As far as the jungle of the business world goes, playing in the corporate space is a veritable Amazon.
For some female founders, accessing the corporate market was always part of their business vision but, for some, it emerged to become an important part of their clientele that requires a totally different approach to their smaller-scale customers.
We asked three female founders how they locked down their first corporate clients, and their tips for other female founders looking to step into that space.
Pippa Joseph and Hannah Chipkin knew each other in their former jobs in the production and design worlds, and launched Merchgirls—a creative agency that designs and manufactures custom merchandise—in 2015. Their clients include Snapchat, Mecca and Dan Murphy’s.
"Really, the opportunity for our first corporate client (which was The Australian Ballet) just popped up," says Pippa, "and it ended up being such a big success."
"For a while [at the start] we were enjoying ourselves while learning and not taking the business super seriously, but one day we started targeting a few larger companies, and everything snowballed into banks, insurance, telco and charities from there."
Pippa explained that the merch industry has been traditionally male-dominated and notoriously wasteful since the '70s, which was something she and Hannah always set about to dismantle.
"Having a workforce of females is quite beautiful in so many ways… we’re all such important cogs and there’s no hierarchy. We’re doing things differently in this business, most likely because we are females," she says.
"In the sustainability space we’ve made some really great movements, and even encouraged our competitors to follow—the first one being no packaging, and then looking at the ethical supply chain. The most important thing to ensure that your supply chain is ethical is to really build relationships with the back end of the business—getting to know the people who are producing the merch, not just going with the fastest or cheapest option."
Building relationships has ended up being crucial to Merchgirls' approach to client acquisition in the corporate world, too. Hannah recalls, "When we started Merchgirls someone said, “You need to go make relationships,” and we were like, “What even are relationships?”"
"Now we know relationships aren’t about becoming best friends, but what can we do for you outside the merch world? How can we raise money for [your fundraiser], how can we help style your photoshoot, how can we help your retail store sell more; how can we go out of the box and really support the business?"
Pippa also says it's important to remain pragmatic when things don't work out in the corporate world: "If we lose out on a job, I don’t get offended, I just feel it’s not the right time for them—what we offer is something big corporates are growing towards, because some still aren’t ready to step out of their boundaries."
Ultimately, Pippa says working in the corporate space is about trust. "Nobody wants to engage with a business that doesn’t know if they can deliver, so it’s just ensuring that no matter what you do deliver, it’s what that client expects, and more."
While Plant Mama came about organically (Jenna overheard people pondering plant selections at Bunnings and offered to help), it became quickly apparent that corporate clients would become a big part of her business’ mix: “Obviously, a lot of people just have plants at home because they’re into it, whereas in an office it’s all about taking care of staff and adding to the workspace.”
Now, Jenna counts names like Lululemon and Google among her clients, and has ended up with about 70% of her clients in the corporate space—which has proved a challenge for her creative nature. “There are more restrictions for corporate clients, like wanting minimal colours or low-care plants,” she says. “Some, like the Lululemon office, really let me do whatever I want, but most corporate jobs are pretty much the same thing.”
So, as a creative, what would Jenna recommend female founders do to crack the corporate market? “Develop a deck with a summary of your business with reviews, what you do, examples of your work, how to contact you and costings rather than quoting for every individual job,” she says. “A lot of [corporate clients] just don’t have time to see you—they want to see stuff in emails.”
Jenna suggests female founders prepare to adapt themselves, as well as their offering, to corporate clients, too: “It’s nice to be yourself and have fun, but I had to learn that in the corporate world you really have to adjust your personality because they’re often busy and serious and don’t have time to chat. They can be so much more intimidating!”
A customised gifting company with corporate clients including Rolls Royce Brisbane and LNDR, LÂPACH was founded by sisters Laila, Pascale and Chantelle Ghanem.
LÂPACH entered the corporate space with a bang with Ferrari Brisbane as their first corporate client, with the acquisition arising purely from the quality of their offering. “The lead came from some Christmas gifting we had done which was received by someone who worked at Ferrari,” explains Pascale. “The gift and the packaging made such an impression that we were at the forefront of their mind when it came to their own gifting.”
While their first corporate client came easily, Pascale finds they need to allow extra time for corporate jobs: “The corporate world can require so many different levels of approval. This can add delays to a job, and it can also mean that even though you've put in a lot of time into a proposal that doesn't make it across the line.”
For a female founder moving from smaller-scale jobs to the corporate world, the LÂPACH team agrees that confidence is key, saying, “The corporate world is a big one, and there is plenty to go around.”
“Never be put off by someone else who you think is doing it better, because if you believe in your product and know your USP, there will always be a corporate client out there who can benefit from it—you just need to find them.”
Image credit: Merchgirls, Plant Mama, LÂPACH