Ideas & Inspiration

Meet Brenda Van: Marketing Manager and Serial Entrepreneur

In the spirit of ‘trying your idea out’, we interviewed Senior Marketing Manager and Founder of Get Me Hired and Launch My Business Brenda Van about her entrepreneurial streak and passion for giving things a go.

27 year old Brenda isn’t afraid to fail fast. Brenda loves a challenge; she’s keen to try anything and everything that piques her interest and find out whether her ideas have long-term potential or are lessons to learn from.

Despite her age, she’s been fortunate to work at global and national corporations that have shaped her marketing and business acumen. But feeling that she wouldn’t get enough learning and development opportunities, she started to explore side hustles early on in her career to offer different perspectives to what corporate marketing would expose her to. 

She launched her first side gig straight out of university; spotting a gap in the corporate workwear space. Admitting she had neither an eye or passion for fashion, she wanted to get into the online ecommerce market and thought she could take on the big retailers. She learnt on the job, using Google to solve her problems, ordering stock, reaching out to influencers and building the brand through social media. Despite her best efforts and investing a few thousand dollars into her idea, sales slowed, interest in the business waned and within six months she folded.

In hindsight, Brenda identified two key mistakes:

  • She didn’t do enough market research on what women wanted to wear and how they wanted to feel in the workplace and subsequently chose the wrong stock line. She learnt that if you have a small stock line, it has to be very niche with a clear target audience for customers to want to purchase your products.
  • She didn’t brand it correctly, the look and feel wasn’t consistent. How a brand makes you feel is incredibly important to a business’ success and she learnt that people buy through brand/emotions. In other words the brand culture is just as important as the product itself.

Her key takeaway from the experience was ‘learning how to launch a business but not how to maintain a business.’ What she thought was a lack of energy and momentum, was actually an acute understanding of when to cut her losses.

Her experience in the ecommerce space allowed her to glean some key insights for sustaining future side gigs:

  • You need a reason for doing your side hustle other than just making money. 
  • You can’t sustain and grow something if you don’t have the passion or motivation, as your heart won’t be in it. You need a fundamental reason why you operate your business. 
  • You need to be able to stand out. Lots of people are doing similar things but there needs to be a key point of difference to set you apart from the crowd.

When Brenda moved to her next role at BP, she started helping grads and juniors with interview prep and writing resumes. She discovered that people loved her tips and advice and asked if she had considered doing career coaching on the side. While she was still hurting from her last failed venture and taking some time for self-care, she knew how passionate she was about business and getting back into the side hustle game. 

Then COVID hit, people started rapidly losing their jobs and Brenda realised she could help people in a truly meaningful way whilst building her own personal brand. Plus, the timing could not have been better for this service and she hoped that her passion for helping people land their dream job would give her that reason ‘why’ to sustain this side gig. This time round, she didn't want to invest any money into the business other than a website. Tik Tok and Instagram were booming and the platforms were hungry for original content. She knew she could leverage her social media savviness to build the business exponentially. She literally had nothing to lose other than time itself.

Brenda’s quick tips for launching a service-based gig:

  • Don’t charge when you first start out. You need proof your offering gets results.
  • Reviews/testimonials are crucial. Use them intelligently to reinforce your skill set.
  • Brenda quickly realised she was marketing herself and that she was her own brand. People were buying into who she was and the confidence in her work; that was the real product.
  • Customers are looking for a ‘‘transformational’ experience.

2020 provided Brenda with the perfect concoction of being locked down at home and living alone, giving her plenty of time to dedicate to brand building. She was pumping out lots of social media content, gaining traction and garnering strong client reviews. Her service began resonating with many people who had suddenly found themselves out of work, and she was thrilled to be helping clients bounce back from COVID redundancies, land their next promotion and find clarity through identifying what their career goals are.

Recognising her ability to build her own personal brand, people started reaching out to Brenda to assist with their branding, design and social media marketing to help them launch their own businesses. Never one to say no to an opportunity, Brenda pulled in a network of freelancers and became the conduit between clients and business solutions. She loved helping people, whether it was through career services or obtaining great marketing results. And just like that, her third side hustle was born; a marketing, design and production agency that prides itself on fair-priced, straight-shooting services.

Brenda’s tips for working with freelancers:

  • The best way to make your marketing budget work for you is that you don’t need to launch with everything, you just need enough to learn from what works and what doesn’t in order to scale from there.
  • Listen and trust the recommendations from your freelancers, they are experts in their field and have a wealth of knowledge that takes years to build.

Brenda was now at the helm of two successful side hustles, while climbing the corporate ladder in parallel. She is aware though that until you can dedicate 100% of your time and attention to it, scaling and growing your side gigs isn’t easy. It’s not physically or mentally sustainable to do both forever. She recognises that the sweet spot is where your day job isn’t too taxing, allowing you the space to focus on external interests outside of business hours. While being her own boss is on the cards for her future, she isn’t ready to let go of her corporate day job just yet… 

She is proud to have learnt from her early mistakes and now knows how to maintain and sustain a business by leveraging everything she’s learnt along the way. Now she’s able to impart this knowledge to others, not just to job candidates but to budding entrepreneurs too.

Her parting advice 

  • Don’t invest any more time or money than you need. Time is a finite resource, use it carefully.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut your losses. You're not a failure for walking away from something that isn’t working, you’ll actually be better off cutting something off at the right time and focusing your attention elsewhere. 
  • Test, test, test your idea. She credits this method to a mentor early-on who exposed her to innovation principles and design thinking, as the best approach to validate/disprove any business idea.
  • Timing is key!! Look at seasonality. You need to be clued into what is happening in the market and adapt your business accordingly. 

In the meantime, Brenda is committed to creating meaningful impact and finding fulfilment through her businesses. She is also running a charity, solving the online-dating complex and expanding her freelance network. She’s a passionate believer in always giving things a go and she wants to encourage those around her, clients, followers, friends to ‘try their idea out’. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you but yourself. 

If you need help teasing out an idea or getting a business off the ground, Life Sprint’s September sprint is all about trying your idea out! We want to help you synthesise your thoughts and bring your ideas to life! Find out more about our Side Hustle Sprint here.

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