This week’s story is from Liz Oram of LOVE LOCAL, an online sales-website dedicated to products and wonderful gifts made by local makers and designers in the South West; a site that celebrates buying British.
What drove you to start your own business? What was the turning point?
I had already started to research the idea through a ‘light bulb moment’ the year before, when working with Business Link. I came across a case study about a product made in Devon and realised we really had no idea what was made on our doorstep even though we had a passion for supporting local products. So I thought why not start a website and bring well known and unknown products under one banner. The major turning point was facing redundancy, which eventually happened in October 2011.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
I really admire Diane Thompson, CEO of Camelot (lottery providers). I worked for Camelot for several years and Diane was balanced, driven, sincere and approachable. She was a team player and an individual all in one.
I also like business owners that are brave enough to take risks.
What are your goals for your business?
To create a well-known, first class website that is a website of choice – not just for supporting local products but because the products stand up for themselves; and to know we have been part of that building that! We want to be a business that is good to work with and continues to grow beyond our initial geographical base.
What would you do differently next time around?
In the planning stages I would set up agreed systems, such as agreed payment days, website categories, PR approaches, how many events to do in first year, etc. We had a lot planned but the first year has been a learning journey and we’ve taken on more than we needed but not always with the best results and not always to plan. Other ad-hoc ideas have ended up being our best ever, which proves it can work either way!
What difficulties and challenges have you had to overcome and how did you keep going?
The major difficulty, as with many new businesses, is finances. As a single mum of a 5 year old I don’t have the back-up of other wages in the household so that has been, and continues to be a challenge, especially as we launched in the middle of a pretty scary economic arena. We (my business partner and I) have kept going because we are confident about the business and have had a lot of encouragement. We also ‘hold our nerve’ a lot of the time and believe in ourselves. As a result of our website being new and the economic situation, sales have been slower than we would have first liked but we are confident that they will grow and we want to ensure our suppliers are able to build their business with us.
What legacy would you like your business to leave to the world and your family/friends?
As a single mum, facing redundancy and having to support a young child – I have gone out and done it. I have taken the hard road and done it with passion and commitment. The business will always be one we are proud of; one that creates awareness of what we can create in this country and how we can support it. Showcasing great talent is an easy job really. We support the Wildlife Trusts because we recognise that our suppliers love where they live and are inspired by where they live – we want to do our bit to support the wildlife and the place in which we live and work.
What support did you seek out and what difference has that made to your business?
Thankfully I worked alongside some amazing business advisers at Business Link and, although the service has since gone due to government cuts, I can still buy a Chinese and get some good advice. I would recommend a business mentor and a level thinker, sometimes I can get hot under the collar and it’s good to have a sound check with someone. A bit like a councillor! Networking, especially amongst women is very close to having a councillor. At the same time, organisations like the Federation of Small Business and good accountants can keep you in check.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
We have planned a 3 year financial forecast but as we have just finished our first year, it will be back to the drawing board for our business plan. The end of the third year is still achievable from our forecast – passion being the great driver.
What has been one big success that you have achieved in your business?
We won a national award for free website development in our first year and dropped off a goody bag at No. 10 for Mr and Mrs Cameron in our first 24 hours – so that was a great way to start a business and gave us real impact.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business?
Is the next thing you have to do a ‘want’ or a ‘must’?
What are your top 3 tips for someone who would like to start a business now?
1. Ensure you have some financial support or reality check on your funds, perhaps starting part-time if you can until it pays for itself.
2. Don’t worry about making mistakes and learning – and having fun!
3. Get some structure/routine into your business sooner rather than later. It saves a lot of time and effort in the long run (and I’m not sure I’m completely there on that one yet!)
What are 3 books, websites or resources that you would recommend to other business owners?
I’m a great believer in motivational books by good business leaders or documentaries on people that have changed history and done something amazing – doesn’t make you feel so alone and also drives your passion. I haven’t got one book or person that stands out.
Good to have the FSB on hand and the Business link website (but I understand it has changed considerably in recent times.)