Five years and some things I’ve learned

This month I celebrated my 5 year anniversary at Papermash, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the last five years.

Pink honeycombs

{Photo: Natalie Dinham / Stylist: Charlotte Love – 4 year anniversary!}

  • It’s very difficult to grow a business unless you have someone else paying your domestic bills – when I’ve seen other businesses grow quickly, I’m sure there is a partner who is paying the mortgage. You need to reinvest all the time. For years.
  • I think it’s hard to make much money unless you’re selling higher-priced items – I met someone who just started a clothing brand a few months ago and he told me it’s doing really well. Everything costs over £100, but then the start-up costs are huge. I spent around £1,500 to launch my shop.
  • It’s hard to get people to part with their cash in general and it’s hard to succeed in retail unless you’re selling things people are looking for. Social media is really important, but not as important as SEO {in my opinion at least, if you’re an independent designer it might be different.} Sometimes when I meet people who tell me they really love my shop, I’ll have a sneaky look and they won’t ever have bought anything from me.
  • I think consumers are more likely to spend money on clothes and beauty than homeware and it has a higher perceived value. I’ve worked with lots of high-earners with disposable income and they wouldn’t dream of spending £65 on a cushion or a fancy basket, but £65 on shoes – no problem.
  • Getting press for your brand isn’t that difficult if you have nice things and good photographs. Making actual sales from the press you get is more difficult. There really are only a few magazines which will make a difference.

 {Photos by Michelle Young / from various crafternoons}

  • I love working for myself. For me, I have a skillset which works well with a small business and have lots of ideas {I love doing the finances, marketing and styling, for example}, but ultimately I’m running this business for lifestyle reasons. I’m not at all hard on myself if I make mistakes.

  • Entrepreneurship can be overrated. The opportunities, stimulation and security of a full-time, permanent, professional job can be just as rewarding as working for yourself. I’ve had various contract jobs as well as running my business over the years and having a routine and an interesting job with reliable, intelligent and kind colleagues has been invaluable. I just finished a 9 month role and our 20 year old intern was so good for my emotional health because she made me laugh so hard every single day. This is a great podcast I listened to recently at Jess Lively on Loving a 9-5 job. The lack of professionalism with people I have dealt with outside of a corporate environment has sometimes been surprising. You can almost work on a business, work full-time, and achieve a lot, as the old adage of asking a busy person to do something is totally true. I will probably go back to work full-time again {or if you have a part-time job for me, let me know!}
  • If you’re me, you can’t run a business, work full-time, have a social life, do any exercise, have food in the fridge, generally look after yourself and your property, and grow the business all at the same time. {If you come to my sample sale this Friday, you will see my flat is sort of falling apart.}
  • Customers sometimes pull stunts you know they wouldn’t try at John Lewis.
  • It’s much harder now than when I started 5 years ago, because there is so much competition. I meet someone at least once a month who is opening an online shop. A friend told me she met someone recently who has lost £250,000 over the last 5 years with her online children’s clothing shop. I wouldn’t start an online shop if I was setting up a business now.
  • Not all of these businesses can be making money {and I look up their accounts to check}. One of my French suppliers told me that in France, retailers respect the price, and don’t discount their prices beyond the standard retail mark-up. I prefer to work with suppliers who set a minimum retail price. I’ve discontinued some items because there are shops who are selling the same item at only 40 pence more than the cost price {and I know they use the same supplier.} Although I’m aware of the concept of a loss leader, this is ridiculous.

  • Collaboration is a good thing if the brands fit. Soon, I’m hoping to go and work a few days a week at a shared workspace, and I often meet fellow bloggers with a shared aesthetic. If you have any ideas for an event or collaboration, feel free to get in touch!

If you have persevered to the end of this post {sorry, got on a roll} and have anything to add to any of the points above, I’d love to hear it in the comments! There was also an interesting episode of You and Yours today on being self-employed.

16 thoughts on “Five years and some things I’ve learned

  1. Hi Lynne, thanks for this super interesting read. I just thought I should let you know that after stumbling across Papermash a couple of years ago, it unleashed a wave of creativity within me and I have become an avid crafter! I have acquired a stock of washi tapes, doilies, blanks cards, twine, stamps, paints and more, and nothing brings me greater joy than spending an evening at home crafting away to my heart’s content. I’m not sure whether this would have happened if I hadn’t found Papermash, so for this I thank you! Best, Pippa

  2. Happy Anniversary! I am one of those shop lovers who hasn’t bought but I only discovered your site last week! Oh and they do try it in John Lewis! And the customers with the most money always tried the worst tricks. Take a travel iron on holiday, use it then try to take it back? Yep! By a mini food processor, maid damages it and try to return it saying SHE didn’t damage it? Yep! Return a broken, ten year old electric fan that they bought second hand to you because it has your price ticket on and a five year warranty sticker? Why not?! Yep, as a retailer you are the man and they’ll stick it to you no matter what.

  3. Thanks Clare! Ha, that’s funny! I guess I just think because you’re a one person operation they take the piss a bit. My pet hate are those who phone up to query the shipping charges – I don’t expect they do the same at John Lewis. It’s a FLAT RATE for a reason :)

  4. Happy anniversary! I remember when I discovered Papermash and was so pleased to find all these lovely things to buy. I agree with Clare, people will try it on whether you are a small or a big company. Returning something you bought 10 years ago and has been since discontinued? Yes it is perfectly reasonable as you had 2 children in the meantime did not get around to do it until now.:-) You created a fantastic shop and I hope you will be celebrating many more anniversaries.

    • Thanks Viktoria for the encouragement – and yes, I’ll definitely be having more anniversaries, it’s just been a slower process than I thought!

  5. “I’m not at all hard on myself if I make mistakes” – I can certainly learn from that one! A great blog post; lots to think about abd a lot of elements which ring true for me.
    Happy anniversary and all the best for the next five years!

    • Thanks Melissa – well you have to try different things, it’s good to come up with creative ideas and they can’t all work! Good luck, lovely papercuts.

  6. Happy anniversary, Lynne! Thais for sharing this post. Sometimes to an outsider, starting a business looks all effortless and exciting. It’s good to get a reality check that it’s usually very hard work!

  7. Wow I can’t believe it’s been 5 years – I remember you starting Papermash up! I found this post so insightful and I just want to say you’ve done a beautiful job with your shop x

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