I'm the editor of entrepreneur-ette magazine... and founder of the entrepreneur-ette community. Like lots of other women in business, I started my business with a dream (mine was to start a magazine for women in business) and along the way I've met lots of inspirational women and learnt lots too... I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and stories from other women in business here.View all articles by Fiona Powell
Tracey Ashton is the owner of My Canvas, a canvas printing business that prints your photographs onto canvas and then stretches them onto a frame, creating your own work of art.
Tracey wanted to ‘work for herself’ for years. She always talked about it but with a mortgage and having no capital to invest in a business, her dreams were always put to one side.
“I had been working in recruitment for eight years when I left the UK to come to New Zealand and recruitment was what I knew - I had lived and breathed it for years. On arrival I quickly secured a position with the same global group of companies I had worked for in the UK. In the lead up to emigrating I had imagined maybe I could do something completely different in New Zealand but to get a visa I needed to stay in a related job and it was the ‘safe’ option.
“About 10 months ago we found a couple who were selling a home business as they were emigrating and we decided to take the plunge and buy it. We planned to run it part time from home until it got established. Eight months on we were not doing anything with the business as work pressures took over and the prints we were doing for friends were being done at the weekend and late at night!! It was going nowhere and my partner had invested a chunk of his savings in buying it,” says Tracey.
As Tracey juggled the business and her job, she realised she couldn’t give the business the necessary focus and time to get it off the ground but she couldn’t leave her work as she needed the income.
“I think the catalyst in finally making the move to leave my job was meeting a life coach. I had never considered coaching as I had always been very independent and the thought of talking about problems to a stranger wasn’t really what I imagined doing. However Hayley offered a free session and as I liked her, I thought why not.
“It was the best thing I did. After 45 minutes of chatting my head was spinning with a massive amount of stress and confusion as to where I wanted to go but I felt so much better talking to someone. When my partner and I talked we always managed to talk ourselves out of the risk of taking the leap to leave work.”
After getting advice from her accountant, Tracey purchased only the equipment and set up a company rather than buying the business as a going concern. In hindsight, Tracey says she would have done more planning at the start. “When we initially bought the equipment to set the business up we rushed to come up with a business name and didn’t plan enough. We hadn’t done any marketing as we were just doing prints for friends, so now that I am fulltime on the business I’m really starting out again from scratch.” The company is undergoing a name change and rebranding.
Like most businesses starting out the biggest challenge has been money. “We are constantly paying out and not a lot of money is coming in. Another challenge was sourcing good suppliers with quality products that I can trust as my business is all about quality.”
Tracey determined her pricing structure by defining who her competitors were and inputting all their price structures onto a spreadsheet and analysing the price variance in the market. She then mystery shopped one of her main competitors to see what their process, service and quality of product was like.
“My prices aren’t the cheapest but are not the most expensive either. As I am working alone I have to be realistic that it’s just me and the focus is quality and a personal service. I know that I’m using the best products on the market to produce the canvases so why sell myself short? I didn’t want to start cheap to win business and then find I had to increase my prices. So by pitching at a level which is affordable but will give me the margin I want, my prices mean I can offer discounts to repeat customers and incentives for new customers.”
Tracey’s point of difference from her competitors is her personal touch with only part of the buying process online. “For instance, I spent 20 minutes on the phone and multiple emails with one lady who wanted a photo of her children on canvas. She couldn’t decide on colour, or black and white, or gallery wrap, or standard. I emailed her some screen shots in Photoshop so she could see which bits of the photo would wrap round the frame. We got there in the end and that’s the bit I love - I put myself in the customers shoes and think what would I want and expect.”
Tracey has a business plan and she still visits her coach to keep focussed. “I have also rejoined my old business networking group (BNI) so I meet 25 ‘mentors’ every Wednesday morning for breakfast!”
“I was lucky to work for a great company who sent me on loads of courses and taught us to manage our own office as a business, “ says Tracey who has already had exposure to budgets , P&L and forecasting. “The difference is now I don’t have the huge corporate infrastructure behind me so I have been reading books and have booked myself on some small business management courses.”
Tracey’s vision is to grow the business to a level where her partner can join her in the business and take over the production work. This will enable Tracey to focus purely on the marketing to increase sales further. Plus there’s the opportunity for franchising in the future.
What about others wanting to take the leap to be their own boss? “Do your research, plan and importantly get it all down on paper. Invest time on a business plan and get some capital behind you so you know you can pay the bills until the business starts to earn money. Speak to others who have been through the same thing and ask them to give you a ‘warts and all’ overview of the highs and the lows. If you still want to do it, then go for it!!” advises Tracey.
Visit Tracey’s website at: www.mycanvas.co.nz