How to Start Your Own Business - learn from my mistakes
When passion meets opportunity...
I have loved all things celtic for as long as I can remember.
When our family started taking annual (sometimes bi-annual) holidays on the Isle of Skye, my love for celtic designs grew even more intense.
I found it strange that the gift shops didn't feature anything like that. Scottish thistles and scottie dogs were everywhere - but no celtic knots or designs. When we visited Dunvegan Castle, seat of the Clan MacLeod, I was struck by the lack of MacLeod related memorabilia.
I spent a long time chatting to the lady who ran the gift shop - and yes - if I could design something they would be happy to stock it.
This was the first step in starting up my own business. Passion met opportunity and I was up and running - but that was just the beginning...
Picture Credit Author's Own Cross Stitch Design
I had to learn how to create a celtic knot
When I got home, I bought this book and began to learn how to create celtic knots. I spent hours hunched over graph paper, working out how the endless 'over, under, over, under' knots worked.
Ready-to-Use Celtic Designs
Then I bought this one. I was looking for help and inspiration anywhere that I could find it. The Dover Art series was such a huge help to me! This book helped me to branch out into pictish creatures.
159 Celtic Designs
This one helped with the animal (zoomorph) designs and led me into celtic lettering.
Celtic Designs for Artists and Craftspeople
I was on a roll and just had to have this. Owning the CD made me feel very professional and it was state of the art back then. It's still a great resource for celtic design.
Celtic and Old Norse Designs
Another helpful and inspirational book. I just couldn't get enough of these. I still love them now.
First lesson learned...don't lose focus!
I got so bogged down with teaching myself how to create celtic knots that I lost site of my prime objective - supplying MacLeod related items to Dunvegan Castle on Skye. Luckily, I kept all of my knot designs. That proved very helpful later on.
I realised that I needed a better system of designing and took to the internet. As usual, Amazon came up with the goods and I bought an inexpensive piece of software that helped me design straight onto a graph with the click of a mouse. The software also enabled me to scan pictures in. This sounds easy and the scanning part was.
You often see cross stitch charts for sale on eBay and I bought a couple of the best sellers to see what they offered. I was stunned. These people had just scanned in a picture and printed out a chart. A chart with up to 1,000 colours. Who would bother to stitch that? Also, it was fairly obvious that the cost to stitch one of these would be crazy.
So I went back to my scanned-in designs and spent a LOT of time reducing the numbers of colours down and softening edges. My MacLeod designs were taking shape.
Picture Credit 'Dunvegan Castle' designed by the author, faeriesong
My MacLeod designs were taking shapeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lesson Two...timing is important!
After all of that, I realised that I had run out of time to supply ready-to-sell cross stitch kits to Dunvegan Castle. The tourist season was well and truly over. I had a major pity-party and then picked myself up off the floor and had a re-think.
I looked back at my knot designs and realised I had a LOT. If I wanted to sell designs the only way to go (until tourist season started again) was to make my own website.
SkyeStitches was my first attempt at a website. It no longer exists but it was my first love.
Image Credit Author's previous website that no longer exists
Lesson three...life gets in the way.
Everything was starting to pick up. The only thing that I really wished I had was a home on Skye. Not just for our family but for the business too. Would people want to buy a design inspired by the Isle of Skye from somebody living near Oxford? Hasn't got the same ring to it, has it?
They say be careful what you wish for. Due to a series of completely unforeseen events (which is a whole other story) we got an opportunity to relocate. To Skye...um, no. Just a few weeks before, the powers that be had taken the Toll off the immensely long bridge which connects Skye to mainland Scotland. House prices on Skye shot up overnight. We couldn't afford to move there. Cue heartbreak.
So we looked further afield and widened our net from the Inner Hebrides to the Outer Hebrides. House prices on the Isle of Lewis were much better. We bought a croft house with six acres running down to the sea.
We were extremely happy but what effect would this have on Skye Stitches?
Our new home in the Outer HebridesClick thumbnail to view full-size
So, we relocated. House needed a ton of work. Money was going out - and none was coming in.
I abandoned Skye Stitches as we now lived on the Isle of Lewis. Abandoned but not forgotten.
I did a Return to Nursing degree module but there were no jobs available, so I took a job working in broadband support. All the time, the cross stitch business was pulling at me.
After a year of phone work, enough was enough. I approached Highlands and Island Enterprise with my business plan. They liked it! They gave me a grant of Â£3,000 (which I didn't need to pay back...woohoo!) and that got me started. I made the jump and left my broadband support job to tackle my business full time.
Image Courtesy of thebodiebunch.blogspot.com
My website is born!
I spent a huge wodge of the grant on buying a domain name from 1and1:celtic-cross-stitch.com and on a website hosting package which I bought from Actinic. It was going to be my window on the world and because it was my shopfront to creative folk, it had to look good. It took me weeks and weeks to build but I loved every moment of it.
Note: The website is still up but not taking sales. Note to self - sort this out!
Image Credit Screen Shot of Author's own website
Update! Breaking News!
My darling daughter has now taken both me and my ailing, no, let's face it - dead, website, in hand.
She is a computer whizz kid and has now taken down my website, transferred the domain from Actinic to one.com and will, in due course, install a Wordpress blog onto the brand new website which will also enable digital downloads of my designs.
So, if you go to celtic-cross-stitch.com now, all you will see is a holding page.
I will update again as soon as anything new happens. Isn't she amazing? And all because I wrote this lens. Wow. The power of Squidoo in action - it's breathtaking!!!
News Flash Image Courtesy of ohsuchislife.wordpress.com
My Celtic Knots found a new home on the websiteClick thumbnail to view full-size
...and so did my Pictish AnimalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
...and Some Hebridean WildlifeClick thumbnail to view full-size
...and a Few 'general' DesignsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lesson Four - It's not all about the designs...
I loved designing. And now that it was my full time job, I threw myself into it with a passion. I bought new cross stitch design software which took everything to a whole new level. I'm ok on the creative side.
What, I discovered, I am not ok with is the paperwork side of things. Dull, dull, dull - but sadly very necessary when you're running your own business. Here in the UK, I had to register as Self Employed which was easy enough. You just go to the Government website and click in a few boxes.
I also had to keep track of what I was spending and what was coming in. With hindsight, it would have suited me best to just make a chart of 'in' and 'out' and fill it in every time either of those things occurred.
I attended Business Seminars run by HIghlands and Islands Enterprise. They were very helpful and I understood it all when I was in the room listening to the Tutor. Then I'd get outside and think "What?". Having been through the process of starting and running my own business - I have learned the one thing that would work for me, if I ever do it again (which I'd love to one day). That simple thing is 'KISS' which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Lesson Five - give yourself a salary
I started a blog called Hebridean Living and then came the great day when I could announce that I'd been selling at the Craft Fair. So much excitement - I felt I was in Heaven.
This was all early days and I was selling designs all over the World - America, Canada, Germany, Holland. But there was one big problem. I wasn't selling enough - and having spent a lot of money on the website and then all the items that you need to make up cross stitch kits - there wasn't enough left to live on.
It came back to me that we'd been told at a Seminar to give ourselves a salary - which I hadn't done. Being the passionate, creative type, I hadn't bothered with the day to day nitty gritty.
Photo Courtesy of My Own Blog
If life gives you lemons, throw them back and yell "I WANTED CHOCOLATE!"
Two things happened simultaneously to finally kill of my business.
1. My beloved software decided to develop a bug. A major bug. It would no longer convert my designs into charts. When you're selling cross stitch kits, this is a huge downer. The lovely guy who designed and sold the software spent hours with me, trying to get it going again but the horrible truth gradually dawned. I no longer had any means of designing. And - I had no money left in the pot to buy a replacement.
2. The recession hit the UK. Everyone was suddenly watching the pennies and 'luxury' items were the hardest hit. That included my sales, which dwindled to nothing.
The dream was over. It was time to go back to the day job. It broke my heart.
Photo Courtesy of dolcevitadiaries.com
My main mistake and how I could have fixed it
I didn't create an easy system of monitoring how much money went in and how much went out and didn't keep enough money aside for emergencies (my software dying)
How to improve this:Right from day one, make a system that you can understand and be methodical about keeping it up to date. Forget fancy spreadsheets - a table in a Word doc of in and out would work.Keep a running total column at the end so you know what you have left at a glance.