Today we’re saying hello to Julia Walton of J. Walton Restoration, who I ‘met’ via social media through a friend. Julia restores furniture like chairs, clock cases, boxes, frames and harps. As someone working in a somewhat gendered industry, she’s had to face some different issues from the rest of us. She moved across from Fine Art to Furniture Restoration, keen to use her creativity to make a living, and is enjoying the flexibility of self-employment, as so many of us do.
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
I set up as “J. Walton Restoration” about a year and a half ago. I kept the name non gender-specific. As I’ve been doing more joinery work, it’s come as a shock to me how many people are surprised to find a woman in the business… and don’t realise how patronising it might be for them to say so to my face.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
Working for myself as self-employed has made it a lot less complicated to get jobs from different people, as work available can fluctuate from month to month. I can (supposedly) be in charge of my own schedule and ’employers’ don’t have the expense of a full-time employee when their workload decreases.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
My first degree was in Fine Art. I was lucky enough to sell a few paintings but really didn’t have the inclination to follow through with the schmoozing which seemed to be required to make a living in the art industry. Retraining in Furniture Restoration allowed me to get back to making things, using my skills and creativity in a way I could make a living.
Had you run your own business before?
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 pretty much worked full time from the start, getting work right off the bat through my university work placement.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Stand up for yourself. For example, If you’re working for someone who has their own crazily complicated payment plan say, “No, this is how I work, this is how I invoice”, end of story.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Sell yourself more, you’re actually quite good 🙂
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Right from the start, I should have tried to bring in jobs from different sources to future-proof myself somewhat, rather than relying on a small pool which can run dry very easily.
What are you glad you did?
I’m so glad I retrained. The saying about getting a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life is so true. I’m also glad I’ve put money away when at all possible so I’ve not had to panic too much when work has hit a dry spell.
What’s your top business tip?
Hmm, I’m really not very into the whole “business” thing. I guess if you’re not happy, don’t be afraid to bail out and move on. Life’s too short to be a slave to a regular income. Oh, that makes me sound like a right hippy… not the square I actually am!
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
At the moment I’ve diversified into joinery and general woodwork as those are the jobs I’ve been able to find. People are reluctant to pay money to have furniture restored but open to paying to have bespoke pieces made from scratch. It’s hard to get through to people that what they are paying for is mostly my time, and repairing can take just as long as putting something clean and new together from scratch
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Hopefully contentedly plodding along much as I am now (maybe with a bit more money coming in, though). I can only do as much as I can so don’t want to increase my workload too much. I’d rather enjoy my work and do it well: I might as well be doing something different and have a job that pays more money if I’m not going to enjoy myself.
So, some unique struggles here and then some common issues in that first couple of years of running your business: growing in self-confidence, toughening up when dealing with clients, and toughening up your terms and conditions, realising the need for diversification – it’s interesting how similar these lessons are, even across wildly different industry sectors, isn’t it! And I don’t think she sounds like a hippy – many of us don’t like to be tarred with the “Business” brush if that means being someone we aren’t, and it’s very good advice that she gives, too! Here’s how Julia was getting on in August 2014.
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 books.