I was going to write a blog post with 10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years in business. I started it and realised I would much rather hear from some of the amazing women who I’ve met in the past 10 years. I’ve met so many talented, capable, interesting women with brilliant businesses since I started my business in 2011. It was really hard to choose 10 but here we go – ten wonderful women. I asked them for a photo and a paragraph about something they have learnt through running their businesses. Here’s what they had to say…
Alison Pottie of Wonky Woolies
I met Alison a few years ago when we were both taking part in a Mentoring for Growth program with our local Chambers of Commerce. She’s from the Borders originally but had started building her business while living up in Glasgow. When we met she had just relocated Wonky Woolies to Kelso. I was instantly charmed by her passion for her business, her energy, her positivity. She has built such a joyful, distinctive brand. She now has a small team of people working alongside her and her husband at her workshop in Kelso. I’m super proud to be her friend.
“There is opportunity everywhere. When we have the courage to take risks, whether it be presenting a pitch or exhibiting at an event, you open your business up to current opportunities while simultaneously setting it up for future ones. This is why I think it is so important to display your business well and to be proud of what you achieve along the way, as it continues to evolve it is a privilege to have people take notice.”
2. Jenny Biddle
Jenny is a talented musician and song-writer who relocated her life and business from Australia to Scotland (all for love!). Jenny came into my life via a mutual friend. We were both at a pub quiz on the very day I decided it was time to find an employee. She had some spare time and offered to help me out in the studio. It felt meant-to-be. She’s been working with me for over two years now. Musicians have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. I can’t wait to see her play live. She’s currently taking on clients for guitar lessons via Zoom which is a great opportunity.
“I learned that if I want to make a living from music, I cannot only perform songs that I enjoy, that feed my soul; I must also factor in my audience and tailor my performance to engage, entertain and connect with them. This has involved risk, vulnerability, and a series of trials and errors when it comes to song choice, creative expression, stage banter, marketing, product design, etc. Connecting with others and cultivating those relationships has been the most rewarding part.”
3. Fiona Luing of Luing Smith
Fiona is my super talented jeweller friend that I boast about knowing. At all times I’m wearing at least three bits of her jewellery. We met while doing a pop up event here in the Borders. She rebranded recently and launched the gorgeous Luing Smith brand. Everything is ethically sourced and scrumptious. She somehow manages to create jewellery that is achingly cool but also accessible for everyone (while running around after a very energetic two year old). She’s also recently taken on retail space at no 67 Rose Street in Edinburgh. You can find her there, or at the Coburg House studios where she has a new jewellery showcase starting this coming weekend.
“A wee bit of business wisdom that I’m really only getting comfortable with in recent years is that you don’t have to say yes to every piece of work that presents itself. Sometimes I’m not the right person for a job and knowing when to say no is a valuable skill to have in my arsenal. I think a lot of us (women) have been taught that our role is to make everyone else happy without regard for our own needs and that has to change for us to feel valuable and fulfilled in our careers. The benefits of learning to say no have meant: I can spend more time giving my son my full attention, I have time to make new things that engage me creatively and I feel less anxious about every single thing!”
4. Cherith Harrison of Cherith Harrison
Cherith and I first crossed paths while working stalls at the West End Fair in Edinburgh during the Fringe but really got to know each other on the Trade Fair circuit. I’ve always been really impressed by Cherith’s boldness and vision. She thinks big, she isn’t scared to be ambitious, she’s brilliant with her customers, she lights up the room. We had babies around about the same time and shared business plans for coping with maternity leave. I love that she is willing to share knowledge and contacts.
“I have been running my home and giftware business for 9.5 years and I genuinely don’t understand where that time has gone! I love what I do and I am so grateful to be able to do what I am doing for a living. There have been lots of highs over the years and there have also been plenty of lows, lows that have really tested my physical ability and mental capacity to push through and keep going. Trying to navigate running a business whilst playing mum to the world’s most active toddler and maintaining a sense of balance throughout a pandemic for one has certainly been my hardest juggling act to date, and one which I’m not nailing in the slightest – but I am trying! My supportive family and wonderful customers (the best cheerleaders EVER!) are brilliant at keeping me upbeat whenever I feel overwhelmed and in need of encouragement, but what really keeps me going is quite simply my passion for drawing and creating beautiful, functional, practical and affordable gifts out of my designs.
I would always encourage anyone wanting to start a business to go for it (assuming of course they have done their market research and have a solid plan in place etc), it can be incredibly rewarding but when the lows happen (and they will) you are going to largely be relying on your passion for whatever it is you are doing to get you through those times.
If you don’t personally LOVE the product or service you are offering but are starting a business because you have identified a gap in the market and a need for your product/service then your WHY for starting it needs to be incredibly strong and you need to have bags of drive, patience, determination and motivation.
In doing what I do I have met lots of lovely business owners who, over the last 9.5 years have become my friends as well as confidantes, including Hannah! I highly recommend making the effort in creating connections and establishing a business tribe so you have a pool of people you can go to for advice as well as offer your own support and expertise.”
5. Gemma Livingstone of Polar Bears & Navy
Gemma and I met a loooong time ago. She was the first person I met at university, age 17, when we were in the same flat in first year accommodation. We then lived together all through uni. She did Law, I did Divinity. Now I’m an artist and Gemma has a start-up fashion company. I wanted to feature Gemma here because I absolutely love the values of her brand. All the clothes she designs and makes are ethically sourced and made to the highest standards. They are made to measure. They have a lifetime guarantee – you can send them back for repairs. She’s using her talent and passion to tackle fast fashion and make a difference.
“If you’d like to begin your own business, start. You’ll learn as you go. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from friends and family who have lined up to help me. Make lots of friends who believe in what you’re doing. They will keep you going! Someone also said to me ‘your latest collection doesn’t define you’ and it’s so true. There will always be things you want to do differently. When there isn’t, you’ve run out of ideas for your next collection!”
6. Flora Collingwood-Norris of Collingwood-Norris
Flora runs her luxury knitwear brand here in the Borders. I love the colours she choses and the lovely softness of everything. Flora either makes the pieces by hand or they are made in small batches by a local textile mill. There’s such a strong tradition of textiles in the Borders that it is lovely to see exciting independent brands be part of that. Flora knows her industry, knows her business, has confidence in it, and produces a really high quality and beautiful product. She’s also wildly talented at visible mending. Like, it’ll blow your mind.
“There are so many things I’ve learnt over the last five years of running Collingwood-Norris.
I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is not to compare myself to other people- something I constantly have to remind myself not to do! It’s easy to look at other businesses and want to be where they are, but I have to constantly remind myself that my journey should be led by the things that matter to me, and it’s ok if my business progresses in its own way at a pace that works for me.”
7. Catherine Cole of Peonie Cole
Catherine’s brand is a magical world of florals and pink and pretty. She lived in the Borders for a few years a while back and befriended me at a local show. She is a designer, she runs the Peonie Cole brand, she hand-makes all the textile products, and she juggles it all with being mum to baby Tabitha. She’s also very good at Instagram with over 24 thousand followers (which I assume is both blessing and challenge).
“Something I’ve learnt from running Peonie Cole is that it’s so important to be yourself and communicate with your customers. I’ve used Instagram for a number of years now to share my work and behind the scenes at my business. I find it’s a fantastic way for my customers to get to know me and what inspires me to create my work. I also love seeing people share my products in their homes too, always a pinch yourself moment I think!”
8. Emily Sidewell of By Emily Jewellery
Emily is a new friend and one I haven’t met in person yet! (Although we have zoomed, which is the new reality yeah?) Ross gave me an acorn necklace of hers for my birthday. I haven’t taken it off yet. Emily and I are working on a collaboration for Emily’s next collection which launches really soon. Her jewellery is inspired by stories and words. My acorn comes from her Peter Pan collection. I love that she creates a whole world of poetry and make-believe with her work.
“I think that one thing that probably surprised me the most in running my business is that designing and making beautiful jewellery is actually only a small part of my work. I’ve had to learn to sell and advertise, be organised, keep on top of my admin, all of those things are so important in keeping my business running through busy times and slow times. As my business grew I moved out of London from a shared workshop to a workshop at home. Working from home and away from the craft community I began in has meant that I’ve treasured being at shows even more, I love the opportunity to collaborate creatively and share the life as a small business owner with others of various disciplines. I’ve also had to learn the discipline to switch off from work and the importance of structure in my day- to have clear “work times” and “home times,” I remember the first advise I ever received at my first show was even if you work from home – get dressed and put on your work shoes. Its been a piece of advice I’ve always stuck too!”
9. Lauren Jamieson of The Colourful Edit
I was very excited to finally get to work with Lauren last month when she came to do a brand shoot for me here in the studio and in the woodland. I had such a nice time with her (and I didn’t believe it was possible to have a nice time while getting your photo taken). She is a stylist with a passion for colour which plays out through her accessories business as well as her styling and colour-matching services. Lauren is all about making women feel good about themselves.
“Running a successful creative business takes time. You need to be original and believe in your own product to be able to dream (and work hard) to see it to the future. You need to get your foundations right. You need support in terms of cheerleaders, mentors, your team and your community. You need to make mistakes and be open to opportunities. You learn from them and have no regrets knowing that you tried. You are the USP, no one else. Be the light, you never know who you are inspiring.”
10. Belinda Glennon of Belinda Glennon Ceramics
I first met Belinda when she was my neighbouring stallholder at a very busy Christmas fair. I loved seeing the visible delight her customers had to her ceramics. Her pieces are wild and detailed and lovely. They take people on journeys in their heads to days at the sea shore. I’ve very much enjoyed talking business and life with her over the past few years. Here’s a little bit of her business journey:
“I have been making ceramics since 2000. Beginning with evening classes and an immediate love of clay and an obsession with learning to throw.21 years on, after many courses and a degree, I’ve learned to throw, but with clay there is no end to the learning.I have found my style and feel confident creating work that expresses my love and strong connection to the Isle of Harris. My mother ‘s family were all from Harris and my most treasured childhood memories were all from the long summers we spent with my grandparents and family, out on the hills, milking the cows, hours spent on the beaches and in the sea, exploring the coast. My love of this place, although very changed now, is etched deep in me and I am grateful to have found a way to create work in response to that. Whatever your passion, allow yourself time to express it!”
And then finally, here’s my lessons:
I awarded myself 10 lessons because its my blog:
1. It’s ok to be a tortoise. Slow and steady can be just as good.
2. You don’t have to listen to everybody who offers advice (especially old white men).
3. The work/life balance thing is a constant battle but a worthwhile one. The overworked = successful myth is really damaging.
4. Keep kindness & trust at the core of your day, take time to connect, build relationships, share information
5. Stop to celebrate milestones, nomatter how small. Preferably with fizz.
6. People are amazing and will constantly surprise you
7. Find inspiration and support in other small, creative businesses (rather than comparing yourself and feeling miserable)
8. Limitations can make you more creative. Don’t wait until you have the perfect studio space or materials. Just do something now.
9. You do know what you’re doing. Trust your gut.
10. Consider paying someone to do the things you aren’t so good at.
What have you learnt recently?