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Archive for October, 2007

Waiting

I am in limbo. After months and months of living and breathing my new business, I’m now waiting for the website to be ready. It’s not overdue or anything, just not ready yet. I’m both anxious to get started and nervous about it.

That’s all I want to say today.

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A Story About Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said; ” My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.kabir_457389906_abb7adc9ce_o1.jpg

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealous, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather; “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied; “The one you feed.”

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Since I didn’t start this blog in the beginning, before Boutiko had been invented, (and when the world was a considerably poorer place,) I thought I would instead attempt to condense the last eight months to give some idea of the process which brought me here, to the edge of the launch.

People always ask ‘What made you want to do this?’, and there seem to be several answers. One is that I have always had a tucked-away dream of having my own shop. Sadly in London the costs of opening a shop are beyond the capabilities of a start up (or this one anyway), so a website was conceived, allowing for considerably lower overheads and a potentially wider audience. The shop could come later.

A second reason to start my own business was that I had quit my job in Montessori teaching after nearly six years, feeling there must be something more and different out there. I travelled a bit, returned home, and wondered what would give me most fulfillment now. A very difficult period followed, and as I came out of it I decided if I didn’t at least try this dream out now, when would I? Besides which I didn’t want to return to teaching, much as I had loved it; I needed a new challenge.

Thirdly, my travels started me thinking that I would love to import some of the diverse and beautiful handicrafts that are made in indigenous communities around the world. This thought was somewhat thwarted on finding that although many of the things I saw (and bought) were undeniably gorgeous and beautifully made, they tended not to travel well, and their true beauty failed to shine in our cold Northern light. (Not to mention the daunting ins and outs of importing.) But I fully supported the idea of craftspeople receiving fair pay and treatment for their labours (really, how could you support any other way?), and with public attention being increasingly brought to the existence of sweatshops and the state of the environment, I decided I would like to set up a shop where everything sourced would directly benefit its creators and cause little or no harm to the planet, while at the same time fitting in with the taste, lifestyle and aesthetics of the Western world.

And so I have spent the past eight months or so obsessively sourcing; scouring lifestyle magazines for potential suppliers, visiting trade shows, spending hours online following trails of eco friendly and fair trade websites. It has been fascinating, exciting and fun; after all, it’s basically legitimate shopping!

While all this intensive sourcing was going on, I was also asking questions questions questions, of anyone and everyone who crossed my path who might know something that would help me. I visited my local Business Link, quizzed everyone I knew about all aspects of business from book keeping to writing press releases, signed up for newsletters, read articles and books. I even, much to my father’s surprise, started reading the business section of his newspaper and his monthly copy of The Director. Quite a change from Glamour and Homes and Gardens!

The hardest thing was the decisions. Never a great decision maker, I found myself confronted with almost daily choices; which designer, product, supplier to go for? Which logo? What colours? I interviewed book keepers, asked ridiculous questions on forums, and trusted my gut, which so far has not let me down.

I’ve even made some new friends. I don’t think there is any substitute for finding someone who is also starting up, and if they are doing it in a similar way and in a similar area, you have found an invaluable sounding board, adviser, sympathiser and essentially someone who understands just how great it is that you’ve finally found someone to supply you with fairly traded organza jewellery bags. I have been very lucky here.

Ah luck. A whole other question. Whatever your beliefs about luck, for me there can be no denying that my dedication to my dream has drawn help, support and information from all sorts of unusual and surprising sources. Things fall into place, someone knows someone who can help you with exactly what you’re looking for, someone else suggests something that solves that niggling problem you’ve been mulling over for weeks. The more you give to your dream, the more the universe conspires to help you. I read a version of that somewhere and for me it has undoubtedly been true.

So I made the decisions, chose the name, the suppliers, the designer, the printer, the logo. (All agonising decisions for someone as indecisive as me, but all happily successful as far as I’m concerned.) I made some mistakes, but I’ve learned so much from them I’m glad I made them.

So here I am on the cusp of the launch (well, it’s a month away but let’s not quibble over details and ruin the drama of the moment), and I feel excited, nervous and, unusually for me, quite proud of my efforts over the past months. I have yet to come across someone who doesn’t support what I’m doing, and as far as I can tell, that is pretty unusual. I have been so fortunate in my support network; not everyone is so lucky.

My one secret worry is that I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to give this a chance of being a success. I’m not a great business mind, and some of what I’m now doing doesn’t come naturally. This must be normal though; not everyone jumps from the womb knowing the secrets of business success! But I have faith, I believe in what I’m doing, I have fantastic support and I’m going to give this everything I’ve got.

So let’s see what happens……

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As a way to see what products might be popular, which less so, and also of course in the hope of making some sales, I decided to hold two ‘pre-website launch’ sale evenings in my home. I invited family and friends, and encouraged everyone to bring someone to help spread the word.

In preparation I wrote price labels for all the products, pulled together as many flat surfaces as possible, covered them with tablecloths and pretty fabric, and frantically cleaned and hoovered. Nothing like inviting people into your home to show you how remiss you’ve been with housekeeping lately…. I also provided drinks and food, partly as an incentive and partly because I wanted to offer something in return for the feedback everyone provided in the form of a two page questionnaire about the products that I asked everyone to fill in.

Both evenings were more of a success than I could have hoped for. Ten came to the first and twelve to the second, and as a result I managed to make just over £500 net profit overall. This in itself was fantastic and encouraging, but almost more important to me was the feedback. Everyone was not only very happy to fill in my questionnaire, but they all spent ages looking at the products and really thinking about their answers. As a result I learned some very important things regarding what people liked and didn’t like, what they wanted to see more of and how they feel about ethical products in general. So now I know what I won’t be buying more of, and what I need to find!

I thoroughly recommend this way of testing the products before launch. It has helped my confidence and given me plenty to work on so I can be as prepared as possible. I will definitely do one more closer to Christmas, when everyone’s panicking! I have also been asked to attend a couple of small Christmas fairs, which is all good publicity. More on this later….

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These are some titles I’ve found useful and/or inspirational.  I’ve chosen them because they are useful on a practical level with exercises, activities and advice, or because they are full of beautiful truths about life and love. I’ll add to them when I come across new ones….

  1. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  2. The Good Small Business Guide; Start and Grow your Own Business, published by Bloomsbury.
  3. The Rough Guide to Ethical Living – Duncan Clark
  4. The Small Business Start-Up Workbook – Cheryl D. Rickman
  5. Anyone Can Do It – Sahar and Bobby Hashemi    
  6. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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~ It’s all consuming. And if you don’t love that, you shouldn’t be doing it, because it’s going to become your life for a while. Probably a long while. Besides, why would you start something so huge if you didn’t feel passionately about it?

~ Some days you wonder what the hell you’re doing, and why you ever thought you could do this. You’ll feel overwhelmed by the task you’ve taken on. This is normal. It also passes.

~ Don’t be hasty. Think things through but always go with your gut in the end.

~ Stuff goes wrong. This is also normal, and clichéd though it is, you really do learn more from the mistakes and problems than you do from the times when everything’s going smoothly. (Make sure you DO learn!…..)

~ Never be afraid to ask for help. Getting a business off the ground will take all your internal resources, and sometimes you will have to look outside yourself. There are some great sources of information out there, including forums, books and websites.

~ The more work and effort you put in, the more people and events will appear in your life to help you along. Like American author Joseph Campbell said; “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” This is true. Try it, you’ll see.

~ Keep sight of your reasons for starting in the first place. Make a visualisation board of all the things you want to achieve and provide for yourself and your loved ones. My board is based on a Kabbalah version and has a picture of me in the centre (looking happy – very important), with pictures surrounding it (from magazines etc) to represent all aspects of my life as I dream them to be, including family, friends, home, health, work, spirituality, travel etc. Looking at it reminds me of my goals and dreams and plans, and they do say that visualisation is a very powerful tool for manifesting these things. Can’t hurt to try, and there is something very pleasing about seeing all the possibilities laid out in front of you.

That’ll do for now!

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New Link

In the blogroll you will find a link to Only Fair, a new online fair trade store.

As Kate, the founder puts it;

 “Only Fair is on a mission to make fair trade accessible to everyone! They have a wide range of affordable fairly traded gifts from around the world. From chocolate to coffee, jewellery to items for the home, there’s something for everyone!”

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