My Story - Part 2 - The Top Priorities

Hallu! 

In case you missed the last post, on Wednesday last week I gave a presentation at an event for business women in the creative industry lead by The Creative Business Network (a great resource for any small creative businesses) I've now broken my presentation down into 3 posts and annotated the slides so you can pretend you were there should you want to. 

The first part of my talk was posted last week 'My Story - Part 1' where, believe it or not, I told 'my story'. The journey to my small business life,  how I went from 11 years old to grown up big knitter and this weeks focus is more specifically for the small business world, it's what I've achieved in the last 18 months and my top priorities to consider when managing my business. Next week is more specifically tips for sales platforms, social media, blogs and the mantras I live by to keep going. I hope that there's at least one nugget in there that might help you if you spend your days nurturing your business baby like I do.

So here's part 2 - 

Last week I told the story of how I developed my business so now it comes down to, what is my business and how do i run it? Well what I actually do is use unspun Merino wool, I knit it up on giant needles that I had specially made, it then gets processed by hand to help bond the fibres (my secret ingredient), the process is vital for the lifespan and quality of each product but does leave the blanket looking a little lack lustre, so then I need to finish it off by plumping and tidying each stitch individually. Once processed and tidied each item gets finished, depending on what it is this may be sewing a cushion together, stuffing and stitching a footstool or attaching the strap to a Christmas stocking. So there you have it, a finished piece. 

Last week I told the story of how I developed my business so now it comes down to, what is my business and how do i run it? Well what I actually do is use unspun Merino wool, I knit it up on giant needles that I had specially made, it then gets processed by hand to help bond the fibres (my secret ingredient), the process is vital for the lifespan and quality of each product but does leave the blanket looking a little lack lustre, so then I need to finish it off by plumping and tidying each stitch individually. Once processed and tidied each item gets finished, depending on what it is this may be sewing a cushion together, stuffing and stitching a footstool or attaching the strap to a Christmas stocking. So there you have it, a finished piece. 

It's really important to touch on the highs and the lows as we all have them. I try not to focus too much on the lows, instead I like to learn any lessons and move on, it's not so much about the mistakes you make but the way you handle it afterwards. The low point are important and they also reinforce the highs and make our achievements even more special because we had to fight so hard or climb so high to reach them.  Generally my 'lows' are internal struggles, the responsibly of having to do and be it all, every finger in every jar when you just want to go to bed. It's the stress of completing all orders so you don't let anyone down, and it's the worry when you have a dry spell 'will I ever have an order ever again?' 'what have I done?!' 'how will I pay the mortgage if no one wants a blanket?' The most important thing to remember at these times is that we are not alone. Remember that every small business owner has had sleepless nights too, you aren't the only one panicking and you will have an order again. The lows make you stronger you just need to embrace them.  The Highs are a much happier affair!  These are some of my greatest moments of the last 18 months - Making it onto NOTHS where I also had the front cover of one of there Christmas Catalogues (now that was pretty epic!) In March 15 with my business less than a month old I made it through to Country Living Magazines Kitchen Table Talent where they gave 30 fledgling businesses a free table at their Spring Fair, and amazingly this year they asked me to return and speak on a panel! Last year I was shortlisted for a Mollie Makes Handmade Award for Startup businesses, as well as being shortlisted for a Notonthehighstreet Make Award for WOW product. Then this year I was lucky enough to feature in NOTHS brand film which was a brilliantly fun day shooting (although boiling hot up in the loft with all the lights, covered in blankets.) my little face peeping out like an excited child, but I don't even care because it was great! Most recently i'm proud to say I won an Award form Country Homes and Interiors Magazines 'My Country Business Awards' (there's an awards ceremony in October so i'll report back then.) 

It's really important to touch on the highs and the lows as we all have them. I try not to focus too much on the lows, instead I like to learn any lessons and move on, it's not so much about the mistakes you make but the way you handle it afterwards. The low point are important and they also reinforce the highs and make our achievements even more special because we had to fight so hard or climb so high to reach them. 

Generally my 'lows' are internal struggles, the responsibly of having to do and be it all, every finger in every jar when you just want to go to bed. It's the stress of completing all orders so you don't let anyone down, and it's the worry when you have a dry spell 'will I ever have an order ever again?' 'what have I done?!' 'how will I pay the mortgage if no one wants a blanket?' The most important thing to remember at these times is that we are not alone. Remember that every small business owner has had sleepless nights too, you aren't the only one panicking and you will have an order again. The lows make you stronger you just need to embrace them. 

The Highs are a much happier affair!  These are some of my greatest moments of the last 18 months - Making it onto NOTHS where I also had the front cover of one of there Christmas Catalogues (now that was pretty epic!) In March 15 with my business less than a month old I made it through to Country Living Magazines Kitchen Table Talent where they gave 30 fledgling businesses a free table at their Spring Fair, and amazingly this year they asked me to return and speak on a panel!

Last year I was shortlisted for a Mollie Makes Handmade Award for Startup businesses, as well as being shortlisted for a Notonthehighstreet Make Award for WOW product. Then this year I was lucky enough to feature in NOTHS brand film which was a brilliantly fun day shooting (although boiling hot up in the loft with all the lights, covered in blankets.) my little face peeping out like an excited child, but I don't even care because it was great!

Most recently i'm proud to say I won an Award form Country Homes and Interiors Magazines 'My Country Business Awards' (there's an awards ceremony in October so i'll report back then.) 

I also consider Press coverage to be a huge achievement. I've been lucky enough to have been featured in some incredible newspapers and magazines. (and drastically need to update my Press Page!) some of which are featured here. My Christmas Stocking was an advert by NOTHS which was unbelievably in every magazine I opened, It was such a thrill and part of the reason I adore them so much. 

I also consider Press coverage to be a huge achievement. I've been lucky enough to have been featured in some incredible newspapers and magazines. (and drastically need to update my Press Page!) some of which are featured here. My Christmas Stocking was an advert by NOTHS which was unbelievably in every magazine I opened, It was such a thrill and part of the reason I adore them so much. 

So what have I learnt from all of that? Well, my top 3 priorities when it comes to managing the business are Pricing, Exposure and Planning. For me these are the fundamental points that need to be hit regularly to succeed. (grab a cup of tea and settle in for the long haul!...) Pricing  Last year I wrote a post about pricing that constantly pops up again when people kindly comment or email. It's something thats so hard to get your head around but is so vital. Without pricing your products correctly, how can you expect to move forward? Overpricing isn't good by any means but the most common pricing issue with small businesses is undervalue. Makers undervalue their time and experience on a daily basis because they don't think it's worth it. 'it's only me doing a bit of knitting' but if you want to do that bit of knitting full time to support yourself and your family then you need to price it correctly, again I must stress, I'm not talking about overpricing just a modest amount that will get you by. The Minimum wage in the UK (for someone 25+) is £7.20, If you run a small (and especially creative) business - do you pay yourself that much? I'd be willing to bet most don't. Hell, I don't always. Small businesses will always struggle with the 'How Much?!' question, this horrible questions torments us and makes us feel like we are ripping people off and are cheeky to expect to earn a profit. The important thing to remember is that the people that ask that are probably not our customers, they don't mean to be rude and they may no realise how much it hurts but they don't need to because they don't see the value. Our customers appreciate the value and cost of our time, materials, experience and the fact that we need to earn some kind of profit for it to be viable. To put it into perspective the average annual salary in the UK is £26,500, if you excluded a profit margin and paid yourself the minimum wage of £7.20 per hour you'd need to work 3,680 hours to earn £26,500. According to the internet the average working hours per annum in the UK is around 1, 674 and legally the maximum most employees are allowed to work is 48 hours a week, with around 46 working weeks that would equate to 2,208, maximum. So when you take out the profit margin because you're embarrassed, small businesses need to work 11 hours a day including weekends earning minimum wage. Unless you want to do that, you need to add some form of profit margin. You need to cover businesses expenses and take home some money to pay your bills and please don't be ashamed of that! Don't let the "How much?!" undermine and undervalue you, you're not ripping anyone off if you've worked it out correctly to cover your costs and pay yourself. You don't need to be greedy but you do need to be paid.  Rant over! Can you tell i'm passionate about pricing?!  Exposure Now onto Exposure... Marketing and exposure are so important to a small business, it's how you get your name out there. How you choose to do it are up to you, if you enjoy shows then thats a wonderful way to meet people and chat face to face, you may prefer to pay for advertising and thats fine as long as you know what publications your customer is reading. Personally my exposure is all about people, I'm honestly quite a shy person, I use to hate putting myself out there but I forced myself to do it and I've slowly learnt to enjoy it. Making contacts is key and to do that you need to get out there online and offline and speak to people. Find local and national groups, apply to competitions, go to events and chat chat chat.  I use social media a lot to help promote Lauren Aston Designs. I tried all platforms and now mainly use Facebook, Instagram and a little bit of twitter. Next weeks post goes into more detail on how I use them for promotion but generally it's about putting yourself out there to be found and being true to yourself and your business style. I'm on social media everyday chatting and posting and not only have I seen sales as a result but i've made great contacts and friends who support me and best of all, make me laugh out loud when I need it! I can't stress enough how important it is to get your voice, face and brand out and about in a positive way so people hear about you and know what you do and what your brand stands for. You don't need to be annoying about it and post 20 times a day, 3 times a week would suffice but you can't expect people to find you if you aren't putting yourself in the places to be found.   Planning I know it's not that fun but once you've got a plan everything really does feel better. From the big to the small get organised. For me Christmas is the one. Christmas starts in February every year (I give myself January to recover and kick the tree out) then it's about trend research, product design, samples, images, submissions to NOTHS catalogue, press releases (which is what i'm doing now, stock (which started 2 months ago) and staffing (again, i'm working through it as we speak). All that work all year round is a little bit wearing I won't lie, but it is SO worth it when it gets to October and you're ready for orders, you're in the magazines and you don't run out of wool. Especially this year as I also have quite an important date in October (my wedding) so I really didn't want to be worrying about stocking orders whist walking down the aisle. Christmas is my only huge event but others like Mothers day, Valentines, teachers leaving can be so vital to other businesses and it's key to be organised, make a plan of what needs to be done and give yourself enough time to do it.   I also plan my social media as much as possible. I don't want to loose all spontaneity as that's what makes it real but I do have a list of announcements slotted in when necessary and a selection of images for if i've not done anything 'photo ready' that day that I can share, like customer images and sneak peeks. I prep blog posts a month at a time so I know whats scheduled and don't panic-write something rubbish (so if they're rubbish you now know I have no excuse haha!) I find it helps take the stress out of it. I always look at what I have on that month and what might be relevant. These posts for instance, I knew I was speaking last week so I popped that on the schedule. I didn't realise they would be so long that they'd take up 3 weeks but thats OK as it's better content than just waffling on about something irrelevant and the schedule is never too inflexible that it can't be changed.   

So what have I learnt from all of that? Well, my top 3 priorities when it comes to managing the business are Pricing, Exposure and Planning. For me these are the fundamental points that need to be hit regularly to succeed. (grab a cup of tea and settle in for the long haul!...)

Pricing 

Last year I wrote a post about pricing that constantly pops up again when people kindly comment or email. It's something thats so hard to get your head around but is so vital. Without pricing your products correctly, how can you expect to move forward? Overpricing isn't good by any means but the most common pricing issue with small businesses is undervalue. Makers undervalue their time and experience on a daily basis because they don't think it's worth it. 'it's only me doing a bit of knitting' but if you want to do that bit of knitting full time to support yourself and your family then you need to price it correctly, again I must stress, I'm not talking about overpricing just a modest amount that will get you by. The Minimum wage in the UK (for someone 25+) is £7.20, If you run a small (and especially creative) business - do you pay yourself that much? I'd be willing to bet most don't. Hell, I don't always.

Small businesses will always struggle with the 'How Much?!' question, this horrible questions torments us and makes us feel like we are ripping people off and are cheeky to expect to earn a profit. The important thing to remember is that the people that ask that are probably not our customers, they don't mean to be rude and they may no realise how much it hurts but they don't need to because they don't see the value. Our customers appreciate the value and cost of our time, materials, experience and the fact that we need to earn some kind of profit for it to be viable.

To put it into perspective the average annual salary in the UK is £26,500, if you excluded a profit margin and paid yourself the minimum wage of £7.20 per hour you'd need to work 3,680 hours to earn £26,500. According to the internet the average working hours per annum in the UK is around 1, 674 and legally the maximum most employees are allowed to work is 48 hours a week, with around 46 working weeks that would equate to 2,208, maximum. So when you take out the profit margin because you're embarrassed, small businesses need to work 11 hours a day including weekends earning minimum wage. Unless you want to do that, you need to add some form of profit margin. You need to cover businesses expenses and take home some money to pay your bills and please don't be ashamed of that! Don't let the "How much?!" undermine and undervalue you, you're not ripping anyone off if you've worked it out correctly to cover your costs and pay yourself. You don't need to be greedy but you do need to be paid. 

Rant over! Can you tell i'm passionate about pricing?! 

Exposure

Now onto Exposure... Marketing and exposure are so important to a small business, it's how you get your name out there. How you choose to do it are up to you, if you enjoy shows then thats a wonderful way to meet people and chat face to face, you may prefer to pay for advertising and thats fine as long as you know what publications your customer is reading. Personally my exposure is all about people, I'm honestly quite a shy person, I use to hate putting myself out there but I forced myself to do it and I've slowly learnt to enjoy it. Making contacts is key and to do that you need to get out there online and offline and speak to people. Find local and national groups, apply to competitions, go to events and chat chat chat. 

I use social media a lot to help promote Lauren Aston Designs. I tried all platforms and now mainly use Facebook, Instagram and a little bit of twitter. Next weeks post goes into more detail on how I use them for promotion but generally it's about putting yourself out there to be found and being true to yourself and your business style. I'm on social media everyday chatting and posting and not only have I seen sales as a result but i've made great contacts and friends who support me and best of all, make me laugh out loud when I need it!

I can't stress enough how important it is to get your voice, face and brand out and about in a positive way so people hear about you and know what you do and what your brand stands for. You don't need to be annoying about it and post 20 times a day, 3 times a week would suffice but you can't expect people to find you if you aren't putting yourself in the places to be found.  

Planning

I know it's not that fun but once you've got a plan everything really does feel better. From the big to the small get organised. For me Christmas is the one. Christmas starts in February every year (I give myself January to recover and kick the tree out) then it's about trend research, product design, samples, images, submissions to NOTHS catalogue, press releases (which is what i'm doing now, stock (which started 2 months ago) and staffing (again, i'm working through it as we speak). All that work all year round is a little bit wearing I won't lie, but it is SO worth it when it gets to October and you're ready for orders, you're in the magazines and you don't run out of wool. Especially this year as I also have quite an important date in October (my wedding) so I really didn't want to be worrying about stocking orders whist walking down the aisle. Christmas is my only huge event but others like Mothers day, Valentines, teachers leaving can be so vital to other businesses and it's key to be organised, make a plan of what needs to be done and give yourself enough time to do it.  

I also plan my social media as much as possible. I don't want to loose all spontaneity as that's what makes it real but I do have a list of announcements slotted in when necessary and a selection of images for if i've not done anything 'photo ready' that day that I can share, like customer images and sneak peeks.

I prep blog posts a month at a time so I know whats scheduled and don't panic-write something rubbish (so if they're rubbish you now know I have no excuse haha!) I find it helps take the stress out of it. I always look at what I have on that month and what might be relevant. These posts for instance, I knew I was speaking last week so I popped that on the schedule. I didn't realise they would be so long that they'd take up 3 weeks but thats OK as it's better content than just waffling on about something irrelevant and the schedule is never too inflexible that it can't be changed. 

 

Gorgeous Angie Spurgeon also spoke that day about branding and she's done a brilliant post with her top 5 tips about Branding a business

If any of you are still hanging in there after my essay of a post i'm so impressed! Next week I'll try to make it shorter (but no promises) I have another 6 slides with key points about how I use social media, tips for blogging and things to remember. I hope to see you there! 

Take care,

L x