In this profile we introduce Sydney’s Tahnee Walters, who over the last decade through escalating word of mouth has built something of a cookie empire with Spotted Cow Cookies – all with no formal cooking training.
Originally baking her awesome treats just for family and friends – and then friends of friends through some impressive word of mouth – with no formal cooking education behind her, in 2003 Walters formed Spotted Cow Cookies. From just the one cookie (a delightful Sticky Date & Caramel), Spotted Cow Cookies now produces over 20 varieties of top-shelf baked treats and produces up to 70,000 cookies a week out their kitchen in Sydney.
Walters and her team now supplies their cookies to numerous major catering companies, corporations, event organisers, retail stores and cafes. Her products can also be found on all Virgin Australia flights. In the Q&A below, Walters gives the lowdown on how she’s turned her passion into a thriving SME business.
My Business: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started in business?
TW: That not everyone is going to believe in your vision, which is okay, as long as you do.
MB: What are your most effective work habits?
TW: Creating ‘to do’ lists. I’ve always been very organised with my work and never seem to have too much trouble managing my time. I generally have a high level of trust in the people I work with and know that people have skills that I don’t have, so I feel I’m effective at delegating tasks and jobs. I have a high level of focus and dedication. When I need to get a job done it’s hard to distract me. And generally, I’m able to stay level headed and focus on the way forward, as opposed to getting too caught up in why something didn’t work out or worrying about not doing something well.
MB: Best business decision you’ve ever made?
TW: To sell a percentage of my business to my aunt and my bookkeeper, both of whom have a passion for the business that equals mine as well as having a great support system in both of them. I have never doubted my decision in selling shares to either of these amazing women.
MB: Who do you most admire and why?
TW: On a professional level, I have been very inspired by Steve Jobs, not so much for the way he handled business but more so for his incredible determination to follow through with his vision. The woman I most admire in business is Janet Holmes a Court, I met her a couple of years ago at a conference in Broome and to hear her story was awe inspiring. Somehow she was able to turn her husband’s business, which had debts of $350 million into a machine that was profitable again, as well as raising four children. What a woman!
MB: Generation Y: are they as demanding as everyone says?
TW: Tough question, in my experience in employing gen Y’s, I can say yes and no. It really has depended on the person at hand. Culture has had more of an impact on this age group than anything else.
MB: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business and how did you fix it?
TW: I went through a short period of time listening to people and their personal opinions about my business and products, so much so that I no longer felt 100 per cent confident in my product. I made changes which proved to be the wrong ones and ended up replacing thousands of dollars worth of product for a good couple of months. I now know that I am not always going to be able to please everyone, it’s just not possible no matter how hard you try.
MB: Share your number one sales technique with us.
TW: I am not a natural-born salesperson, however what I have learnt is that creating dialogue and chatter between people about your business can have huge benefits, look at what social media can do to make/break someone.
MB: Best tip for managing people?
TW: Take the time to get to know a staff member and listen to them, a few minutes of undivided attention can mean a great deal, and in my experience people just want to be heard.
MB: The internet is a massively disruptive force. What’s your reaction to disruption?
TW: I don’t see the disruption in my business, it’s been hugely beneficial for me and it’s these benefits that I appreciate on a daily basis. When I look at how I gathered information in the beginning of having Spotted Cow Cookies, whether it was a particular ingredient, looking for suppliers or researching potential clients, it was a laborious task and often required hours of time on the phone. To have everything at my fingertips in a few seconds has been wonderful as I have been able to concentrate on getting the job done. What a website and social media can do for a business like Spotted Cow Cookies these days is something that bears no price tag.
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