I’m back and documenting my journey starting a business…
I decided to stop writing a blog mid summer. Mainly because starting a business and finding time to continue my blog just wasn’t going to happen. But then I had this realisation of how much I’ve been doing and how valuable my learnings are, that just made me think.. WRITE THIS DOWN WOMAN.
I’m also doing this because I’ve been told time and time again that keeping so quiet about what i’m doing is just preventing the thing I’m trying most to achieve – getting exposure. If you don’t like reading long blog posts (I’m writing about things months in the past so I may start rambling), and don’t care about my journey, you can stop reading here.
As you may know (or likely, don’t know, because if you’re reading this you either have somehow found my blog and don’t know me at all, or you do know me and because I’ve kept it fairly quiet, you’re currently sat there thinking “what on earth is she talking about”), I started a business (or a project, gap year, experiment) almost this time last year. As you will see by my earlier posts, my job at the time was not particularly ideal or enjoyable, so my mind spent a lot of time wondering… and then Olive Cooper was born. In a nutshell, I make handbags right here in Britain, born from a passion to inspire women (like me!) to leave their stresses at their desk (or leave their desk completely, which was what I ended up doing). Thus, all of our bags can be detached to become a larger and smaller bag, allowing the professional woman to go from desk to dinner in no time at all. It was just my way of building a product, which I’ve always wanted to do, and sharing a story. All products should have a story.
I wasn’t alone at this point. I started off with a business partner, who we’ll call Uncle J for now. Semi-retired Uncle J was in the fashion industry before I was born, and I grabbed onto his expertise in manufacturing with two hands and a foot. I’m not a designer. Not even in the slightest. If you ask me to design or draw anything for you, all you’ll get is a stick woman/man or a dog with ears and it’s tongue sticking out. Other than that my designing and drawing skills are rubbish. But thanks to Uncle J’s architectural skills, and my ideas in my head, we had a handful of designs ready fairly quickly. The hardest part from here was sourcing materials. Then, the even harder part was finding a British manufacturer. Thankfully, Uncle J’s little black book and a lot of asking around, led us to some great people who worked with us tirelessly for months to get our product right. I faced a lot of set-backs and tears to get to our end product. But we made it!! I then was really lucky and grateful to win a cash prize through The New Entrepreneurs Foundation for pitching my business idea to a panel of judges and investors, so we could really kick start production.
Before I continue, during this time I always had one of our first few bags around my shoulder. I was my own ambassador at all times. It sounds silly really, but I learnt to realise just how important it is. I was on the Victoria line heading towards town for a meeting one morning. I had my meeting and came home. I then went out for a drink or two with friends later that day when I received a message on my Olive Cooper Facebook page. As my page was only a week or so old, with only a few likes, I was so excited to see who was messaging. It was a young Spanish girl who said this:
I contacted her to find out more about her, and she told me she spent the journey figuring out our brand name, which was hanging off the bag on the side (the power of branding!). With much excitement I gave her an exclusive discount for being one of our first customers, and I shipped out a bag to Spain for her last month.
That burst of motivation was brilliant, and encouraged me to really get started. As of October, we launched our collection of approximately 30 different styles. Leather, Suede, Nubuck, Wool. Big, Medium, Small. It was ready. With our Olive Cooper print and all the trimmings. When I say launch, I mean I managed to get a website up (here), a wonderful student photographer to provide images… and that was about it. My 22 year old self knew I needed to do something else. But what??
I was now in a position now where I had a great website and great products in my hands, but I needed customers. I had to put my thinking cap on, and big time. I never wanted to wholesale completely, but it was time we got stocked somewhere as we needed some exposure and something to say. The large stores just don’t take new designers straight away so I had to be realistic, and I needed something fairly quickly, so I asked around and looked around and found Wolf & Badger. Wolf and Badger have two great stores (Notting Hill and Mayfair), as well as an online site, which stock purely new designers. After one ignored application with them, a friend of mine put me in touch. Two months later, we were in.
This was really great and exciting for us, as Wolf and Badger have a really high reputation for stocking the best new designers. I also knew that getting in there would ultimately give us some of the exposure we needed. I still have some of the large retailers on my list (my fingers are crossed so tight it hurts to get into Liberty) and am getting to them slowly, but that’s going to be a much longer ride.
So that one stockist aside, going direct to consumer for us now is key. Basically, we need to drive people to our website. Seeing as we cannot afford a PR agency, or any paid marketing, I’ve become our PR/Marketing girl.
Now let me tell you what that means…
Other than trying to build a social presence on the relevant channels (main ones being Twitter, Facebook & Instagram), by following and engaging with my target customers and leaders in the industry, I spent all day, morning till night, for a good couple of weeks, compiling a list of relevant journalists and bloggers and their email addresses, thanks to Google and LinkedIn. After my list reached almost 300 people (it’s now much more and probably the most valuable thing I own), I got ready to start emailing. My instinct told me not to send a blanket email to all, which obviously would have been a breeze. So instead, I spent morning till night for another few weeks reading up on all these journalists and bloggers, finding out what they tend to write about and like, and composing really personalised emails to each one. I decided against calling them. Some people advised me to call and some were completely against it. I decided not to purely because if I was a journalist I wouldn’t like it, and I wasn’t sure how to get my story across on the phone to someone whose finger was probably hovering over the hangup button. So I emailed. I also asked around for some tips on what to say and put in the subject line. I tested things like ‘Introducing Olive Cooper’ (massive fail), to ‘Can you help?’ Not bad at all, and “I’m a 22 year old entrepreneur with a luxury and successful unusual bag line’ – Pretty good.
I’d say 5% replied, so I still have a lot to do. But, we have a couple of great features coming up in high profile UK magazines in the new year as a result, and have already been featured on some great blogs! We’re getting there.
But I guess my real reason for writing this blog post was this (I told you I would ramble): Every day has been different. The highs and lows have been extreme. We’ve had amazing weeks with great leads, lots of sales, we even sold a bag to an award winning British actress (I’ve been sworn to secrecy not to say who). But gosh, there have been some real lows. There have been days i’ve really struggled to wake up and push myself along. There have been days with no sales, no email replies, no nothing. It’s super super hard to keep positive and pick yourself up. But ultimately, after a string of bad days, a good day will come. And that just makes it all better again. You’ve got to hang in there.
Even if this journey ends as fast as it has started, the ride’s been pretty good so far.
Next update will come soon, I promise!