What's the difference between a small business and a toddler? Not much it seems. Trying to find out what the internet says about 3 year old businesses, I accidentally researched real 3 year olds and found this: 'Your toddler is 3 and ready for more independence. Take a look at what this exciting year will bring and how to prepare for what's next.'* Yep, that's pretty much how it is with Lost Shapes.
Yesterday was Lost Shapes' 3rd birthday, and I was quietly excited to be celebrating it. According to Dragons' Den's Theo Paphitis "50% of all small businesses fail in the first couple of years. It's a damning statistic but it's true"**, so there's a little bit of pride in having beaten the statistic, and a lot of gratitude for getting to do something I love for three years. So, with the all the self-centredness of a 3 year old, here's how it is.
First, to be honest, it might not count as a three year business:
We didn't have the money to invest and potentially lose in a big business launch, and that wasn't how I wanted to go anyway, so Lost Shapes' first few months were a gentle, organic drift from printing for friends, to friends of friends, to the exciting realisation that complete strangers were buying my t-shirts;
I work on this part time - sometimes a very all consuming part time - but generally I'm not doing 40 hours a week;
Growth has been on hold a bit this year, as we knew a move was imminent*** so I couldn't over-commit.
That all said, here are the highs and lows:
1. The conditions are appalling! Under no circumstances would I work the hours I do for the pay I receive for any employer. I wouldn't accept having my wardrobes filled with work and my bed often covered with orders, and I would demand better heating in the studio. There's no holiday pay either.
2. The proportion of time spent doing the bit I love (printing, designing) is fairly small compared to the hours of website management, listing items, emailing, going on facebook to share something important and businessy and getting distracted by things that don't matter...
3. Accounts. I've always been quite business-minded for an artist, and I've managed restaurants and a studio, so I get it all. But it is undeniably boring, and my procrastination means everything is done in a horrible big chunk of days in front of receipts and spreadsheets (generally, due to child tax credit deadlines in July, when the sun is shining outside).
4. Disappointments. There are always new potential opportunities, always people who get in touch to talk about doing something exciting (or just profitable) and a lot of them don't end up happening. Sometimes people just never get back to you, sometimes the thing doesn't turn out to be much of a thing. You learn from all of this, but some of the time you just won't know unless you try. And always it takes time, which has to either be factored into the cost of your items, or means working for free.
5. Seeing other ventures fail. Although it functions most like a designer-maker business, Lost Shapes is also firmly committed to being an ethical clothing brand. And it's been really sad to see a few optimistic, passionate ethical businesses try and fail along the way.
1. Getting to make things. I just love it! And it's great that people want to buy the stuff I make, otherwise I'd need a lot of storage space and run into pointless debt. There are hundreds and hundreds of people out there across the world wearing tops that I designed and printed myself and that's kind of exciting.
2. A job that fits around my children, and my husband's inconsistent hours. It's why so many small businesses are run by parents. It might not pay as much as a shop job sometimes, and my kids might often feel that it doesn't really fit around them as much as I think, but I am incredibly grateful that I get this choice.
3. Wearing organic cotton. I'm spoilt now, but it feels GOOOD, and I don't want to wear anything else.
4. You. The customers. It's hard to get across how sincerely I mean this, because it's what companies have to say to look like they're not just after your cash. BUT I HAVE REALLY REALLY NICE CUSTOMERS. The people who buy from Lost Shapes seem to be, with only one exception ever, incredibly kind, thoughtful cool people. So many of you go out of your way to send an email saying you love your top, loads come back and buy more, and when you send in the photos for the gallery you just make me smile. Thank you.
So, I might not yet be running the social enterprise in which I use Lost Shapes to train up unemployed young people with work skills that I first dreamed of. In fact I haven't really even reached my lesser aim of earning enough to justify paying a cleaner. But it's going well, and I think this year it's going to get even better!
*I can't remember where I read this already, sorry!
**Guardian, 8th July 2014
***And it's happening - mid Dec, Wiltshire here we come!
Irregular musings and pretty pictures from the heart of LOST SHAPES.