trust me’. I’m saying world domination is my goal.
Now you do video clips online and you also run a forum. Does someone monitor the forum all the time?
The forum’s fabulous. People love it and we just watch and make sure that people aren’t being abusive or whatever, but really I’m into free speech
It’s a very very successful website for orders and I’m really looking forward to the new website. We’re also producing new products this year. The next 12 months there’s some big things that are on the agenda for Symply Too Good To Be True. My goal is to go on Oprah so if anyone knows Oprah … can they help?