Starting a small business is a daunting prospect. It may feel as though you are standing at the foot of a great mountain but you can only begin to climb it if you take the first step. It’s a clichéd but pertinent metaphor. Successful entrepreneurs are those who are brave enough to accept risks but wise enough to minimise them whenever possible. One such individual is Michelle Oh, a London based jewellery designer specialising in bespoke wedding rings using rare and unusual gemstones.
Michelle’s studio is in Hackney but she now exports her jewellery as far afield as Japan. She started out in 2011 selling her products through a third party site. “The first year was manageable but not yet profitable.” She recalls, “I did my own accounts, probably very badly as I was basically just winging it.” Unfortunately Michelle was not then aware of Quickbooks which makes accounting far easier for new entrepreneurs like her, but after her business took off she was able to afford a professional accountant.
Expenses constituted the greatest initial challenge for Michelle. She had difficulty managing the overheads and outgoings relating to the tools and materials required to create her jewellery. However, she managed to reduce costs by operating from home, making pieces to order via an online shop. Thanks to the internet, she didn’t need to invest in studio space or an excess of stock at this vulnerable stage.
Although she trained in jewellery design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Michelle regrets that she was never taught how to complete tax returns, “It was definitely something I had to learn on my own with trial and error over the years,” she explains. This is another area where she would have benefited from Quickbooks which takes a lot of the stress out of tax calculation.
Having surmounted the initial hump of small business ownership, Michelle encountered new difficulties and challenges. She now deals with international clients with whom face to face meetings are not usually possible, but now as ever before, the internet is her ally.
“Over the years I have found the process of working with both local and international clients to be quite similar thanks to the ease of communication now possible through the internet,” Michelle says, adding that “Invoicing and accounting can sometimes be a bit more complicated with international clients and I’m still learning about import duties as I start to gain more international stockists.”
Michelle remains ambitious and motivated, aiming to open a brick and mortar shop in London in the near future. However, she is reluctant to take larger financial risks than are necessary. “I can’t afford premium retail space at the obvious shopping destinations” she says, “but my brand doesn’t aim to be big and obvious so I think a smaller, quirky location in an up and coming area will suit me just fine.”
The shop will require staff, the hiring of which will be another learning experience for Michelle, “I think it will be a challenge having to hire and manage staff because at the moment I am used to working alone.” Once she has reached this stage, Michelle can use Quickbooks to quickly and easily calculate payroll for her employees.
To any budding entrepreneurs, Michelle gives the following advice: “Don’t be afraid to take risks because it’s the only way your business will grow especially in the beginning when everything feels like a risk.” She does, however, add a caveat, “Try to separate the crazy risks from the manageable ones.”
She advises one use the internet to reduce costs wherever possible, “It’s a powerful tool,” she says, “when used correctly you’ll never need to pay for advertising.” But there are two things on which she advises business owners never to scrimp; the first being a decent accounting solution and the second, a professionally designed website. “It’s important to always be on top of your incomings and outgoings,” she advises, then continues, “your website is often the first and maybe only thing customers interact with, so it had better work really well and communicate exactly what you need it to.”
She attributes her growth in part to her courteous business manner which she says builds and maintains relationships with clients and customers.
“If something goes wrong, as it sometimes does because we’re human, own up to your mistake and always remember to apologise to the customer. Most customers are more understanding than you might expect. If you treat them politely then they will reciprocate. In all circumstances, it’s how you deal with the situation that counts.”