14 Jun 2013

Interview with VanillaRetro Stationery

Greetings! Welcome to the third instalment of my interview series, focusing on creative businesses that have been helped out by The Prince's Trust. I may venture out into interviewing/highlighting other businesses too, but for the time being I am focusing on those that have been helped out by The Prince's Trust (like myself). 

My next victim is ............ Vanilla Retro Stationery 

Who are you? 
I'm Michelle, aka Vanilla Retro Stationery: Stay-at-home-Mum and entrepreneur

What are you? 

My main business is designing Wedding Stationery – this the primary focus of my online shop at least. I love to create quirky, retro inspired designs to really make designs “pop” , offering the customised designs as printables (a great solution for those on a tight budget – simply print at home on a desktop printer) or as quality printed pieces.
But I also design Funeral Stationery (programs and keepsakes) and engage in a little graphic design and social network branding for local businesses. In fact, I’ll pretty much turn my hand to most graphic type things… I'm just happiest doodling away!

Where are you?

I work from home and am based just across the Mersey from Liverpool, on the lovely rural Wirral Peninsula. But my business really lives on the internet, on the online marketplace, Etsy. Whenever I tell people this, I generally receive blank looks in return, so I will explain a little: Etsy is an American founded marketplace, similar to Ebay and Amazon. Though Ebay works mainly as an auction site, Etsy allows each Shop to create their own online store, where all your products can be found and categorised and you have the facility to create your online brand. It’s a brilliant venue for small start-up businesses who specialise in vintage or homemade items, and has traffic from all over the globe. 
Best thing about working with the Prince’s Trust?
I think people expect to say the money, which as helpful as it is, it would be nothing without the help and support you get from working with the Trust. My business mentor has been volunteering for the trust for 20 years, and genuinely loves helping young people achieve their goals and dreams. For me, the best part of working with the Prince’s Trust was putting me in touch with my mentor and in turn, allowing me access to all his contacts. It was because of my mentor that I was able to strike up connections with other small businesses and start offering my graphic design services to them, and it was his recommendation which really gave me the lift I needed. I know I can prove myself when given the opportunity, but getting your foot in the door is the hardest part: the Prince’s Trust held the door wide open for me.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs/those striving towards self employment?
Do it – you’ll never look back! Self-employment is not for everyone – it can be a lonely existence. No after work drinks for me, unless my two year old daughter fancies having a teddy bear tea party and wants me to join in! But honestly, if you've felt under appreciated, undervalued and generally trodden on by your boss, there is nothing more satisfying than handing in your notice and going it alone – especially when you start making money in your business. My best advice? I have three tips…
  1. It does not happen overnight – I cannot stress that enough – and you really need to give yourself realistic expectations. If you go in expecting to break even, and you make a tiny profit by the end of the month, you’ll be delighted. If you expect to be making the same as your 9-5 job from day 1 – you’re in for a rude awakening!
  2. Make the bits you hate doing the first priority of your day. I’m awful, just awful, and maths, so doing my accounts was the most daunting thing for me. Numbers are not my friend. But, when doing my sales record and my expenses, my accounting became quite easy and I now actually enjoy it… Ok, that was a lie, but I do enjoy seeing the money tally up. You can sometimes be under the impression that you’ve been doing really well as you’ve been really busy, but unless you keep an eye on your expenses you could just be a busy fool.
  3. Don’t waste your money on marketing and branding. Take advantage of the free channels available to you – your friends and family can be a great resource to help spread the word of your business. Facebook and twitter can be a fantastic way to keep people informed, as long as you vary your content and don’t bombard your followers with constant sale pitches. Show them your work; show them the process; show them amusing things happening at work, show them things which they will be interested in. Make it personal; engage with your followers on a personal level– make your business about you and take every opportunity to inform people about what you do.

Social Media Hangouts

I really loved some of the advice Michelle has offered in this post, it has definitely resonated with me. I haven't met Michelle in real life (yet), but doing blog posts like this has enabled me to connect with people in similar situations to myself. It is bloody hard work to network, especially when you are a one man band. Michelle, thanks so much for taking the time to answer the questions and share a bit of your journey. 

Interview Victims so far:
Vanilla Retro Stationery 

Please DO check out the other interviews, like/follow/worship their various social media hangouts, ask questions, show support! I know it would mean a lot to each of them. 

Sidenote: I installed the G+ comment system for a while, but it just wasn't working out for me.  Since removing it, it has rudely wiped out not only all the lovely G+ comments that were showing on the posts, but also old blogger style comments from older blog posts! How very bloody rude indeed. SO if you did previously comment on any posts and wondered why the comments have vamoosed, that is why!  

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