• Dan Gardner

Respect For Small Businesses

An Interview With Three Inspiring Small Business Owners:

It's a tough world out there for small businesses, no matter what industry you are involved in. Whether fashion, food or face painting, it's a real struggle! And I'm talking about those small businesses with no investors or special funding, but just their passion for what they do to keep them moving forward toward the goal of building an established and respected business that generates an income.

Of course for most small businesses and brands one of the best ways to build up regular & reliable customers would be to have your own shop.. But that's most definitely easier said than done! The cost of shop lease in London for example is just totally ridiculous! I mean really, really ridiculous! It's not something you can even consider as a start-up. Even the cost of a lease down your local high-street (outside of London) nowadays is pretty extortionate!.. So to open your own shop isn't really a reality to begin with.

What about advertising your business instead then? Well, advertising can be good... but the trouble with advertising in either printed or online formats is generally it doesn't provide a 100% guarantee of gaining customers, which for a small business is a problem, because every single penny counts! That's not to say I don't believe in advertising of course, but it is a huge expense for start-ups and small businesses with some risk involved!

I don't mean to sound negative here, but I think it's safe to say that finding an effective and affordable way to raise awareness for your brand or business is quite a challenge today...

That is why I really respect people who have started up their own businesses from scratch and work so hard to keep them going. Always holding on to their passion for what they do – even when it's slow and not growing as quickly as they’d like it to! Keeping that passion is the key in my opinion! If you lose interest in your business, so does your audience and any potential customers. I’m sure you’d agree that when you [as a customer] feel that genuine love and passion expressed by the individuals running a business or brand, it makes you not only happier and more confident to make a purchase, but it can even give you a sense of satisfaction that you've helped the business in a small way!

When you buy from a small business you’re not helping a CEO buy a third holiday home, but you’re maybe helping a single mum make ends meet, or a family take their children on holiday that year, or maybe just helping someone put food on the table.

With all that in mind I wanted to share with you three examples of successful small businesses that I have followed and admired for a number of years now. Seeing how their relentless hard work and creativeness has helped them grow over time is really quite inspiring. I interviewed each of them to find out what challenges they have faced and what advice they can give to other small businesses.

Here they are...


Borough 22

The UK'S only gluten free + vegan doughnut bakery.

I asked Ryan Panchoo, Baker and creator of Borough 22 the following questions:

How did Borough 22 start?

"It was born out of a desire to provide something for my kids and wife to get excited about. They both have various allergies and it was frustrating for me to see the lack of options available to them whenever we would venture out. My wife runs an online magazine (www.thelondonmother.net) and so would get invited out to a lot of parent and child events, where this problem would be made even more apparent. Not wanting to be a complainer I figured that if there was nothing out there, I would make my own treats for them. One experiment led to another and before long I had mastered a few recipes. The stand out one though was always doughnuts. Then I got my orders to stop giving them away and start selling them or else. I wasn't planning on finding out what the "or else" was."

What was the first real success story for Borough 22?

"Definitely landing Selfridges as a stockist. It all came about through social media and Selfridges were extremely helpful in developing the business to a retail-worthy level. We have a great relationship and often work together on new flavours, marketing and sampling."

What motivates you on a daily basis?

"My mortgage. The orders. Ha-haa. It's tough at times, it really is, but the interactions of social media, people discovering the brand, realising that we are gluten free and vegan so they can have all the doughnuts is amazing."

What difficulties do you face with your business?

"I think working independently, in a silo, is very difficult. It's quite a narcissistic environment where you are fighting, almost, for attention from people, likes, follows etc.. That plus the days when I have it all to do (baking, emails, admin, accounting) can be very difficult."

How do you overcome those difficulties?

"The best way I find is to interact with different ones. Tuesdays I do volunteer work in my local community. That always happens without fail and is very rewarding. I also like to interact with people, especially other foodpreneurs as we call ourselves. It's nice to have a chinwag and share some of the anxieties we face. Sometimes, just to hear someone say "me too" takes a great weight off your shoulders. When you are working in a silo you haven't necessarily got that person there to bounce off. Making time to do that is vital I would say."

What are your future plans for Borough 22?

"Just more of the same. I'm planning to extend the help I have on Thursdays to another day or two and hopefully step back from the baking. I would also love to write a Borough 22 recipe book and develop some new flavours"

What words of wisdom would you give to other small businesses?

"Plan as much as you can, schedule your time wisely and if you can farm stuff out to people, more the mundane stuff that anyone can easily handle. This then frees you up to concentrate on the things you need to do to drive your business forward."



Lofty Frocks

Custom and ready made dresses with unique vintage fabrics.

I asked Mandie Voukanari, Dressmaker and creator of Lofty Frocks the following questions:

Sewing is your passion, but when did you realise it could become a business?

"Four and a half years ago whilst working in secondary education I began sewing for myself again on a regular basis and started posting my makes on Instagram. I then had the idea to make vintage style clothing with recycled vintage curtains and bedding. My items became popular and ladies started commissioning items as they loved them as much as I did. I saw a niche in the dress market, plus I loved the idea of recycling fabrics! I was working full time in education and then sewing in the evenings too. So in December 2014 I left my full time job, taking the leap to follow my dream in becoming a self-employed Dressmaker."

What motivates you on a daily basis?

"My clients, and my need to create! I love making clothes which make women happy as they are made in their size. I have a very loyal and supportive client base who appreciate what I do and that keeps me happy and motivated. I love nothing more than waking up in the morning knowing I will be creating beautiful clothes in such special fabrics."

What difficulties do you face with your business?

"Working alone can be stressful and if I make a mistake its totally my responsibility which is at times a challenge (although not that often). Financially it can also be a difficulty as my main motivation in the first place was to have a work life balance. Working as a Dressmaker on your own isn't always the best paid business, but I've made it work and feel very grateful!"

How do you overcome those difficulties?

"Making sure the quality of my work is the best it can be, plus honesty with my clients. I have always made sure my clients are happy and always put something right, even if it isn't my fault. Also, I keep on top of what clients want. Classic styles will always be popular, but creating fresh ideas and keeping my designs suitable for ALL ages helps my orders keep coming!"

What are your future plans for Lofty Frocks?

"To continue doing what I do in the same way I do it. I've managed to achieve my dream and am grateful for what I have. My future is to keep the ideas coming so I can carry on working for myself in a career I love and making a living (sorry, not very exciting) ha-ha!"

What words of wisdom would you give to other small businesses?

"1) Start small in a way you can manage. - 2) Quality over quantity - start as you mean to continue. If you supply quality work it will grow organically and you will receive ongoing loyal clients. - 3) Make sure your marketing is clean and of a good quality, neat and tidy as this is a reflection of your work. - 4) Try to engage with your clients as much as possible, they love having a personal relationship with you and be genuine. - 5) Don't think you will be a successful business doing very little. I believe it takes hard work and lots of tears before it comes together, but it is all valuable experience and everything is a lesson! - 6) Draw experience by looking at successful businesses similar to your own."




Printmaking Workshops for Adults & Children.

Photo credit: Joshua Atkins Photography

I asked Rachel Moore, Printmaker and creator of iPrintedThat the following questions:

So, what is iPrintedThat?

"iPrintedThat runs printmaking workshops and courses in London and Kent for children and adults. Print techniques taught include screen printing, linocut printing, cyanotype printing (sun printing) and gelli printing (a type of monotype printing). Workshops are held at museums, arts venues, festivals, hen parties, offices, schools, events and the list goes on. Anywhere I can set up my print station (think Victorian travelling saleswoman), get people printing and being creative, I'll be there."

How did it all start for iPrintedThat?

"Believe it or not I actually trained to be an accountant. It's not like that was ever the dream - maths was by far my worse subject at school - it kind of just happened. 10 years in and I realised that it wasn't what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Thankfully I had a really cool boss who understood and let me go part time while I worked out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'd always loved art so took a few short courses at the local adult education centre including one for screen printing. I thought it would be something that children would love to do, so I started running workshops for friends and family. Lots of the mums and dads kept saying that they wanted to have a go too so I started running workshops for adults as well and it sort of took off from there."

Photo credit: Joshua Atkins Photography

What motivates you on a daily basis?

"It’s really cringe but the truth is; making my husband and mum and dad proud. (Oh yeah, and paying the bills)"

What difficulties do you face with your business?

"I think it's something that's true for most small business owners, you can never really just sit back. It might be that you win a big client you've been after for months or run a huge event that’s a fantastic success. There's always time for a little "YEY!" and a pat on the back but then it's back to it. You've still got to keep getting new clients in, keep existing ones happy and build on what you're offering."

How do you overcome those difficulties?

"I have great support from my husband and family but ultimately it's down to me. If I don't do it then no one else will. But I kind of like that. One woman against the world! *sings "All by Myself"*"

What are your future plans for iPrintedThat?

"Ah, this is one of those "where do you see yourself in 5 years time" sort of questions, isn't it?! In some respects it's difficult to answer. iPrintedThat has been going for 5 years now and back in 2013 I had the idea that I'd be running school holiday workshops for children to print their own t-shirts. That was it. But this printing lark has taken me down routes that I could never have imagined. So in that respect my future plans are to keep a look out for new opportunities and run with them. I'll also be building on the work I've already done running workshops at festivals and providing creative break-out sessions for businesses at their staff training days. I’ll pretty much set up anywhere and run a workshop so I’d like to hold the record, if there is such a thing, for the weirdest place to ever have a printmaking workshop. But not too weird, mind you."

[Photo credit: Joshua Atkins Photography]

What words of wisdom would you give to other small businesses?

"To quote Farmer Hoggett; "That'll do pig..." I used to get really hung up on getting things 'just right', tinkering with an image or wording for hours and hours until I thought it was perfect. Well, not so much now. Yes, I still care and take the proper time over things but not to the extent where it gets in the way of me actually doing real work that's going to bring in the money. And as I've done that I've got busier which has meant I don't have the time to obsess over the insignificant things that don't really matter to people or the way your business is perceived. Yep, "...that'll do""



Thanks for the inspiration guys!

It's quite impressive isn't it!? To think they all started with nothing! With just an idea, their passion and determination they've made it into what it is today! They represent hard work and it is people like this that inspire me personally to never give up on my own creative passions, ideas and ventures!

Full respect guys! Keep up the good work!

Thanks for reading.

- Dan

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