How and why I set up my home-based business

Cotton plantsJane Robson’s career had been spent working for top high-street brands. After adopting her daughter in 2007, she sought greater flexibility and a more favourable work-life balance. Jane found both by starting The Fine Cotton Company from the comfort of her own home

“Up until January 2007, my career had been spent working as a retail buyer for large high street stores such as Debenhams, Top Shop, Etam, Homebase and Habitat. Then I left work and journeyed to China to adopt my daughter, Mei.

“I’d been going through the adoption process for more than three years and then my priorities changed immediately. I became a single mum and didn’t want to return to my old career, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Mei. Running a home-based business offered the solution.

“I began planning the business in late 2007, while working part time. Finally, I launched my business website at the end of November 2008.

“I came up with the idea of selling organic bed linen and homewares after searching for organic bed linen for Mei. Organic bedding was available, but it was rather dull and the base fabric wasn’t nice, while the only colours available were dirty whites and beiges. I also believe we each have a responsibility to be kind to our planet and buying organic cotton is just a small way of helping.

Solo trader

“I run the business on my own and have learned many new skills since starting up. It has involved a steep learning curve for me. I’ve done various short business courses to gain more knowledge when necessary.

“If I’m unable to tackle a task, I call in people to help. Generally, I have someone working with me most weeks. I outsource such things as design, photography and accounts. Mei has worked as a model for my website – she also gives me her opinion on our designs for children.

“I’ve been dealing with my largest supplier for about 15 years, long before I started up in business. Because I only buy small quantities of exclusive products, they’ve bent over backwards to help me. With new suppliers, it’s a case of working slowly to build up relationships and trust with them.

Home truths

“I just have one of each product stored at my home, all my stock is held in a fulfillment warehouse. Initially, we had a warehouse locally and packed and distributed orders ourselves. As we got busier, it was more cost-effective to outsource. The distribution team is made up of experts in their field and they do a much better job than I ever could.

“When launching the business, I contacted various journalists, but didn’t have time to do it regularly. I then took on a PR, Lyn Joseph, to help me. Again, it’s a case of using experts’ knowledge where cost-effective.

“I plan to keep growing the business slowly. Our customers are the most important part of it and we’re working hard to ensure they remain completely happy with our products and service.”

Jane’s three key lessons

  • Find a way of putting work away when you’ve finished in the evening, possibly into a cupboard or room where you can close the door and forget all about it.
  • Nurture strong relationships with good suppliers and pay your bills on time.
  • If you lack know-how or time, outsource key tasks – providing you can afford it. 

This case study originally appeared on the Enterprise Nation website, where you can find advice about starting a home-based business.

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