Starting a Small Business- My Story

Starting a Small Business- My Story

Starting a new business venture can be an exciting but also a daunting time. I've noticed lots of new businesses springing up on Instagram recently and also some sadly closing down. It's certainly not an easy time to be a small business owner. This made me reflect on my own business journey after a full financial year of Big Little Gift Box including all the ups and downs. 

I hope it's useful for you to hear more about some of the pitfalls and learnings I have had in this first year. This blog is really about my personal journey and how things have evolved for me.

The Back Story

Two years ago, I said goodbye to a 17 year banking career and started to look for something more meaningful. All my experience was in corporate, but I have always been creative and loved to sew. I tried various options and even went to a couple of interviews but it was all very bland and essentially the same as where I'd been. Despite the values and mission statements, it was really all about making more money for shareholders which I'd done for a very long time. Not a lot of joy comes from that - other than if you are one of the shareholders of course!

I started creating gifts for friends and wanted to make a more sustainable gift box experience, that's where Big Little Gift Box came from. It was definitely a hobby but in April 2023 I finally registered the business and made it official. Since I've been a "proper" business I have had to start to think about things differently which is where we go to next.

The Story about Money

I firstly needed to make sure my business could look after itself financially as it was now completely separate to my personal finances. I started to think about profitability or actually if I was making a profit at all. I put away my sewing machine for a day (or two) and started to work through how much I made on each product IN DETAIL. I added in all the things that are required to make my gift boxes, here's a list as this might help you do the same:

  • Raw materials (for me this is fabric, thread, brand labels)
  • Gift box contents and delivery costs
  • Postage boxes
  • Branded postcards
  • Branded packaging and ribbon
  • Stickers and labels
  • Packaging, tissue paper or stuffing
  • Postage costs
  • Credit card (stripe), Paypal and Afterpay fees
  • Fuel costs to pick up local items
  • Tax and GST

It's a serious list! Plus add to that your fixed costs of website hosting, email providers, memberships, subscriptions etc

So, it didn't take long to figure out that something needed to change as I wasn't actually making any money. I realised that if I wanted to commit to the business long term, I needed to find different wholesale suppliers for all those add ons and take a look at my pricing. The only thing that I didn't want to review were my NZ handmade gift suppliers who make all the beautiful things that I put in your gift boxes. I wanted to continue to buy from them all, as supporting local is at the core of my business philosophy.

Who are my Suppliers?

It turned out that finding good NZ suppliers, especially to purchase in bulk, wasn't a piece of cake. They were often smaller companies with websites buried on the 3rd page of Google. I used a lot of recommendations from other businesses and found that there were some much better quality and cheaper options out there in NZ.

Changing my suppliers to purchase in bulk was a bit of an investment but long term has taken a fair amount of cost out of the business. The good news is that it meant I didn't need to tweak my prices too much. As an example, I switched my fabric supplier for linen from Spotlight to a small local wholesaler in West Auckland. There was just over a 50% reduction in price as there were cost benefits of buying in bulk which you cannot access through Retail stores.

I definitely recommend you spending some time thinking though all of your costs during times like these and set your pricing accordingly.

I didn't want to keep all these great supplier options to myself so have put them all into a handy guide. You can take a look by subscribing at this link. It's small business supplier guide with over 40 recommendations from other Kiwi businesses like mine. I think any new or established business will find it proves to be a useful resource covering so many different suppliers from packaging and printing through to social media coaches.


Collaboration and Networking

It can sometimes feel a little lonely as a one person business but there are lots of us out there ready to connect. I've written a whole other blog on the benefits of collaborating so here's a link if you haven't checked that out. One area I realised I had completely neglected was face to face networking. For most people the very word networking makes us cringe and totally takes me back to my old corporate life.

However, people buy from and work with those they trust. It takes a long time on Instagram to build this up in a genuine way although it's definitely possible. Face to face is a nice easy way to build that trust without having to make hundreds of reels and use filters (anyone see the irony in that!). I went to my first two networking groups last month and I loved them both. What a nice bunch of people talking about interesting topics who were willing to share their business advice. It's not about making sales, it's about genuine connections. It wasn't stuffy or formal, just a great discussion in a local cafe over a coffee. So, throw away any preconceptions and give it a go and find your local group. I am particularly enjoying the Empower Her networking events in Auckland which you can find here.

Scaling up

So, what's next on this journey? Well one little issue with buying in bulk is that our home is now stacked full of boxes and rolls of fabric. I have completely outgrown the home office and am using every available space as storage. My husband is being very patient but it's not ideal to say the least. To address this, I'm starting to look at warehouse and studio options to give me the space I need and get our home back! It's a big step but one I'm very excited about. 

I have also had to face the fact that there are only so many hours in the day and I am only one person. With two children to look after, a dog, a home to take care of and lots of activities for the kids to attend, the day goes pretty quickly. I hit one of those scary panic moments about 6 months ago where I calculated there weren't enough hours available for me to complete the sewing required on a large order - even though it was due in 2 weeks!

I have started to address this by bringing on board a couple of local superstars to help with the sewing. It was important to me that my products continue to be made in NZ. This has been a steep learning curve as I realised how much of the construction process was stored in my head. It's helped to document the process and knowledge accurately and created more capacity. It's given me the confidence to go out a find new customers safely knowing that I can continue to offer great customer service and hit delivery timeframes. 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my story and I plan to keep this going with a future blog as Big Little Gift Box grows. Stay tuned and thanks for your support!

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