Alexandra Carlton, a journalist, and her husband, Charlie Gosselin, who has a background in the culinary industry, share a love of food cooked over open flame, so much so that it’s become the basis of their start-up business, Pig & Pilgrim. The pair launched sales of their parrillas – artisanal, handmade Argentinian charcoal barbecues – in April 2020, in the midst of what Alexandra calls “the COVID quagmire”, and they quickly gained a dedicated following. They’re a great example of Australia’s small business success stories: here, they share their reflections on everything from launching in COVID to growth through social media, and how they’ll scale going forwards – plus tips for others keen on going into business for themselves.

Don’t Overthink It

Just do it. Don’t spend a year refining it, changing your mind, changing the colour, asking your friends. Just throw it out there. Get moving, then change, fix and refine as you go. Charlie made barbecues as a sort of hobby; he made a parrilla that he was proud of, and I just threw it onto Instagram. It was that simple. We'd talked about it for ages, but I knew that if we spent too much time thinking about it, refining it, that we just wouldn't do it.

Starting a Small Business in COVID Comes With Pluses… and Minuses

It worked for our customers because so many of them were just stuck at home. No one was going to restaurants. It was a time when we were all learning how to make sourdough and cook curries... And so the idea of teaching yourself to cook [on] charcoal at home, when you had nothing else to do, was hugely appealing. But then there was shipping. That’s been a big challenge overall.

Know Who You Are and Who You Are Selling To

We never sat down to make a business plan, but a few months after we’d launched, we did sit down with our marketing agency to figure out what our product was and who our customer was, in a very refined, defined way. Other people were making parrillas in the market but they were either high-end, commercial grade and very expensive, or for an audience that’s quite blokey and a bit competitive. We love both those worlds as well and wanted to appeal to them, but we also wanted to sit in the middle: normal people who just want to experiment with charcoal cooking. Not professionals, not barbecue obsessives. Just people who want to cook consistently excellent food on something that looks cool. Function is obviously our top priority but it was also really important to us that the product actually looked cool. You want something that doesn't look horrible sitting in your backyard.

Small business Pig & Pilgrim hand-makes each of its parrillas

Don’t Forget That Most People Haven’t Heard of You

When people come across your brand, mostly they are hearing about you for the first time. You feel like you're pumping stuff out all the time, but it's not reaching everybody all the time. So, it’s completely fine to repeat yourself in your messaging – in fact, it’s a good idea that you do. It’s also important to make sure things like your social media bio are really clear. Say exactly who you are, what you do and where you're located. And make sure there’s a website link. Don't just say Pig & Pilgrim, and think people will know what that means. Say that it’s an Argentinian parrilla, a handcrafted charcoal barbecue, made in Sydney. Make it really clear.

Play to Your Strengths

We don't have a single overlapping skill. Charlie is brilliant, not only at making the barbecues and the creative side of things, but he's also fantastic at hunting down the guy who can do the packaging boxes or sew our covers, and then working out a deal for it. I can think of nothing I'd rather do less. My skills are social media and customer correspondence. I know who our customer is, and I know what will interest them on social media. I find communicating with them enjoyable and easy.

Make Sure People See What You’re Selling

For the first few months we were selling one or two, here and there. I knew that the secret to selling, more than anything – beyond having a great product and having a great ethos – was eyeballs. Common e-comm lore says that if 2% of people who go to your website buy your product, then you’re doing pretty well. So if you're showing it to a hundred people, you're only going to sell two. But, if you're showing it to a million people, you're going to sell a lot more.

Know When You Need to Upskill

I had to learn more about social media. I thought I was pretty good at it, but there are actually a lot of great tricks. Just simple things, like scheduling your posts. Get an app like, and schedule all your posts two weeks in advance. Then you're just not scrambling around trying to think of something to post every night and letting it eat up your whole life.

SEE ALSO: 10 Ways Your Business Can Smash Social Media

Outsourcing has been the key to small business success for Pig & Pilgrim

But Outsourcing Can Also Make a World of Difference

I knew that I wasn't able to organically reach enough people without a bit of a boost. This is going to sound weird but I literally sat down and Googled small business internet marketing. I knew I didn't have a billion dollars, but I found a company and they looked approachable. When we brought them on, our sales went through the roof overnight. We said to them our dream would be to sell five a week. Within that first week, we sold five. By the peak of the Christmas rush, we were selling about seven or eight a day. Getting an expert on board to do that was the smartest thing I ever did. Just recently, I have brought a bookkeeper on as well, and that’s helping me to understand why we have so much turnover, so much revenue and so little money [laughs]… There's got to be a way [to remedy it]! I need someone to guide me through that.

You Don’t Have to Nail It All From the Beginning

It’s one of the beauties of the digital world. Once upon a time, you’d have started a small business with bricks and mortar, or you would have spent thousands on your signage and the look of your store, and it was not something you could easily change. Whereas, in the digital world, I don't know that a brand and a logo is as important as it used to be. Your social media footprint is who you are, more than anything else.

SEE ALSO: 6 Ways to Supercharge Your Social Media

You Will Make Mistakes

Our biggest challenge is our pricing. We priced ourselves too low at the beginning because we made that classic mistake that I think a lot of people make in ecommerce, where you just want people to buy it, so you don’t properly price in all the overheads. You can’t just look at how much the materials cost, put a bit of profit on that and that'll be the end of it. You have to look at your labour. You have to look at your warehouse costs. You have to look at everything.

Scaling Can Be Daunting

We're not selling a product that you can just shove into a post bag to send, or something you can make in giant batches and have sitting ready to order. The more we scale, it's actually not going to be physically possible for Charlie to do this [alone]. It's already beyond full-time, so we’ve brought on a couple of guys to help Charlie in the workshop. There are a lot of really good schemes that the government is doing, helping to get JobSeeker people connected with small businesses; and they're helping to subsidise their wages at the beginning of their time with us, which has been a lifesaver.

SEE ALSO: 18 Goals that SMEs Should Embrace Year Round

The key to small business success? Believe in your business

Stand by What You Are Doing

When we were quite early on, I remember we were in contact with a guy in the Southern Highlands who makes beautiful high-end bespoke furniture. He inquired about buying one, [a barbecue,] and I remember falling over myself, saying, “Oh my God, you’re a fellow maker like us; we'll give you a discount and we'll drive it down ourselves.” We were in that very early stage of wanting to please everybody and being so stunned that anybody wanted to buy this funny little thing we'd made. He said to me, "Hey, listen. No discounts. No driving it down. Value yourself. The people who understand what you're doing will get it and they will pay."