Sarah Connelly launched Product of the Year Australia in 2008 when her first son was 9 months old. Product of the Year is the Australia’s largest consumer-voted award for product innovation. The initial concept was established over 30 years ago in France and the award now operates in over 35 countries.
In 1999 Sarah moved back to Australia from the UK and managed to land a role with visa sponsorship in a small magazine publishing house. She moved up quickly into a senior role on a National magazine and then joined a much larger publisher where she was promoted to National Advertising Manager on a popular food title. Working closely with major retailers and manufactures and getting to know and understand the challenges and needs of both paved the way to start Product of the Year.
Here’s our chat with Sarah.
What led you to start you to start your ‘Product of the Year’ awards?
I saw an opportunity to provide companies with a distinct point of difference for their new products as well as provide a service for shoppers who were being bombarded with new products every year. The award was unique to our market and I had a lot of inside knowledge, contacts and experience to launch it here. I was also searching for something flexible that I could do while raising my kids.
Initially, what difficulties did you face?
In year one there was quite a lot of hesitance from the companies to try something new. Many wanted to ‘see how I got on in year one’ which was an issue because I needed them to come on board to have a first year! I was also doing everything in the business alone at that stage as well as trying to juggle all the things associated with being a new mum. I had quite a few sleepless nights even when my son was sleeping!
I think the hardest part was keeping faith that it would eventually work.
Had you been in business before or was this the first step into entrepreneurship?
It was my first time but I had always wanted to do something on my own.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
So many people, but I think securing Retail Media as a trade media partner and Lisa Wilkinson as our ambassador in year one really helped build credibility and trust in the concept. Once I had convinced a few big brands to take a risk I had the confidence to keep going.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
Things will often go wrong, you will feel like giving up and you’ll be afraid a lot of the time, but nothing is insurmountable and there is always a solution. Oh, and it’s a marathon not a sprint!
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Vision & open-mindedness
- Tenacity to overcome problems
- Ability to recognize and keep great talent.
How do you make the most of your day?
I am a fanatical list writer and I plan my tasks and habits daily by time slot. It helps me prioritize and stay focused. I also try and do at least 2 things non-work related during the work day. This helps me to keep perspective and also with creativity.
Other than your business, what other hats do you wear?
I’m a wife, a mum of 2 boys, a frustrated guitar player, aspiring writer, part time make-up artist and my own worst critic!
When you think of your journey, what is the thing you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of having 11 years of business success as well as being able to raise my kids. I’ve been able to be there for m y family as well as have my own separate identity as a business woman. I guess overall I’m proud that I achieved my dream of living in Australia and running my own business.
Describe/outline your typical day?
I’m up early (5am). I exercise and meditate then get the kids out the door. I walk the dog then get on with my list!
I work from 9-3pm and, depending on the time of year, I can be testing product, organizing award night, working on research, presenting to clients around the country or working on PR plans. The business is very cyclical. At 3pm I collect the kids and become an Uber driver for sport/music etc. After dinner I sometimes work for a few hours if it’s really busy.
Whatever happens I always write a list for the next day.
What motivates you?
People who are passionate about what they do and feeling like I’m adding value and helping in some small way.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
I’d love to see POY expand into other categories and verticals like finance, insurance and products and services only available online.
We are also planning to introduce an accessible award program for smaller companies who are looking to expand nationally and I’d love to see this have its own award night down the track. For me, I just hope I’ll still be doing the things I enjoy and am good at.