A few things I have learned so far:
- Take all the advice you are given – you don’t necessarily have to use it all, though.
- No matter how much research you do, you will never know it all.
- Take all the help you can get.
- You are constantly learning as you are growing.
- If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it!
I’ll touch on the first point now…
At the end of last year, it was suggested to me that I meet with my Local Enterprise Office (LEO) to see if there were any start-up grants that I might be able to avail of. As with any new business, the initial costs of setting it up can be quite high so any grants would obviously be most welcome. Prior to the meeting, I had drawn up a brief business plan which I brought with me, together with samples of my first two designs. Feeling pretty confident, I explained to the liaison officer my plan for chiarahayes.com; that it would be an online store selling jewellery designed by me but which I had made abroad and that Darren, my husband, would build the website for me (in hindsight, it was a shame that I had mentioned the latter so early on in our conversation).
So, why was I here and what could the LEO do for me? Well firstly, I wanted to know if there were any grants that I would be entitled to and, secondly, could they give me advice on getting my business up and running successfully.
The answer to my first question was, unfortunately, No! Since I am only designing my own jewellery and not actually making it myself, there were no grants available for this; had I been making it myself, well, that would be a totally different story. There was, however, a grant available to build a website but, as I had previously mentioned that Darren was doing that for me, free of charge, I would not be entitled to this either. So, had this meeting been a complete waste of my time? Well, no, not entirely. Even though there were no grants available, the LEO agreed to give me three hours to meet with a mentor free of charge – and they had someone very suitable in mind. Not wanting to leave completely empty-handed, I happily accepted this and agreed to contact my new mentor to schedule our first meeting as soon as I had filled out the appropriate paperwork.
Access to Mentors
It was a few weeks later before my mentor and I could agree on a date to meet, but after our first meeting I must admit I left her company feeling very optimistic about my new business venture. She had given me some invaluable advice relating to my website and jewellery, and she was able to answer a lot of questions that I had previously doubted myself about. I took on board everything she had to say, and I was already looking forward to our next mentor session. Much to my disappointment, this never materialised. Before we could arrange our second meeting, I received a call from the LEO explaining that my mentor had to withdraw from the mentor programme for health reasons, but they would put me in contact with another mentor as soon as possible.
Unfortunately with the second mentor, things just didn’t work out. Besides the fact we both found it hard to nail down a suitable time to meet, I just felt we didn’t click. Don’t get me wrong – she did nothing to offend me or my business but from our brief conversion on the phone I didn’t feel like we were a good match. Not wanting to waste her time, or mine, I decided to contact the LEO and withdraw my application from the mentor programme. Was this a mistake? I don’t know, but it was a relief to be honest!
To Sum Up
Overall, I was a little disappointed to come away from my meeting with the LEO without any financial help, but it wasn’t meant to be and I did get some great advice. That’s not to say that someone else in a start-up position shouldn’t go to them looking for help. It’s different for everyone. Luckily for me, I was able to take out a bank loan and that – together with some money we had in savings – enabled me to get chiarahayes.com up and running. I also feel that having all our own money invested in the business definitely makes me more determined to succeed.