Four key things I wish I knew before I started my business.
Growing up around a family business should have had me running for the hills and not straight into the arms of business owner life. Success and how it looks from the outside draw many people into this industry. The glamour of fashion, the allure of events, parties and your name up in lights. All achieved effortlessly. In my 15 years as a business owner I can confidently say there is no true overnight success.
I knew I wanted to get into business for myself and pursued study in Marketing and Business. During this time, with a heritage in fashion through my father, I was able to see a great opportunity within the uniform sector. An industry that had been staid for decades. Here was a chance to reinvent the rules. To take my passion for design and fashion and pivot that into accessible uniform solutions that clients from SME through to large retail brands could leverage.
“Identifying an opportunity is one thing, however, getting this idea off the ground is another.”
Identifying an opportunity is one thing, however getting this idea off the ground is another. Additionally, the fact we are also facing such unprecedented times with COVID means the stakes are exceptionally high in terms of uncertainty and risk. However, I have learnt many lessons during my time as a business owner and these are the key things I wish I knew before starting.
1. It takes a long time to achieve “overnight success”
In the 12 months that followed I would launch Total Image Group from a spare desk in my father’s office with the help of my very first staff member, a dear friend. I had no experience, no client base and no runs on the board. I fought hard for our very first order. I was determined that Total Image Group was going to get off the ground and knew it all depended on my persistence.
2. You may see 100 knock backs before you get a foot in
I made call after call. I pitched to businesses with a fresh perspective. The opportunity to consider their uniform as an extension of their brand. I looked at their businesses holistically and introduced a consultancy model, that meant their uniform would evolve with their business, like any marketing strategy. It was not a ticked box that didn’t need to be considered again in five or 10 years, but uniform was an evolving extension of the brand it represented. I got told no more times than I can count but persisted as I was adamant that it would take only one yes to create a snowball effect of yes’s and it was this patience and persistence that paid off. My mindset was and still is “nothing good comes easy” certainly not in business. This year has seen challenges and setbacks thrusted upon each and every one of us and my priority from the very beginning has been to evolve and make sure to not fall behind. This ability to manoeuvre quickly, efficiently, and effectively has meant my business has been able to ride this pandemic storm smoother than many others.
3. You won’t stop learning and evolving
My eagerness to learn and continue to evolve and educate myself has served me well from my start-up days where I was so hungry to hear and learn about other people’s success stories, what they did different, what challenges they faced right up to today as an established business where it is so easy to get caught up or trapped in different problems. Reading business biographies, meeting and networking with fellow business owners, attending workshops, seminars or conferences to continue to evolve and educate myself has been a huge source of strength and confidence in my decision making over the years. This has been vital during these times, reaching out to my network and discussing challenges and brainstorming ideas has allowed me to have a sense of my surroundings and further aided in adapting and evolving.
4. You may need to have all the answers before you even know the questions
Being a start-up came with pressure on me to provide the solution – from vision right through to delivery. From management to admin. But it also meant we were nimble; I was making the rules for our business as we went along. I was able to take the risks I felt comfortable with and stretch the business to scale rapidly. From our first order we grew quickly taking on a National Retailer and dressing over 30,000 staff members. When a dramatic change like this happens, you need to be ready to go along for the ride. This has never been so important.
When I think back to the very first year of business, I feel humbled at what we have achieved. Fifteen years later I can still safely say, nothing good comes easy, this was the motto I held onto greatly as a young, and eager 21-year-old and it continues to ring true. My story along with countless others is supported with the requirement when starting a business that you must have great levels of perseverance, persistence and a lot, of patience. As I continue through these unprecedented times, the challenges faced have no doubt been immense but my experience in facing and overcoming obstacles has meant myself and my business are coming through the other side with a greater understanding and belief in our capabilities. I will continue to celebrate the wins when they come and face each challenge head on.
This article first appeared in issue 32 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine