TOP DRAWER TOP TIPS

Yesterday I hosted an informal advice session about my experience of exhibiting at the Top Drawer A/W 2017 trade show for the first time last September. I learnt an awful lot from it and a lot of people have asked me to hear about it since… So I put out an open invitation to ask me all of your questions within a small group meet up and people actually came!

I love to share what I’ve learnt and it was incredible to receive such a lovely response from those who came. It has made me seriously consider hosting more events like that and whether I could even give my advice as a sideline to Sky Siouki.

Anyway, I thought it may be useful for the people who attended yesterday and for anyone who unfortunately couldn’t make it to summarise my key tips here on the blog. There were some things I didn’t get to say yesterday (a grumpy waiter kicked us out well before the advertised closing time) and some that may not have been heard by all.

Top Drawer Spotted Footer

 

1. HOW AND WHEN TO APPLY

I applied for the Spotted section of Top Drawer which is especially for first time trade show exhibitors and benefits from a 30% discount. The application process was pretty easy via an online form and I got offered a spot the next morning! I applied at the beginning of February and was able to have a fairly broad choice of stand position so I think it was a good time to apply. Trade show spots are allocated on much more of a first come first served basis in comparison with markets so it’s worth getting in early. The Spotted section is popular with buyers because they all want something fresh and new for their shops and so it’s a whole section of brands they’re guaranteed not to have seen before. It’s well positioned right next to the VIP Lounge and the Craft section too.

2. SEPTEMBER (A/W) VS. JANUARY (S/S)

I’m sorry I don’t have a definitive answer for this one as I’ve only done September but we discussed it yesterday. At the show a lot of other exhibitors told me they usually find the January edition the busier of the two shows. From what I can gather, larger retailers will be doing their Christmas buying in January and plan much further in advance. All of my orders came from small independent shops and galleries who were mostly stocking up for Christmas so it could be worth considering what type of retailers you want to attract.

Top Drawer Wild Woodland Trend Board

3. DISPLAY EVERYTHING CLEARLY

I kept my stand layout fairly simple. You are allowed to paint the walls, add wallpaper and screw into them so I put up shelving and a rail to show most of my products. However even then, I found that in practice it still could perhaps have been clearer. Buyers often wanted to look at every design of every product all at once and I had stacked my prints in a wooden box for browsing through as I do at markets. A lot buyers ended up lining them all up on the floor in order to make their choices which wasn’t a problem but it would of course have been better for them to be able to immediately see everything together and just point out which designs they wanted.

Sky Siouki Stand Top Drawer A:W17

4.  KNOW YOUR PRICES

Buyers will ask you the wholesale price of everything on your stand and knowing them through and through rather than relying on skimming through sheets of paper makes it much easier for both of you. I in fact found myself blagging my way somewhat with my pricing. My listed RRPs were set as a 2x mark-up of my wholesale prices. I quickly learnt from interested shop owners that a mark-up more towards 2.5x was necessary in order to accommodate for the VAT most retailers are required to pay. In the end I verbally explained my new understanding of this to each buyer who showed interest and promised to amend my pricing accordingly. Knowing my costs well allowed me to make those promises on the spot so I was glad I’d done some memorising first.

5. PUT IMAGES ON YOUR ORDER FORMS

When a buyer decided to make an order it felt like a real whirlwind. Suddenly all of my products had been moved around and I would be rushing for my clipboard to take notes of what they were asking for. It made such a difference when a buyer would point at items listing quantities of each to be able to quickly find the matching item on my form by recognise the image rather than reading for the names. We’re all human and they were of course happy to repeat, but it’s a huge show and you can understand every buyer has an awful lot of stands to go to so time was somewhat of the essence.

Top Drawer Olympia

 

6. KEEP IN CONTACT

Being my first ever trade show, I didn’t know what to expect and was overwhelmed by how many orders I received during the show. I didn’t have any stock prepared before hand and in future I will certainly stockpile a certain amount pre-show in order to shorten dispatch times. I don’t want to say I’d recommend doing that to everyone first time, as everyone’s experience will vary depending on their product. The key thing I learnt from it though was to keep every buyer well informed of the progress of their order and reassure them that it would be on it’s way soon.

 

I’m going to leave it there because I reckon I could go on and on and on listing more tips otherwise. Those were some of the main things I was asked yesterday and learnt though. Plus there are certain things I feel more comfortable sharing personally in a small group rather than publishing publicly on the worldwide web.

Hopefully there will be more advice sessions to come as there certainly seems to be a high level of interest for them. I’m by no means an expert but I enjoy doing what I can to help and encourage other business owners and am very happy to be honest and open about these things.

Please do leave a comment below to let me know if you’d be interested in more advice sessions and on what other topics.

Sky x

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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… 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!