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!)