Fostering creativity through entrepreneurship

A successful entrepreneurial journey begins with a gap in the market, some creativity and passion, and ensuring that you are equipped with the right team and resources. This is according to Nicolette Tilley, owner of Wild and Free (Pty) LTD, and entrant in the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, who began her entrepreneurial journey importing wedding dresses and selling them locally on a part-time basis.

This was short-lived, however, as Nicolette soon discovered that selling someone else’s creations was not what she was passionate about.

Being a firm believer in expressing her creativity, Tilley (35) bought a sewing machine during her time as a stay-at-home mom in 2013 and began experimenting with design, making items such as pencil cases and blankets. The entrepreneurial light-bulb moment arrived in 2016 when Tilly was searching for a good quality diaper bag that was durable enough for long-term use. “After fruitless searching, I realised I could design my own bag. I’ve never been afraid to be bold and try to make things work – which is exactly what I did. I found a local leather maker, and together we drew out a pattern and he stitched it together for me. I loved walking around with my own creation on my arm, and before I knew it I had friends asking me to make them bags.”

Before long, bag orders were arriving in their numbers, and with this, Wild & Free was born. “I chose the company name because I wanted it to represent the type of person who would own one of my creations – a free-spirited but driven individual who isn’t afraid of failure,” she says.

Being a self-taught entrepreneur with no formal industry qualifications, Tilley turned to technology and the internet to help her achieve her goals of running a successful business. She strongly encourages self-development as well as using social media to promote and grow a business. “We live in an era where starting your own business is completely achievable, thanks to social media platforms and easy-to-use online business support tools,” says Tilley.  “I often wonder how people advertised and promoted their business before Facebook. There’s a lot of competition out there but we’re fortunate to have knowledge and access to customers at our fingertips,” she adds.

Tilley recalls that one of her biggest challenges since starting the business was keeping up with demand following the launch of one of her bag designs. Within 24 hours of The Business Bags Facebook launch, the product had been viewed online over 1 million times with hundreds of e-mails and orders received. At that point, Tilley was doing all of the marketing, production design and business administration on her own. “I wanted to delete my Facebook page and put my head in the sand – but I knew I had created something that was special, unique and something that women needed. I was fortunate enough to have an old school friend, Josie Piers, jump on board and help me get through the masses of emails and messages. She did a fantastic job of getting processes into place, which was a big weakness of mine. Josie took over all the admin, and today we have a functioning website, one-of-a-kind products and a full team of incredible people in place,” says Tilley.

When asked what her greatest achievement has been thus far, Tilley said that selling over 3000 units of one of her designs is among her biggest achievements on paper but her proudest accomplishment is having created a brand that is able to employ 9 full-time staff members.

When asked what her top tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs would be, Tilley said the following:

  1. There are hundreds of free websites offering short courses. Entrepreneurs starting out who cannot afford to go to university or college should make use of free online tools to educate themselves about their industry.
  2. Set targets for your team and your business before the year begins. This makes your goals a lot more tangible. If you start out knowing what you want to achieve, you will find that you surpass your own expectations.