It’s Small Business Chat update time again: today we’re catching up with long-term interviewee Pat Wilkes from gift company Starlight Keepsakes and Gifts, (formerly Starlight Gifts by Pat) who we first met back in June 2013, then in August 2014 and August 2015. This time last year, this was Pat’s plan: “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”. Sounds like a good plan to me: let’s see how she got on!
Hello again, Pat! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
I think I am happier with where I am now even more so through circumstances, I have changed my job role completely in my day job, and now work just two days which I am loving. This means I have more time to concentrate on what makes me happy which is creating and making. So I may not have to retire as early but continue with a better life balance between needing an income and ploughing time into my small business and having time to enjoy doing other things.
That all sounds very positive! What has changed and what has stayed the same?
The biggest change is of course more time to spend on the business and I am still coming to terms with limiting myself with working at home its a great temptation to work 12 hour days when I am enjoying what I am doing. So I need to work on this over the next few months as I am still quite new to all this. I have taken part in two exhibitions, which I had never thought about doing before, and also had a piece of my work used to advertise a BBC 4 programme on crafts: this was amazing and has given me the confidence to look at doing this sort of thing again. I will also now have a go at things I had never thought of making before. Some work and some don’t, but I give it a go.
What has stayed the same? I still stock a few shops and have spread my wings as far as Wales now, which is lovely, and had one stockist close to another open up, and each shop is slightly different so it gives me chance to make a variety of gifts and keepsakes and not become stale with my designs. I am doing fewer shows and fairs but choose carefully where I go now.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I continue to learn all the time and have learnt that it can be a cut-throat business in some respects. Not everyone will think like you, so do your research and look into things before you jump into anything.
I have learned that you need to spend just as many hours promoting and getting your work seen as you do making, including getting on social media and building a following. That will help spread the word and you can also make some wonderful new friends who have similar interests.
I think the only thing that many of us would like to have known was that we would have to work even harder to make sales with the economy, as it is making a living for the small business has become much harder as customers do not always have the cash to spend and will be more selective. Your products need to stand out and be good quality, so making people aware that what you produce is quality and bespoke and cannot be found on the High Street is a must.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Just be prepared to put in the hours and realise it can take years not months to get a business going. Some will grow fast, but slow and sure is the way to go – you stand more chance of being around longer. Make sure what you produce is good quality, and don’t copy others’ work: it’s never a good idea.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
I would love to know tips on building a following and getting more sales how do they promote their business. Do they find websites work? Or is Social Media the way to go ??
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
I really hope in a similar position as I am now good work life balance and the business holding its own, still stocking shops and doing the odd event. Of course it would be wonderful to have more sales, as most small businesses must be thinking. Look forward to speaking to you next year.
And I’m looking forward to speaking to Pat again next year, too. I love the hints and tips, very good, solid ones for the makers out there. It’s interesting to see what people are doing as the economy doesn’t do so well: I think making people aware of the quality of your work is a must. I personally use my website and blog to promote my business, and also word of mouth: in the early days, I did actually ask people to recommend me to others, although it can be hard to do that, I know!
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.