How do you write an article about someone who is an expert copywriter? A would be daunting task is made easy by way of Erika Geraerts being a humble and sweet human who I know would be telling me to just get it done. If you want to do something different, “make it happen” is her philosophy and is why she is a woman of phenomenal productivity levels that is quite rare in today’s want-it-now-for-nothing world.
There is no 9-5 for Erika, one of the brains behind Little Big Sugar Salt cafe, Willow & Blake and frank body scrub. Behind her seemingly effortless picture perfect Instagram account is a 25 year old who has worked 24/7 perfecting the polished products that you see today. Erika and her dream team who are often portrayed as the best buds from ‘Friends’ have shown just how much can get done when you collectively focus on your strengths and not be afraid of good old fashioned hardwork. It’s like she didn’t know that it couldn’t be done.
Erika shares with us her secrets to success, the ups and downs of a busy life as well as how you too can get shit done.
What did you study and what was your original intended career?
I studied journalism. From year 10 I knew I wanted to be a writer of sorts. I was really interested in feature writing and lifestyle content, and within the course also studied hard news, journalism ethics, and profile writing. From here I realized I was really interested in people. I wanted to meet people, talk about them, tell their stories and tell them new things. My original plan was to move to Sydney and work at the magazines there. It seemed logical that I would work towards an editor’s position and I wanted to have my own publication by the time I was 25 – at least that’s what I wrote down. I think my mum did this to me, she went back to work when we were very little, and always instilled this hard working notion and motivation in me. The plan changed slightly when I was offered a job whilst I was still finishing my degree.
At uni, Jess, Bree and I were friends and we all loved writing. Each of us had blogs on the side and thought it would be amazing if we could combine our words, so we entered a competition to win a website, so we could build a ‘super blog’. They really liked our entry and were also looking for someone to do their social media and copywriting and they ended up offering me a job. I was like “what’s social media?!”. That was five years ago, at the tipping point where businesses were starting to take social seriously. I took the opportunity and had two really amazing years learning from my boss who is now my mentor and really close friend. He had started his company when he was 19 and he taught me everything. I got this overall idea of what it takes to do everything from account management to how to run a business along side my role learning copywriting and social media skills. I learnt a lot just by doing and reading and immersing myself in that world.
fuck food, fuck fashion let’s talk about the people behind those things.
When did you decide to go freelance?
Because my boss started his business when he was 19, within two years of working in the industry Jess and I respectively had this itch to start our own thing. We reassessed the website that we had won and thought, “fuck food, fuck fashion let’s talk about the people behind those things”, which is how Willow and Blake was born. The response from that was great and we started to get freelance requests. It planted the idea that maybe we could make a business from specializing in copywriting and social.
Was starting your own business scary? How did you overcome that?
My boss was so encouraging; he said, “If it doesn’t work just come back in 6 months”. I thought, even if he doesn’t want me back and it doesn’t work out I can do anything; I can wash dishes somewhere, I can get a low end job and make money somehow until I can find a way back into the industry. I very much have always had that attitude of “what have I got to lose”, so we took the risk.
How did you get work initially?
Initially we hustled a lot to get work off friends and people within our networks and then it just grew from there. We started with one little Client, Jelly beans, in our lounge room. We struggled to pay rent and had lots of tears and wondered how it was ever going to work, but it slowly turned around.
Is it still challenging now your business has grown?
It is still fucking hard – every month, even every week we assess how the business is doing and how we should change. Even though Bree came on board one year in, we knew we couldn’t do it on our own and that we needed more people. Hiring staff and managing people is a whole other thing. All the roles in general are mental, we have to tell ourselves to stop working most nights, which we’re getting better at, but we do love it and it makes us so happy. It’s an adrenaline rush when you can see the return on your hard work.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
Sometimes I feel I work so hard and that I don’t have a life at all, but it’s nice that I can be in control of my work schedule. I can take an hour out to chat to you for example, or I can come to work a bit later if I needed, then make up for it later at night. If it is challenging me and I am still learning then I am happy. If I am not, then I’ll figure out what to do next. It could be that in a couple of years I’ll be doing something else.
How do you juggle three businesses at once?
Running both frank and Willow is like having two full time jobs. This is Willow’s third year of business. On top of Bree, Jess and myself we’ve now got two other full time girls but even with the extra staff the agency is at full capacity. We never really knew frank would be so big, so trying to juggle the two has been really interesting. With LBSS, I like to work every second weekend to see how it is running and to talk to customers to let them know why we did it and see them loving the food. I like to hear feedback from customers so I know if a dish isn’t working or to see if a wall needs washing and also to see how all the staff are going.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]The nicest review we ever had was that we “do different differently”, which really brings home why we did it.[/pullquote] [line]
How did LBSS happen?
I have always loved cafes and for a while said I’d love to open one (when I retire or something). I didn’t want to just open a café that was the same as what everyone else was doing. It started over a conversation that my boyfriend Charl and I had where we both loved food and loved the experiences people have over food. We felt like we could create something different and bring branding (what he does) and copywriting (what I do) together and create a place where our friends wanted to go to – not because we owned it but because they loved it.
All of these turn of events happened and all of a sudden we were negotiating a lease for a café. I run it with four really amazing people and with all our other friends working in the café. It’s like the set of Friends. It’s been a bit longer than a year now and we have really refined it and made it into a place that we love and I’m so proud of it as it has been quite the challenge. The nicest review we ever had was that we “do different differently”, which really brings home why we did it.
Do you ever get FOMO being 25 with so many responsibilities?
There are times where I think I should be going out and doing a lot of different things, including partying a little more, but if I’m going to be honest with myself it’s really not me. I have realized that I prefer to go out to dinner with my friends and end up having too much wine. Travel is the only real pull for me and is something I want to spend a lot more time doing. There is just so much more of the world I want to see.
How will you make time to travel with all that’s going on?
I’m in a lucky position – all I need is a word doc and Wi-Fi to do my work – sort of. Charl and I planned to move to the states this year but his business is doing extremely well and much too busy at the moment, so we have put our plans on hold until the time is right (if it ever is). Maybe I can do two months there, two months here, I’m really open to that. I think it’s important to be able to go to new cities and immerse oneself in different cultures and see different things. I want to go and see the world and see it in the most amazing ways. It can be expensive but I want to get the most out of a place when I travel – I want to be able to go to all of the places and experience all of the things and eat all of the food, of course.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]We wanted to create a product in the beauty industry and knew there was that niche on Instagram where there was a big audience responding to it.[/pullquote] [line]
frank is available worldwide; did you want to be global from the very beginning?
Because Instagram is global and we could see how other businesses were working we knew there would be the demand for it overseas. We wanted to create a product in the beauty industry and knew there was that niche on Instagram where there was a big audience responding to it.
What were some of the challenges in setting up a global business?
There is a lot involved with expanding internationally. For example: how to structure a business for international shipping and how to set up different distribution points and currency conversions. We started out dispatching from Australia, but now we distribute stock to LA, London and Canada, which means orders from those countries are sent locally. Marketing to all these different countries means the workload for frank just keeps increasing which is a challenge to juggle so that we don’t effect Willow’s other clients. However, the reaction from overseas is amazing, like when you see a German blog about frank.
Your Instagram has well over 400k of followers, how did that happen?
Our Instagram ticks over by the thousands each day. I don’t even know how. It is just people sharing a lot of content. We have over 50,000 #thefrankeffect photos-to think that many people have taken photos of our products is crazy.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]“fuck, we are selling coffee in a bag to people – we can’t really dress this up – the ingredients are written on the back”. So it was about how we needed to be quite honest. We needed to be quite frank with them.[/pullquote] [line]
How much was Instagram a part of your marketing plan?
It was the focus from the beginning. What we noticed is that everyone on social in the beauty industry was talking about products from a company perspective, we thought surely it could be a bit more personal than that and disrupt it by doing something different. While working on the branding we were like “fuck, we are selling coffee in a bag to people – we can’t really dress this up – the ingredients are written on the back”. So it was about how we needed to be quite honest. We needed to be quite frank with them. We liked the idea of personifying a product and giving it a personality. This fitted quite well with social because there were a lot of images going around of babes and fitspo. We thought that if instead of all the aspirational talk that’s going on, there could be this cheeky personality that commented on and critiqued it. Someone who talked to girls in that flirty way that they love from guys without ever going overboard or going over the line. We worked with Charl’s agency, Love + Money, who came up with the look and it worked very well. It was so simple in a clever way and people responded so well.
How do you work social into your overall marketing plan?
We dedicate a lot of time finding the right images and writing the copy for social, which then flows through to EDMs and flyers that go out with the product and media releases. At Willow we love to create that consistent tone of voice and brand experience so whether people see a post on social, are on the website, or receiving the product, they feel like they’re talking with the one brand.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]Some people think all they need is 300,000 followers but it’s not about that. A lot of our clients have between 5,000 and 10,000 followers and it’s about their engagement.[/pullquote] [line]
Followers are one thing, but how do you turn that into a business?
Some people think all they need is 300,000 followers but it’s not about that. A lot of our clients have between 5,000 and 10,000 followers and it’s about their engagement. Having 300,000 followers doesn’t mean they’re all buying the product. It’s not about converting every interaction into a sale – that’s lovely and great if we can do that, as it is hard work getting into these people lives and minds and establishing trust with them, but they might not buy something until 6 months later from when they first engaged with you. So social should be about consistently maintaining that brand presence and building that relationship.
What are some of the things you do offline to build frank?
We send out media releases to traditional press as well as sampling at events and working with bloggers and influences. For example putting frank into goodie bags in fashion festivals, health events, sporting events and at parties where hosts want extra things to give to their guests. They either come to us or we approach them and we put a lot of time and energy into finding the right fit. We have a lot in mind for other offline activity as it’s a big goal for us to take frank away from just Instagram, so that frank will have an offline presence: there are a lot of people who aren’t on social who we can potentially reach.
Will frank ever be stocked in physical shops?
We have had a lot of wholesale enquiries but that’s not what we want to do right now. We like having control over the brand. We would only ever look at getting into one particular place but that’s not even a definite end goal for us. It would be lovely to have that option but the brand is still so young, so we would want to see in one or two years time if that is the best decision. We might want to just stay online. There is so much more we can do but we just don’t want to rush into anything too soon.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]Focusing on what you are good at then finding the best people you can to do the rest, actually saves you money in the long run.[/pullquote] [line]
Realistically what are some of the costs with starting your own business that you didn’t think of?
It depends – as you start growing there is more you need to do. With frank our biggest cost was our time. It wasn’t a big start up cost to actually produce the first batch. We are lucky that we had friends to help us with our production, website and branding. We did small things to start out and then constantly reacted and updated as we got more income and knowledge about what we wanted to do. For us it was really the time, we put so many hours into the brand in terms of marketing, and in the beginning the boys were making frank every night, 7 days a week, day in day out. Once we got to a certain scale we realized we couldn’t keep doing that, so now we have a manufacturer here in Melbourne.
With Willow, again it was just our time. Registering a business is like $600-$700. We had always expected to pay around 5-10K for a website, and other than that it is just budgeting – what do I need to live on and working back from there. It’s funny having two service businesses between LBSS and Willow and then having frank as a product and how differently they work in terms of revenue. One you have to give so much more in some ways and the other can make money while you are sleeping.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]I think you shouldn’t get into a business unless you are doing it because you love it. Otherwise why would you do it for free at the start?[/pullquote] [line]
If you are a lean start up, what do you think is most important to invest in if you only have a little amount of start up money?
It depends on what you are doing – whether you are a product or a service. You can do a basic website set up and if you’re selling through social, that’s free to do, again it’s just a time thing. Instagram is amazing in that regard but you cant really rely on it forever; we don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you are going to put money into your brand, when we started Willow, we knew we were going to have to pay $5,000-$10,000 for a website. I understand some people might not have a lot of money for logos and design but it is worth saving for because there are so many competing products and brands out there and that’s how you stand out. There are ways to trim down things if you are starting out. Focusing on what you are good at then finding the best people you can to do the rest actually saves you money in the long run. When you are launching, you have one opportunity to impress people so you want to get it right. Invest in branding and getting that well defined, and go out with something you are really proud of.
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Probably just making sure we make time for ourselves and that we are looking after ourselves. When you are happy and inspired you do better work. Stress and busyness can be a bit crazy sometimes and get the better of you. So always reassessing what we are happy with and what we would like to change and being open and honest. I am fortunate to have my two best friends as my two business partners. It can be hard at times, but we respect each other enough to communicate with each other when we feel things are not right. We can challenge each other when we disagree and come to a resolution at the end.
Financially it is hard at the start, it’s like; “why am I doing this” or “how long do I keep going for” and that’s why I think you shouldn’t get into a business unless you are doing it because you love it. Otherwise why would you do it for free at the start?
People always want what they don’t have, so there are so many things that I am like; “fuck should I just be travelling the world, should I be living on an island not caring about all this stuff”. I always have weird thoughts like that but it’s just realizing you don’t need to have everything all at once. It’s about not being so hard on yourself sometimes.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]A lot of people come to me with ideas and I’m like ‘cool, make it happen’. Be willing to work your day job 9-5 then go home and work until midnight – that’s how you do it.[/pullquote] [line]
What advise would you give to people starting their own business?
A lot of people come to me with ideas and I’m like ‘cool, make it happen’. Be willing to work your day job 9-5 then go home and work until midnight – that’s how you do it. A lot of people tell me “I love what you’ve done, I want to do something too, and does it just happen over night?” and I say well no, it happens in a year or three, or more. In some ways frank has been relatively overnight but it’s still been hard work, and for anyone considering starting a business, you’ve got to be prepared to sacrifice other things. I think it’s important that if you can still have your day job and still have an income coming in to do it on the side. There will then be a point where you’ve got to realize you need to take that leap and put all your energy into it.
It’s interesting, there are some people who are so motivated and then other people want to start their own business and do something but are ignoring doing the hard yards or doing internships and getting paid small amounts. Social has kind of reinforced that myth as well – everyone wants to be a big thing or make a lot of money – but you should just try and do what you really love. What you really want to do. As cliché and corny as that sounds, the money will come if you’re doing what you really enjoy.
What would you say to your 21-year-old self?
When I turned 21, I was overseas just before I was about to start my first job at a marketing agency. I don’t know if I would be like, maybe stay for a bit longer. Saying that, I am quite happy with how everything has turned out so far. I would tell myself to keep trying to reassess where I’m at, and whether I love it or not, and remember how the decisions I make affect other people – not just myself. Oh, and save money better.
What person dead or alive would you invite to a dinner party?
I would have Dave Eggers – After my boyfriend, I love him a heap. He is a writer and he started McSweeny’s in the US. The other day I was like “I want to name my child Sween if I ever have one”. He is incredible. I love his writing style and I love what he is doing in the States. He has a tutoring school and I just think he is very interesting. He is going to be at the writer’s festival this year and I booked a ticket to everything he is at. I would love to chat to him, although I would probably not know what to say.
[line] For more information visit:
Little Big Sugar Salt café
Willow and Blake