When asked what advice to give someone thinking about starting a business, I always say, work for another company first. I really think this is important for so many reasons.
One of the most important reasons is that you need to know what it is like to be an employee and work for someone else. So many business owners forget this and expect too much from their employees. I think it is important to have experienced what it is like being the person at the bottom, the new person, the stressed person, the person who wants to ask for a raise… the list goes on. That will help you understand your team better and hopefully make you a more rounded boss!
Another reason is I would recommend getting your CV full of experience as it gives you exactly that – experience.
I have been working since I was 14. My first job was at our local pub. I would clean the pub, do the owner’s ironing and chop the vegetables – all for £1.50 an hour – shocking, I know! I then went on to work in a local newsagents, Next, Slug and Lettuce and by many many waitressing jobs. I don’t think any of these skills particularly helped me to set up Sew Over It but it certainly helped me develop a strong work ethic and understand what is like being the one bossed around!
When I left university I went straight into a job in the city of London. It was working for a recruitment agency, hiring investment bankers – I know, very different from what I do now. I was only there for a couple of months before I realised this was not for me, but in that time I looked at so many CVs and sat in on so many interviews that I gained a lot of transferable skills that I use today when hiring people. I can look at a CV and in less than a minute, know if that person is right for us. I also gained a lot of confidence when it came to interviewing which can be as nerve-racking as being the person being interviewed, only you can’t show it!
After there I went on to work for a law firm as a marketing assistant. Whilst here, I helped out with a lot of typing – this meant I got much quicker and learnt about formatting. Both of these skills have helped save me time in the business today. I also got to see how a bigger/corporate firm ran their marketing and events. This has been useful for PR events we have run in the past, as I knew what people expected. I also learnt little things like the best day/time to send out a e-newsletter.
After this, I went on to teach French on the side (I did private lessons) and developed my teaching skills. Even though the subject was completely different to sewing, I gained confidence as a teacher which later served me well as at teacher at Sew Over It.
When I finally started working in fashion – closer to where I am now, I picked up even more useful skills. Both companies I worked for were small and so I got to see what was involved in running a small company. My first fashion-y job was at Bruce Oldfield, a couture designer. I was his production assistant. This role was based heavily on organisation and dealing with people. It was my job to liaise between him and the workroom. It was my first role where I had to organise someone’s workload. I had to understand their strengths, the speed at which they worked at and then give them them the most suitable task. I think this was really valuable experience as all business owners need to be able to do this. I also massively improved my sewing skills and would work on my own projects at lunch and get the helped of the pattern cutters and seamstresses. This was amazing to have access to such skilled people.
After Bruce I went on to work for Phillipa Lepley, a couture wedding dress designer. Here I got to understand more of the business side of things. I helped Phillipa with bits of bookkeeping, raised invoices and dealt with their accounts system. I also observed how she ran weekly team meetings. Her business is similar to ours in that she has different locations, so it was important to make sure everyone met weekly which is something we do at Sew Over It and is so valuable.
It was here that I met our teacher and pattern cutter Julie. We used to run the fittings together. I was the Client Manager and Julie the fitter. I must have been in around six fittings a day so I learnt so much about fitting issues and how to solve them.
There are many many other little tips and tricks I learnt from my previous bosses and employers – some things I do now and some things I made a note that I never wanted to do. It works both ways. A lot of what you have to do when running a business is completely new and you just have to muddle through. But I am so grateful for the experience I gained before I started Sew Over It, as thanks to it, I had at least some skills in my toolbox that have helped me along the way.