Beauty expert Gemma Watts on her career path, motivation, and the hardest part about launching a business – Vogue Australia

Talk about getting it done.

Gemma Watts is a particularly interesting businesswoman because it can be difficult to pin down exactly what it is she does (because with many talents, comes many projects). For starters, she’s the founder of the Glow Journal brand. It includes a digital beauty website that offers thoughtful but honest product reviews; a creative agency element where clients can engage with her copywriting or photography services; and also a podcast that sees Watts chat with industry experts on the business of beauty.

Outside of Glow Journal, Watts’ talents also lend themselves to hosting industry launches, keynote speaking gigs, and fronting up industry panels, such is the case at Vogue Codes 2019 (see here for the full program and ticket sales). And while Watts didn’t mention this in her interview below, she’s also extremely influential, and for lack of a better word, an influencer within her own rights. All it takes is a quick scroll through her curated Instagram grid of beautiful imagery, whip-smart reviews, and snippets into her working life to see that Watts knows beauty – and you’d be smart to take her word on it.   

While her accolades are many, Watts is never reluctant to share her stellar business advice, opening up to Vogue about her career trajectory, her thoughts on self-motivating, and some mistakes she made when starting out. Innovative, agile and refreshingly authentic, Watts is at the top of the beauty game. Read on for the complete interview.

What was your first ever job?

“Technically, the first way I earned money was by running a ‘beauty salon’ for my parents in the spare bedroom. I was also publishing a monthly magazine back in 1998, but I don’t know if I can call that a job as I didn’t bring on any advertisers.

In high school, I accepted canteen favours as payment for coding everyone’s MySpace layouts, and then at around 16 I started earning extra money on the weekends as the photographer at my friends’s older sibling’s 18th birthday parties.

As far as the ATO is concerned, my first job was at Muffin Break in the local Westfield food court. My first job in this field was as a contributing fashion writer at Couturing when I was 18.”

How has your career played out since?

“When I finished high school, my first preference was actually a TAFE course (a Cert IIII and Diploma in Professional Writing at RMIT). Most of my teachers and peers said things to the tune of ‘why not university?’ but I felt that if I wanted to refine my writing skills, I needed to do so in a smaller, practical environment. That ended up being the best decision ever as I was the baby within a course of mature-aged students with established writing careers, and they all encouraged me to start getting real-world experience as soon as I could.

I started submitting fashion stories to websites and print publications, eventually securing a role as contributing fashion writer at the website Couturing in 2012. I was promoted to assistant fashion editor within a few months, and fashion editor soon after.

I moved into a Bachelor of Communication (Professional Communication/Journalism) after finishing my Diploma, during the course of which I was still writing for Couturing. In 2014, L’Oreal Paris was launching their Australian advertorial platform, and I was headhunted to work as a contributing beauty writer. The editor of the website left at the end of the year, and I spent 2015 as L’Oreal Paris Australia’s beauty editor – a role I was holding while finishing university and still working as Couturing’s fashion editor.

I had the opportunity to work full time at Couturing when I finished my studies, but I had started to become really disillusioned with the fashion industry and realised how much I loved beauty. I picked up a lot of freelance beauty work to scratch the itch once I left L’Oreal, and within a few months I had enough freelance work built up that I could pursue it full time and launch my own business.”

How did you go about launching Glow Journal?

“I originally intended for my website to purely be a portfolio to showcase the work I’d done for freelance clients. My web designer suggested the site should have blogging capabilities, so I started sharing a few beauty stories which gained traction. At that stage, the website was just gemkwatts.com and my freelance business didn’t have a name.

In 2017 I officially launched the Glow Journal brand, which now consists of glowjournal.com (the editorial platform), Glow Journal Creative (my creative business) and, most recently, the Glow Journal Podcast (interviews with brand founders on the business side of beauty).”

So what does a normal day look like?

“No two days are ever the same, but beauty is the one constant. Whichever tier of Glow Journal I’m working on, be that client copy, product reviews, photography or producing the podcast, beauty is always at the core.”

Do you find it difficult to self-motivate?

“I don’t struggle to be honest! I think the ability to self-motivate is a given if you’re working for yourself. There’s no one to fall back on. If things go awry, you have to deal with it. If you miss a deadline, you incur the consequences. If you’re not motivated, nothing gets done, and you have no business.”

What do you love about running your business?

“I’ve spent the last year really refining the Glow Journal brand and making sure the clients I work with, the brands I support, and the content I produce for the Glow Journal Podcast are really cohesive across the board. Streamlining everything has meant that I’m working with brands and on projects that I truly love. Having that freedom has been the best thing for me.” 

On the other side, what do you find you struggle with the most?

“I’m getting better at this, but in the business’s infancy I really struggled with saying no. I was taking on work that I probably wasn’t qualified for, for the sake of healthy cash flow, and it was causing me a great deal of stress. I’m in a place now in which I’d rather refer a potential client to an expert in the position they’re looking to fill than to take it on for money’s sake.”

What about social media – how do you use Instagram to promote your business?

“A big part of my job is photography, so it’s great to be able to communicate through visuals as well as words. The whole reason my beauty blog received traction in its infancy was thanks to the short form reviews I was sharing in my Instagram captions, so it has certainly helped for visibility. That said, likes and followers are the least of my concerns. I would always rather have a small following of people who actually care about what I have to say than thousands of people who don’t gain anything from my content.”

You’ve done so many amazing things, but what’s your proudest achievement to date?

“In all sincerity, I have to pinch myself every day. Speaking at Vogue Codes is something I’m yet to wrap my head around, as was giving a keynote on beauty and social at Facebook HQ last year. This month I’m also acting as the MC at Meccaland, which is quite literally the dream – it’s an amalgamation of everything I love.”

What do you think about the current state of the beauty industry – are there any changes that are exciting to you, and alternatively anything you’d like to see shift?

“Everything about beauty is exciting to me – the fusion of tech and beauty is of particular interest because I love science. As far as changes go, two areas that stick out to me are diversity and sustainability. We have a long way to go here. I know there’s so much more that I, personally, could be doing to improve in these areas, so this year I’ve really made it my goal to educate myself so I can make some positive changes.”

Gemma Watts will be speaking at Vogue Codes 2019. For a the complete program and ticket sales, head to vogue.com.au/vogue-codes