Small business 2

During my course with Michelle Rose (look back to last week’s post to find out about that), she mentioned a forthcoming course offered by NBSL for small businesses in our area: Northumberland, Newcastle and Durham. I applied and got a place on the August course, taught by Nicola Jayne Little. The sessions included tutorials on using Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter and blogging for small business – and they were excellent. This was a free course, (with European funding), so I am enormously grateful for the opportunity and I am now busy trying to apply the principles I learnt… Outside of teaching for NBSL Nicola has her own business, ‘Digital Sparkles’ which provides training. It’s good to be taught by someone who is actually doing the activity in question! So she is the second small business owner in my interview series.

What is the name of your business? Digital Sparkles

When did it start?  March 2013

Why did you decide to start a business?  

I’d been running a business previously (‘Daisy Green’ magazine) for 5 years and before that I was a teacher. I wanted to work for myself rather than for anyone else.

What jobs had you done before?

Teaching, recruitment consultant, farm worker in Australia, retail sales of all kinds: burgers, shoes, jewelry and DIY products. My parents had a shop and both sets of grandparents had a shop. I think even my great-grandmother had a shop. My cousin and my brother work for themselves. Lots of people are self- employed in my family.

Tell me a bit about the business?

Digital Sparkles has changed from when I conceived it with my partner Jen. We used to provide digital content and helped other people to do digital content. Jen enjoyed doing that but I found I enjoyed empowering people to do their own digital marketing, so what I do know is mentoring and training. I teach people how to do it for themselves.

What things have been difficult for you in setting up/running your business?

One challenge is that I started the business with another person and I am now doing it on my own. Our friendship has survived and we do projects together. Another is that I am now really busy and the challenge is managing all of that.

What would you say to someone in the early stages of setting up a business?

Understand who you are and what you are doing it for. Understand that it will be the hardest but the most rewarding thing you will do. Learn to sell – it’s not a bad thing.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?

It’s mine. Every decision is mine. I am not answerable to anyone else. I am free to do what I want. The world is open when you do their own thing. I have the opportunity to show I am good at this.

A train to train with The Guardian

Last week saw me travel to London to attend a simply brilliant training event run by The Guardian Small Business network, which I joined a few months ago. The focus was on preparing to export, and the event was sponsored by UPS which encouraged us all to think about distribution to other countries. One part of the programme involved a panel discussion with views from business experts with experience in ventures from skincare to mouldable, self-hardening glue:DSC_0188 (2)

The way to get a cheap train ticket to attend a day-long event in London is to go the afternoon before and return on the ‘red eye’ the evening (night!) of the event, getting in to Durham at 2.45 a.m. The event was free – with wonderful food provided, I may add, so the cost of my training was the £34 train fare and £65 for a hostel near Liverpool Street station.

After many hours, days, weeks, months working alone from home, it was so good to have the opportunity to meet lots of people who are carrying out their businesses from home offices or from shared studio space. There are plenty of us: across the 28 countries of the European Union, there are 21.6 million SMEs (Small and Medium-sized enterprises), but it’s easy to forget that when you are in the smallest category of all (one employee) and you work at home!

The day was packed with highlights: a keynote speaking was the inimitable Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who long after his ‘Changing Rooms’ appearances is continuing to work successfully as a designer, notably in the Far East. He was informative, witty and oh, so stylish. Here he is, speaking, against a background of photos of his lingerie collection for China:DSC_0194 (2)His studied flamboyance came across immediately with his opening slide:DSC_0192 (2)On a more serious note, he gave much encouragement for us to export our essential British-ness and excellence in design (without too much British self-deprecation).

We were treated to a presentation by Bob Forkan, who with his brother founded the Gandys brand of flip-flops (now extending to other items for travel). This is a young company, which has grown in tandem with a charitable venture (Orphans for Orphans) to build a home for orphans in Sri Lanka – the place where Bob and his three siblings were themselves orphaned when their parents died in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Moving – and impressive.DSC_0195 (2) Other innovative new products were profiled by their CEOs, like Laurence Kemball-Cook, inventor of the amazing Pavegen Systems, where electrical energy is generated by footsteps on panels in the ground and Matt Johnson the co-founder of Bare Conductive – a substance which can extruded like glue from a tube but which becomes electrically conductive once it hardens.  Wow!

It will take some days to sift through all the notes and start to act on some of the suggestions that were made and to follow up all the links that were given, but I sense that the energy released from that day will last a long time.