Starting your own business (a dummy’s guide)

Shirt: J Crew (old). Jeans: £22 in the sale, Asos Maternity. Heels: Zara (old but buy similar from Marks & Spencer here). Office chair: £75, Habitat. Desk: £295, Habitat. Photograph: Christopher O’Donnell.

It’s no secret I am pretty clueless when it comes to being business savvy. Coming from the creative editorial side of magazines rather than commercial, I’ve always lacked that business side of the brain.

Saying that, this year is a big one in moving forward with the blog. You probably won’t notice much different going on here, but behind the scenes I’m working on streamlining everything into a fully fledged business. I made a lot of changes last year in the lead-up to this (read about how I reduced my work stress levels here) and thought I’d share some thoughts about my experiences (and also ask some amazing women about what they wish they’d known, too) in the hope of helping others who are thinking of setting up on their own.

1. It doesn’t necessarily happen overnight.

Be patient. I set up as a sole trader over 7 years ago now (alongside my full-time job). I used to think setting up a business meant writing a business plan, securing a loan etc but I have chosen to do it in my own time, when it’s right for me. I waited to move forward each step only when I could afford to, and chose to grow slowly rather than hit the ground running. It’s not for everyone but it has been a successful journey for me.

2. Learn to rely on others.

My business didn’t truly flourish until I employed other people. There comes a point when sometimes you can’t manage it all yourself – I now work with talented photographers and videographers, I trust their edits, I have an agent who helps me with strategy and contracts and an office manager who is the font of all knowledge (both business and personal!). These people helping me means I can get on with my daily tasks and feel less stressed in the knowledge that the other stuff is being taken care of.

3. Remember why you’re doing it.

Or perhaps, what motivates you. I remember reading this post by Sara at Me & Orla and it really resonated with me. For some people, money motivates them, for others success, for me I knew it was stability. Now we are settled in our house with manageable mortgage payments, my husband and I are after a stable, regular salary and a separation from work and life. This is the basis of most decisions I make for my business: do I have to take this on? Will I/my business benefit from it? It the answer is not really, I don’t do it.

4. Be wary of hidden costs.

Sorry, this is supposed to be a positive post but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention these! And it’s a reality you have to address when working for yourself. I found out the hard way through Maternity Allowance – I’ve been saving for the past 6 months but still have saved barely enough to pay myself to take 2 months off. And although entitled to government Maternity Allowance, those payments don’t even cover my mortgage and to claim it, I wouldn’t be allowed to work as well. So again, we’re learning to compromise and figuring out how to muddle through a bit of a shared parental leave – and again, the downside of freelance is always outweighed, for me, with the pros of being able to take time off when I can to look after our baby. Other things to consider are VAT returns (if applicable, and if not, you end up paying a lot of VAT on things like office spaces etc, which add up if you can’t claim it back), business council tax (yes, if you rent a space you have to pay another set of these), internet (unfortunately I was tied into a overly expensive internet provider supported by my office – it’s double the price of what I pay at home for half the speed) and bank account fees (don’t expect, like me, for banks to fall over themselves for your business – you’re legally obliged to set up a business bank account with fees once you set up as a business, so you’re pretty much locked in!).

I’m not saying it’s all bad….I’m more saying ‘do your research’ – especially with affordability. Always understand what you’re letting yourself in for, and never be afraid to ask questions – even if they seem obvious/stupid.

So that’s my twopence worth…and here are some wise words from some amazing inspiring women on the subject too:

Naomi Mdudu, from The Lifestyle Edit (a MUST read for creative entrepreneurs). We actually recorded a podcast together, all about how I started out in the industry and where I see the future of my site. You can listen to it here).

“It took me years to invest in outsourcing and I wish I’d done it sooner rather than struggling to do everything myself. I know, I know, you’re afraid of spending a lot of money, but the truth is, the more time you have to work ‘on’ your business, the more time you have to earn money for your business. If you’re doing everything, chances are, you’re dropping the ball on certain things and even if new business was to come along, you wouldn’t be able to take it on. When I finally invested in people, I started to enjoy a level of freedom I just hadn’t experienced before. In that freedom, I was able to think creatively again.

The more I outsource to people who are experts in the areas that I’m not, the more my business grows. Now, I’m constantly thinking about ways I can expand my team to add people who are passionate about the areas that most impact our bottom line.

Today, my days are guided by how I want to feel and not just feeling a slave to a to-do-list. I carve time for myself to pray, exercise, meditate, listen to podcasts and enjoy a cup of tea in the morning before even thinking about touching my phone. I make time for all of the things that make me feel good and balanced, which then makes me far better at my job.”

Sarah Deane launched her candle brand, Evermore London, in 2015. You can follow her beautiful Instagram feed here.

“When starting a new business, there’s a load of things I wasn’t aware of, but I would say the main thing for me is time management and how tricky it can be! Once you’re outside of a 9-5 office environment/daily routine and out on your own, time just seems to disappear. I have to be really strict with myself on how I plan my days. I make sure I write an agenda the night before for the day ahead, this helps me stay on track and prioritise. The hours and days fly by so quickly when you’re dealing with all aspects of a business on your own… but it’s totally worth it!”

Frances Cookson and Katie Arnott, founders of Rewritten – cool dresses for cool Bridesmaids

“Organisation is king. As entrepreneurs and business owners there is no way we would get through the ever growing pile of work to do without first looking ahead at the week. We are endlessly making lists, blocking off time in the calendar for projects and ticking off jobs – otherwise you can end up being very reactive to your environment and suddenly finding you have spent a whole day completing everyday tasks – you will never grow a business this way.”

Holly Anna Scarsella, set up resortwear label Pampelone in 2015. Stocked online and in major retailers now worldwide, and you can follow the brand’s wanderlust feed on Instagram here.

“If you’re a brand looking to trade internationally, look into the UKTI. There are some incredible initiatives, tax breaks etc that are widely unknown but so beneficial to businesses. For example, if you’re a small business, UKTI will subsidise 50% of the cost of some huge trade shows including Maison Objet etc. Use all the grants, bursaries etc available to you.”

Chiara Perano-Sotnyk, set up her calligraphy and creative studio Lamplighter Studio in March 2012. You can follow on Instagram here.

“Have intention. I don’t think it’s enough to just hope things will happen to you, you really need vision, be flexible, be strong and be relentless. I really believe you make your own luck by working hard at all angles of your business with intention. Not just the service/product you’re offering, I mean the marketing, the brand feel, your systems, photography, and looking after your clients.  Sometimes it looks like people get all the luck, but I promise you it’s vision, intent, and graft – it’s not easy, and you need to evolve as necessary. For example, at the moment Lamplighter is being completely restructured and we’re going to be offering a load of new and different services because our market has changed since I founded the business, and to keep on top of our game we need to be open to change too. It’s always a process, go with it and enjoy it!”

And lastly, a few websites/creative newsletters worth signing up to. Ordinary people creating big possibilities:

Step Up Club – Alice and Phanella have tons of worldy advice about making the most out of your career, and their Step up School for 2018 is already sold out. Sign up to their newsletter to be the first to find out about new events.

Big Small Business – Monica from The Elgin Avenue, alongside Laura from boutique Heroonly started this event last year but already had an amazing turn out with speakers such as Kristina from kikki K and Holly from Pampelone. The next event is set for April 1st 2019.

The Lifestyle Edit – sign up to the newsletter to find out about creative workshops, business advice and even Networking Supper Clubs. I told you Naomi was inspiring….


    1. We’ve looked into Santander actually – it is free for 12 months but £7.50 a month afterwards (I am currently in research stage :)) – it is better than most other banks though – Natwest charge you a monthly fee and then extra fees once you go over a certain threshold x

  1. Love all the helpful tips in this post! I have big dreams of creating a business for myself and am working it as a side hustle right now with a full time job. It can be hard to remain patient when there is so much I want to achieve. I love the inspiring quotes and insights from other female entrepreneurs, it is encouraging to see others who have made it happen!

    Thanks for great post!

  2. This is super helpful thank you. I am about 12 months out from going out on my own, so your financial/banking advice is very timely. Have just arranged an appointment with an accountant to register my company alongside my day job, slowly slowly!

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