My business story began when my daughter was three, and I wanted to buy a bookcase for her. I couldn’t find the one I had in mind; one that was easy for a child to use independently, so I made my own in my violin maker’s workshop. When friends and family saw the bookcase I’d made, they wanted one too. I got my tools out again and started the Tidy Books business with £500.
My first ad in a parenting magazine produced such a phenomenal response that I knew I’d struck a chord with other parents and that I had a business with massive potential. That was 9 years ago, and Tidy Books has developed into an international business, with lots of growth still to come.
These are some of the questions that I’ve had to ask myself along the way, and you might find them useful in helping you shape and build your business
What sort of business do I want to create? How will it fit it with the rest of my life?
I have a craft based, violin-making background, with no classic business or marketing experience, and young children, so I started the business taking one step at a time to learn and develop, and to be there for my children too. My office is within walking distance from home and school, so I can be there for them quickly.
What size do I want my business to be ultimately?
Are you looking to create a multinational company with you at the helm, or create a niche as a sole trader or partnership? I knew right from start, that I wanted to build a global company and made sure that my design could be scaled up to high volumes of production. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew where I wanted the business to be. This in itself gave me some direction.
Is there a brand or business you admire, and why? It could be their branding or customer service or even more simple things; I once asked a company I was a customer of, which courier they were using and what their experience was. Use the website and social media to investigate a range of different companies and industries. What they are saying about themselves? And what are other people saying about them? You will find some good ideas to inspire you and to develop for your own business.
Use your instincts, and create your own path in business. You don’t have to follow others or the business career ladder. I want to build a business to be proud of and I have done my best to take care of the people who produce Tidy Books bookcases. I developed a water lacquer finish, way ahead of industry standards. It was time-consuming to get right, but it’s been worth it. Water lacquer is very low in VOCs, unlike traditional acrylic lacquers which give off strong paint fumes, and because of that it’s much better for the workers’ health and the environment.
It’s important to follow your ethics, because if you don’t you’ll be out of sync, and then what’s the point! I’ve found that being clear about your values makes decisions easier about who you work with, who you employ and what you do.
How can I find great business opportunities?
If you’re open to what others tell you, they may have a great opportunity for you. I always take “cold” calls (well – most of the time!) I’m grateful they’ve found me and this can save me a lot of time, and save money researching and trialling. In fact, some of our very best business partners have come from them cold calling us.
Keep learning, and don’t let lack of knowledge hold your ambition back. There are lots of great resources out there to help small businesses, like the British Library which led me to apply for (and get on) a business development programme called 10,000 Small Businesses run by Goldman Sachs and UCL for our next stage of growth.
Books are cheap and you’ll find some on every subject you need to improve, like sales for example. I love ‘The Little Red Book of Selling’ by Jeffrey Gitomers
Keep meeting new people, reading and attending workshops – this opens up all sorts of possibilities. For example, I did some work on an investment presentation with help from the British Library, and this gave me the idea and the tools to revisit our sales presentation, which completely changed our approach when presenting to a large potential customer and had such a positive impact.
One thing can lead to another and one comment can spark off a whole new idea, or can be applied to another area of the business.
So good luck and let me know if you have found this helpful in the comments below!