Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. We’re heading close to my home country in this episode, to chat to a fellow Aussie about her experience of taking her business across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.
Caitlin Taylor is a style coach, a fashion blogger, a podcaster … and she describes her expat life in New Zealand as, ‘Same same, but different.’ In this chat, you’ll find out about the Kiwi fashion scene and fashion sense, how Caitlin’s business has evolved over a decade, and how she found her business tribe in her new home.
Caitlin, you’ve got a background in fashion PR and marketing. When and where did you start your own business?
Caitlin: Well, I actually started my own business in Australia before I moved to New Zealand, and I guess part of my business now is my blog, but the starting point was my blog.
So, I started my blog so I could write, to have an outlet to write, and I was working in fashion retail at the time – I was managing a boutique. And my mum kind of said … I’d always offer to take my friends shopping and I’d be lending them clothes out of my wardrobe, and that kind of thing.
And my mom said to me, ‘People should pay you for the skill. You have a skill set. You’re really good with people. You’re really good at putting clothes on them. You’re really good at explaining why they work. People should pay you for this.’
And we’re talking probably close to 10 years ago now. Personal styling wasn’t a job ten years ago for most people. I’ve never studied personal styling per se, or that kind of thing. So yes, it was 10 years ago in Brisbane, and that was probably six months before I moved to New Zealand. So, Chasing Cait as a business was super fresh when I moved.
Carlie: You know, as Australians, Kiwis are just over there geographically, and we do see New Zealanders a bit as our own. When you made the move, did you find it quite easy, or were there aspects that were surprisingly difficult?
Caitlin: I think it was a little bit of ‘same same, but different.’ So, it was that weird thing where everyone speaks the same language, and you can still buy Vegemite … I think the biggest two things that stood out to me were the prevalence and abundance of Maori culture, which is beautiful in New Zealand. I get goosebumps even thinking about it.
As an Australian, I’m like a super proud Kiwi of how New Zealanders really support and embrace and celebrate Maori culture and Pakeha culture. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems still, but it’s very much celebrated. It’s really obvious in place names and street names and suburb names. And pronunciation and te reo, which is the Maori language, is definitely becoming more mainstream.
So, a lot of Kiwis will use the word whanau instead of family and kai instead of food in everyday conversation, which I think is quite cool. It puts that Kiwi twist on English, which is, I guess, different from Australian. And the other thing I noticed was the price of petrol and the price of coffee are insane compared to Australia.
Caitlin: Yeah! There’s a lot of taxes on petrol in Auckland, and that was one of those things where you’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh, petrol is how much?’ The cost of living feels about the same, but those two things definitely stood out for me moving across the shore.
Carlie: So, you’d moved to New Zealand, and you had this relatively young business that you’d set up in Australia. How did you go about continuing your business from New Zealand? Were their registrations to do? Did you have to shut down in Australia and reopen in New Zealand?
Caitlin: I think I was lucky, in that it was quite a new business. So, I mean, the blog was probably a little bit stronger, and back in the day, before everybody had a blog, they weren’t monetised.
So, in that respect, it was quite easy to just, you know … I kept my Australian audience, because I was still talking about brands and things that were relevant to Australians, but I then gathered New Zealand followers in that respect as well on the blog.
And in terms of the actual styling business, I went and worked for a New Zealand branding and marketing team for a couple of months first, so I got the feel and the sense of New Zealand fashion from the inside out. And then I realized that I actually missed working for myself and working with women in a more one-on-one environment.
So, I guess I kind of started it again, so to speak, in terms of the styling element of it. The blog kept going; I just kept blogging about stuff. But yeah, with the styling, I took a little bit of a gap, and then slowly kicked it off. And I was lucky enough to be able to work part-time again, still in a retail sense, for Trelise Cooper, which was quite a well-known New Zealand brand.
I worked part-time for her, then grew the styling business back up again. So again, being on the ground in New Zealand, working in the industry, was actually really, really important, rather than just rocking up and going, ‘Yo, I’m from Australia and work for myself. Give me all the business.’ That would have been a little bit presumptuous.
In terms of setup, and that kind of thing, it was more just your everyday things like bank accounts and, you know, domains, like ‘.co.nz’ and those kinds of things. And I was lucky enough, I think, to have always had a ‘.com’, so that was quite an easy transition.
It was just a matter of pointing the ‘.com’s or ‘.au’s or the ‘.co.nz’s in terms of website stuff. So, it actually was quite simple, I think, because we are so close, Australia and New Zealand. It’s not like I moved to Turkey or somewhere like that, so it was quite an easy transition in that respect for sure.
Carlie: And did you need the equivalent of an Australian business number, or were you classified as self-employed?
Caitlin: Yeah, you actually don’t need it. You don’t need it legally. You don’t need to register your business. Your IRD number, which is actually your personal tax number, is valid as your GST registration as well. So, as a sole trader, all I needed was an IRD number. And I needed an IRD number to be a resident in New Zealand.
So, in order to get paid and to get taxed and all those kinds of things, I needed to have the IRD number anyway. So, as a sole trader, which is what I still am, I just needed that, which made the process again pretty simple, pretty easy.
Carlie: Yeah, it sounds really streamlined. And what were your observations while you were working part-time in the fashion industry in New Zealand to start with, about the difference in fashion culture between Australia and New Zealand?
Caitlin: So, two main differences is a lot … For the size of New Zealand, the calibre of fashion designer in New Zealand is insane. So, you think about four million people, and you have so many incredible labels of the likes of Trelise Cooper, Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, Zambezi … And these are internationally known brands. There’s just an incredible level of high-end fashion.
The biggest struggle that I have found … My business is much more of an everyday-style fashion business, so I basically take my clients to malls. There’s definitely a distinct lack of variety compared to Australia, and that’s not even to say anything about the UK or the US, but even coming from Australia, there’s definitely a lack of variety and choice.
So, we have a lot of Australian labels over here, the likes of Just Jeans, the Portmans, and Jacquie, but we have only just got the internationals. So, I’m talking within the last two years; the Zaras and the H&Ms have only just arrived in New Zealand.
So, we are a bit slow to catch on down here in our little corner of the world, and I think also New Zealanders— And I’m from Queensland, right? So, Queensland’s style is print, it’s colour, it’s fun. Kiwis are notoriously conservative.
So, everyone’s like, ‘Does it come in any other colours? I want black, and navy, and dark grey.’ That’s kind of New Zealand’s, you know, aesthetic, generally, or they can be a little bit brighter. But definitely just having to readjust my dial aesthetic in my brain was a little bit tricky to start with.
Carlie: Do you think you brought anything unique as an Australian stylist to New Zealand clients? Are you able to offer them a perspective that’s a little different to what they might normally have, or perhaps to get them to take a risk in terms of, you know, other colours, for example?
Caitlin: Oh, definitely. I guess that’s something that I’m actually quite well known for here: my love of colour and print. I’ve also noticed that my own personal style/aesthetic is probably a blend now of Kiwi and Australian. I quite like things that are a little bit more edgy than I probably would have in Australia, but I‘m always challenging my clients to wear more colour, to wear more print.
And I guess the other thing that I bring is a knowledge of Australian brands. So – because the accessibility is quite easy with online shopping, and also big organisations like The Iconic and those kinds of places can deliver to New Zealand really easily – bringing that Australian knowledge is really really important.
And it does set me apart a little bit, because I also go back to Brisbane quite often to visit family and friends, and will often go and touch base with one of the brands I work with, so I’m still on the ground. I’m still seeing them. I’m still, you know, trying them on. I’m still getting an idea of fit and the fabric and that kind of thing. So, I’m definitely what I would call a trans-Tasman stylist.
Even though I live in New Zealand, I think I’m definitely still bringing the Australian edge as well. I think that’s why people do often work with me, because it’s something a little bit different. My style and the style that I project is still a little bit Queensland.
Carlie: And how did you establish your New Zealand client base?
Caitlin: So, one thing that I found amazing in New Zealand was the support network of women in business. One of the single most important things that I did, was I joined a networking group called Venus, which is a women-only business networking association that meets fortnightly. And you meet in a group of about 20 women and talk about your business. And I can attribute 70% of my clients somehow, through the grapevine, to referrals from Venus. So that was definitely a massive thing for me.
So, the combination of Venus networking, and also social media. Obviously social media has been really helpful for small business marketing in general, but not only having a following in New Zealand, but being able to target New Zealanders through ads, and that kind of thing, as well. Being geographically specific has definitely helped, in that respect, to get more clients.
And it’s not even New Zealand, it’s Auckland. Let’s face it, the majority of what I do is geographically based, so I might have a readership blog on social media about places in New Zealand, but I’m really targeting Auckland for my one-on-one personal styling.
Carlie: So, when you started out, you said you had a blog. You moved into personal styling, and looking at your website today, you’re offering online and in-person styling. Plus, you sell new and second-hand products, like clothing, and you also have an e-book. Talk me through that evolution of your business and your offering, and what led you to where your business is today.
Caitlin: So, I guess a couple of things. Diversifying income streams is a big thing for me. So again, New Zealand is a small place. There are quite a few personal stylists here. You don’t get clients five days a week.
I don’t want clients five days a week, because one-on-one personal styling is quite an intense job; you’re switched on and invested in this person for eight hours in a day. So, I need to look at other avenues to still generate income within that style expertise area.
So, the blog has always been there, and the blog started off, like I said, because I just love writing and I have a Master’s in Journalism. I’ve always wanted to write; the blog let me do that. You know, over the last few years, blogs / social media has become monetised in the influencer / content creator space. I’m quite specific in that area.
I only really talk about style – that’s my level of expertise. I’m not a lifestyle blogger. I don’t share a lot of my behind-the-scenes life. I’m there as an expert in everyday style. So, working with brands to help them get their messages of everyday style across is how I work in the blog / social media avenue.
The online styling comes in two forms. The eBook – I have an e-book called Kickstart Your Style in 10 Days. That’s a good taster of what I do with people one-on-one. And I have an online membership group called, Style Me, and that gives people, who aren’t necessarily in Auckland, access to me, via a closed Facebook group, to ‘ask an expert’.
So, I’m at the tip of their fingers anytime they need help. They can post photos in the group. They can ask, you know, ‘Have you seen an amazing light blue denim jacket? Where can I find one?’
And again, the idea was to open up my expertise to people not based near me. So, it’s for the rest of New Zealand, and it’s also for Australia, because I’ve lived in New Zealand for almost eight years, but I lived in Australia for another thirty-one, so I still have quite a good fan base in Australia.
I still have quite an affinity to Australian style, so if I can actually help people in both countries with things like the online membership, then that’s something that I want to be able to do. It also makes my expertise available at a more accessible price point, so for people who might not be able to afford the full one-on-one package, they can still get a taste of what it’s like to work with me, either through the eBook or through the online styling. That’s kind of where those streams came from.
And then, the clothing side of things … So, originally, I had an online shop. I probably only started it when I was pregnant with my first baby, so maybe four years ago, and what I was finding was that people were constantly asking or constantly needing the same items in their wardrobe.
And my thought process was, ‘I can provide those things for people – that’s a no brainer.’ It’s easy for the people. It’s another way for me to make some money. But the reality is that finding those things at a wholesale level was a little bit trickier than I thought.
So now what I do is actually use the online shop to sell my own second-hand clothes. One of the job hazards of being a personal stylist or a content creator online, is that I do have quite a lot of clothes. And I don’t need a lot of clothes, so I use that space to move on or move to a new home a lot of the clothes that I have loved but don’t need anymore.
It’s a cleaner, easier way to sell second-hand, rather than annoying Facebook groups going, ‘Comment a picture,’ and then you spend three hours direct messaging people going, ‘Can you pay me, please, for the clothes?’ So, doing it through the shop just makes it cleaner and easier for everybody. So now the shop side of my business is purely my second-hand clothes.
Carlie: And what about the cost of living in New Zealand? I mean, you mentioned the price of coffee is higher, and the price of petrol, but when you were setting objectives for your business, what did you have to factor in, in terms of what you needed to make for your household, or to live a certain lifestyle in New Zealand?
Caitlin: Cost of living is high. House prices in Auckland are through the roof. So, that’s definitely been trickier. When we moved to New Zealand in 2012, house prices spiked about six months later. Once, I spied, they went up 20% in six months – it was insane. The average house price in New Zealand is now $700,000.
The average house price in Auckland, which is where we live, is upwards of $900,000. That’s the average house price – it’s insane. We don’t own a home, and that has been something that we’ve always wanted to do, but has definitely been harder than if had we stayed in Australia; it would have been easy to do in Brisbane.
So, I guess that puts pressure on us to earn more money to be able to afford a home. So that’s definitely a big thing. I’m sitting here in my office now, and I have my Chasing Cait 2020 financial goals on my wall, and they’re quite significant. And, you know, you have to reach for the stars, right? But a lot of that is because I really want to own a home, and it’s really hard to do here, unless you have help from external sources, which we don’t.
And that’s probably more in the last couple of years, rather than when we initially moved, because house prices just keep going up and up and up, and we keep feeling more and more left behind, which has been tricky, for sure.
Carlie: And so, if you had to make your move to New Zealand again, back just before that rapid price increase happened, back when your business was still in its infancy, is there anything that you’d do differently in relation to your business and your life setup in the country?
Caitlin: Oh, look, with the gift of hindsight, we would definitely be more serious about buying a house earlier, which I feel may have taken the pressure off a little bit. Although you’re still obviously responsible for a mortgage, at least you have some sort of control over what your mortgage is. One of the issues that we’ve had in the last couple of years, is that we have moved house a couple of times, and because house prices have gone up, rent has also gone up.
And we were in a house for four years, and the rent didn’t go up very much, and then we had a huge jump, as well as two children. I worked less at day-care phase-in, but all of a sudden, what we’re earning versus what we need to spend has changed dramatically.
So, I guess, with the gift of hindsight, I definitely would have bought a house in Auckland a lot sooner, because I felt that would have given us more stability. I guess the question has been asked a couple of times, ‘Do I go back to full-time work?’ But, at the same time, I don’t quite know what I’m qualified to do anymore, because it’s been so long working for myself.
So, I definitely would have said to buy and secure a home earlier, but I also think that maybe I should have taken my business a little bit more seriously earlier on. I think, because it is a fun industry, a lot of people saw it as a hobby, and maybe I did to start with as well.
So, taking Chasing Cait a bit more seriously from the get-go – and actually having separate financial goals, having separate bank accounts, and all those things, which I eventually did – doing that kind of stuff at the very start would have been more useful as well.
Carlie: So, what’s your best piece of advice for someone entering the small business market in New Zealand, working for themselves and wanting to make those initial connections?
Caitlin: Networking. Networking in New Zealand is gold. Find your tribe; find your people. So, whether it is through social media, whether it’s through, you know, professional networking, whether it’s online … Yeah, find your tribe. For me, Venus has been fundamental in making connections.
And when I say connections, I don’t just necessarily mean clients. I mean business advisors. I mean graphic designers to help me with website stuff. I mean photographers. I mean makeup artists. So, my tribe of people that help me do my business: a lot of them have come from Venus. So, definitely find a networking group that works for you.
There are a whole bunch of different ones in New Zealand. There’s one called, She Owns It, which is another great networking group just for women. There’s BNI, where you’ll find a lot of accountants and lawyers and real estate agents. So, depending on your industry, that one’s really good as well. There are heaps of Facebook groups.
I think the thing with a Facebook group is you must find one that feels like your peers. I find that in a lot of the Facebook groups, there are a lot of beginners, and a lot of people who have hobby businesses, but who aren’t really taking it seriously. And that doesn’t gel for me anymore, because I’ve had my business eight or nine years. So, it’s finding the groups that you gel with.
But definitely use networking to find your tribe, who’ll support you. Because the thing with being a small business owner, is that if you’re working for yourself, by yourself, it can be really lonely, and you don’t know all the answers, and you can’t do all the things.
So, somewhere like Venus is amazing, and because it’s a physical meeting every fortnight, with other women in business, you feel like you’ve actually got people that you can lean on and bounce things off. Use the support and support them back. And they actually become your office environment, so to speak.
Carlie: So they give you some ownership and accountability as well?
Caitlin: That is super important. And actually, I’ve a girlfriend, my business bestie, who’s a makeup artist. We went through Venus together from the very start and, though she’s no longer in Venus, we still catch up once a month and have an accountability catchup.
So, we spend half the time going through my goals for the month, we spend half the time going through her goals for the month, and we basically bounce ideas off each other and work it out. Yeah, she’s an accountability buddy, so Venus has definitely been great for that as well. So yeah, find your tribe, 100%.
Carlie: That’s it for today. If you have any questions for Caitlin about running a business in New Zealand, or want to share your own experience in the country, head over to expatfocus.com, follow the links to our New Zealand forum or Facebook group.
Remember to check out our other episodes; we cover all aspects of expat life all over the world. If you like what we do, please leave us a review, and I’ll catch you next time.