Guest post by Coven member Charlotte Hamilton, founder of Sugar Storm: what she learnt in her first year of business
Relaunching In Year Two: What I learnt In My First Year of Business
In November 2017 I launched Sugar Storm Clothing, an alternative fashion company designed to celebrate individuality and DIY. I began with zero experience in business, and kind of fell into it because I absolutely loved making. This year I relaunched as Sugar Storm, and rebranded as a creative development brand, built to empower the outsiders through alternative fashion, tutorials and workshops.
In November last year I began analysing everything I had achieved over the last year and what the future of Sugar Storm was. I knew something wasn’t quite working but I couldn’t put my finger on what no matter how hard I tried. So I picked everything apart. And I mean absolutely everything. Turns out when you have no idea how to run or business, or even how you ended up running a business, a lot can go wrong. So i guess it was make or break, that could’ve been the point where I walked away with my lessons and being thankful I hadn’t got myself into too much debt. But the biggest decision I made last November was that if I was going to do this I was going to give it my absolute best shot. And then meant doing it properly, learning all the rules so I could decide which ones were useful and which ones I would bin.
And then my mum got suddenly very sick. I won’t go into the details but we had a generally shit couple of months around Christmas and are just beginning to come out of the other side into the long road of recovery. I’m telling you this because it’s something you don’t tend to hear about when running a business; that when life falls apart you can’t necessarily shut everything down when you want to. Luckily I was in a position that I didn’t have a long list of orders, and Sugar Storm wasn’t my main source of income, so I was actually able to press pause and focus on what really needed my energy.
On the day my mum went into hospital, I got an order for Christmas cards. I remember the dread as I opened the email, praying it wasn’t something I had to go the studio and make. That situation really changed how I thought about how I was going to work, and what I had to make sure was in place for the future. I’m not saying I will always be able to be in a position to shut up shop, but I know that as much as I am in my business, it needs to be a working entity. Running a business that is your passion will always be 24/7, I don’t think you can escape that when you’ve built something from scratch, when it’s your baby, but It needs to be sustainable. It needs to work for you, and support the life your building around it. So something needed to change in the way I was approaching my work - I needed a plan.
It’s hard to believe I got this far without a plan. I hadn’t planned on starting a business so it didn’t occur to me to plan how to do it. But if I’m going to do this properly then I need to know where the fuck I’m heading.
As the dust settled after Christmas I made my way back into the studio and started making and designing again, and it clicked that that was something that brought me so much joy and comfort. Making things my hand has always grounded me, no matter what it was that I’m making. So it’s a big deal for me to make things by hand, and it’s a big deal for me to share the love I have for it. Point one of what needs to be present in my business.
After taking some well needed time off and coming back with a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective, I started becoming really unhappy with how my business had shaped over the last year. I had been treading water and trying to keep afloat, without looking at the big picture, or even the next step. This meant I had gotten sloppy with my organisation, every order left me feeling flustered and panicked, in a rush to get it finished and sent out. It wasn’t enjoyable and it wasn’t providing the best service I could to the people who had chosen to spend their money with me.
So step one: make my customers a priority and give them something special for their money. I re-designed all of my illustrations because over the year my skills and equipment had improved, I was capable of much more than I was a year ago and my customers deserve to benefit from that. Along with this came improved printed methods and equipment. A lot of talking with suppliers and up-levelling my own equipment and processes. Money was a big factor in this, I was always scraping by and Sugar Storm has been self funded since the beginning, but a good end of the year last year meant I had a little to put back into the growth of the business. It was about prioritising the things that were going to improve the quality of what I was producing.
Step two: Decide where we are heading. I knew I needed a plan and a bigger picture idea of what Sugar Storm was destined to become. It was time to think big and stay true to the vision I had when I started. So i caved in and began a business plan and a marketing strategy, as well as hundreds of mind maps, lists and vision boards. And that brings me to where i am now. Preparing for a relaunch in my second year of business, essentially back at the beginning but so much further along and so much more equipped and more excited for what the future of Sugar Storm.