Bella Brows burst on the Brisbane beauty scene in 2016, quickly becoming one of the most sought-after brow bars in the city. From there, Isabella Walker has been an unstoppable powerhouse opening two new businesses, Lala BlowDry Bar and Bebeface, with her sights set on even further expansion. At only twenty-four, Isabella is a force to be reckoned with.
For our Women in Leadership series, interviewing Isabella was a no-brainer. I took the opportunity to pick her brains about starting a business so young, the challenges of stepping up into a management role, and what advice she would give to other women looking to venture into the business world.
What lead you to starting your own business at such a young age?
I was working in the industry and felt frustrated that I couldn’t grow the way I wanted to. The only option was to go out on my own. If you’re at a standstill with your job, what do you do? You just quit.
I started as a sole trader. It was just me doing brows 9am to 9pm down the road in New Farm in a little hole in the wall. I couldn’t even call it a room; it was like a reception area with a curtain. One of my clients was actually my first employee. She told me that she’d love to work for me, and I realised there was literally no other way for someone to join me unless I grew into a bigger location. It was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t like I need to open a big shop one day. It was just stepping stones.
Did stepping into a management position come naturally?
The first year of having staff was just a bit of try and see what happens and what sticks. I worried that I hadn’t learned enough about the management side of things before I opened my own business. I’ve always been a casual employee, so I had no experience with the behind-the-scenes aspect of a manager’s role.
I invested a lot of money in education. Not just technician courses but business coaching and seminars. So much so my accountant was like this is ridiculous. I felt like I needed to do it. But I did enough where it was getting to the point that it was actually silly, and I just needed to trust that I knew what I was doing.
I have since learned where my strengths are and where I’m best placed. I look to my two managers to support me in other areas and I utilise their strengths and know what they should be focused on. Then there’s the tasks that need to be outsourced to specialists, like accounts and taxes.
As a young woman in business, have you faced any challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
When you tell people you’re a business owner and then that it’s beauty, you can see their face change. It’s still a real business. I started so young and just out of school, so there was this perception that ‘oh she’s just doing a beauty salon or whatever’. It was so disregarded and then it started taking off. But then there’s the perception that if you’re young and successful there must be other people involved. There have been a lot of challenges!
Where do you take inspiration from?
Typically in the first few years I tried to get over to LA at least once a year. Doing courses and training, in brow tattooing predominantly, to expand on my skills. But to also see all the beauty bars and salons. It’s so small in Brisbane that when another beauty location opens down the road, it feels like competition. But actually no, there are enough people and clients to go around. Going to the bigger cities and seeing three hair salons next to each other that are all successful, helped me shift that mindset. Collaborate rather than compete. Seeing this on a bigger scale showed me there are so many niches that you can still be successful with someone next door.
What has been your most exciting achievement along your journey?
I wouldn’t really say there’s one specific achievement. I think I just have these moments day to day where I realise it’s not just me anymore as there’s so many of us running around. It’s such a nice feeling to look back on your goals from the year before and see oh, I wrote down that I wanted five staff and now I have ten. Those moments of reflection are really important.
What advice would you give to women wanting to start their own business?
Go with your gut. Every time I’ve made a decision that I’ve felt a bit iffy about, it’s always come back and bit me in the bum. You know your business more than anyone else and you know what you want to create. You can sit with twenty different business mentors, but at the end of the day, you know what you want to do.