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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Don’t Just Survive, Thrive: A Serial Entrepreneur’s Secrets to Success & Her 5 Biggest Tips for Businesswomen

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In partnership with BNZ

Welcome to our new series, Don’t Just Survive, Thrive – where we talk to New Zealand women absolutely nailing it in business. We’ll be talking to wonderful wāhine about their experiences – good and bad – in starting businesses, and with the support of BNZ, the tools that make business banking easy. Up first, Kirsty Harkness, a serial entrepreneur whose businesses have all come out of a love of the world around her. 

When Kirsty Harkness says she’s “not one to sit around,” she’s not kidding. On the day of her FaceTime with Capsule, she’s one week out from the due date of her first child and she’s officially on maternity leave… but she’s also still at the office. She’s very quick to point out she’s been lucky enough to have a dream pregnancy, but she’s also someone who has been working since she was nine years old, so her body is very much used to an attitude of ‘go, go, go.’

Kirsty’s career has been defined by a fearless attitude towards trying new things. After being accepted to university at the age of 16 and graduating from nursing school at 19, she took a gap year working in Africa before she was old enough to return to NZ and become a registered nurse at 20. 

She then moved to London, and it was after she got a travel insurance pay-out after her bag was stolen early on in her OE that she decided to spend the money on buying an SLR camera. 

“I’d never taken photos before but I had a cousin who was a fashion photographer and it appealed to me,” she says. 

She started doing a monthly photoshoot at her church, before moving into family portraits and then weddings. “I’ve never chased money in my profession, but I could earn more from one wedding than I could in a month as a senior nursing manager, so I did the photoshoots and put the money away.” 

She then started her own photography business, TIGERTIGER, which she ran on the side of working full-time as a nurse. Upon coming back to New Zealand, she and a group of friends purchased some land in Marlborough and planted a vineyard. 

“I don’t think I would call it my job because I love most components of it; it’s like taking time to do something you love.”

Kirsty is a serial entrepreneur, helming many businesses over the past two decades, and her current projects include running three vineyards in the Marlborough region and also being the first person in New Zealand (and possibly the world) to be licensed to grow hemp on a vineyard, which has created her off-shoot business, the luxury skincare line Hark & Zander

“I was always looking at the vineyard rows – ever since I started managing the vineyard 12 years ago – and thinking, ‘look at all this extra real estate, surely there’s something we can do here.’” 

She did a few test plantings of other things but then the chance viewing of a documentary about hemp caught her eye. “The more you learn about hemp, the more you want to know,” she says. “It would answer so many problems over climate change, carbon emissions… it’s just a matter of educating people.” 

It was the same entrepreneur, ‘why not’ attitude that led to her starting Hark & Zander. Through her research, Kirsty found out about the skin benefits of hemp seed oil and started using it on her face and body. The results were so outstanding, she was asked by friends to supply them as well. She saw a business opportunity and launched Hark & Zander the following year, first with the HempTonic Face Oil, followed by the HempLavish Nourishing Body Oil. Now, there are a number of new products in the pipeline and the business is exporting to Australia, Hong Kong and, has the United States in their sights as well. 

Her many jobs as an entrepreneur, Kirsty says, have a universal theme. “If you look at everything, it’s all got a care factor – everything either cares about people or land.” While it can mean long hours, Kirsty says she’s thrilled to have created a career path filled with things she’s so passionate about. “I don’t think I would call it my job because I love most components of it; it’s like taking time to do something you love.”

Here, she shares her nuggets of business wisdom she’s learned along the way:

Saving money now gives you options in the future

I’ve always been a good saver, which sets you up well. I’ve never earned incredible money but I’ve always been able to follow my dreams because I’ve got the saving down pat.”

Entrepreneurs should always keep learning

“I did night classes at a local business school, right back to when I was 19. I also did leadership college while nursing. I still try to educate myself – I usually get an hour of self-development reading in every day.”

When you find the right support, hold onto it

“I moved to BNZ with my home loans and that’s when I met Stephanie Sidoruk, [Head of Specialised Solutions] who’s amazing and who introduced me to one of the business banking managers. I moved one company to them, and they were so supportive. Once you trust your bank with one of your companies, you bring the others over as well. I’ve now opened more businesses with BNZ and moved my personal accounts over to them as well. It’s all about having that personalised service.” 

“If you don’t value yourself, others won’t value you.”

Commit to a business coach, early on

Kirsty says it can seem like a risky idea to commit to a business coach before your business idea is making you money but she says there were three key bits of wisdom her coach gave her in 2006, that she says set her going on the right direction, early on.

  1. “He threw a tennis ball at me and I caught it. Then he threw two tennis balls at me and I caught them – which was a miracle in itself – and then he threw five at me and, of course, you just duck for cover. His whole analogy was that if you try and juggle too many balls at once, you’ll drop something. I know that I can concentrate on two things at once but a third will trip me.”
  2. “He taught me that if you don’t start paying yourself and you don’t commit to an office early on and get into a professional space, your business would never grow past those ceilings. I don’t know how it works, but it works, and you feel more legit, as opposed to being just ‘a hobbyist’ at home, who’s trying to charge something.”
  3. If you don’t value yourself, others won’t value you. With the photography business, at the beginning I was charging a certain price and I was so busy. I thought, ‘if I double my price, I’ll half my clients – because who would want to pay more – but I’ll still have the same amount of money coming. So, I doubled the price and the workload went up. So, I added another 50% and it went up again. I couldn’t understand it. I remember saying to one of my clients – this sounds terrible – ‘why would you pay this amount for me?’ and they said, ‘Well, you’re obviously good.’ If you charge cheaply, people are going to think it’s cheap. This is where women often struggle to value ourselves too.” 

Every setback builds resilience

“If I look at the setbacks I’ve had through my career, they’ve been the springboard to the next level.  Often, you don’t push yourself to learn the things you need to learn until you have a challenge with them. Plus, people see how you overcome setbacks and that helps them make a judgment on whether they want to be in business with you. We’ve had massive setbacks in my time, but I pushed through. I have people now say they respect me as a business woman because they know where I’ve come from.”

For more from our BNZ story series, check out How Capsule’s Editors Pushed Past Impostor Syndrome to Embrace the Businesswomen Within – & How BNZ Are Helping Us Build Our Business

Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of Kirsty Harkness and Capsule, and do not necessarily represent the views of BNZ, or its related entities. This article is solely for information purposes and is not intended to be financial advice. If you need help, please contact BNZ or your financial adviser. Neither BNZ nor any person involved in this article accepts any liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance on, all or any part of the content. BNZ lending criteria, terms and fees apply to the products and services mentioned in this article.

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