Jennifer Wilson didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur. She simply wanted the freedom to work from home, doing something she loved, while raising a family.
Feeling the effects of a physically demanding career, Jennifer knew she had to leave her well-paying job as a dental hygienist. But where to start?
The Gift of Giving
With many of her family of friends starting to have babies, Jennifer found herself endlessly searching for the perfect gift, that she could not find. So she decided to create it herself. In 2013, she created VONBON, a collection of modern baby and children’s clothing and accessories, made with certified organic cotton and eco-friendly inks.
She wanted something that represented her style, but was also earth conscious. Focusing on her love of neutral pallets, Jennifer turned to her sister, Kirstin, for help putting her ideas into a digital format.
First running her business from home alongside her job as a dental hygienist, she quickly realized she was on to something. With the support of her parents, who have run their own business for 30 years, her sister, who had launched her own business a year earlier, and her husband, Jennifer quit her day job and dedicated herself wholly to her business.
Finding a Community
Jennifer discovered early on about Vancouver’s amazing entrepreneurial community that she could learn from as she grew her business. “When I started my business, I asked other business owners lots of questions” she remembers. “It’s amazing what questions people are willing to answer and how the community all helps and supports each other.”
She also joined a Mastermind Group that met once a month, where she heard and supported the struggles and successes of other entrepreneurs , providing a great learning curve of what to do and not to do in business.
“What I never expected to gain from becoming an entrepreneur was the amazing network of other talented young entrepreneurs,” she says. “I have been so lucky to grow a fabulous network of like-minded young women who have supported both me and my business.”
The Power of Online Marketing
Once she had created her brand and first prototypes, Jennifer sent some of her products to local blogger, Monika Hibbs, who was pregnant at the time. She unexpectedly shared her products on her Instagram account. Within a couple of hours the photo had reached 600 likes with followers asking where they could buy the goods for their own babies. It was then that Jennifer recognized the power of social media for her business.
A natural born people person, Jennifer loves to be social and connect with her customers. She used these skills to build relationships with bloggers, established brands to build her brand awareness and create digital marketing campaigns, such as giveaway promotions and third party product reviews.
Although she didn’t forget about her own organic community, who she turns to for direct feedback and insight into her client’s needs. She also encourages her customers to share their feedback and photos of their little ones in VONBON products on social media, which she then shares with the whole community. A tactic she has found strengthens her relationships and builds brand loyalty at the same time.
By developing these relationships, many of those customer and community contacts are now long lasting friends and of course fantastic brand advocates.
Micro-Marketing Strategies Attract Big Business Interest
Ultimately, these micro-marketing strategies lead Jennifer to create a strong and respected online presence, which then gained the interest of well established brands including Chapter’s Indigo who asked her to become an online vendor and Pottery Barn Kids who asked her to hold a pop-up shop in one of their Vancouver stores.
New Product Tester Provides Business Insight
Little did Jennifer know that just 18 months after starting her business, she would have her very own muse and tester for her products. Her daughter, Esti, arrived at the end of 2014 around the same time Jennifer nominated her business for Best Online Marketer at the Small Business BC Awards.. It was a crazy time. Early motherhood, a developing business and an intense award process, caused her many times to wonder if she taken on too much. But her perseverance paid off. On February 26, 2015, Jennifer was named the winner of the Best Online Marketer Award.
Being recognized as a leader in her field, despite having no business or marketing education or experience, gave her the confidence to take her business to new heights and pursue new opportunities. It also gave her the opportunity to use Small Business BC’s seminars and webinars free for a year, which she fully intends to use. “I now use Small Business BC as my go-to guide for all things small business!”
Her daughter’s arrival also brought about other changes to the business. “It made me even more passionate about what I do and how I connect with my customers,” she says. “I created VONBON from a gift givers perspective. Now I am designing with a mother’s view. It’s been a cool experience that has helped grown and improve our product line.”
Developing VONBON has been a fast and intense process, but she says she finds inspiration in all the mothers who are succeeding in balancing business and family. Since first approaching Monika Hibbs at the start of her business and then Garcy Fry of Eco Diva Beauty, both local mothers who run successful businesses in Vancouver, they have been a constant source of inspiration and support to Jennifer. Allowing her to bounce ideas and provide experienced insight into the next big idea.
Looking back on her own journey of success, Jennifer’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to simply: Go for it. “When you’re passionate about something, you want it to be perfect. But you could wait years waiting for that perfection,” she says. “Instead, just go for it. Learn from your customers and your mistakes. Your business will evolve and was once perfect will not stay the same for long, as you change to keep with today’s market.”
What’s Next for VONBON?
Having just celebrated her company’s second birthday and the launch of her new collection, including a collaboration with fellow mompreneur, Minimocs, the future is bright for VONBON.
As the Small Business BC Awards judges felt that for someone who had no business experience, Jennifer is obviously a natural entrepreneur. Having come such a long way in a short space of time, she has managed to intimately understand how to both market and engage her community online.
While she will continue to develop her online marketing campaigns, Jennifer is now building her business education by using her free access to Small Business BC’s seminar and webinars and engaging with a mentor through Futurpreneur to help work through some of her challenges and improve her overall business model.
And, it’s with that drive and passion that she will continue to grow both her brand and her business. “I count each and every day a success, as I get to live out my dreams as an entrepreneur and mother.”