Hello! It’s Small Business Chat update time, and today we’re catching up with Pat Wilkes from gift company Starlight Gifts By Pat, who we first met back in June 2013, when she was just getting going with the gift side of things. We spoke to her last in August 2014; at that point, Pat said her aim was this: “Hopefully the business will continue to grow and I will be looking for more outlets to sell from and reduce the number of fairs again. I want to try selling online at some point. I would like to think that eventually I will reach my goal of using my creativity to make a living.” So, how’s she getting on? Read on to find out!
Hello, Pat, and it’s lovely to chat with you again. Are you where you thought you would be when you looked forward a year ago?
Yes, I think I am. I still have a day job part time and I think that it will remain this way until I can retire in a couple of years. The plan has changed a little in that respect, but my long-term plan is I retire from my current job then and add to my pension with my small business and see how that goes. In the meantime, I am continuing to build the business gradually and slowly in the hope that this will be sustainable long term. My business was in the black this year and not the red, which was a big bonus for me and I am really happy about that.
What’s changed and what has stayed the same?
I think my mind-set has changed towards the end goal and I’ve realised that I do need to put the business out there in order to continue to build it. I now have stock in four shops, with the possibility of another being added in the near future. I now only do a very small number of events and they will be more concentrated around the run-up to Christmas, and I vet events really hard before agreeing to take part.
I would say a lot has stayed the same but has been tweaked along the way as things evolve and I learn.
What have you learned and what do you wish you had known a year ago?
I would say that I continue to learn all the time and I am much more sceptical about event organisers and how they go about things, for instance how much promotion they do and how much they spend on this.
I am much more wary of other makers, having had first-hand experience of ideas being copied. We put ourselves out there, proud of what we make, on things like social media and it’s difficult to take on board and can be very disheartening. I no longer give away where I get materials from, so I suppose I am not as open as I used to be with customers and fellow makers. I think this comes with experience, and I have found it difficult, being such an open person.
As for what I wish I had known, that can only be that this year has not been the greatest for the small business, and that includes the shops I supply, all of whom have taken a drop in sales. This appears to be across the board, so if I had known, I would not have doubted myself and what I do. It’s really not down to things on a personal level, but a nationwide problem with customers having less money to spend on non-essentials.
Do you have any more hints and tips for readers?
Always vet events before signing up – speak to other makers who have done the fairs.
Always research any shops you are going to supply, find out what the percentage is for commissions and check what sales are like, is there good footfall, etc.
Get the business promoted by doing things like these interviews with Liz.
Find out what works for you in social media: there is more than just Facebook.
Speak to any maker and they will have moments of self-doubt: it’s all perfectly normal. No one is always happy all the time with what they make.
Evolve: find out what sells and what your customer base is.
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?
I hope to be another year closer to retiring and being able to use my small business as an income, and I hope to be still supplying shops and doing a few events, as I do enjoy meeting my customers. I hope the business continues to grow and that I keep on learning and it all stays in the black.
Congratulations to Pat for moving into the black – a good step when you’re a maker who has to buy supplies! Thank you for the mention of these interviews – a few people recently have mentioned to me that they find them a very good marketing tool, and that makes me very happy! I would be interested to know whether other makers have found this a particularly bad year and what they’ve done to combat this – do contribute a comment if you’ve got anything to say on that point. And best of luck to Pat for a good year ahead!
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.