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How I started my own Small Business

Hello! Hattie here, the founder and face behind the personalised gift company, Faced.


Firstly, thanks for having a wander over here and checking out my first ever blog post. I thought it was only right to start off this blog-lark by introducing myself and the story behind my small business. One of my very close creative friends interviewed me at the beginning of the year and although the answers are 8 months old most of the content is still pretty relevant. I will go on to explain what life was like after graduation, how the idea of Faced came about, what I have learnt and some advice I would pass on to anyone who would like some. Read on if you're interested, or don't. Totally up to you.


Please can you give me a description of your past, University onwards?


So in Summer 2016 I bagged myself a 1st in Graphic Design at Northumbria University. After our end of year degree show I was approached by a number of London based Design Agencies. They had seen my work and asked if I would travel down for an interview to take part in a paid internship scheme. After they were both successful I packed my bags, hopped on a train to London and called it home for the next 4 months. From muddy fields to the big smoke, it was an exciting time. I say exciting as that's what everyone wants to hear, but I had a dilemma on my hands. I had a full time design job lined up and I had to choose whether to ignore this new found opportunity or go ahead and take it by the horns. It was one of the scariest things I've done and the hardest decision I've had to make. Luckily, it paid off.


Towards the end of my last internship I was asked to create something that I had no clue would mould my future. I was featured in one of their blog posts, however, as I was only an intern I had no professional B&W headshot to go alongside my name unlike everyone else who worked there. I decided to draw a simple character to be featured next to my name. It wasn’t long before people expressed despite how simple it was, it really looked like me. One of my friends asked if I could draw her and her boyfriend for a Christmas present and this sparked the idea of Faced. After the four months were up, I bought a ticket back to North Yorkshire and created Instagram and Facebook accounts. This was three weeks before Christmas and the response I received was unimaginable. I had enough orders to keep me busy up until the new year. 


Why did you decide to become self-employed and start your own business?


The decision wasn't an easy one. I feel there is a great pressure after you graduate to get a job in your course subject, even if it means working for nothing just to get your foot in the door. I enjoyed London, but I knew after coming back up North that this is where I was most happy. Unfortunately for me, you typically have to work in a large city to become successful in Graphic Design and I was in no financial position to be able to travel or live while working for nothing. I live in small market town in North Yorkshire.


As the interest in Faced began to grow online I knew that I needed to focus all my energy and keep pushing the concept throughout free social media platforms. My father has owned his own sign business since the age of 21 and subconsciously, it felt right to fall in his footsteps. He is a traditional signwriter by trade and has always inspired me while I was growing up. He wanted me to become as successful as I could be and encouraged me massively to never let opportunities slide. As much as he probably wanted me to stay at home; he pushed me to go to London, think about my options and get out of this small market town. Ironically, I now own my own house in my hometown and work alongside dad in his office running my own successful business. Happy days.


What separates Faced from other businesses built upon the ‘personalised’ model?


The unique side to Faced is that you are experiencing your very own personalised service from start to finish. I communicate one-on-one with all my customers and love hearing the emotions and stories behind each order. The best seller is the pet portrait print, perfect for beloved animals both past and present. I was recently drawing a beautiful Labrador and as I zoomed in on the photograph I noticed the silhouette of the owner reflecting in their eyes. I just had to include that. I work alongside the customer to make sure it is as special as it can be. Every room should have a talking point and I feel like Faced creates just that.


How long have you been running and how has it been for you?


Well, what a year. I finished all my orders Christmas 2016 and ventured into January wondering what to expect. It was a slow month I must admit but then along came the Valentine’s influx of orders. I have learnt that you are constantly looking at the next occasion and preparing in advance. I decided to apply to become a seller on notonthehighstreet.com so sent off my application at the start of the year. In August 2017 I received an acceptance email expressing that my range of prints and mugs have 'a brilliant, happy style’. I still remember where I was when I read that email, out walking the dog. As I skimmed through the email my eyes were fixated on the line 'I would love to invite you to become a partner with us'. I was over the moon.


This was perfect timing, too. It was the run up months to Christmas and just 4 hours after getting my storefront up and running - I had my first order. There was a point in November where I had received 60 orders in one week. Unfortunately though, I had to turn down orders beginning of December due to being at full capacity and despite working until the early morning there was just not enough hours in the day for me. It was awful to do however you have to go through something like that once to know how to prepare for it next time. I still enjoy the times when I start to quieten down as I go into creative hibernation mode again and find new ways to market and promote the brand.


What are the key achievements with your business, the pros, the cons and the failures?


One of my key achievements would definitely be perseverance. Sticking at it and not giving up when I was getting just one order a week. I utilised the quiet time in January 2017 to build my own website from scratch and photograph all my products ready to advertise. The more orders I created, the more I had to show. It was a great time to do it after Christmas had passed.


In the summer I really stepped out of my comfort zone, got out of the office and decided to attend some networking events on my own to meet other business owners. I’d like to think that biggest pro is making my customers happy and giving them the ultimate personalised experience. As for failure, the biggest mistake is to never make any! Own them and move on.


What is the most challenging part of Faced/being an SME owner?


The most challenging part of working for yourself is getting too comfortable in your own bubble. You need to burst it now and again; go to exhibitions, research your competition, see what everyone else is up to. It is so easy to get left behind as technology and trends change so rapidly. Another struggle is standing out from the crowd. You need to keep adding strength to your USP by keeping up to date with advertising and your audience. Currently, I am an accountant, brand ambassador, marketing director, creative director, designer and tea maker (v. important) all rolled into one. The most I can do is be as organised as possible and learn to ask for help when I need it.


8. What would you say to other people wanting to start a business?


"9/10 start-up businesses fail." I remember reading this in the first few months of starting up. This fact may be cold but you need a reality check now and again to appreciate effort and how it really pays off. In the words of Anthony Burrill, 'work hard and be kind to people’. Utilise social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, they're free! - Everything happens for a reason take the rough with the smooth and failure is success if you learn from it. Use quiet times to concentrate on marketing and fresh new ideas. Focus on emotion and relating to the consumer. Emotion is so powerful and if you can create a product which brings a laugh or a tear, it's a win-win.


What have you learnt from your experiences?


I’ve learnt the harder I work, the more it pays off. I’ve had my hiccups, but they happen for a reason to educate along the way. I also now believe there is a great importance of taking time out. Leaving the office and taking a little break from it all. It is very easy to feel consumed in your own business as you feel like every minute off your day should be spent on it. For me, it was very intense at Christmas time constantly working around the clock to get orders finished before deadlines so it’s important to have a rest when needed. I have also learnt that a tidy desk is a tidy mind. I am a messy worker and I do feel a massive difference in productivity when I have a to-do list.


What is the future for you and your business?


The future for Faced is looking great. Every time one of my orders are being framed and placed on the wall in someones home, it creates a unique talking point. The majority of my advertising is word of mouth and the more orders I create, the more people see them. It’s kind of a domino effect and just the simplicity of Christmas Day has become a marketing platform for me and allowed me to gain orders to keep me busy throughout the year. I am looking at expanding the range of products I offer at the moment besides mugs and prints. Some ideas I had were phone cases, suitcase covers and even pyjamas - so watch this space! 


_______


Fast forward 8 months from this interview and I now have a customer base of over 800 people (..& pets!). I have branched out from pets and people into wedding bouquets, canvases and houses. The mad festive quarter is fast approaching and I am more prepared than ever! Bring it on.



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