I love watching Mary Portas http://www.maryportas.com/ in her quest to help small businesses maintain their presence on Britain's high streets. After all, I do despair at the duplication of our town centres across the country. I can't be the only person who wants to see quaint and quirky shops adding their own splash of colour to our towns and villages. But as the owner of a home based business, I am only too aware of just how difficult that is to achieve, given the high rents and business rates that such retail outlets command.
So you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw a local competition to win a shop. I had to read that twice! I had dreamt of having a shop to showcase my designs in. Unfortunately it had all seemed a little pie in the sky given my personal circumstances...that was until I saw "The Business" competition. The prize was a shop in the heart of Coventry's city centre....rent free for a year with business rates paid by CV Onehttp://www.cvone.co.uk/ and a media package between the local radio station, Mercia http://www.mercia.co.uk/, and the Coventry Telegraph http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/ . The total prize value was a staggering £120,000.
I've been running my business from home for the past eight years. I was a dressmaker prior to that in what was little more than a paying hobby. On becoming a single parent I had to reinvent not only myself, but also the business into a viable venture capable of sustaining a family of three.That was a challenge and a half with no backing....and no financial support. But hey...we survived and a new business emerged built around a niche product.....corsets.
Whilst working from home was not ideal, as a single mother to two children it DID suit me. I've seen a lot of the children...had no need for childcare....and on the odd occasion when I have had a sick child.....I've been able to put them to bed and carry on working.
Its also been a huge learning curve. I've become more disciplined, and I have successfully trained my friends and family not to pop round for coffee! In fact, I am quite proud of the way I have blended work and home life.
With a marketing budget of zero, I've become more imaginative in making sure people knew I existed.Even the cashier at our local supermarket says "Oh, you're the corset lady!"
I've got to grips with the internet...my web site...Facebook and blogging....all a complete mystery to me at the start!
So with my children now grown up, this innovative competition appeared at just the right time. An extensive questionnaire followed by a lengthy business plan secured my place in the final.This was to be a real test...pitching Dragon's Den style to a panel of five.
On the day of the pitch I arrived at the Coventry Telegraph offices in a buoyant mood. My friend Teresa and I had literally stopped the traffic whilst manhandling a corseted mannequin through the streets of Coventry! To say we had a positive response was something of an understatement! All I needed to do now was to convince the three men and two ladies on the panel.......
A phone call the next day provided one of life's moments that I will remember forever...."Can you keep a secret? You've won!" said the nice man from the council!
So...this will be the most fascinating year of my life as I embark on a second transformation....from home based business owner to high street retailer.
Fasten your seatbelts............