From Blogger to Businesswoman, Ella Mills, more popularly known as Deliciously Ella, has a CV that’s nothing short of extraordinary.
With four best-selling books, a number one app, three delis and a further three food product lines across the UK; the healthy eating advocate reaches thirty million people a month via her social channels. Meanwhile, her blog deliciouslyella.com, the platform that started it all, continues to grow in stature, having amassed over 100 million hits in the last four years.
By tapping into a range of different niches within the wellness industry, Mills continues to break boundaries, her involvement in lingerie brand Intimissimi’s latest campaign, featuring as a Women’s Health cover star and securing Starbucks as a stockist highlight just how powerful her empire has become.
With plans to expand within the product space and across international markets, Mills is focused on creating a tangible business that’s sustainable in the long-term. Here, she reveals how she works to her strengths, why she doesn’t view herself as the typical entrepreneur, and what being the face of a global brand really entails…
On transitioning from blog to business…
The blog (deliciouslyella.com) was an amazing place to start. Creating something online meant I didn’t have to invest anything and was able to create a brand. But I wanted to do something more. I wanted to create something real and tangible.
Once I realised I wanted to launch a business I immediately started running cooking classes, then came the app, then the first book.
On not fitting the entrepreneurial mould…
I went to a really great talk a while back with a lady who started a company called ‘Unruly Media’, which is a huge success, and she said something really interesting. She said: “You always hear stories about who the typical entrepreneur is and it’s the person who was at school selling cookies and making a profit at the age of 8.”
I have never been that kind of person. I’ve always been really reserved about defining myself as an entrepreneur because I was always like ‘that’s not me, that’s not my brain,’ but actually I don’t think there is a definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur. In fact, thinking about what it means to be an entrepreneur can be quite intimidating. I think that probably puts some people off.
For me, it was just about seeing an opportunity and going for it. So, I started doing social media and then the blog and then people were like ‘oh, so do you do cooking classes?’ and without realising it, that was my first step into entrepreneurship. I had no idea, so I went onto Google and tried to find a space where I could host my cooking classes, then I took the money from that and invested it into my app. It happened step-by-step, I never stood there and thought, ‘right, now I’m going to be a businesswoman’.
On working with your strengths and hiring for your weaknesses…
From my perspective, one of the most important things for me has been figuring out where my strengths are when it comes to the business.
I run everything with my husband Matt. He is CEO, so he does lots of the practical stuff and I am the Creative Director, so I do all the creative stuff. But when we decided to launch products, we figured out what we wanted to do and thought “OK, let’s go out and hire the best person’.
Neither of us had worked on products before. I had a really good understanding of everything else on the market, what I wanted the product to be, the ingredients, the look, the feel etc. However, I didn’t know anything about merchandising and juice, so we hired the Head of Innovation from Innocent. He became the MD of the product division of the company and now products have become a big part of our focus.
It was the same with the delis. I had never done operations in a restaurant business before, so we hired someone who had managed fifteen Carluccio’s restaurants.
I love engaging with people, I love communicating and I love branding. I know that’s where I can be good for the business and I also know when it’s better to take a step back and listen to other people. I think that’s what’s allowed us to grow. It’s a challenge because it’s ‘Deliciously Ella’, which is me… but you have to take a step back and let other people in.
On sacrifices and hard graft…
The reality of building a business is that it’s hard. It’s amazing, I wouldn’t have it any other way but it’s really hard.
It’s a 24/7 thing, but if you want to do it properly you’ve got to do it properly.
Ultimately, you are probably the only person that’s going to be able to deal with your business issues 24/7. So, just understanding and recognising the reality of it and that there is no such thing as a weekend or an evening off is one thing I’ve had to learn.
Luckily it works because I am so passionate about it, but I do think you really have to have that. You have to love what you do and really want to do it –– if you don’t I think that’s when it gets really, really hard. If you’re not passionate about what you do it’s going to get really difficult because you have to prioritise it over a lot of other things in your life.
On cultivating a positive mindset…
There are always going to be challenges, but how you deal with them all comes down to your mindset.
You have to be a bit like a permanent optimist because there are so many problems. So finding a way to juggle everything, staying balanced and remaining positive is important. As soon as you lose that positivity (from a personal perspective) you’ll find it really straining.
When there’s something that’s not quite right, instead of thinking ‘oh this isn’t going to work, I’m failing’, try and be positive about it and ask: ‘what’s the solution?’. I think that makes a big difference, although obviously it’s way easier said than done.
On diversifying into products…
I always wanted to launch products. There are so many we wanted to create, but we wanted to start with something our audience could be a part of, which is why we chose our energy balls. They’re the most popular thing on the blog and were the best selling item when we opened Mae Deli, so it was an obvious place to start in a way that was going to feel authentic to people.
On securing a listing in Starbucks…
Matt was being creative, thinking of all the different places that we could be stocked outside of the obvious retailers and he was like: ‘I’m going to email Starbucks’.
I didn’t think they’d ever reply, but he went on Linkedin, found the guy who was MD in London and emailed every different variation we could think of. He sent about 20 emails and the guy actually replied. He was so confident about it, so I have to give him the credit for that one.
On the pressures of being the face of a brand…
When I started doing my blog I really enjoyed it, but after the book came out and it exploded it was really intense.
I was so aware of everyone judging me, which was pretty scary from a personal point of view, but then I started doing all the business side of stuff and found myself taking back some of the control.
I am so aware that a lot of it is on my shoulders. I’ve employed all these people, so I’m like ‘don’t get it wrong, don’t say the wrong thing’, which can be intimidating, but it’s all about trying to move past that fear and if an opportunity arises just doing it and figuring out how to make it work.
You can’t make everyone happy, so as long as you feel like you are hitting that middle ground you’ve got to be content with that.
On remaining focused…
I heard a great quote the other day, which said something like ‘most businesses die of indigestion, rather than starvation’ and I think that’s true.
You have to do what you can manage and you have to know who you are and what you are.
Sometimes opportunities arise and yes they could be a great deal for today but does that mean they’re sustainable? Probably not.
I think it’s about learning who you are and comparing everything to that if it doesn’t tick the boxes don’t do it.
On letting go of control…
It’s been tough, but for us, it was about hiring a few people who we could give real autonomy and real responsibility to.
I can’t sit there all day and be with everyone, so realistically I had to take a step back and find those people who I could really trust. But it’s been a learning curve.
I’ve definitely gotten better at it because letting go is so important — if you didn’t you would go crazy. Obviously, you try and watch it when you can, but you have to be realistic about what’s possible.
On future plans…
Product is really the area we want to focus on because it’s a lot more scalable.
We’re focusing on deepening our distribution, so we’ve got some really exciting partnerships coming up with partners like Boots. And then we’re starting to look at NPD and expanding internationally, which is so exciting.
Ella Mills will be joining the Welltodo Founder Series on 14th November to share her industry insights, business strategies and advice from challenges she’s faced along the way.