Welcome to my new Business Column. On Biz Fridays, I’ll be sharing my tips on all things business-related. From starting-out advice to how to build your brand, to marketing and evolving your business and taking it to the next level. Real life stuff on running a business full-time. I’m constantly learning, from others in the trade, from business books, from being online, but most of all from my own experience. It’s actually the real-time stuff where I’ve learnt the most. Particularly learning from my mistakes! Below are the 10 things I wish I had known before I even started my business. You may want to grab a coffee and a pew, as it’s a long one!
1. GET REAL
You will spend about 30% of your time (if you’re lucky) doing what you set out do: designing, writing, baking, the stuff you love that sparked the idea in the first place. The rest of the time you will be strategising, dealing with administrative work, marketing, and answering a s***load of emails! Get real – the fun stuff always comes second, I hate to tell you.
2. IT TAKES TIME
I thought that within two years things would take off big time. I was confident I was doing something different with the store and that we had the coolest product selection. I was convinced that my path to world domination would be quick. Wake up call: it’s slower and longer than you could ever imagine! Maybe triple your time expectations (and then some).
3. DON’T QUIT
You’ve re-mortgaged the house, got the business loan, or persuaded friends and family to cough up. You’ve planned for hiccups, you’ve got money to survive if things get tough. But then suddenly, out of nowhere, things crash. And they don’t just get tough, they tank. Businesses go under left, right and centre, banks collapse, suddenly no one’s spending, and you can’t even pay the rent, let alone the wages.
Do not quit.
Find a way, somehow find a way. We once closed off half the store and opened a Design Studio at the back. The truth is we couldn’t afford to buy enough products to stock the entire space. No one needed to know that, of course, and then before we knew it, we had a client list around the world employing our design services.
By double-dutying or adding different strands to the business, we were no longer reliant purely on footfall. We started designing our own product range and I wrote books and talked at seminars around the world. There was now a stream of income from lots of different strands rather than just one. We survived and I can tell you this: if you can survive the “no money in the bank” scenario, you’ll be able to survive anything. You’ll be unstoppable… and also be back to being able to sleep at night!
4. LEARN TO SAY NO
When things start taking off, you’ll get approached a lot – for collaborations, TV shows, promotional deals and projects around the world. You don’t have to say yes to everything. I only work on projects that truly enhance and complement the brand. I’ve worked so hard in building up a luxury brand, I don’t want it falling around my ears like a stack of cards because hey, I’m suddenly producing my own range of ketchup, or I’m on daytime TV designing houses in 60 mins! It waters the whole thing down. It’s hard to say no sometimes. I’ve turned down a ton of TV stuff and I still have niggles, like maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal sitting in that canoe in the middle of the Thames. But then my gut kicks in and I know I did the right thing!
5. STAY CURRENT
Keep your website fresh and constantly evolving, your bricks and mortar or online store continually changing, and work consistently and often on the content of your blog, Facebook and other social media channels. You have to devote a huge amount of time to marketing through mailshots, deals, and launches. It’s all about creating a community where like-minded people want to hang out with you.
6. ZAG, DON’T ZIG
By this I mean do things differently. Anyone can open up an online store or bricks and mortar store – there is no skill in that. Where the skill lies is making it different, unique and yours. Whether that is through content, design, or style is up to you. Don’t be gimmicky or too on-trend and remember if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
We’ve had people copy us relentlessly - finding out where our products are from and then carbon-copying the contents of our store and getting the exact same selection into theirs. Does it worry me? Not a bit. I mean, it’s annoying, sure, but it never looks or feels the same because those businesses don’t really give two figs about the products they’re selling. They think, “She’s had a lot of success with that line, so let’s do the same” without the heart in it or the style ethos behind it. The easy way out never pays. You can always tell if there is passion in the business or not – it stands out a mile away. You can’t buy it, just like you can’t buy taste!
Here is a typical day for me: most working days start around 5am and end around 7pm. Throw into that mix a hectic schedule and at least twice-weekly unexpected projects, meetings or problems that derail everything. I have four regular treats that happen each and every day: three titchy, really good coffees and a walk to the park with the M’s. And that is kind of it.
One of the things I’m really bad at is scheduling in breaks – for lunch, coffee, or even just recalibrating and 10 mins of downtime. I’m always juggling a zillion different balls in the air with my business since it has so many ventures. You’ll find me designing products for my own label or for one of the various licensing deals I have, or researching products, buying products, building content for the blog, working on private and commercial residences, writing, planning, marketing and answering a billion emails. There’s very little balance. What work-life? Isn’t it just work-work?
I’ve gotten away with it until now, but recently I’ve had a string of ailments that may or may not be related. From bronchitis lasting 8 weeks to a hearing infection that has prevented me from flying to high temps, and last week I found a lump in my breast (which thank goodness it turned out to be nothing). But I do seem to be getting hit with it all. So I need to do what I’m telling you guys to do: breathe, relax, and take time out! Your business won’t work at all if you’re out of it.
8. FACE YOUR FEARS
Here are my greatest fears: things never being quite good enough, thinking I can always do better, and putting too much pressure on myself to meet sky-high expectations. I have – or should say, had – a fear of not being liked. I would worry over tweets when the TV show I once presented went on the air. I got criticised for my dark hues and judged pretty darn harshly at times. I had to realise that the minute you put yourself out there, you’re live bait and people will criticise you. There’s no getting around that. Want to know what’s good about it, though? It toughens you up. It actually makes you a better, stronger, more determined person and it focuses you. So face those darn fears, I say, and don’t worry about what others think!
9. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
I am a control freak. I want to do everything… I mean everything. From finding that perfect pin for Pinterest to styling every single product that goes into my store. I’m learning to delegate because it’s pretty impossible to do everything and when you do you get cranky. Trust me! The details are definitely important, but maybe you don’t need to be the one to personally handle everything. Hire people you trust, and delegate.
10. TALK IT OUT
Simplistic as it sounds, talking problems out helps clarify things. Just saying them out loud makes them less scary and overwhelming. Plus others can be more objective and might have solutions you didn’t even think of. Talk, talk, talk!