After a brief summer hiatus, we’re up and running with Small Business Chat Updates, and today it’s time to chat with Sarah Hodgkins from Charlotte Designs, which is a mural company, although now branching out into other related areas, as we shall see. We met Sarah for the very first time last year – so she’s a newbie to this interview series, if not to the business, being in her tenth year this year (congratulations!). When I asked her then where she wanted to be in a year’s time, she replied “More of the same, really. The commercial side is growing faster than the domestic side and I see that continuing. I would like to be doing more in the dementia field and more workshops.” Well, as usual, things haven’t gone quite as predicted (I think they do for about 1 in 20 of my interviewees, on average), so let’s see how she’s getting on …
Hello again, Sarah; it’s good to have you back. So, Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
The short answer to that is no, not really. Business overall is good and I am up on where I was this time last year.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I have seen a sharp increase in the amount of commercial work I do and I have seen the schools work increase. But the care home work, which I thought would increase, hasn’t and I am finding a lot of resistance to it which is very surprising, not to mention disappointing.
However, the biggest difference is that due to health issues, I am having to change the focus of the business. I am looking to launch a range of wall stickers which I intend to sell online. I have recently applied for government funding to help with this project which I hope to launch in October.
There are also more mural artists starting up, this is both good and bad. Many are very cheap and undercut me considerably, but you do get what you pay for and I am more confident in my pricing than ever before. I have also seen a resurgence for faux effects, which is great for me. I expect to do more of this type of work going forward.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I have learnt that there are a lot of people who do their job blindly, without taking any notice of the glaring, overwhelming evidence in front of them. And that trying to inform such people is a thankless and fruitless task. I wish I had known that my back was going to give up sooner, I would have given serious consideration to the sticker project long ago.
Any more hints and tips for people?
No matter how good your product or service, if people don’t get it, they won’t buy it. Have several markets for your product or service, that way, if one market takes a downturn, you will have other markets to see you through.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
This is going to be a very different year for Charlotte Designs. I will be launching my new stickers and starting to offer more canvasses for sale. I am also exploring more workshop options. I see myself relying less on mural painting and more on other skills to generate income and managing an online business. Which is very different and way outside my comfort zone.
It’s interesting to have to step outside your comfort zone in your tenth year, but it also shows a persistence and flexibility which I believe will serve Charlotte well. Balancing your workload across a range of different markets is also, I think, key – it’s something that I do, and I encourage other people to do, too. I’ll be very interested to find out how Sarah’s doing next year, and I’m sure we all wish her well with both her health and the new development of her business (do post a comment if you’ve had a similar moment of stepping on through new areas in an established business!
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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.