Here in the third post in this series exploring women setting up businesses and the challenges and rewards that it offers, I talk to Kate Williams who blogs at Crafts on SeaWhen and why did you first think about working from home?
I started a business with my husband selling second hand books back in 2004, he’d been working for a book dealer locally and we thought ‘hey! This is something we could do too!’ I was putting myself through university at the same time as a mature student and had a sensible (dull) local government job as well. I was a busy lady! In fairness though, what sounds nicer to say you do for a living? I’m a book dealer or I do admin in local government? Easy decision!
More recently I was involved last year with setting up restore which is a project that’s been created to help upskill local people to learn crafts and ultimately give them the skills to start their own businesses. My husband runs The Storehouse, a foodbank, homeless and community centre in Southend that has over five thousand people on its books. Restore trains volunteers from here to upcycle old furniture, we then sell it and all the money goes back into The Storehouse to help support people.
What did people think about you setting up your own business?
With the book business most people were just interested in how it works as it always sounds very glamorous and as if you can swan around all day reading lovely first editions and drinking black coffee, sadly not the case. With restore my husband originally asked a local business if they would be able to help train our volunteers, they would of course have paid them. The woman in questions response was ‘people like you give shabby chic a bad name’ I wasn’t offended by her not wanting to help but I was offended by the way she seemed to look down on people, as if you need a masters in art to do up some furniture. I wrote a blog post (here is you want it http://craftsonsea.co.uk/craft-furniture-elitism-and-asking-for-help/ ) asking for help and had a massive response from people. There was also a thread on a craft forum about what a cow I am for demanding that people help me which upset me for at least ten minutes but then I deleted the two links to it they’d kindly left on my blog and concentrated on the nice people instead.
How have you found running a business and being a mother?
Difficult. We closed the book business after I finished university as I found a job which involved a bit of a commute and then coming home in the rain and going down on your own to a garage a few roads away, in the dark, hunting for books suddenly felt not worth the effort. (Told you it was glamourous.) With restore I wrote my original blog post about two and a half months before my second child was due. I desperately wanted to be more involved (because, frankly, its an amazing project and also, umm, I’m a bit of a control freak) but I knew that with a c-section booked in and no Mary Poppins about to turn up and look after my kids I just had to do what I could to help in the time I had. I’m very proud of what I did to help set it up, and what the blogging community did to support that, but it’s very much the team at The Storehouse who have kept it going. Having said all that I am starting another business soon! The problem with being your own boss is that you’ll never find another boss you like as much as yourself!
What challenges did you face?
Actually I think something that a lot of people don’t mention is isolation. If you run your own business there can be lots of days when you’re out doing things but the days at home in front of the computer doing all the boring admin stuff and the finance? Killer.
What did you learn along the way?
I think it’s essential to position yourself correctly. As with restore we have furniture that’s been restored by volunteers, some of which are homeless, and the charity itself is a church one some people expect it to be at super cheap charity shop prices. It’s not. Everything is done to a high quality and that’s what you pay for. The same with the books, yeah it’s second hand but if it’s worth three hundred quid it’s still worth three hundred quid. And if it’s only worth a fiver it’s really not worth your time in doing it. Also, get a kick ass accountant. Mine is a total legend who told Michael Hesseltine everything he had wrong about trade while he was still in government and he lets us pay him by taking him out for a curry. Dude.
What were the best things about running your own business?
On my marriage certificate it gives my occupation as book seller, I love that! I love feeling totally connected to what you do, to the things you sell, the people you sell to. That you are all loving the same thing. That you never have to buy work trousers. That you can put the clothes washing on while you deal with orders. Never having to be nice to a boss you don’t like. Being able to make your own decisions and make mistakes and then crack on with it again. I honestly don’t know if I could go back to having a proper job again, self employment kind of spoils you.
If you could turn back time and do it all again, what would you change?
I’d never sell anything cheap again, it’s really not worth your time. With restore I think it’s easiest to go internet only without having all the other stresses of having a shop.
Other posts in this series include:
Celebrating International Women’s Day 2014: Setting up a business as a woman – an interview with Rebecca KiffCelebrating International Women’s Day by sharing a inspiring woman – and interview with my mum