Article by Laura Wilson,
The Apprentice is back on TV and I know I’ll be glued to it over the next few months. It’s easy to laugh at the bad decisions the contestants make – but having started a business from scratch two years ago I can admit it’s a huge learning curve.
It all came by chance while I was on maternity leave, coping with the demands of new born twins and getting through those early months day by day in a haze of exhaustion. Having visitors was always a welcome distraction, and it was during a visit from my friend Sangeeta (who was pregnant) that the seeds of our business began.
We were taking about the new phase in our lives, ‘nesting’ and the desire to learn the skills to make the things we loved, like making perfectly scented candles in vintage teacups, or learning how ice a cupcake beautifully. There and then we decided to run short one-off classes that were fun and relaxed, for people like us with busy lives but wanted to do something creative. We wanted contemporary and covetable – and after a couple of hours be able to take home a finished product you’d be proud to keep.
The logistics of setting up and launching was daunting for two novices, not to mention with twin babies and a pregnancy thrown into the mix. But first things first, a name! We loved ‘I Made It Myself’ and luckily imadeitmyself.co.uk was available as a domain name, we registered with 123-Reg.co.uk and we were in business (well sort of!)
Next we registered as a Limited Company with Companies House, and set up a business bank account. Getting free business banking is best, if you’re paying charges for every transaction it soon adds up. And it’s a bonus if you’re bank manager is as child friendly as ours, he helped haul a double buggy upstairs and even did a spot of baby jiggling on his lap while paperwork was being signed!
Meanwhile we were working on developing ideas for classes, keeping an eye on trends, finding talented and charismatic teachers, searching for a lovely venue, and looking for ways to let people know about us. While social media, leaflets, and advertising work, never underestimate word of mouth. Tell everyone what you’re doing, we also found some great teachers that way. Also go for personal recommendations when outsourcing work, an expensive lesson we learnt the hard way with our website!
We’ve been up and running with our workshops for eighteen months now, and building our repertoire of workshops. One thing that took us by surprise though was the interest for private parties. (A good tip is to be open to your business evolving in a different way than you first envisaged.) We’ve had crafty hen parties, baby showers, birthdays and corporate classes, and we’ve even taken our first Christmas 2012 party booking!
One the biggest challenges for us is the childcare, but we are both fortunate our parents live locally and give us one day a week, otherwise we’re emailing first thing in the morning or phoning during naptimes and evenings (its definitely not a 9-5 job!) There is also a lot of juggling going on, Sangeeta once took a call from a Daily Telegraph journalist while trying to change a nappy, and I’ve found my toddlers playing tea parties with our vintage teacups and saucers while my back was turned!
I think the advantage of running a business with a friend is you’ve got someone to bounce ideas off, share the workload and have a laugh with. Sangeeta and I have been friends for 20 years and both have a TV production background which has come in very useful. Crucially though we are both mums, and being in the same boat means we can empathise if the other has had a bad night, or if something comes up. But going into business with a friend is not something to be taken lightly, it can go disastrously wrong if you don’t see eye to eye or have different expectations. In some cases friends have fallen out for good, and even ended up taking legal action.
Ultimately like the increasing number of mums setting up businesses from home, this is about spending those precious pre-school years with my children and doing a business I’m passionate about around them. Everyone’s after that Holy Grail of the work/life balance, we haven’t got there yet but we’re giving it a go!
For more info on Laura and Sangeeta’s workshops visit www.imadeitmyself.co.uk
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