Welcome to Helen Earp from Sweetheart Designs, another new interviewee for the series. Helen saw a post about this series on Facebook and told me how much she enjoyed reading through the previous interviews (thanks, Helen!). Helen makes decorative plaques and shapes and words, all highly personalised and with a quirky look that is going down well and fits with the current trend for the hand-made, colourful look that we’re seeing in the resurgence of interest in knitting, bunting and all things crafty.
But of course, our crafty friends have their issues, mainly around the time it takes to make good quality craft items and the bottlenecks around significant events and holidays (I’m glad there isn’t a Christmas Editing Boom, that’s all I can say!). Read on to find out what Helen’s learned during her first year in business, how she made the jump from pubs to plaques and how she juggles work and family …
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
Sweetheart_Designs – set up in August 2012.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I decided not to return to work after having my twins, so needed something to keep me occupied – (other than changing nappies, etc.) that makes me feel more than JUST a mommy.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I enjoy it: designing and painting has always relaxed me, and I take great enjoyment from seeing people’s reactions when they receive my items.
Had you run your own business before?
Previous to turning to my crafty side I managed pubs for 11 years, so I had some business background.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I started small, I advertised my wooden bunting on eBay. I only had 1 sale in over 8 months on there, so it didn’t really work for me. I then launched a Facebook business page – which is where the highest percentage of my sales come from. I also attend 2 craft fairs a month, sometimes even one a week, all over the West Midlands, which helps to spread the word about my business.
I had no idea how successful I would be when I launched, it was just pot luck, I guess, along with hours of networking and advertising, and a genuine love and passion for my products.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
To never undersell yourself and realise the value of your time. I started off charging a ridiculously small fee for my work, not really taking into account the time an effort I put into each piece.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Not to give up in difficult/quiet periods, and to plan seasonal events such as Christmas well in advance.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Christmas 2012 was a nightmare and a blessing. I had so many orders, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Team that with 7 month old twin babies, and I really did struggle to manage my time properly.
I have put steps in place so that this year I get to spend quality time with my family, and am not up working until 3am most nights.
I will have a cut-off point for orders this year, and also I will have some wooden shapes pre-cut and painted ready for personalisation, instead of painting each one as the orders come in.
What are you glad you did?
Stuck with it. So many people said I wouldn’t have time to run a business as well as looking after the girls. But I have always worked since the age of 14. I am not entitled to benefits as my husband works. I want to earn my own money, that’s all I am used to doing. Everything I do work-wise is to benefit my babies. I work when they nap, and when they go to bed. This does mean that I sometimes work until the early hours, but I love what I do.
What’s your top business tip?
Don’t try to do too many things at once. Find a product that sells well, that you enjoy making, and perfect it, before trying to expand your range.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I have grown massively, but it took time and many, many long hours of networking, sharing advice and promoting my business. Customers won’t just fall into your lap, and lots of groundwork is required.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Ideally, I would like to be cutting ALL my own shapes, rather than just a percentage of them. I would love to have my own website up and running and I also have plans to approach a gift shop to see if I can get certain products stocked there.
See, Helen says it’s all pot luck, but then she puts an enormous about of effort and groundwork into marketing and networking as well as making her products – most “luck” is actually more about hard work in the world of business! I’m fascinated by the Facebook success of craft businesses – I have a Facebook page for Libro, but it doesn’t really do much or receive many comments. Talking to colleagues, there is a real split between products and services and how well they do on Facebook respectively. Have you found this?
Helen’s answer to my last question: may I contact you in a year’s time for an update, made me smile, as she’s really “got” the idea of this series, and that cheers me when I’m chasing people for the updates that will help them get more clicks through to their sites, in essence: “That would be amazing, I wonder how I will compare to my targets in the last question in a year’s time!”
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.