Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dolly Cool is 2, starting a business in the recession & some tips!

I am very happy to say that my business, Dolly Cool, is 2 years old today! Yippee!
It has actually been going a little bit longer than that as I launched my website on Dec 31st 2008 - but I went "officially" self employed on Feb 8th 2009.

So, what fool starts a business in the middle of a recession?! Er, me! I do have to say that it was not 100% a free choice, as the footwear company I had been working for, for nearly 3 years went bankrupt - without giving us, the employees, any notice and so I was left with an opportunity, which I decided to take as the fashion design industry in general was (and still is) so volatile.

I have been making Jewellery for about 10 years now - first starting off with silver wrapped wire and precious stones, but I felt the market was too saturated, even though I used to do quite well with this stuff. About 6 years ago, I then started making the illustrated plastic jewellery that I still make today, in the form of super cute cupcakes and kawaii punky images which I branded under In The Pink, (I still also have this website).
Sailor Cupcake -One of my original In The Pink designs (now Dolly Cool), that is still one of my best sellers today.

I then progressed to making more intricate and detailed pieces, taking inspiration from my love of Rockabilly, 50s, Tattoo and Day of the Dead imagery, and decided that I needed a new website, and brand to launch this new collection. And thus, Dolly Cool was created!
One of my newest pieces, Sugar Skull and Rose Necklace.

So, it wasn't a planned decision to go self employed, but I'm glad that what happened at my previous employment did (although I didn't at the time!!), as it gave me the push to 'give it a go'.

I'm lucky in the fact that I make everything myself so I don't have to buy in stock - just materials - as I make everything to order. Its a sad (and scary!) fact that 50% of new businesses fail within the first year. This is, I expect, largely due to cash flow being tied up in other areas such as stock and property leases. I don't have either of these issues and me being the thrifty person I am, am able to run with very low running costs, while still making a quality product that is individual, affordable and different to what is available mass market.

Although I am by no means an expert on this at all - here are a few tips that I can advise to help you on the way if you are thinking of running your own creative business (obviously some tips are creative specific as thats what I do, but most are generic to any small business) and hopefully save you some money while doing so;

1. Make sure your product or idea is tried and tested that it works. I had been making my style of jewellery for quite a few years, selling bits online and at craft shows - so I knew that people liked it and it would sell. I highly recommend running whatever you do alongside your regular job for a good while first to see if it works for you.

2. Make sure you have a passion for whatever it is you want to do. You have to absolutley LOVE what you do and be 100% commited to make it work. Self employment is hard work, with no holiday pay, long hours and you can't just go on holiday for 3 weeks and forget about it.

3. Get some professional advise. Do a search online, most councils have FREE business advise for those thinking of starting up a new business. They want to encourage you as you will be one less person on benefits! I signed up for a week worth of courses when I first started out, from everything including marketing, setting up a website, and inland revenue (the tax man!) on keeping books. The courses were all completely free and very, very useful.

4. Save money wherever possible. Do NOT got out and buy a top of the range laptop, digital camera, hire an office, hire models, pay out for a super fancy website etc etc. Use what you have. I work on an old Desktop PC, have a budget digital camera, work from home, make my own websites using sitebuilder packages (Ok, it helps that I'm a graphic designer too, but I not a web designer!) and make all my jewellery packaging and labelling myself.

5. Get help from friends and family. My family and friends save me their used Jiffy mailer bags, shoe boxes, cereal boxes, tissue paper and bubble wrap. Michael has an agreement with his workplace that he can bring me home any used jiffy bags they get in the mail room - so its always worth asking friends/family if they can do the same at their workplace. As an 'e-tailer' one of my main expences is postal charges. If bought from a shop, jiffy bags can start to get expensive when you send out 150+ packages a month. I have always used (clean!) re-cycled packaging. In 10 years of selling online, not one person has complained that they got a used mailer bag. This saves me ££!!
You can also rope in suitable freinds/family to help you model stuff, help you out at shows, promote you by handing out your business card at work etc. etc. Free labour! ;)) (Payment in merch and cakes usally works well!)
6. Join a craft group/groups. I am a member of two groups - one is a local craft group, and the other is an Etsy team. If you are a seller on Etsy, you can find groups near you to meet up and share ideas, and get advise. Both groups have been invaluable for me and I have made some lovely, interesting creative friends through them too.

7. Read! I follow other creative/self employed folk's blogs. Its a good support network and you can never know too many people in your field. I also highly recommend this book. I read it about 5 times in the first few months that I started out - its great and you can get it from Amazon;
Craft Inc. Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business by Meg Mateo

I could waffle on for ages about this, but like I said, I am certainly no expert - just thought I'd share a few tips that helped me along the way.
Finally a BIG thank you to all my friends, family, customers and readers for your support over the past two years. I'm going to continue to work hard and build on my business, and hope it continues long into the future :))


  1. Congrats and great advise!

    I agree, we're struggling cash flow wise as we have stock to buy & we have to buy it in advance of knowing whether people will buy it or not! Well done for saying it's damned hard work. I'm sick at the moment, and all that work is just piling up for me to do as no one else can do it. I daren't do it when I'm ill I've tried that before and messed my whole website up!!

    Anyway WELL DONE!

  2. First of all - congratulations )

    Thank you for your tips and advices, as well :) I think it will be very usefull in the future, cause in my country [before moving in the UK], I had my own craft business, but in diferent country it's really hard to do the new start, cause I left everything in Lithuania [my suplies, my sewing machine] and I even don't have a work table here :) But I hope, that one day, I'll start everything from the new begining, cause I just can't live without that :)

  3. Great advice, have passed this link on to an artist and crafter who is considering starting to sell...

  4. Congrats!
    And that was an interesting text, even if I'm not self employed, an artist, crafter or anything I still found it quite interesting.

    Hopefully you'll have more good years to come with Dolly Cool!

  5. Happy anniversary :) I agree that running your own business takes a lot of effort but the main thing it takes up is time. My family have got used to me never sitting down without something to sew or cut and it has just become part of life that I am always doing something. Yes I would love to have weekends and evenings off but luckily I love what I do so it doesn't always feel like work. Except when I am cutting out the 200th gift tag shape for an order.... :D

  6. Congrats on 2 years and thanks for giving me food for thought.

  7. happy 2nd birthday sugar buttie heres to another great year xx

  8. Congrats on your business achieving it;s 2nd birthday. It's so admirable to have your own business. I've been toying with the idea of starting my own business. I've even done a course for it few years ago (this would be doing something health/beauty wise and you have to be registered to practice it). I just simply cannot afford it at the moment. Maybe in the future...

  9. Great advice! Oh and of course Happy 2nd Birthday!

  10. Congratulations on your 2nd Birthday - here's to many more!

  11. Belated congratulations Clare!
    Very good advice and we can associate with that as we've been there.

    It's our 10 year anniversary at this Studio this year! :)

  12. Great article! I'm so proud of you, but you have amazing stuff so I'm not surprised you do so well. ;) Keep going lovely lady!

  13. Thank you all for your lovely comments! I'm glad that you found my post intersting and I hope, also useful :))