The British Blanket Company celebrates its 5th birthday today! When we wrote our five year business plan* we certainly didn’t expect to be where we are now – celebrating this milestone alone and in lockdown. One challenge with running your own business is that you get so intrenched from day-to-day that it’s hard to look up, look back and actually reflect on how far you’ve come. Five years on, The British Blanket Company is just beginning to deliver the dream for us that we imagined in the beginning and I (Bethan) wanted to take this chance to look back at the lessons we have learned along the way. Buckle up, this is going to be a warts-and-all account with the kind of advice for starting a small business that nobody ever tells you about!
*who are we kidding, we’ve never properly written a business plan.
I have to confess: there are still days when I crave the security of a 9-5 job. My previous career as an interiors journalist wasn’t a walk in the park, with its deadlines, editorial whims and threat of industry decline, but the memory of a reliable pay check, holiday entitlement and shared responsibility definitely holds an appeal some days. Be kind to yourself and don't feel guilty when it’s all too much. Running a business often feels like walking a knife edge between success and failure day-after-day-after-day. That isn’t easy.
Would I go back to a regular job? Not a chance! The responsibility of being a business owner is challenging, but every success comes down to your efforts too. That sense of achievement has me hooked (plus, I’d be a terrible employee now anyway!)
Honestly, a growing retail business is a hungry beast and needs feeding with virtually all the profit it makes. We’re very lucky that our business has always been growing but, the reality is, after investing in increasing stock, there’s very little left for things like – say – paying yourself! In the early days, Joe and I rented a small house together to save on rent, paid ourselves barely enough to scrape by and didn’t have a holiday for years. If you intend to grow your business organically, be prepared for sacrifices in your lifestyle… and potentially making them for a really long time.
Taken a few days after Joe had left is full-time job in Newcastle and we moved in together to save on rent and office costs
This is a tough one, especially given the above. When you’re feeling kind of poor, it’s tempting to take investment from anyone who is willing to offer it to you. The thing is, if your business hasn’t gained traction yet, investors are going to want a lot of equity (a high percentage of your business) in return. The longer you can last without taking outside investment, the more of your business you’ll keep hold of long term. That’s not to say investment isn’t right or necessary for some businesses, but we’re pleased we resisted in the early days when business was hard and seeking investment felt like a lifeline.
Did you know that if you’re turning over under £8.2 million you’re still only a small business by the EU definition? Even a micro business has a threshold of £1.7 million annual turnover. How’s that for perspective?
In the 5 years we’ve been running The British Blanket Company, we’ve seen a steady decline in the amount of government support available for small businesses. The depressing truth is that almost all the funding that used to provide workshops, mentoring and finance for start-ups and small businesses came from the EU. Since the Brexit vote, slowly but surely, nearly all those programmes have ended and not been replaced.
Visiting 10 Downing Street as a promising British brand was a fun experience, but practical help for small businesses from the government is hard to come by nowadays
Many of you will know that The British Blanket Company is a family business run by siblings – me, Bethan and my brother, Joe. Truthfully, I don’t think I would have made it through 5 years without my brother by my side. I think solo founders need incredible resilience and, personally, I couldn’t do it alone.
Would I have started an online business 5 years ago if I knew it would be so hard, for so long? Probably not! But both Joe and I threw ourselves into this venture 100%, naively giving up our full time jobs, optimistic we’d make this work. And because we did, we have!
We’ve experienced other business owners stealing our photography, infringing our copyright and publishing fake reviews over the years. As a small business that puts honesty and hard work above all else, it still comes as a shock that a business would rip-off someone else rather than create their own success. This has been a hard lesson to learn, but we'll continue to strive to lead and be the best we can be.
Winning 'Family Business of the Year' at the 2019 Great British Entrepreneur Awards was a great boost to our confidence
When working yourself to the bone, praise from others really does count. Whether that’s a kind review on Trustpilot, winning an award, or a mentor telling you they’re impressed with your KPIs, it's an incredible boost when others tell you that you are doing a good job. Remember, part of an entrepreneur’s job is to appear successful, but that doesn’t mean everyone is. Don’t torture yourself with comparisons to the public face of your peers.
In truth, we’ve probably been over cautious in taking risks for our business and instead have grown it slowly and organically, little by little. Maybe that’s the philosophy that’s kept us afloat; maybe it’s held us back… who’s to know? Risk-taking is personal and you can only do what feels comfortable for you at the time.
I promised a warts-and-all account, but let’s finish this on a high. Despite the trials and tribulations, running The British Blanket Company makes me feel so happy and so proud every day. We know from our customers that our business makes them feel cosier and brighter at home, and hear from our mills that our success helps their industry to thrive. These things mean everything to us and we thank you for being part of our dream. Here's to the next 5 years!
Bethan and Joe x