July 24, 2024

Thrive Insider

Exclusive stories of successful entrepreneurs

Anita Aherne, National Autism Directory

Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Anita Aherne I developed and funded Australia’s first and only National autism directory, Kids on the Spectrum. I am a caretaker, parent and neurodivergent person with a background in sales and marketing.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

During Covid I turned 50 and I decided to revaluate my life, and my career path. The company I worked for closed , a consequence of the pandemic. I chose to risk it all and start my own business. Having grown up with a parent with mental health issues, and now having my own autistic children with similar struggles, I decided to be the change maker and make a difference for carers and parents. I am a mother of 3, I am diagnosed ADHD and I run Australia’s only National autism directory.

With the number of autistic people in the world being estimated at 1 in every 74, I felt like I had to act swiftly to change autistic outcomes, I had to improve life expectancy rates and suicide rates among Autistics as it directly affects my family. It surprised me when there was not one place where parents, carers and autistic people could go to locate resources, products or inclusive. events. This is why I started Kids on the Spectrum.

I did not want any other parents to go through the minefield of finding supports and keeping up to date with policy and NDIS changes that can affect their family, because this is what happened to us, we were totally lost. Teaching myself how to build a web site on a zero budget my aim was to make it easier for parents to find supports and information. My goal is to improve all autistic future outcomes. Social inclusion and community connections are proven to improve mortality rates among autistic people. Kids on the Spectrum helps support parents and caretakers locate resources and social activities easily and for free.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Kids on the Spectrum launched with a DIY web site builder. I had spent months locating resources and researching organisations who offered inclusive services. I taught myself how to build a very basic directory, it had no search capacity and looked very basic.

It was important to test the market before investing in a larger more professional web site build, especially with a limited budget for start-up. The business was launched with a $1000 budget.

It was 8 weeks later that we were plunged into lockdown because of the Pandemic and I lost my job due to the ongoing lockdowns. The response in the soft launch was overwhelming and there was no doubt that this resource was needed. It was then I decided to just “Go for it” and I got a team together and we developed the directory, revision number 2.

We launched the new site however we had ongoing issues with the site and the tech team we had employed, we decided to commission a new team, web site number 3. This is the site we currently have. There are still upgrades needed however it is working well and is a huge asset to parents and caretakers.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Networking and integrity have been vital in the way we have retained and attracted customers. We are very open in supporting those organisations who choose to join us in our directory as a paid listing. We also provide exceptional ROI, there are no added extras and if you are part of our community then we will go out of our way to support you and your business. Integrity plays a huge role also in retaining customers, we do what we say we will do and we commit to genuinely supporting the businesses who join us.

We are a free resource for parents and caretakers who use our directory. We are also free for all business to have a standard listing on our site. Our funding comes from those organisations who do join us as a paid listing, for this reason we have to remain committed to supporting these businesses as a priority.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We have continued to grow and build our community, and we are proud to now be the “Go to” for parents when looking for resources. We have plans for the expansion of our directory and enjoy the support and recognition from state-based services throughout Australia.
Our web site visits have jumped substantially each month and we now assist almost 5000 visitor per month, something I am very proud of.
We were also recently awarded
Gold “Start up of the Year” in the Stevie women in business 2021 awards
Gold “Entrepreneur of the year” in the Stevie women in business 2021 awards
Silver “Change Maker – Disability” in the Stevie women in business 2021 awards

I also won Bronze this year in the Ausmumpreneur 2021 awards for “Digital Innovation”

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I have always known networking was important in business, however many people buy from the person not the actual business, something that I quickly recognised in the beginning of my journey.
You could have the best product in the world, however, if the customer does not trust or cannot rely on you then you will not sustain in business. It was only in the beginning of my journey that this became very apparent. It is why I feel so strongly about keeping my word and going above and beyond for the businesses I support.
It is always also the reason why I am honest with the parents who use my directory, people are forgiving to truth tellers, not so much to liars.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Last year I would have said social media was our biggest tool, however this year I would say it is our web site. Earlier this year our site was restricted as Facebook identified us as a media outlet. Initially I was worried as I thought this was the only way to reach customers. I quickly realised that I had invested enough in our site that we continued to have steady web site visits and that we did not have to rely on social media as our sole marketing tool.
I would also say Zoom has been an important asset for us. With the world moving to online communication, it gave us an opportunity to expand into the webinar space and grow our services and income streams.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I am not a huge reader, having ADHD I struggle following the content. My biggest influence in business has come from networking groups. Learning from other entrepreneurs who are doing similar things has been invaluable. It’s been great to ask questions and learn about different systems and processes that may help us. Also being involved in awards has given us valuable recognition and media coverage, again a huge benefit when trying to reach our customers. It has also been a great way to showcase what we do. Being a social enterprise and offering a limited product to generate income our biggest resource is always going to be connections.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The advice I would give other entrepreneurs starting out would be, set a start-up budget then go for it. The most successful businesses are those who are led by leaders who believe in their product and believe it will succeed. To start off with doubt is starting on a negative, even if the market is saturated with your product people will always buy from you if you believe in. The second piece of advice I would give is assume that everyone in your industry knows each other, don’t bad mouth anyone, do not talk negatively about anyone and be ethical. If you are not it is guaranteed to come back and bite you down the track.

Where can we go to learn more?