The journey of a fledgling business starting to fly (and how not to get in a flap about it)

Industry veteran Gillian Suggett of St Mawgan Embroidery Company has hosted a seminar session in Printwear & Promotion LIVE!’s Knowledge Centre for the past three years. Here she gives an overview of her third year in business.

Printwear & Promotion LIVE! has always featured in my work diary, from the mid-90s onwards, firstly as an exhibitor with Wilcom and later with DecoNetwork, and now as a business owner and embroidery specialist.

Back in January I presented the third instalment in my business journey, ‘a fledgling business starting to fly’, talking about the motivations behind starting my own company and my forays into getting to grips with business planning and finance, internal systems and programmes, marketing and business growth.

The Knowledge Theatre programme invites industry experts to share their expertise and experience on all manner of industry related topics. Visitors report coming away feeling better informed and motivated, even inspired! Not normally more than 30 minutes long; unless it’s me speaking… as I do tend to overrun somewhat; these seminars are free to attend and offer invaluable take-home information making the time you have taken out of your own business to attend the show that much more worthwhile.

I established my own embroidery business in the spring of 2017, having worked for many years in the industry. My first job in embroidery began in 1991 after having recently completed my BA in Textiles at Manchester Metropolitan University. I spent over 20 years as a product specialist and business development manager, so it took me quite some time to be ready to take the plunge into running my own small business. A lifestyle decision prompted by a combination of desires to be self-directed, independent and to use my creative talents in a fulfilling enterprise.

Our business journey, which I have shared in The Knowledge Centre over the last three years, has taken us from a starting point of recognising our unique set of skills on which our business is based, to identifying a market for these skills, and onwards to securing investment and establishing our small rural business.

Based in Cornwall, St Mawgan Embroidery Company is an embroidery specialist company, we provide design and product development services and retail quality embroidery.

From a business idea, to being in business… the importance of business planning

Everyone of course has their own unique set of skills and experiences. I think the ability to draw on these skills and to critically identify your strengths and weaknesses, should form a major part of any business venture and any initial plan.

I’m a strong supporter of the need for a business plan, a lesson learnt both from experience and education, but I also believe that they can take many forms: from a simple framework to a comprehensive detailed document. What is most important is that you have one and that you have applied some serious attention to it.

Creating our business plan helped us to maintain the disciplined approach that is essential when you are attempting to transform what begins as just an idea into a well thought out business proposition. We think of our business plan as a work in progress; it is never finished because, of course, things change; some things work out and others do not. Updating a business plan helps you to be more strategic about your decision making, less reactionary to external (and internal) ups and downs, and more purposeful in your actions.

Managing growth… The ‘eat me/ drink me’ dilemma

One of the challenges our business faces right now is how to fully utilise the resources we have in the context of our business growth. Do we expand? Taking on staff was always part of our plan but when is the right time? Should we take more risks and get bigger? Considering the economies of scale, would this give us greater rewards? Or should we refocus our aspirations on our original business startup drivers of a good work/ life balance? We know that we can all learn from Alice’s impulsive nature, you should take a sip from that bottle with caution! Getting bigger seems like an attractive idea but it might not quite work out as you thought.

Marketing on a minuscule budget… Yes, I do mean minuscule

We use a wide variety of media and channels to promote our business, and we do this quite successfully on a very small budget, probably stretching our resources to the max in terms of time rather than cash.

We do have a website (which is essential) and we do drive prospects to it, but like many small businesses we struggle to keep it updated. In fact, this is my number one item on my 2020 ‘must do a lot better or I’ll end up on the naughty step’ list. Facebook and, in particular, Instagram, has proved to be a great way of giving our small business unbelievably positive exposure both locally and nationally.

I did not grow up with social media so it has been an unfamiliar and awkward ride, but it’s worth the effort even if I’ve sometimes ended up trying to navigate through what appears to be a sea of constant change. However, one great thing about digital marketing is that it rewards authenticity. By this I mean that people respond better to first person accounts – it’s like your customers getting a recommendation about a product from a friend. So, if you do something great then shout about it, and ask your customers to do the same. Google Business and Facebook reviews have really helped our business achieve greater reach and, importantly, attract new business.

Having said all that about digital marketing, knocking on doors and leaving printed literature is still something we do and with great return on effort. As a business, I feel it is important that we service our local business community; we support local charity events and we use our local suppliers: for example, using our local printers for all our printed literature.

Give it the heads up… Looking up and ahead

Inevitably when you are busy running your business you tend to focus internally and deal with what is in front of you today and what is coming up next week. But one of the benefits of having a business plan is that it actively encourages you to look beyond the here and now: to not only look up but to look ahead. By going back to the plan you can check whether the business trends you identified last year are still having the impact you thought or whether new ideas are coming into the market.

One new influence that we have identified as being important to our business and that will affect the way we do things in 2020 is the impact of our business on the environment. Our customers are becoming much more mindful of the environmental impact of their consumer choices and we need to respond to that ethical demand. So, not only are we offering more eco-friendly products, we are also trying to reduce our use of single-use plastic and waste in our production processes.

As a business we have made good ground on much of what we set out to achieve in 2019: and 2020 is already beginning to look very exciting, even with some tough decisions ahead. Why not join us next year in the Knowledge Centre at P&P LIVE! for the next instalment of our small rural business journey.

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