External shot of the Vintique Upholstery workshop, Sharon O Connor standing by an open door

My 5 best tips for small businesses

Running your own small business – whether it’s upholstery or anything else – is a challenge. You have to wear ‘all the hats’, take the crushing failures along with the satisfying successes with equal resilience and think on your feet for what feels like 24 hours a day. When I first set up in business, I didn’t know anyone else who was running a business and felt alone; I didn’t know where to go to for advice. I’m still learning every day but have definitely picked up a few lessons along the way. Here are my five best tips for small businesses…

1) Don’t compare your start to someone else’s middle

I read this advice quite early on in my career and thank goodness I did. We can all get caught up with worrying what everyone else around us is doing. They say that comparison is the thief of joy, or in other words, compare and despair. I definitely think it’s a compulsion that can keep you stuck in a mentality of either comfort or fear.

External shot of the Vintique Upholstery workshop, Sharon O Connor standing by an open door

Although social media wasn’t such a big thing when I was starting out, I still looked around at established upholsterers and thought, “I don’t know how to get where they are. I don’t think I ever will.” Of course, now when I think about it, I’m glad I’m not where ‘they’ are. I’m happy being me and where I am. Even though someone is in the same business, there’s no reason why our own goals, structures and creative aspirations would be identical. It’s worth remembering we’re all on our journey, so why try to follow someone else’s.

Right now, having dipped my toe into some new challenges and steered parts of my business on a slightly different path, I’m reminding myself of this again. If you ask me, it’s never too late to try something new. And forget what anyone else is doing, life is not a competition. Be brave enough to try something new, it’s never too late.

2) Done is better than perfect

While I never settle for anything less than perfect when it comes to upholstery, business, I believe, is different. Analysis paralysis can be the biggest thief of success and sometimes you have to let something fly rather than sit on it for months and months procrastinating. Yes, an idea may not be refined, finessed and immaculate but even if you don’t get a specific detail right, it’s more important that you finished a task.

Upholsterer's workshop bench, antique sewing machine, hung fabric samples

Perfectionism can limit your good ideas, while ‘done’ gets results. The majority of people won’t spot the errors that you may be agonising over and I honestly believe that to be dynamic you have to be prepared to make mistakes. Remember, you can always fix things later. My advice is: Produce the product, launch the website, try out the new system… Being willing to go for it is actually a bold show of confidence, even if it’s a work in progress.

3) Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success

This is so true in upholstery and in business. It’s probably the biggest challenges that have taught me the most. Recovering from tricky challenges and keeping going when you feel like giving up is super important. Equally, sharing your slip-ups and being generous in admitting that things do go wrong, shows that you’re human. Failures will happen. That’s life and it’s certainly upholstery, that much I know!

I’m not just talking about beginner’s mistakes either. I would say I’m still a wok in progress and every day I’m tweaking, adapting and evolving. I learnt just as much about upholstery when the training stopped and I had to work through problems and find my own fixes. It’s the same with running a business. New challenges will come along and bite you every day. And things move on, the world changes. Just when you feel settled a curveball comes along. From the tiny slips to the massive mess-ups though, every single one has made my business stronger in the long run.

4) The things that excite you are not random, they are connected to your purpose – follow them

I’ve had this quote hanging in a frame in my house for quite a while and it’s something I believe 100 per cent. Change and new opportunity can be daunting, but if something excites you and scares you in equal measure then that is truly a good sign.

Sharon O Connor upholsterer stood beneath a tree alongside a recent chair reupholstery project

When I started to train in upholstery there was the constant, scary voice in my head saying, “will this work, can you make any money?” and all kinds of other unhelpful things alongside. But the prospect of doing something I loved and making it my CAREER was exciting enough to override those nagging doubts.

You have to have a certain amount of fear to do things. To coin another great quote, is now the time to feel the fear and do it anyway? Is fear what’s stopping you from following your dreams today. I’ve learnt to be scared and say ‘go for it’ regardless.

5) Being self-employed isn’t a career choice, it’s a lifestyle choice

Anyone who tells you that running your own business is the easy path is lying. Yes, you’re your own boss, master of your own time and in control of key decisions. But the fact is that you will work harder for yourSELF than you will for anyone else. When you set up shop, it will never just be a ‘job’, it has to become part of your life.

Upholstery business mentor and artisan, Sharon O Connor

To put things another way, a small business owner or entrepreneur is someone who risks their own money and time for freedom, rather than exchanging their freedom and time for money. You may ‘get’ to take a holiday whenever you choose, but you rarely will. You may ‘get’ to clock off at 3pm, but you rarely will. And the list goes on. Late nights, lost sleep and working your socks off all come as part and parcel of being your own boss. Is it tough? Yes. But would I change it? Absolutely no way. I love the life I have created!

“A small business owner or entrepreneur is someone who risks their own money and time for freedom, rather than exchanging their freedom and time for money.”

My best tip for getting around the immense burden on your time is to outsource the aspects of the business you’re least good at or most burdened by. Hate figures? Hire someone to keep your books. Find social and digital a stress? Get a marketing expert to manage this side of things. Drowning in admin? You need a cracking VA. For me outsourcing has been the only way to keep some kind of work/life balance.

Are you a small business owner who needs a sounding board? Ideal for anyone starting out or just feeling a bit stuck in their upholstery business, I can give you the support you’re looking for with my Vintique Upholstery POWER HOUR. Find out more by downloading our PDF, you’ll then be able to access a discovery form, which will tell me where you are with your business and what your main business struggles are that I can help with. If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to get in touch today.

£125 per hour. Sessions take place virtually over FaceTime or Zoom.

*Images taken by Hannah MacGregor Photo & Film (@hannah.macgregor.photo.film)

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