Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The joys of running a small business

image from here

It's an interesting process running a small business. I run the 'commercial' wing of Green Renters, a not for profit I started with my husband a few years ago. What this means is that I try to get paid something for the many hours of unpaid work I've been doing since we came up with the idea in 2009.

I recently graduated from NEIS training and I have been working hard to make things happen. Green Renters has a number of different components including running workshops and special projects (such as an Expo for people living in rooming houses and social housing) an online shop, facebook page and twitter, website and stalls.

Today I've been busy testing recipes for a DIY natural bath products workshop we are thinking about offering at Green Renters as our DIY natural house cleaning workshops have been going so well. workshops. It's a bit of a contentious issue. We've been running our 'sustainable living in rental accommodation' workshops for a while and have gradually extended our workshop topics to include issues that represent the needs of renters in more round-about ways: container gardening, reducing food waste and more creative workshops such as eco-crafting and making jams and preserves.

When you run workshops and events for a living, most of your time is spent organising bookings which can involve lots of emails and phone calls and it can be frustrating when things are cancelled at the last minute. But more so, it can be rewarding when people attend a workshop and ask lots of questions or make comments or find it helpful.

It's been very much a learning experience. I was never a confident public speaker when I was younger. But it's much easier to talk about something that you are interested in and feel passionate about. I'm also not entirely confident that what I do will be financially viable in the long run, I have plenty of spread sheets and a business plan but papers aren't reality. But you have to start somewhere, and I like a challenge.

I hasten to add, Green Renters is not just me, there's by husband, our amazing volunteers and the board members of Green Renters Inc, all of whom work for nothing or very little.

A few things I've learnt about running a small business
  • You are broke for a long time. Not can't pay the rent broke, but there's certainly no money going spare in the early times. I gave up a reasonably lucrative job to go out on my own
  • It's great not dealing with issues such as workplace bullying and office bitching
  • You really have to prioritise. I love crafting for Polka Dot Rabbit but I've realised for a while that mass production is not sustainable as a business of one ( I don't make anything that retails for thousands) and the craft 'scene' boom is very much burst from what I've seen. I still make and sell crafty things, just not as much
  • Working from home is not all it's cracked up to be especially the house is cold during winter

Some of the postcards above my desk
  • Working from home is great as you miss the morning commute!
  • The sustainability sector is extremely competitive. It can be a bit embarassing when we are asked of our relationship with other more established not for profits who have been quite unwelcoming of our presence
  • You can have a hell of a lot of fun and meet many fantastic people
  • I love my friends dearly and miss them when I don't see them often enough
  • Business networking can be hit and miss, I occasionally go to such events and find myself one of a few unsuited people!
  • It's excited when things start happening and you can get others to join you (we've a horticulturalist and our food writing Elizabeth running gardening and food preserving workshops for us)

  • We won this award this year!
  • It can be hard to talk of anything else besides your business
  • It can be handy being an insomniac (I started work on a job description from 2am-5.30am this morning)

A few things I've learnt about running events and workshops:
  • Assume nothing is confirmed, even if it is in writing
  • Check by phone, I've been surprised when I've turned up for a meeting with someone (often quite well known) who simply forgot all about it
  • Don't assume requested equipment is available (or working) on the day
  • Leave loads of time to get to a venue by public transport
  • Equipment you need to carry will often be heavier than you think
  • There will usually be one person at a workshop who is absolutely lovely: affirming, gives eye contract, nods and asks interested questions
  • There will usually be at least one person at a workshop who used a workshop at a platform for their own agenda (Smart meters are a particularly passion of a number of people it seems)
  • Don't assume people's intelligence by their social position: some of the most articulate people I've dealt with at workshops have been people living in rooming houses.
  • When running stalls you can get a variety of responses. I remember running a stall in Malvern for an environment day and having a older woman come up and abuse me that 'all renters are lay abouts'. Err, ok...
A bit about my day:

  • 6.30am: Husband rises reluctantly. He starts work at 7am from home. He keeps his Husband of the year crown, always bringing me a cup of tea in bed. He is awesome, very awesome
  • 6.31am: Pablo the cat makes sleeping no option, purring as loud as a lawn mower
  • 7am-8am: Read in bed, I am often tired in the mornings (thyroid fun) and I love reading in bed
  • 7.45am-8.30am I a up and in the office/craft room (depending on how well I slept the night before). Read emails, eat breakfast.
  • 8.30am- Read blogs, facebook, twitter. Social media is very important, despite how people disparage it.
  • 9am- Listen to BBC4 and work on workshop content or articles for Green Renters website
  • 10am-Email and ring people following up workshops. Some workshops are funded by grants to Green Renters Inc and actually are a lot harder to book than paid workshops!
  • 11am-snack and another cup of tea
  • 12pm-post-office shopping/lunch. When I say shopping, it typically food shopping or materials for products we sell in our online shop.
  • 12pm-6pm: My afternoon can involve running workshops, meeting people for coffee to discuss providing them with workshops, attending events etc. None of which I get paid an hourly wage for.
  • 6pm onwards: sometimes I am running workshops late, working on social media, attending an event such as Green Drinks. Usually there is wine involved if I am not running a workshop!
Hope you had fun reading this and it inspires you to start your own business or at the very least, appreciate the efforts of those of us who do something for a greater good, not to get rich!
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