The reality of running a small business

It's been nearly 6 years since I started Urbansize, it is undoubtedly one of the best things I ever decided to do and has given me the flexibility to live the kind of life I want. It is also one of the most challenging and difficult things I've ever done. There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I know that many people who are following our journey are small business owners or budding small business owners, so I thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned along the way. 

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This is me, Sallie

It's (mostly) not glam

Meaning, there are a LOT of crappy jobs that you will have to do...frequently. I'm talking about the kind of menial labour that you considered below your paygrade back at your 'real' job. Whether it's packing boxes in a freezing garage whilst it's snowing outside, or painstaking inputting data into spreadsheets for hours. The early days will have you questioning your life choices. Yes, it will pay off later but you don't have that guarantee when you first get started. You'll need blind faith to get through those long hours. 

 

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Packing orders in December 

 

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In the early days I used to have to wheel every single package from the lorry on the road to our storage facility. It took hours

 

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More manual labour..

Flexibility doesn't mean less work

Flexibility and control over my own time was the number one reason that I started this business. Having previously worked as a lawyer who was constantly on the clock, the flexibility to work when and how I wanted seemed like an unspeakable luxury. And it is. Especially if you have young children who you are trying to work around.

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That being said, it's important to realise that flexibility does not equate to less work. It can sometimes mean that you feel like you are always working. 6am? Time to get some emails sent out before the children wake up. 8pm? A couple hours free to book in orders and go through any problems that have arisen during the day. Yes, you can absolutely take that afternoon off to watch your children's school play or maybe, even go for a massage (pre-Covid!) but, you'll probably be making it up at some later point in the day. 

 

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My daughter Amiya 'helping' when she was a baby. Also, vintage Urbansize site!

It takes a village

The idea that an entrepreneur is someone who works alone and independently is a myth. Everyone around you has to be all in. That means your partner, your friends and your family. At some point you'll undoubtedly be harrasing all your friends to follow you and like all your posts on Instagram. Maybe you'll be dragging your partner in to help you unload a lorry load of furniture that turned up unexpectedly on a Tuesday morning whilst they are suppose to be at work (maybe that was just me!).

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Being surrounded by boxes was definitely a theme of early days

It will definitely all go wrong at some point

Anything and everything can go wrong at any time or all at the same time. One of the worst times I had at Urbansize was one Christmas early on when we were crazy busy but also, having some personal issues at home. I was laser focussed on getting packages out in time for Christmas, but in the meantime, had let the enquiries and emails from customers lapse a little.

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Packing orders with baby Dillan

I now know, that people are generally happy if things go wrong with products or postage, as long as you are communicating with them, and quickly. Understandably, no one likes to wait for a reply to their messages if something has gone wrong. I learned that lesson too late that Christmas. Whilst I was busy putting all my energy into getting packages out, people were getting increasingly frustrated by the day or two delay in responses. By early January we had a slew of bad reviews complaining about our service. It was devastating, because I'd been putting in so many long hours getting packages out, it felt like I'd worked really hard for nothing.

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A day's orders ready to go out

At that time, I was only selling on Etsy and bad reviews have a really negative effect on your 'rating' on Etsy. The lower your rating, the less people see your page or your products. Not only that, reviews are everything to customers on Etsy, they can make or break a sale. It had quite a downwards-spiralling effect and took me a good while and a lot of hard work to earn our customers' confidence back, and to get our Etsy rating up so customers actually saw us in the first place. Lesson number one, customers come first!

Fast forward a couple of years later and I was one of only a handful of sellers invited to Etsy headquarters to give feedback to the new CEO of Etsy. 

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Events that make you realise how far you've come

You'll always get your stock wrong

As a product business, I'm constantly assessing how much we are selling of which lines and making predictions based on past sales. But really, past customer behaviour doesn't necessarily equate to future behaviours. Maybe an influencer or newspaper will feature one of our products and we'll sell out and have a frustrating period where everyone wants that one product but we can't deliver.

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When @thefrugality posted her bedside tables, sales went crazy!

On the opposite end, I'll be convinced something will do well, order a lot and have it sat there for months. It's never exactly right. I've come to the conclusion that it's something that most small businesses struggle with. I've noticed that often I'll be shopping on small clothing companies' websites and they'll be sold out of a lot of lines. So I've stopped beating myself up about it, and I remind myself that it does get slightly easier to predict as time goes on. 

You need a team even if you are a solo-preneur

For a lot of people, one of the appeals of working for yourself is the ability to work by yourself, independently of a team. But the reality is, there will always be things you can't do yourself. Be it accounts, graphic design or PR support.

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The very unglamorous, messy behind the scenes of a photoshoot at my house

You have to accept the fact that you'll need to build a team around yourself that you can regularly rely on to produce good work, even if they are occasional freelancers. The ability to network will still be needed. 

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A Covid secure photoshoot!

It's the best thing ever

Despite all the challenges, it's undoubtedly the best thing I've ever done professionally. The highs feel so well earned, and when you look around your little business, and think, I actually built this all myself from ideas in my head, it's the best feeling ever! So, if you are prepared for the challenges and are considering going for it, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. 

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Seeing everything come to life is the best feeling

If any of you are thinking about starting your own business and have any questions I can help with, feel free to message me, I'd love to hear what your plans are and offer some advice if I can!

 

 

 

  • Sallie Agnihotri

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