Friday, February 10, 2012

Dots and Spots - The Next Big Step

Dots and Spots

Another fantastic blog today. This time by guest blogger and artist, Becky Peabody from dots and spots. Becky and her extremely successful business was introduced to me very recently and I have been a HUGE adoring fan ever since. 

Adoration aside, I can only describe what Becky has achieved (in a very short period of time) as gob smackingly amazing!!

P.S - I would also suggest you get your other half to read this ladies. You will see what I mean when you have read it! We small businesses, who are trying to juggle work and kids need all the support that we can get and that includes getting those husbands to help out a bit! Maybe if he did, then maybe, just maybe, this could be YOU in a few years time........are you listening Dave?

introduction to Becky, artist and owner of dots and spots.......

Becky is a mum of two and lives in Somerset, England. This is also where the dots and spots studio is based and where Becky creates her unique, vibrant contemporary pieces of collage art work by hand. They are then professionally printed, to produce a growing range of cards, postcards, gift wrap, tags, notebooks, magnets, tape, stickers and more.

dots and spots will be celebrating it's 4th birthday in June - starting out as a hobby whilst still part time teaching back in the Summer of 2008, it is now a full time business, with over 300 stockists in the UK.

over to Becky.................

dots and spots began on my kitchen table with a range of 16 cards and 8 postcards and I was selling them through craft fairs, word of mouth and to one or two local shops – a promising start, but still very much a ‘hobby business’.  This is the story of the steps we climbed to get to where we are now, selling dots and spots to over 300 shops.

I knew I had a great product, a product that people would buy when they saw it – the key to growing my business was (and still is!) getting my products in front of people. I knew I needed a website but was quoted thousands to get one built, money we just didn’t have. So my husband bought a book, taught himself, and built our first website.  I sat back and waited, and worried that I’d be able to cope with the orders that would now flood in, and waited. And waited. Eventually my first order came in and I was thrilled – but just having a website is not enough, you have to promote it. Some will tell you of the importance of SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – which is getting yourself to the top of Google.  Yes this is important, but necessarily how people search for my products.  Of more success to me was the use of social media – Twitter, facebook and my blog.  I love to talk to people and this was just an extension of that – don’t just promote your business, interact and chat with people and build yourself a ‘tribe’ of followers who act as ambassadors for your product.  We did do some blog and twitter give aways, where we would offer a prize to someone drawn at random who posted a comment on our blog, or re-tweeted a tweet or ‘Liked’ us on facebook. Gradually our online presence grew and the sales began. The blog is also a great way to detail the journey the business has made – good times and bad and it is a great tool to look back over how the business has grown.

I am good friends with the owners of a shop nearby who were the first to stock our products.  With no experience in retail, they were a huge help with advice on all manner of things: buying multiples, pricing etc. – basically, they told us what shops expect from their supplier.  I can’t emphasise enough the great advice I had from these guys, if you’re not already, make friends with a retailer, take them out for a coffee and pump them for their perspective on how the industry works.

Wholesale – It became apparent that selling ‘wholesale’ to shops was the way to grow the business.  Whilst you might make more profit on selling a card to a customer than to a shop, shops buy in volume and make the business viable.  There are many ways to come up with trade prices, but the way I do it is work out what the product will cost in a shop (RRP) and divide that by 2.4.  This is the price that a shop will be prepared to pay for a product.  I then work out what it will cost me to produce the item and, if there is a big enough margin between the cost to me and what I’ll sell it for then I’ll make the product.  To be able to sell wholesale you need to be able to produce in volume – and this probably means having your work printed rather than hand made, unless you can pay people to help you produce the quantities wholesale orders dictate.  Storage also becomes an issue – having products produced in volume means having somewhere to store them and that may well be the point at which the business moves out of the home and into premises.

It was doing our first trade show that moved the business significantly forward and, although it was a big financial outlay with no guarantee of return, it is an important step to take.  Spend a year or two visiting the trade shows as a visitor to see the layout of stands, what works (and what doesn’t) and then book your stand.  Trade shows look (and are) highly polished and professional affairs, but when I did my first show I was amazed at how many traders were small one or two man bands, just like me!  The good news is, is that you don’t need to take loads of stock – orders are placed for delivery after the show.

 If you are serious about selling to shops then trade shows are a must.  They are not a guarantee of success – I have met people who have had disastrous shows, basically not making a sale, (but perhaps there is an important lesson in this for them) – but they will increase your exposure both in the UK and to an International audience in a way that nothing else can.  Oh, and one last (most important?) piece of advice for doing a trade show: wear comfy shoes! You’ll be on your feet all day, and your feet will hurt at the end of the busy show!

Our repeat custom is down to a number of things – presence at Trade shows, agents, catalogues and mailshots. We picked up our first agents through our friends at a local shop – they sell our cards on our behalf around the South West. We now have a number of agents who sell our products around the UK – they can go direct to shops, show our range, take orders for us, fax them through and then at the end of each month we get invoiced on sales they have made. We have to pay commission, which is the downside but it does mean they get in front of our customers maybe 2 or 3 times a year – more than we can do ourselves. With each trade show, we produce a new catalogue that gets sent out to anyone who has ever placed an order with us. We also send out a mailshot postcard to anyone who has ever showed an interest in us a few times a year – just to remind them that we are here. Also regularly facebooking, tweeting and blogging keeps our customers aware of what we are doing.

I have never approached a magazine – I must confess I am not really up on the whole press side but have been featured a few times as a result of being found by them, usually as a result of tweeting. We recently had an 8 page house feature in Ideal Home magazine but that was a result of someone reading the blog and following me on twitter. I am probably not the best person to ask in this area.

Accounting – I’m lucky, I’m married to a maths teacher who enjoys ‘numbers’ and he has been happy to do my accounting.  I keep a record of everything that comes in and everything goes out and I leave the rest to him!  The business has always been self funding – I’ve used the profits from one product to fund the next. We always consider the worst case scenario and make sure we could cover those costs without losing the house! If anything happened to me tomorrow – I only need to find money to cover the rent on the premises, everything else is paid for.

here are a few questions that some of the Cheeky Pickle friends put together........

Q: How much time do you spend per day working, on average?

A: 8 hours – 6 days a week – but the beauty is I can be flexible with my time, working around the needs and demands of my children. I start at 9am and often work until 9pm but in between take time out to be with the children

Q: Do you print your own cards or do you use an outside source?

A: No – all my printing is done by a professional printing company.  I use a company 5 miles down the road which means I can regularly meet with them and keep an eye on quality etc.

Q: Have you made any silly mistakes along the way?

A: Lots! One or to customers have got away without paying in the early days. Some advertising: slick salesmen can sell you space in magazines that will bring you no extra customers.  Some advertising works for us, some doesn’t – finding that out has been an expensive lesson.

Q: What is the one thing you have learned that you can pass on to others?
A: Slow and steady wins the race!  Don’t be taken in by what others around you are doing, do what’s right for you and your business. It’s so easy on twitter and facebook to see others doing this or that or getting orders from here and there and start questioning what you are doing. Take notice but stay true to what you want to do and at the pace you need to work at.

Q: When do you think you will need to employ someone to help you out?

A: Already do – after my first trade show I realised I need some part time help. I have someone who works a couple of mornings for me , an 18 year old student who does one morning a week and a couple, who envelope and cello all my cards on an outworkers basis.

Q: When did you stop custom orders and when did you realise that it was time to move on from doing them?

A: When they started taking up too much time.  They were great for getting us noticed but when we started supply lots of stores they took too long. We used to hand finish/ embellish prints but couldn’t keep up with the quantities trade wanted so eventually removed them from our product list.

Q: When did you know you were ready for your first trade fair and how were you received? Were you nervous of possibly receiving too many orders and that you wouldn't be able to supply in time

A: We knew we were ready when we had enough products to enable a buyer to place an order that comfortably met a minimum order level.  Our first show was great – plan to be a ‘breath of fresh air’ and ‘something new’ – that’s what retailers are looking for. Yes, I was a little nervous, you do need to ensure you have the systems in place to cope with a sudden influx of orders. One of the reasons I chose my first show was because my husband (a teacher) would be on holiday and I knew I could call on him for extra help or childcare duties  if necessary.

Q: Are you happy with where you are or do you have dreams to go further?

A: Happy, but still dreaming!  There are many products I’d like to do, but still don’t have the money or space yet. I sometimes can’t quite believe where we have come in such a short space of time but have a head full of ideas which I would love to do in the future.

Q: Have you ever written up a business plan and if so can you recommend any templates/links e.t.c?

A: No, never!  Every decision has been based on instinct and circumstance.  I honestly wouldn’t know where to start. One of the advantages of a micro business is its flexibility and ability to adapt quickly to market needs.
Q: What do you think was the combination to your business success?
A: Knowing what I wanted to do, hard work and staying true to my first intentions. I also couldn’t be where I am now without the support of my husband who has believed in me since the beginning and has been with me every step of the way.

thank you Becky for an absolutely inspiring piece of writing!

Please comment below if you enjoyed this blog. I'm sure Becky would really appreciate it :)

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  1. Really helpful and informative Becky - I particularly love the advice to go at your own pace, be true to yourself and not be too influenced by what you see others doing. This is so important otherwise you can end up doing things before you are really ready or even sure if they are the right avenue for you. That said we all learn by our mistakes! That's what I am hoping. ;)

  2. These last two posts have been brilliant - it is so kind of Jane and Becky to share their stories. They, like others, are very supportive to new businesses and it is really appreciated. Thank you.

  3. What a fabulous post. I've watched (from cyberspace) Becky grow her business and she's an absolute inspiration for anyone wanting to build a solid, creative business.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, & it is very true that we must be true to ourselves & go at our own pace. It's also good to know that you don't have to do the whole slaving over a business plan thing. Thanks for sharing

  5. I loved reading this blog. Like Alison Iv'e also followed Becky (not in a stalker's way) :) but love seeing how and where the drive comes from, giving me the inspiration what I like to achieve for turning something you enjoy into a business. If that makes sense.
    Thank You for sharing! xxx

  6. Brilliant blog Becky. It is so inspiring to read these posts and to hear the 'real' side of it all x

  7. I loved reading this. Thanks for taking the time to share Becky.

    caroline x

  8. I am in awe of Becky and how she has built up her business to where it is in such a short space of time..I've followed her blog for a long while and definitely saw how the trade show turned her output on it's head.

    It's all too easy to get carried away with seeing how other people are moving so quickly and wishing yourself to be at that point, but you definitely have to built yourself up and be absolutely confident in your own product before that jump happens....

    I LOVE seeing inspiration in this gives me hope ;o)


    hello gorgeous xxx

  9. Thanks for commenting ladies :)Please feel free to share, tweet, post the blog on your pages. Thanks x

  10. Thank you for such helpful advice. Like Gabriella, I particularly liked the comment about going at your own pace. Helen

  11. Totally blown away. What a fabulous read. A girl can dream....and dream BIG. Maybe one day :) Thanks so much Ali and Becky, you are both brilliant x

  12. Hi Ali...I have been enjoying all your blogs and guest blogs and the fact you are making such great use of the World Wide Web! I, however live on the peninsula probably not far from you proving that all in all, it is a small world

  13. Have followed Becky on fb for the last couple of years - running a 'kitchen table' business myself I find her products a real inspiration - her steady business progress has also given me the confidence to keep following my dreams & go with those fantastic (but sometimes totally impractical) ideas!

    Thanks Becky - keep up the good work.

  14. Thanks Ali for the post and Becky for all the advice - really useful and honest stuff - all the best :)

  15. Loads of generous help and info. Fantastic read, thank you! xo

  16. Another great blog post from a creative and inspirational lady. Thanks Becky and Ali x

  17. We met Becky at Top Drawer this year when we did our first trade show and over the 3 days we spent as her neighbours on our little stand we chatted to her when we had the odd quiet moment. we soon realised what a kind and inspirational person she is and have been following her (in a non stalker ish way too!) since. She is definitely an ambassador for us small start up businesses and we'll continue to follow her with much admiration and respect! Fantastic post thanks Becky and Ali.

  18. Fabulous read Becky. Inspiring and very interesting. Well deserved success x

  19. Lovely Blog post, came just as I am wondering what the heck am I trying to achieve here? thanks Becky and Ali,

    Helen X

  20. Very inspirational as always! I'm a big fan of Becky and Dots and Spots. And lovely to find Cheeky Pickle too - I will be popping back :-) xxx

  21. Thanks for all your lovely comments ladies. If you write blogs you will know how time consuming they can be, and when you post it out and get no comments it can be really soul destroying. So I just want to say a massive thanks on mine and Beckys behalf for taking the time out to write these lovely comments. Ali xx

  22. Becky - Thank you so much for taking the time to provide so much information! Very interesting reading and ideas. Thank you, and continued success! :o)

  23. Another fantastically inspiring blog, thanks Ali for hosting it and to Becky for taking time to blog about it.
    I am a part-time teacher with a kitchen table business and am contemplating the next step so this was personally very relevant.

  24. Hi, thank you so much for this (and your other) brilliant stories and chats. I've only recently found you Ali (& Cheeky Pickle) and I'm so glad I did (in a non-stalkerish way of course) ;) You always provide useful and interesting stories and discussions which are so inspiring. It's very much appreciated. Wish my husband was even a tiny bit supportive of my little venture LOL!

  25. A great interview! Thank you to Becky to sharing her experiences.

  26. Excellent advice! Thank you!

  27. Really interesting - that step from home to premises is daunting

  28. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the advice too. It is certainly inspiring! I hope you get all the products you're dreaming about out there!!

  29. Thank you , that was put exactly how I wanted to hear it,all the questions answered , thank you
    miss haidee

  30. Fantastic post Becky - brilliant advice.
    Love to see how your business has grown - you work so hard and deserve every bit of success! Your designs are fabulous
    Heidi (Giddy Kipper)xx