Hope this week gets off to a great start for everybody. I’m pleased to publish our latest interview in our spring interview series on this grey and rainy Monday! I hope it brightens up your day!
Today’s interview is with Cheryl, who runs her own business, Pretty Swish, selling beautiful printed scarves as well as other ladies’ accessories, here is more about Cheryl…
Tell us a little bit about you and your business. When did you start and what made you decide to start your own business?
I am 41 years old and mum to two daughters age 11 and 8 years plus a stepson age 11 who stays with us at weekends.
I started the business in October 2012 after leaving my part time office job where I worked as an administrator and book-keeper. I had been thinking about starting a business for years, turning over ideas in my mind and generally driving my family and friends crazy with it! My incredibly supportive husband finally gave me the push I needed one evening over dinner when he told me to stop talking about it and just do it!!
Was it easy choosing a name for your business? What made you decide on Pretty Swish?
Choosing a name was harder than I first thought and my family and friends all got involved; sending me their ideas and suggestions! However, I wanted to find a name that was not already in use and almost everything I came up with belonged to someone else. I finally chose ‘Pretty Swish’ because everyone liked it and it was unique. This has been really useful as my website, eBay shop and Facebook and Twitter pages are all at the top of search engine results when you search for Pretty Swish.
What did you do before starting your business? Did you have any experience in selling accessories?
After getting my Honours Degree in Business and Tourism, I worked as an Overseas Holiday Rep which was great fun and provided me with a much needed boost in self confidence! After a couple of years I returned to the UK to work as a Deputy Restaurant Manager in an Italian themed restaurant. Eventually, the long and unsociable hours convinced me that an office job would be more desirable and I was lucky enough to land a job working for a tiny but fantastic award winning Greek specialist tour operator, which I loved. Sadly I was made redundant and, as a mother with two small children, the only local, part time job opportunities open to me were low paid office jobs. From 2008 to 2012 I worked for a small charity juggling a variety of tasks; administration, book-keeping, organising events, customer service etc.
I had no retail experience before I started Pretty Swish, but I had good administrative and customer service skills and a vague interest in fashion. I felt that with all the experience and skills I have gained working for other small businesses, this was something I could make a success of.
How did you feel when you had just launched your business?
I remember dropping my two children at the school gate and heading home thinking “this is it, my first day of being self employed – what have I done?”. I felt a bit lost to be honest – I had lost the structure and safety of being employed and it was all going to be down to me.
What were the main challenges or most important things to learn when you first started? (Juggling family, other work commitments etc?)
The main challenge for me was simply getting started and organised. At first I kept making excuses, the main one being that I had no proper work space; the family home was full of everybody else’s stuff. I needed a work/ storage space to call my own and a computer that actually worked! After a period of re-organisation and a fresh lick of paint, I finally gained an office (and a new computer) and a clutter free space to store my products. Everything felt easier once I had achieved this.
Did you get lots of support from family and friends?
Yes, everybody has been incredibly supportive. I could not have done this without the financial and emotional support provided by my husband. Also, my mother has thrown herself fully into the business; she is my unofficial business partner. She is always there to lend a hand whether it is sending out orders or doing the weekly stock take and she is usually next to me when we sell at fairs and local events.
Once you had started how long did it take for you to feel that it was an established business? Or if you’re still building your business at what point/milestone will you feel like you’ve established a successful business?
The business felt established very quickly; after just three months really because I started trading on the run up to the very busy Christmas period. I opened the eBay shop in October and by December orders were coming in faster than we could pack them (bearing in mind it was just my mother and I packing up scarves at the kitchen table!). By Christmas Day 2012 I had sold more scarves that I could possibly have imagined and had built up an impressive eBay feedback score that has been instrumental in the continued growth of the business.
Since then, the business has grown with the launch of a website, plus Facebook and Twitter pages. Pretty Swish goes out and about at weekends when we sell at fairs and events around Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The pop up boutique is a new arm to the business which I feel is going to be very important for future growth.
What was the first item that you sold? And how did it feel?
The first eBay order I received was for three scarves from a customer living in France. I could not believe that someone actually wanted to buy my products – and three of them in one transaction! I spent ages packing up that parcel as I wanted it to be perfect! When I took it to the post office, I realised that I had undercharged for postage to France and made a loss rather than a profit. It didn’t really matter as I was just so excited to make my first sale but after that I made sure that I paid more attention to the small details.
What items do you sell and what are your favourite products?
I sell ladies printed and lace scarves plus other accessories such as handbags, purses and phone covers. My favourite products are the printed scarves which are available in a whole variety of bold designs from dog prints to bunnies, butterflies and bird prints. I love the way customers react to them when we display them at fairs and local events – often we can’t serve them fast enough! I have recently introduced the Pretty Swish ‘pop up boutique’ where my mum and I take my products to local venues where there are potential customers. This has included a spa, a choir group and an adult education centre. This has proved to be surprisingly successful and the excited reaction that I get is confirmation that I am providing a product that people actually want and get a lot of pleasure out of.
What are the best things about running your own business?
I really enjoy being my own boss and working from home. I can play loud music whilst I work and go out for a spontaneous extended lunch break if I feel the urge! I don’t need anyone else’s permission; I make the decisions and when they turn out to be the right decisions, I reap the rewards. It is very satisfying.
What are the worst?
The worst aspect of running a business is that it penetrates every part of your life. There is no 9-5 and working from home means that my personal and work life is entwined and it can be hard to separate the two. Technology means that the business is always open and trying to balance this with the demands of family life can be really tricky. I often find it hard to switch off and relax; the business is always on my mind. This does at times have an adverse impact on my health as I am left feeling exhausted and guilty.
Is there anything you wished you’d known before you started that might help others?
Spend some time working out your costs properly or you will find you are barely breaking even or, even worse, be running at a loss. Small costs such as printing, packaging, petrol costs etc mount up.
I wish I’d understood the value of social media and networking and used it from the very beginning. My Facebook page has been up and running for a while but I have only just started to use it. Posting regularly and interacting with potential and previous customers has enabled me to build relationships and has really helped to increase my website sales.
I have also learnt that stalls are not just for selling but are a fantastic opportunity to collect customer information and promote my Facebook page so that the people who buy from me at events then become loyal longterm customers.
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement so far?
Getting out from behind my computer (and of my comfort zone) by selling my products at fairs and other events has been a big achievement for me. I started in Spring 2013 by attending small craft fairs and I do still like to support these events especially if it helps to support a local charity. However, this year I am also attending bigger and better events, even though I get very stressed and worked up about them! One weekend in February, I sold my products from my own marquee in the courtyard of a grand hall. Most of the other stalls were inside (warm and cosy) whereas my mother and I were outside braving the elements. It paid off though as we had record takings and big smiles on our faces by the time we were packing up the car to head home! We will be attending lots of other events throughout the rest of the year – now there’s no stopping us!
If you weren’t running your own business what do you think you would be doing?
I loved working in the travel industry but decent jobs in travel are thin on the ground where I live in Derbyshire and often involve a great deal of travelling which is almost impossible when you have children at home. Therefore if I wasn’t running my own business, I would probably still be working part time in an office somewhere and dreaming about starting a business!
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy the simple pleasures; life is too hectic as it is! There’s not much that can beat being slumped on the sofa with my children, watching a chic flick and eating chocolate muffins! However, I do also enjoy a country walk with a stop at the pub on the way home, or an early night and a good book.
I am lucky to have wonderful family support which means that I can escape very occasionally on a break with my husband knowing that the kids and the business are in good hands! I love ‘away from it all’ locations and my ideal break would be a week in a remote cottage in Brittany or on a Greek Island (the kind where there is no airport and you have to fly to another island and then travel on a boat to get there.)
What advice would you give to other mums thinking about starting up their own business?
Research your product thoroughly. You need to be fairly confident that there is a demand for your product and that it is practical and viable. I chose to sell scarves because they are easily obtainable (lots of UK based wholesalers out there), plus easy to store and to post. I would recommend visiting a trade fair such as the Spring or Autumn Fair where you can meet the get an idea about what to sell, meet the wholesalers and see the products firsthand. There are also seminars with free information about starting a business and experts on hand to advise you. The information and advice that I have gained from attending trade fairs has been invaluable and helped me enormously, particularly in terms of making purchasing decisions.
What plans do you have for your business in the future?
I want to continue to offer an exciting range of value for money products coupled with great customer service but I also want to grow the business. I plan to use social media (especially Facebook) and other marketing techniques such as Google Ad Words to increase the number of website sales so that I am not so dependent on eBay sales (which come with high costs). I also plan to attend events regularly and to take the pop up boutique to new venues.
I am also considering that I may need to employ a member of staff in order to cope with increased orders on the run up to Christmas. It’s an exciting time and the possibilities are endless, which is probably why I don’t sleep at night!
Where can we find out more about Pretty Swish?
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