How I turned my business dream into a reality
Do you have a business idea, but you're not quite sure where to begin? You're in the right place! I'm Charlotte Jones, founder of Charlotte Elizabeth. I've produced a blog to inspire other young people to explore the idea of setting up a business.
I’m Charlotte Jones, a 23-year-old entrepreneur who was supported by The Prince’s Trust’s Enterprise programme. The aim of my blog is to inspire you and show you that dreams really can come true if you believe in your idea enough.
After leaving school at the age of 16 to undergo heart surgery, I found myself being unable to secure a full-time job or qualification which would suit my ever-changing health stat. For over a year, I suffered from flu-like symptoms and unexplained symptoms, which left me housebound. My ongoing health problems shattered my confidence; I fell into a bout of intense anxiety, developed PTSD and became clinically depressed, as I simply didn’t know what the future held for me.
My ill-health didn't stop there and soon resulted in paralysis, leaving me bed-bound for over a series of years and rarely saw life beyond my bedroom. However, I was determined to not let ME and PoTS rule my life, so I started to think about how I could take control of my future. I was at absolute rock bottom and at my worst lost the ability to do simple things such as smile or hold a pencil, but I used to dream of running my own business as a shining light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
One evening, whilst speaking to my sisters about handbags, an image of the perfect handbag popped into my mind. This was a real light bulb moment for me. I had a strong feeling that this particular idea really could work. I didn't have any more knowledge on fashion or business than a typical 19-year-old, but I truly felt that this bag was unique – simple, classic yet modern. I believed that I could create something which I, my mother and grandmother could all wear, something universally acceptable for all generations.
The Enterprise programme
My sister Emma found out about The Prince’s Trust on her commute home one evening. She saw a poster advertising a success story of a lady who had explored her business idea through the Enterprise programme, where she’d created a business which employed more people than she’d ever initially anticipated. Emma told me about what she had read, in the hope that it may inspire me in a desperate time in my life, and thankfully it did. I gradually started to see small improvements in my health and used this as an opportunity to enrol myself on to the Enterprise course.
The Enterprise programme was a four day course. Throughout the week I learnt about different elements of running a business; learning about things such as PR and marketing, VAT, tax – all of which contributed to the ultimate goal of developing a business plan.
The Enterprise programme staff really helped me to build upon my business idea. During the course I was asked questions such as:
- Why is the unique selling point of your product?
- How is your handbag unique in comparison to other handbag brands?
- Who are your target market?
By questioning my business idea, I was able to establish what I’d like my brand to be.
One of the best things about the Enterprise course was that it was very supportive and encouraging – as every idea was welcomed by not only the mentors and staff but also by the other students. There was a really positive environment, whereby we would all help each other to establish our business ideas, which was really nice as we were able to learn from each other. Meeting other like-minded, driven and ambitious individuals was a really motivating aspect of the course. However, for me, it was the staff that made my experience so special. They really were the driving force in helping me to build upon my business idea, without them, my brand Charlotte Elizabeth would never have been born.
Due to my health issues, I was very nervous about attending the course. Although I had to miss part of the final day for this reason, I was treated just the same as all the other students, and this really meant a lot to me. The staff really respected my health issues, everything was accommodated to suit my needs and if things became a bit too overwhelming, I could have a moment away from the group which really put me at ease.
Although I went to the course with one main idea – my handbag business – at the time I didn't know if I could pursue it, as it was fairly ambitious for somebody without any fashion or design experience. I had many other ideas which I took to the table, some were shared, while others were stored in my head. At times, my business idea – to create my debut handbag, The Bloomsbury – felt a bit too much of a challenge and I wasn’t really sure whether I could pull it off. It’s thanks to my Enterprise course teacher for encouraging me not to give up on my dreams despite my health deteriorating once I left the course.
How to turn your business dream into a reality
Research your products’ market
Filling out my business plan was probably the hardest part of starting my business. It seemed to change almost daily due to the constant research that I was doing. If I would have found my business plan easy to fill out initially then I’m sure my idea wouldn’t be half as strong as it is now.
Predict the future
Are the trends changing? Will your product still be current in a year? Will people still require your service if a competitor is offering a better deal? Asking yourself questions is an important part of improving, expanding and exploring your business.
Become an expert in your area
I’m admittedly not a handbag expert just yet, but I am learning more than I ever thought I would. From understanding how the industry operates to dealing with suppliers and manufacturers, there is so much to learn – dedication is key!
Be confident in your price
Allow enough room to expand your business, have a salary and have administration costs (such as tax, VAT, website costs), but don't be greedy.
Seek feedback from your target audience
Trial your product/service for a duration of time before launching it to the public. Whilst setting up my business, I was too unwell to get out and promote my product in a social environment, so instead I would take along my prototype to every hospital appointment and would ask for advice and feedback from everybody that I met along the way! Launch your business only when you become truly happy with your product/service.
Nail your time management skills
Set yourself achievable goals for the day, week, month and year ahead. It could be phoning a manufacturer that you've been interested in, or coming up with a new product for your business or setting up an event to encourage sales. Whatever it is, make sure you schedule in some time to do it – you’ll feel amazing afterwards!
Write everything down
Before starting my business, I wish I had known the importance of writing down what I had just spoken about on the phone to my suppliers or anyone else involved in my business. The mind only remembers certain elements of a conversation, but with it all noted down on paper, you will be able to refer back to it in the future. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to have an awkward follow-up phone call to re-ask a question!
From this, I’ve learnt to get into a habit of following up phone calls or meetings with a brief email summarising what I’ve spoken about and what actions came out of the conversation. By making sure you and your supplier are on the same page, this will help to avoid problems in the future. My top tip is to make sure you carry a pen and paper everywhere you go, you never know when you’re going to get a business-related call!
In order to ensure you’ve got a healthy well-being, you must balance your work. Remember to make time for friends, family and for yourself. Otherwise years will fly by and you’ll miss out on many special moments which you cannot get back. Whilst it’s important to be dedicated to your work, you need to remember to take care of yourself, as your wellbeing reflects onto all areas of your life including your business. I’ve discovered yoga and mindfulness to be beneficial in giving me clarity and always make sure to squeeze in these before my working day.
No business is ever totally smooth sailing, so learn to embrace the challenges you face. Challenges are opportunities for you to learn more about your business, and yourself - you’ll be surprised what skills you pick up when you have to get involved in problem solving!
The bigger picture
Sometimes it can be really hard to get motivated, especially when you're waiting on people to get to that next step. Keep reminding yourself about your ultimate goals, and that everything you are doing is helping you get to that bigger goal. I make sure to start my mornings off by sitting myself down with my diary and listing what I want to achieve in that day both personally and professionally - this has helped me hugely in my productivity and sense of accomplishment. Always re-evaluate your workload, if you don’t think something is adding value, you’re in control – you have the power to change it.
My top tips
- Use fear as fuel to achieve dreams
- Live with an open mind
- Always think beyond the ordinary and live inventively
- Be inspired by the world around you
- If you have a business idea, and you cannot stop thinking about it, you should put all your energy into making it happen!