On 6th April this year, it was LaserFlair’s tenth birthday! And I made sure I celebrated, together with some business friends who also had big business birthdays. When 20% of small businesses fail within their first year and 60% go bust after three years, we decided to take stock of things and give ourselves a wee pat on the back.
Over delicious lunches and afternoon teas, we shared stories of how we started our businesses, our greatest achievements, what we love about being in business and what we learned about business that we never expected to.
LaserFlair was born out of the desolation of four redundancies over three years during the hideous credit crunch of 2008 – 2011. They left me exhaused, sore and sad. In my pool of self pity, my husband encouraged me to start a business of my own. ‘What worse time could there be, after three years of recession?’ I thought.
I knew that I loved manufacturing and wanted to find a way to make things profitably on a small scale. During some stained glass classes at Elmwood College, I asked the teacher if she’d tried to make a business from it. She hadn’t for two reasons. Firstly, if she costed in the time that making pieces cost, she’d price herself out of the market. Secondly, she didn’t like any of the commissions she made. So she wasn’t making a living and she wasn’t enjoying herself. I knew I had to do both or else there was no point. I might as well get another job.
After stumbling across laser cutting and engraving, I booked myself along to Edinburgh artist Jenny Smith‘s introductory course. She had bought a laser for her work and taught courses to help teachers from schools and colleges understand the machines their organisations were buying. I quickly saw the potential of laser cutting for making, and seized the chance to gain some hands on experience.
How it all began
We moved to a house with an outbuilding and bought a laser. The top picture shows the laser being delivered to the workshop in January 2012.
I started making personalised gifts like the one above. But when my website went live, I received enquiries for contract manufacturing. This was right up my street! My background in chemical, pharma and paper manufacturing suited me for this perfectly. I couldn’t have planned it better myself. And I put my sales experience to good use by cold calling leads.
Some of my earliest customers included FifeX, Old School Fabrications and Tom Pigeon, and I built my experience in laser cutting and engraving plywood, perspex, formica and cheeseboards. Through word of mouth, I gathered a band of customers of makers, businesses and hobbyists who valued a local service. It was lovely to meet customers face to face and hear from them how great it was to have such a flexible, local service with tight turn around times. Maybe I was getting something right!
I was always a bit of a worrier and having too much time to think over the first few years wasn’t ideal. Was I doing well enough? Should I just give up and get a proper job? I asked a business friend, Caroline Trotter, how long she felt it took her to get her business to a point where she felt happy about its performance. She reckoned 5 or 6 years. I found that a great comfort and after 5 or 6 years, I realised I felt the same and felt that I could relax and enjoy it more.
This was round about the time when I discovered Instagram and started blogging about my work, and both brought in customers. Instagram’s great for online networking and it brought in lots of enquiries, notably from Shetland and the knitting community!
At that point, John left his surgery and started working on a business idea of his own. I was so proud that LaserFlair kept us going, along with his out of hours sessions. I felt really proud of that. He’d supported me through redundancies and now my little business could support him in return.
Getting into the groove
I loved the next five years. I was so proud of my business and enjoyed the flexibility, new customers and friends it brought. These were truly some of the happiest years of my life where I came into my own.
As my experience and order book grew, so did my confidence. I worked with Diageo, RBGE, Volvo, and businesses and craftspeople around the country. My skills helped customers create new product ranges and diversify. I was delighted to see my customers’ businesses grow, and my own with theirs. Kate Millbank and Hooperhart are two such customers.
Who and what helped my in my journey?
Making friends who were business people through networking really helped build my confidence. I didn’t have any friends who had businesses when I started. Having the right people to give advice, share ideas and help in return helped me grow into and love my new world. Many customers became friends and we shared out ideas and experience as we worked together.
And I rectified the loneliness of working from home by joining the local golf club and prioritising friendships both old and new. Working from home is really hard to get used to! It’s very isolating and I had to reorganise how I lived my life.
Small business is all about people and the people I’ve met along the way have made this last ten years truly special.