Helen Steel is a designer-maker that has taken part in several Making It workshops and seminars which are attended both by studio-holders and other designer-makers. Although Helen does not as yet have a studio and works from home, whilst developing her business she has found attending these sessions inspirational and helpful so we asked her more about what she’s got from them and what advice she’d have for other makers.
Helen set up her business last year making gifts and accessories featuring drawings translated into fabric using stitch, print and appliqué. Her handmade work using both new and recycled fabrics is inspired by nature, children’s books, childhood memories and fairytales.
Which Cockpit Arts workshops have you attended?
In preparation for starting up my own business I attended several workshops at Cockpit Arts. These were ‘Creating an Outline Business Plan’, ‘The Price is Right’ with and ‘How to Write Captivating Copy’. I also attended an evening event at the British Library called ‘The Global Shopfront’ co-ordinated by Cockpit Arts and ‘Not on the High Street’ which had several speakers discussing selling on-line, and a ‘Tax Doesn’t Have to be Taxing’ event with the Inland Revenue which I booked through Cockpit Arts.
Did you find these useful and in what ways?
I found the workshops incredibly helpful for someone like me who is just starting out. They covered a wide range of topics from business planning and market research to pricing formulas and budgeting. Sometimes they reiterated what I already knew but this helped me feel like I was on the right track. Other times I learned a lot of valuable information and they made things that I originally thought were complex into something straightforward and easy to understand.
What key advice or learning stuck in your mind from these workshops that you’ve since put into practice?
I found the pricing workshops really useful as I was struggling with this beforehand. I followed the guidelines we were given and it has allowed me to come up with a pricing system which I know covers all my costs, whilst still being realistic about my market. I also found all the marketing information very helpful – to know who you’re targeting every time and how to adapt your information accordingly. I am still in the process of using this advice but I feel it has greatly helped my understanding of how to go about marketing myself and my products.
Did you access any other support from other organisations when setting up and developing your business that you’d recommend?
I used the Business and IP Centre at the British Library which has a wealth of information on businesses. It is helpful for researching similar products and for looking at copyright issues. They also offer a free consultation with a member of staff who can help if you are searching for something in particular. Before I attended any Cockpit Art events I went to a Business Planning event run by CIDA which was also very useful for someone starting out as it involved lots of exercises using SWOT analysis, where you identify various strengths and weaknesses. Mostly though, I have found that speaking to other designer-makers has been incredibly helpful – people have been very friendly and willing to offer advice.
What top tips would you pass along to other makers that you’ve learnt either through Cockpit support or through your own experience of setting up and developing a craft business?
I would say that good planning and consistency are vital. Make sure that all the key elements are in place from the start – you have to have a clear idea of your market, aesthetics, the quality standards you expect, how you represent your business etc, from the very beginning as it is more difficult to change these things later on. Having an identifiable brand and clear terms and conditions will stand you in good stead as you try and build your brand. Have a vision of where you want to be and start as you mean to go on – I was given this advice and think it is excellent – simple but effective.
Lastly have great products and great images to show them off! I am still working on making my product shots look more exciting and professional. Earlier this year I hired a recent graduate to help me do a photo-shoot of my work and found it a really beneficial experience. She came up with lots of new ideas and together we worked out a concept for the day. I still had to do a lot of work sourcing and planning for the shoot but it wasn’t nearly as expensive for me as hiring a professional photographer would have been, and in return I got impartial advice, a fresh eye and achieved the images I wanted.
My products have recently become available on the ‘Not on the High Street’ website which I am really excited about.This is a fantastic development for me as it should allow lots more people to see my work. My own website was also finished earlier this year which I am really happy about.A friend helped me put it all together and I think he did a great job. My next plan is learn a bit more about website programming so that I can keep it updated myself.
I am also going to be exhibiting at the Handmade in Britain craft and design fair where there will a diverse selection of contemporary designers exhibiting and it gives me the opportunity to meet my customers face to face which is always fun. Business-wise I have so many plans it is mostly a case of finding the time to get them done! I would like to expand my designs to include a children’s range of products as well as seasonal lines for Easter, Christmas etc. I would love to get my own studio space over the next year too so that I have a dedicated work space – at the moment my room is beginning to look like an explosion in a fabric shop!! I also want to create a more streamlined production process and work timetable so that everything is more efficient.
Filed under: Business Planning, Finances, Sales and Marketing, Top Tips | 1 Comment
Tags: makers, selling, Seminars, tax, vision, Workshops