Date posted: 9/03/2017 5 min read

Annaliese Allen CA on career transitioning

How one CA authored her transition from high-flying corporate to small business owner after becoming a mother.

In brief

  • After becoming a mother, Annaleise Allen's priorities changed and working for a large, professional services firm became untenable.
  • A life-changing event in 2015 compelled Allen to launch Honeybell Waterwear, a sun-protection clothing label for women.
  • Allen is happy to run Honeybell Waterwear as an e-commerce enterprise and has no plans for a bricks and mortar store.

Photography by Stephen Mckenzie.

Annaliese Allen’s father told her she was born to be boss. While she had no set career ideas herself, she studied commerce then got her first taste of accounting at a summer vacation programme at EY. Allen enjoyed this so much she stayed on and studied to become a chartered accountant.   

The Melbourne-based woman’s career progressed and included stints working overseas.

“I spent a good 15 years putting my career first and really working hard to get promoted and keep getting given opportunities and keep learning new skills.”

But Allen’s priorities changed once she became a mum – she wanted to spend more quality time with her family. By then she was working for a large, professional services firm that offered her part-time arrangements as a parent. However, it was still difficult to balance her work and her home life, and she felt she “wasn’t really present” in either environment.

“I had a great corporate role with a high level of responsibility and autonomy. The responsibilities of having that high-profile role involved elements that didn’t gel with motherhood,” she says.

“I was basically on demand for the partners of the law firm – when they had an issue they expected me to be there. There was often a sense of urgency when I was called in to handle something and that meant a lot of calls on days off and last-minute requests.”

Allen, 37, who now has two preschool-aged children, admits it was difficult working out what was personally acceptable. She acknowledges it was also tough for her team at times, when they had to pick up work she couldn’t do. Eventually her role became too difficult to do part-time and while Allen was offered a project role at the firm, this didn’t interest her.

Sun smart + business smarts

A family beach holiday in early 2015 proved to be life changing. Allen realised how much effort she was putting into keeping her children safe from the sun, yet how little effort she put into protecting her own skin.

“I thought this is ridiculous, I have all my body exposed building sandcastles.”

She tried to find a rash vest she liked but couldn’t find anything she thought was flattering or fashionable. She realised there were likely to be many other new mums spending time on the beach or by the pool while they played with their children who would like something that suited them more than surf-branded, sporty, skin hugging rash vests.  

Identifying a gap in the market, Allen began researching, networking and learning. In September 2016 she launched Honeybell Waterwear, a sun-protection clothing label for women with the overarching goal of making women more sun safe.

The garments –  swim tees, tunics, shirt dresses and sun dresses – are made in a breathable fabric certified Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 50+ protection. The average white cotton tee shirt is only UPF 5, Allen says. Her target market is 30 to 50-year-old women, and her number one client is new mums who are often appreciating the importance of sun protection for the first time.

Employee to entrepreneur

“I’ve never [previously] been an entrepreneur, I’ve always been an employee,” Allen says.

Her skills as a chartered accountant were invaluable as she established her business.

“A real competitive advantage about being a CA in your own business is the ability to make informed commercial decisions really quickly and with confidence.”

She sees a lot of small businesses, particularly those run by mums, making decisions to focus their energy, effort or finances in an area that they enjoy, regardless of the commercial outcome. But she wants a business that will support her family.

 

Being a CA also means Allen can do her own compliance – for now.

 

The credibility that being a CA brings has helped Allen build solid relationships with vendors and suppliers. People realised she was serious due to the way she talked about structuring pricing, contracts, terms and conditions and “all those business things that as a CA you do day in and day out”.

Being a CA also means Allen can do her own compliance – for now. “As soon as I can I’ll be outsourcing that – to a CA,” she laughs.

Allen spends the equivalent of full-time hours – at least – on her business each week, utilising childrens’ nap times and childcare days, evenings, and one day each weekend. She hires contractors for a range of tasks, including garment design and pattern making. The garments are made in China then sent to Allen’s house. She checks them, packages them, writes a personal note, then sends them to the customers.

This personal touch is extended to her website, where she is happy to inject her own personality. “I want people to get to know me and I want to be approachable and I want to help other women.”

Mumpreneurs

Allen isn’t keen on the word mumpreneur – the term given to women who leave the corporate world to establish home-based businesses as mums – saying it’s a bit degrading.

And she doesn’t like reading about mumpreneurs who “make it sound unrealistically easy”.

“Like you’re going to be earning millions in three months after you quit your corporate job. The reality is: that’s not going to happen. You’re going to need to make sure that you can financially afford the cut in pay and that your household’s going to be running A-OK if something goes wrong with your business.”

The biggest challenge establishing her business as a mother has been getting people to take her seriously.  

People judge you, she says, thinking it’s a hobby or that you’re not taking yourself seriously.

“The challenge is to say, ‘yes I’m a mumpreneur, but I’m in this for profit’.”

But the benefits of setting up her own business outweigh any negatives.

“We’re just happier as a family unit. Previously there was a lot of stress and tension, a lot of tiredness – my husband and I just felt constantly tired and dragging ourselves out of bed.”

Clicks v bricks

Allen is happy to run an e-commerce enterprise and has no plans for a bricks and mortar store, saying that would undermine why she went into business.

But she would consider selling the business in future and is also considering selling wholesale, one day. While she has been approached by retailers wanting to stock her garments, she wants to do 12 months in business first. This gives her time to get customer feedback, determine popular styles and colours and see her systems tested first.  

“I think I could ruin my reputation pretty quickly if I jumped into that too quickly – I know that I’m inexperienced in this area. More than anything, I don’t want to tarnish my reputation.”

 

“I would love if I grew to the size where I could use a third party warehouse rather than have all the stock in my own house."
Annaliese Allen CA founder, Honeybell Waterwear

 

But she does plan to keep growing her business.

“I would love if I grew to the size where I could use a third party warehouse rather than have all the stock in my own house and start outsourcing a lot of the tasks that I’m doing so I can really concentrate on either growing this business, or growing my next business.”

Allen has realised she has a passion for being in business, even if she moves outside of the fashion industry in the future.  

“I definitely have the goal of never being an employee again.”

This article was first published in the Feb/Mar 2017 issue of Acuity magazine.