My 10 Biggest Lessons Learned from Sky Siouki

No biggy, just a quick little blog post today I told myself. My Ten Biggest Lessons Learnt Ever, that’s nice and easy right? So clearly I’m mad but this is a post I’ve wanted to do for ages and hope will be a fun little exercise for myself if nothing else at least. I find it so interesting and inspiring to hear about other independent businesses’ stories and downfalls so hopefully this may help a few fledgling businesses out there by learning from my mistakes!

1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS.

Be it for help, advice, moral support or just drinking partners even! Since joining forces with the Bristol Girl Bosses group (read more about us here) I have felt so much more motivated, supported and positive about my business and honestly I think I’m probably just happier in life for having more friends around me. If you’re like me and perhaps pride yourself a little too much in being independent and self-driven, never under estimate the value of a creative network. Honestly. Seriously.

Bristol Girl Bosses Group Photo

2. WALK BEFORE YOU CAN RUN

This was quite possibly my lesson number one and I learnt it the hard way. Without any real-life business experience it’s all too easy to believe that as soon as you offer something to buy to the general public that it will just effortlessly sell itself. When putting it like that, it sounds pretty stupid actually, but I went ahead and produced way way too much stock (and not cheap stock either) right at the start without really knowing how well it would sell. Now I make a very small run of every new product type to test the waters first. Take baby steps and see where the path takes you.

3. TIME IS MONEY

Something I think a lot of independent makers and businesses are all too shy of admitting and I have to say I still struggle to admit too. When you enjoy what you do and making your business work is your passion then it is hard to get away from that mindset of ‘oh but I don’t mind spending time doing that because I enjoy it’. There are of course exceptions, and when you’re starting out doing everything yourself is a good way to keep costs down. BUT if there’s a menial task you’re spending hours over such as hand-making something that doesn’t have to be, or packaging cards for example, consider whether that time could be better spent on something that will actually create more revenue for your business and if that revenue would outweigh the cost of outsourcing said jobs? I was kicking myself when I discovered Photoshop has an automate function and I’d been wasting ages on manually re-sizing and saving all my image files!

4. DON’T UNDER-VALUE YOUR PRODUCTS

I’m realising now these are beginning to sound quite obvious but I suppose there’s a reason for that, being that they are all very easy traps to fall into. I reckon just about every designer-maker out there has done this. We all think to ourselves ‘oh but no-one will want to spend that much on my work.’ Well shut up because you’re wrong and they will! If your work is original and different from anyone else’s and you spent time and care creating it then that has a huge value! I often end up discussing with the Bristol Girl Bosses group how easy it is to forget that: you are not your customer. Someone quite different from you is, who quite possibly can only dream of having the skills you do and also quite possibly has a much larger income than you as well. The Design Trust has some really great articles on pricing your work.

5. FAILURE CAN BE GOOD

I recently listened to a new podcast called Failure By Design and I love the concept of that title in itself. The host introduced the first episode explaining how failures are branded as such a bad thing that we feel shameful of and hide, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. In failing, you were brave enough to take a leap knowing full well that you may fall and that’s surely something to be proud of! Ok, I’m not saying anyone’s happy about it when they fail, but there is always, always a lesson – or lessons – to be learnt from failure. I mean that’s kind of the whole essence of this post, and I tend to find if I learn something from failure, I learn that thing well.

You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

6. TRY AND TRY AGAIN

So following on from point 5, when you do fail the important thing is you pick yourself back up again. Not everyone is resilient enough, but chances are if you made the choice to run your own business, you probably are! There have been maybe two or three occasions when I can remember really contemplating what the hell I was doing with my life and if I should just throw in the towel or start a second ‘supplementary’ career path (crazy I know)… and I’m so glad I didn’t! If you need to step away to re-assess then by all means do, but stay focussed and remember why you started this journey. Think about what is working and go from there. I personally think giving up is harder than giving in, but that’s probably because I’m so stubborn!

7. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS AND GOALS

Back in January a mentioned a book called Your Best Year Planner by Lisa Jacobs in my blog post HOW TO… Be a Go-Getter. This book has given me so so much and, as I explain in more depth in the post, a really key thing I’ve learnt from it is to write down my goals and to keep going back to them, checking if I’m making progress towards them and reviewing each month to check in with myself. Measuring my goals, writing plans down and creating habits have all been such major game changers for my business since mid-2016 when I first got Jacobs’ book. I would highly recommend it!

Your Best Year 2017 Book

8. EXERCISE

Ok, so not everyone is a big fitness fanatic or perhaps very able to move about, but then again I didn’t used to think I was. Even if it’s just taking 30 minutes out to go for a light walk I seriously cannot recommend the stress relief that exercise provides enough. For me it gets me awake and energised for the day, it takes my mind completely away from everything else going on in my life and I feel healthy for it too. Working from home used to make me feel really lethargic by the end of the day because half the time I’d barely use my legs all day but then when I realised all the other health benefits of sweating it out each morning I was hooked!

9. CARE FOR YOURSELF

Today I saw this little motivational post on Instagram: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. It really struck a chord with me because I am so guilty of this. It made me think about the contrast of how drained and de-motivated I felt on Tuesday following a couple of nights of limited sleep, and how much fresher and better I felt today following three nights of much better sleep. Things like sleep, and time off enjoying yourself with friends and family have more value than you know. I can be awful for never taking days off, or even the evening to relax, but make sure you do at least sometimes because you really can’t run on empty.

You Can't Pour From An Empty Cup

10. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

As Einstein famously said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Lisa Jacobs uses this point in her planner mentioned in point 7 and it resonated with me. When I bought her planner in 2016 I was forced to be a lot more honest with myself and I had to basically face up that by Einstein’s standards I was insane. Somewhere down the line you are almost bound to need to make change, so be brave and be honest and ask yourself what is and what isn’t working. Do this each step of the way in fact because as I see it, a business is an ever evolving thing that can always be strengthened and improved.

Einstein Insanity Quote

 

Ok. That felt like a good hour of intense self-reflection. Think I might do something creative now! I really hope this post is useful to a few people out there, I’ve certainly found it interesting to see just how much I have learnt. To start with I wasn’t sure if I could think of 10 things, but now I feel like I could go on and on!

 

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HOW TO… Use Apps to Help Business – PART 2

It’s what you’ve all been waiting for, the second instalment of my useful apps post!  This time I’m going to focus more on websites rather than apps in fact, as people often ask me about what I use to manage my website, online shop etc. Again, there are lots of options out there and I’m only sharing my personal experience. All of these tips are probably most useful to other creatives looking to set up similar businesses to mine.

1. Tictail

Tictail

I use Tictail to run my own online shop independently of more marketplace style sites like Etsy and Folksy, etc. I like that you can choose how the storefront looks and how simple and streamlined it is. It’s a Swedish company which I think shows in the stylish minimalist templates available and it’s also completely free to set up and list items. There are optional app plug-ins some of which do have monthly costs but never a lot, and you will of course have to pay transaction fees on sales but that goes without saying for all online sales. If you’re looking for something with lots of complex options it perhaps isn’t quite right for you but I’ve always found I can do everything I need with it with very little trouble and they constantly seem to be making added improvements.

2. Squarespace

Squarespace

I used to use Squarespace to run my main website but don’t anymore. This one isn’t free but the most basic package is only $12 a month (roughly £9) so if you’re looking for something with a nice readymade appearance and minimal hassle then I’d certainly recommend it. The templates are stunning and it is very easy to use so when I was just starting out it worked brilliantly for me. You can also integrate an online shop and it does look like they may have developed this feature a lot since I used it but as I seem to remember I think I found it very limited in terms of options. Since then I started to crave a bit more control over my website and wanted to better integrate my blog into my website so I switched to WordPress which I still use now.

3. WordPress

Wordpress

I guess that naturally takes me on to WordPress. This one used to confuse me a lot. There’s WordPress.com and WordPress.org. So, Dot-Com is free but limited, you can’t add plug-ins or much customisation, you have to pay extra to remove ‘wordpress’ from the website address and I basically found it only good for basic blogging. Admittedly Dot-Org is a little more complicated but I chose to make this move so that I could turn my blog into a fully functioning website set up as I wanted it with additional pages and the like.

What’s different is that you have to download the software and find a host for your website that you pay for and then link up with your WordPress site. I basically take the attitude with these things that there’s nothing a Google search won’t find a helpful tutorial for and so far that’s carried me pretty far! I believe I used this very link to help me back then. I chose to go with TSO Host‘s cPanel to host my website as they are UK based and when I did have a little trouble their support was great. Their website provides you with all the details of how to set things up and it costs £15 a year to use which compared with Squarespace does make me a big saving in the grand scheme of things. If you’re really really technophobic then perhaps this option may be a little overwhelming but once it’s all set up Wordpress itself is very easy to use with loads of clever free plug-ins available.

4. Google DriveGoogle Drive

This is something mighty useful for sharing documents with others or if you’re on the go a lot and perhaps use different computers depending where you are. I was introduced to it when I started stocking my products in a couple of Bristol based shops that work on more of an artist co-operative style basis. (This basically means your stock is available as sale or return, you provide codes for each item and then take responsibility for replenishing your own stock levels.) So there is a shared inventory saved to Google Drive which the owner of the document allows private access to for each seller meaning you can check back regularly to see what you have sold and add new items to it when you deliver more stock.

This of course is only one potential use of many for Google Drive. If you perhaps work with a partner in your business then it could be very useful if you don’t always work side by side. Or if you often use different computers perhaps in a hot-desking space it means you can still always access your important documents without having to worry about constantly updating them to a usb drive. It works much like iCloud meaning that every change you make is automatically saved online. You can create basic word documents, spreadsheets, presentations and even more with it. Again it’s free to use and very easy. For me this is one I have yet to create my own documents with but certainly reckon I’ll be thankful for when it comes to taking on employees.

5. DropboxDropbox

One last little helper that has a similar use to Google Drive which I thought I’d add in in case you haven’t heard of it. I find Dropbox really useful if ever I need to share a large volume of photos, for example to a stockist who needs to list my products onto their website. It’s basically just a file sharing service, which is free for up to 2GB of space. Whereas Google Drive is just for documents, Dropbox for me works well for photos because they are often too big to email and this way you can keep files available to whoever you share them with for whenever they may need to access them. It is also a very good security measure as the files you upload to Dropbox will all be backed up online too so this also means you can access your photos from any computer as with Drive.

That’s it for now. I hope I haven’t bored the pants off you! Please comment if anything is unclear or you’d like to know more about anything in particular. I’m hoping to do a How To post purely on Instagram soon. If you missed Part 1 of HOW TO Use Apps to Help Business click here.

HOW TO… Use apps to help business – PART 1

Time for the next instalment of my new business savvy ‘How To’ posts for 2017! Something that has helped me so much in keeping up my habits and staying productive the majority of the time is helpful apps and websites. There are so so many out there and I know it can be incredibly daunting when you google what you want and it seems like there are a bazillion options out there. So I thought I would just share with you the ones that I use. I haven’t tried them all so I wouldn’t like to tell you that these are 100% the absolute best options out there but they are all free at least and very user friendly. They’ve helped me a lot so with any luck they might help a few of you out too. As I’ve wrote this I’ve realised just how much there is to say so I’m going to break it down into two parts, so stay tuned for Part 2!

1. 30/30 App

My latest discovery and currently my favourite thing! This app is a task manager you can use on your phone or tablet. I just got an iPad mini and so I’ve been using it on that always propped up beside me on my desk. If you read my recent post How To… Be A Go-Getter you will have read how I’ve found timing my tasks a really great way to stay productive. Well I decided to take that to the next level this month and discovered the perfect app for the job. It’s very simple and straight forward which is what I love. You basically create a list of tasks which you can re-order, colour code, and most importantly assign a time limit to complete each task within. Tasks can be auto-looped, so say it’s a task you need to do everyday such as ‘Post on Instagram’ it will always be pushed back to the end of the list unless you choose to delete it. There is always a ‘break task’ which cannot be removed as the idea is if you are working solidly on each task you should take short breaks too to remain focused. I use it for my food and drink breaks and just move it around throughout the day. I love the colours and large scale interface too. Try it out, I can’t recommend it enough!

 

2. Tweetdeck

This one is for scheduling tweets on Twitter. I’ve been using it for some time now and it’s yet to let me down. There are loads of platforms out there for scheduling tweets on and although some have more complex features, I prefer the simplicity of Tweetdeck. I often find when something’s more complex it takes longer to use and isn’t always efficient. For example, I think another platform I trialled first would never actually post my images properly when I scheduled a post, but would rather post a link to it which for me makes a big impact as my business is obviously very visually based.

What I like to do is schedule every morning straight after my breakfast break on 30/30 to go to Tweetdeck and plan a few posts for that day. It means that I can make sure to post regularly, at optimum times and post during certain Twitter hashtag hours too which are usually in the evening when I know I’ll be too busy to be posting live. You can also choose which of these vertical menus shown above appear in your homepage so retweeting and replying is made easy all from one page.

 

3. IFTTT

AKA If This Then That. Following on from what I said about it being important that my images are posted visibly on Twitter in order to gain attention I used to find it so frustrating that sharing my Instagram posts to Twitter would only share a link and not the actual image! I don’t know about you, but if a post doesn’t have a picture attached to it, it’s unlikely I’ll bother reading it. I’m very visually minded, that’s why I love the colours and little symbols that come attached to the tasks on 30/30. (Sorry I’ll try to stop confessing my undying love for 30/30.)

If This Then That has ‘Applets’ which are basically little formulas that automatically integrate different social media platforms for you in simple ways so you don’t even have to think about it. So I love that with the middle Applet shown below, now every Instagram post will automatically be posted as a photo to my Twitter! I love IFTTT so much purely just for the fact it can do this and think that EVERYONE should be implementing this feature because it just makes so much sense.

 

4. Mailchimp

You may have heard of this one, they’re pretty well known but they have good reason to be. As they put it, Mailchimp helps you “Send better email. Sell more stuff.” It’s a platform for sending out email campaigns with multiple features all the while remaining very straight forward to use. I send out a monthly newsletter and occasionally the odd special offer or festive greetings email which I honestly have no idea how I would go about doing without Mailchimp.

You can save different mailing lists on it and create limitless html email campaigns without really needing to have any technical knowledge. The email builder lets you add images, text and buttons and rearrange them all just by dragging and dropping. You can schedule when your email will be sent out and send yourself a test version first to check it looks right. Once sent you can then see reports of how many people have opened and clicked your email and all the rest of it. There is an option for a paid account but the free version gives you a great deal of capabilities that you really don’t need the paid features if you’re just starting out.

That’s it for Part 1! Follow my blog or join my mailing list via the links on the right-hand side of the page to keep updated with future posts and of course, Part 2 of this feature! Next time I’m going to delve a bit more into how I’ve built my websites as this is something people often ask me about.

HOW TO… be a go-getter!

After sharing my best year planner for 2017 on Instagram last week and getting a wonderful response I suddenly realised perhaps I have a lot more tips and advice to give then I thought. I’ve learnt an awful lot since starting up Sky Siouki and, although I’m most definitely still learning all the time, I guess it might be helpful to some of you out there to hear what I’ve learnt in case you can learn from it too. I’ve definitely learnt a lot of things the hard way so if I can prevent anyone from having to learn it the hard way too then that in itself would be achieving something! So I’m going to be trying to do a few ‘How To…’ posts like this now and then this year and we’ll see how it goes down. Please go ahead and comment if you have any questions or a suggestion for my next topic even!

So in this post I just wanted to highlight some of the best practices and tips that I’ve learnt through workbook and business planner ‘Your Best Year’ by Lisa Jacobs which I bought half way through 2016 and am now starting a whole year afresh with for 2017. It’s a really brilliant book that I can’t recommend enough.Your Best Year 2017 BookTime Your Tasks!

Running your own business is challenging and one the biggest challenges is being your own boss and motivating yourself. Everyone has jobs they like doing and jobs they don’t. When you’re your own boss it’s all too easy to just avoid the ones you dislike or to let yourself get ever-so sidetracked when before you know it the whole day is gone and the only one suffering from your lack of productivity is yourself. So something Lisa suggests in order to stay on task and get things done is to time each task. Estimate how long something ought to take, set a timer and then do nothing but that task during that time – no emails, no Instagram, no snacking, just a solid 20 minutes filing loose paperwork or scheduling social media posts for example. I’ve taken this a stage further by making a to do list at the start of each day, allocating a time limit per task, putting them in order and then setting to it! This way I know if my day’s tasks realistically fill the amount of time I have available and feel the need to complete each task within the limit so that the later tasks don’t have to get dropped.

Timed Tasks

Measure Your Goals

I must have set myself so many vague intangible goals in the past such as ‘By June next year I need to be doing substantially better in my business if I want to continue on this path.’ That’s just crazy. For one thing, WRITE IT DOWN! But secondly, how the hell was I going to compare if I was doing ‘better’ if I didn’t even know exactly where I was at the time of setting the goal… whenever that even was, I couldn’t tell you! I actually feel like a full-blown moron even admitting to the nonsense of a goal I just wrote above, but that’s the truth, I honestly said that to myself. Now with Lisa Jacob’s planner I have a place to write my goals and track them. I can look back at how many Instagram followers I had last month for example and see that I’ve gained 100 since. In the new book she has included a monthly ‘abundance tracker’ where you set yourself a monthly income target and ideas to attain it which is so great because it is so undeniably measurable!

Create New Habits

Something from the 2016 planner which doesn’t seem to be in the 2017 book but I plan to add in to mine. Each month give yourself a new habit to adopt. Maybe the first month you won’t manage to keep it up very well, in which case when you come to review the month work out why you didn’t and revise your method for adopting it instead of starting a new one. Then once you’ve got it down you can move on to a new habit. Making something habitual is super useful for me. I’ve used this to become consistent with my Instagram posts and it’s really worked. I seldom miss a day now. The key is that when you decide on the habit to also decide on a strategy to implement it into your routine. So for my Instagram posts I decided I would always post at lunchtime, but sometimes I forgot so I changed it to mornings first things when I have my tea and that worked! I then got an app to make adding my hashtags quicker, and started keeping up a good stock of photos available so I’d rarely be short of material to post.

Instagram Posts

Plan Week by Week

I’m all about lists and I know I’m not alone in that as a small business owner. This is something Lisa’s book is really great for. Each month there are sections to fill in with what the key goals for the month are and then sections to break down tasks for each week in order to reach those main goals. Sometimes I have so much I know I need to do that it’s really overwhelming so by putting it into a timescale I feel so much better for having worked out what needs doing now and what can wait. I then refer to this page most days when creating my daily task list so I can tick off the week’s tasks as I go and see if there’s any little jobs I’d forgotten about which can often happen.

Treat Yourself!

This is obviously the best one! Lisa’s idea, not mine I promise! As part of the monthly abundance tracker page she suggests that when you set yourself your monetary target that you also set yourself a treat that you can have IF you reach the target. So simple but I just love this because having written down my treat and seeing it there whenever I turn back to this page really does make me want to get the target all the more. It makes achieving it feel more real and without it I think it’d seem less significant. So if I reach my goal this month I’m going to apply for Top Drawer September AND get a big fruity flapjack from my favourite bakery… because my tummy needs treat just as much as my business does.

I think I’ve blabbed on enough for now. I really hope some of these tips are handy to some of you! A lot of things I’ve touched on are expanded on much more in the book. I’m not an affiliate or anything just to be clear, I genuinely just think it’s a brilliant planner. Comment below if you’d like to ask anything!

Liberty Best of British Open Call 2016

Last weekend I made a trip to London to go and queue up for Liberty’s Best of British Open Call 2016 and present my latest cushion designs to their buyers. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Liberty of London, it’s a huge department store right in the centre of London on Regent St and it’s kind of a big deal. It’s an absolutely beautiful building and has been there since 1875. To be stocked in the store would be an incredible achievement and has been a dream of mine for some time so attending the open call had to be worth a shot. I actually went to the open call for the first time back in August 2014 but this time I felt more determined for some reason and more confident in my new collection.

Liberty

I arrived at about 8:45am. The queue was already pretty long but once the doors opened at 9am we suddenly moved forward by quite a bit and thankfully I moved into the building out of the cold by around 10:30am, joining the queue going up around the staircase. Both times I’ve found everyone else in the queue to be very friendly and there is a lovely encouraging atmosphere. The queue continues up the staircase for quite a while as the meetings are held right at the top of the building but someone came round calling people forward who had homewares as there were obviously less people waiting to see the homeware buyers. At the top there are lots of chairs laid out and you have to register your name and category and then wait another hour or so to be called. This is by far the most nerve-racking bit!

Queueing Up The Staircase

Soon enough my name was called around 1pm and I was put in front of Ed Burstell, the managing director of the whole store, and Julie Hassan, the head home buyer! I felt super nervous when I saw that they were the panel I’d be presenting to but you’re only given 4 minutes so it went incredibly fast. Julie gave me a lot of very specific and useful feedback on my designs and I was impressed by how in-depth she was, even opening up the zips and reading the tags.

Although they didn’t say it, the general impression I got was that my designs are a little too subdued for Liberty’s shelves which in hindsight when visiting the store on my way out seemed very clear to me. I didn’t take any of my first collection because I’ve grown to feel a lot more proud of my latest work but when they saw a photo of my previous designs in my lookbook they were a lot more intrigued by it and I realised how much my design style has changed and perhaps Liberty isn’t where my work necessarily fits anymore. I’m so pleased I went anyway as it was such a great experience and I appreciated how honest Julie was. The first time I went I felt like the buyers I met with were perhaps just being nice to me so it was refreshing to get some real feedback. I kind of wish I’d taken a mix of my old and new work now but you never know how much difference these things would really make. I also found out that around 3,000 people applied by email to see the buyers on the day but only 600 were invited so I feel really privileged to know that I was chosen.

Waiting To Be Seen

This year I’ve set myself a challenge to go for 100 opportunities and Liberty was number one. Now that I have this experience to reflect on I want to focus on trying to gain stockists that my new work is more suited to next and from there I can hopefully gage the right direction to continue in. If you have any questions about going to the Liberty open call please feel free to drop me a comment!

Festival of Female Entrepreneurs

Yesterday I attended the 2015 Festival of Female Entrepreneurs hosted by Enterprise Nation. Held in Bristol’s Colston Hall, I felt I had no excuse not to go and am so glad I did and decided to get an all access pass! The day was truly inspirational, I came away with my mind buzzing with tips, advice and ideas and with a newfound confidence in myself for managing to brave networking for the first time. My personal highlights were Julie Creffield’s motivational talk on why she started up Too Fat To Run and meeting Sophie Bush, founder of My Warehouse Home. I did get the feeling I was one of few creatives there but nevertheless I got so many useful tips out of the day that I’d certainly recommend it!

Festival of Female Entrepreneurs