In Autumn, I was part of a panel for a Graduate Week Q&A as a small business owner and realised over the years I have definitely gained lots of experience from being self-employed and running my own business,at the very least I’ve learnt what not to do, as it’s always good to learn from mistakes and it all goes into the bank of experience!
I set up AURA QUE straight out of university, where I did a BA at London College of Fashion in Product Design, specialising in accessories, leathercraft and pattern-cutting. I used to do other work part-time (from admin work for other small businesses to freelance design work) to help my cash flow whilst I was building up the business, which also helped me get experience in different areas. Being self-employed is a different way of life to working for a company, and it takes motivation and initiative to be successful!
To be self-employed you have to make so many decisions, use your initiative and constantly learn new things to improve and grow your business – it’s not for the faint-hearted! I’ve put together a few tips that I’ve found to be important over the years, especially for my business:
Networking – I’ve always found this tough but it really helps to meet people doing similar businesses, ask questions and seek out mentors in different fields that can give you practical advice. Many of the people I have worked with, learned from and had as mentors, I have met when I least expected it – for example, I met Dave, a pattern cutter for 40 years, in an east end pub I worked in at university, who introduced me to many of the amazingly talented makers at leather workshops in East London.
Know your market and stick to your design aesthetic – when getting advice from mentors, buyers and customers, it is also good to weigh up their opinions, especially when it comes to design, have faith in your own aesthetic and what feels right to you – don’t dilute it, you can’t cater for everyone! Also you can’t build a business based on selling to friends and family! Always keep records of your product sales, its great analysis for working on your range developments for the next season – your best seller isn’t always what you think it is!
- Look after yourself – again I am terrible at this, but try to have set work times or boundaries, I’m definitely still learning this! When I worked from home, I always tried to make sure I went for a quick walk in the morning, otherwise its too tempting to work in your pyjamas! You will learn to work efficiently to save time, but as your business grows, try to delegate jobs to reduce your workload and so that you can free up your own time to grow the business. Also pay yourself first, work out what you need to earn to cover business costs and it will help with monthly sales targets and motivation for calling buyers and confirming orders.
If you want any more pointers, this tips list from Small Business Saturday UK is really good I think: 12 Top Tips for Micro-Businesses