Opportunity From Adversity: Building A Business From Scratch

In 2008 I was stood in my kitchen, staring out of the window wondering what on earth to do next. I had lost nearly everything. I’d hit rock bottom and no matter how hard I tried; I couldn’t see a way back up.

I was a director in a large events company. But the 2008 recession hit, clients stopped investing and, devastatingly, we had to close the business.

I had re-mortgaged my home to invest in the company but now, with no income, I was at risk of losing my home and unable to pay my bills.

This would be scary if it was just me on my own. But I was a single parent to a nine-year-old boy. I couldn’t lose his home, but there was no other option but to file for bankruptcy.

In many ways, what happened to me meant I’d wiped the slate clean. I didn’t even have a bank account! But I had an idea…

Having experienced poor service at my brother’s wedding, I couldn’t stop thinking about starting my own quality chair covers, accessories and table linen business for weddings and events.

I was filled with enthusiasm. I knew the business could work but I had no credit history and having recently filed for bankruptcy, I was not a desirable candidate for a business loan. But I refused to give up.

I know so often people’s success stories seem to turn good overnight but that’s never the reality. So, I want to tell you exactly how I started my business from scratch…

HOW I STARTED MY BUSINESS FROM SCRATCH

  • I started claiming Income Support – the only income I had at the time was the Income Support which I collected in cash from the Post Office.
  • I wrote a Business Plan – the idea of creating what is now Simply Bows & Chair Covers wouldn't leave me but I didn’t know exactly how I would do it. So, I did extensive research and came up with what I hoped would be a robust business & marketing plan.
  • I Googled ‘How to get a business bank account’ – but no high street bank would accept me. I couldn’t begin a business without a bank account of some sort. I spent days walking from bank to bank begging someone to give me a chance. Eventually I discovered the Co-Op Cashminder account which was a basic current account, for those with no or low credit rating. It meant I could have a debit card and begin trading, the relief I felt was like nothing else!
  • Business Link in Hexam – I had an old contact at Business Link, a Small Business Support Service. I contacted them and they invited me into chat. I presented my business plan in the hope of receiving a business grant to help me market and start my business. Although I succeeded, I still had to provide 50% of the money myself to match the grant…
  • I sold some valuable possessions and took a short-term loan from my parents – this allowed me to receive the grant and start working on designing a website and products.
  • I went through my little black book - once I had the first templates ready, I contacted a local, small business to help me manufacture my first chair covers. Then, I looked back over my diary of old contacts and contacted everyone who I thought might be able to help introduce me to potential customers.
  • I called up local hotels and event spaces to ask them to meet me – but it wasn’t easy. Although I was enthusiastic about my business, my confidence was so low that I suffered panic attacks before many of the meetings and would take my Mum into each presentation for support. To combat ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and remain authentic, I decided to tell prospective partners the truth about my story - which I think they really appreciated. From these meetings I became the preferred supplier to a number of hotels, which allowed me to start building up my portfolio.
  • I got savvy about money – I wanted to be in control and in a secure position, so I didn’t spend beyond my means and would ensure I took 50% deposit up front from customers for each booking which would mean I had a regular cash flow.
  • I didn’t do it alone – my family supported me any way they could from childcare to moral support. I was also welcomed into the local business community via the Entrepreneurs Forum and NECC who were hugely supportive.
  • I told my story – over and over to anyone who would listen. I entered local and national business growth awards which helped to establish my business across the UK.

In the first 18 months, Simply Bows and Chair Covers turned over £79,000 and I saved my home.

I was thrilled but I knew I wanted this to be more than just a way out of my current situation. I needed to secure long-term future for my family, the business needed to grow.

Stay tuned to my blog series ‘Opportunity from Adversity’ where I’ll outline how I grew and diversified my businesses (and how you can too!)

I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Sarah and I can quite honestly say she has made a huge impact on me both personally and professionally.
When I first started my coaching sessions I was feeling a little lost and struggling to make decisions.
Sarah took me through her ‘I Can’ method, which was quite an emotional journey but allowed me to re-focus and plan ahead. Sarah has taught me the importance of nurturing myself as well as my business. I now have a totally different mindset and my business is already benefitting.
Thank you Sarah for making me believe in myself again.

Debra Graham, Equishine Founder

I truly believe that I found Sarah just when I needed her. I was looking for somebody to help me out of the ‘rut’ that I found myself in, not knowing where I was going in life, having been made redundant due to the Covid pandemic. When I read Sarah’s story and the adversity that she had dealt with herself, I knew there was so much that I could relate to and Sarah was the person that I wanted to work with to help me. The I CAN method is very powerful, it makes you think about every aspect of your life, even the dark moments that you thought you had locked away forever. What I have learned from Sarah is that you need to address these moments for you to move forward, and that is exactly what Sarah helps you with. The four pillars of the I CAN method means that you have a full end to end methodology. Sarah is personable, an inspiration and is somebody who has been there, done it and got the t-shirt. Sarah will help you with your personal and business goals and is somebody who will make sure YOU live your best life; the life you truly deserve.

Emma Chalkley

I follow Sarahs business page on social media and when she released her new The I CAN method I jumped at the chance to use it. I love trying to better myself and set goals and this looked like it was going to help a lot- especially with everything changing so much in recent months. Needless to say it did not disappoint. It is very refreshing to put pen to paper and look at things in black and white in front of you. This method has personally helped me so much with my fitness levels by seeing what I CAN do by overcoming the issues I thought I had and by taking some action. I have now used the same method to help me concentrate on my business. By breaking everything down into smaller sections it really makes a huge difference. Thank you so much Sarah and I genuinely now cannot wait to see my future 6 months down the line!

Tracy Turner

"Sarah Pittendrigh was a fantastic addition to our speaking roster at our small business initiative event, #SBS Small Business Sunday 2019. Sharing her journey on building up her business, as well as how to franchise a business, her session proved invaluable for our small business attendees and the feedback has been excellent! Thank you Sarah."

Jess Littlewood - #SBS Small Business Sunday, Theo Paphitis Retail Group

"Sarah is everything a successful entrepreneur should be, creative, tenacious with a clear vision on how to develop her business. She never ceases to impress me with her energy, attention to detail and most importantly, is always comfortable leading from the front with her hands on management style..."

Nick Holmes - Former MD at Rockliffe Hall, Non Executive Director positions at Gisborough Hall, Swinton Estate and Ramside Hall

"Having set up my business when I was 23, Sarah's advice and experiences in the wedding industry were a vital part in the success of my Simply Bows and Chair Covers franchise. As a franchisor, Sarah has always been on the other end of the phone to help me with my dilemmas and pass on her experience and business advice..."

Joanne Smith - Simply Bows and Chair Covers Lancashire