Small Business Saturday: meet Betsy Benn

This week we are proud to be supporting Small Business Saturday, which takes place on the 7th December. Small Business Saturday is an independently-run initiative, created to drive awareness of small businesses and highlight their positive impact on the economy. This is a cause that is obviously close to our hearts and something we do as a business every day.

Throughout the week we are going to bring you a series of special seller interviews, showcasing some of the best small business talent from notonthehighstreet.com. First up is Betsy Benn, based in Cheltenham.

Betsy in her Cheltenham studio

Betsy in her Cheltenham studio

Betsy Benn was founded in March 2010, and joined notonthehighstreet.com in May of the same year. Betsy and her team design personalised prints from their studio in Cheltenham, and are perhaps most well known for their destination print (we have our very own here in HQ).

What inspired you to set up Betsy Benn?

My head has always been bursting with creative ideas: the best party to organise, how to decorate a room or make something for someone I love. I have too many ideas for one lifetime but I can give the best concepts a productive outlet in Betsy Benn. All our best products have grown out of a gift made for a friend or family member. I didn’t start out thinking that this could be a full-time job but now I can’t imagine doing anything else, ever! The joy of running my own business and working with my lovely team, coupled with the lovely feedback we get from our customers continues to inspire me every day.

How did you start out?

I used to work in the events industry but left to have my first child. I continued to work as a freelance photographer and had a very high spec photographic printer sitting upstairs not doing anything in between commissions. I decided to try and make it earn its space in the spare room, and thought that a good spin on the Union Jack trend would be a typographic representation. It took me about two months to complete my first design! Being an interiors magazine junkie I popped it on the LivingEtc. See What I Made Forum and got loads of really lovely feedback and won design of the month which was a complete surprise.

Quintessentially British print by Betsy Benn

Quintessentially British print by Betsy Benn

How did you find out about notonthehighstreet.com and what made you want to join?

After the success of my print on LivingEtc. I began to think about approaching a stockist. I found one internet boutique that loved the Union Jack and another design I had been working on but the name that seemed to be quoted everywhere was notonthehighstreet.com. After reading all about it I submitted my application and was stunned when they immediately said they wanted me on their site. At the time it seemed like a big investment to make but I reasoned that notonthehighstreet.com knew their stuff. I loved the fact that all the individual sellers seemed so different and creative – not the normal stuff you see on the high street.

What was it like to hit that first milestone?

We were approached to be on the front cover of the first notonthehighstreet.com Valentine’s Gift Guide which was such an amazing opportunity for a newbie like us. I didn’t want to turn it down but was worried about how the numbers would stack up: after much nail biting and encouraging conversations with our account manager Lucy we went for it. It had its up and downs – my son came down with croup two days after the catalogue landed and he just wanted to sit on my lap and watch cbeebies whilst 60-70 orders a day were coming in.

That was when I decided we should recruit our first freelance graphic designer. After the early and brilliant success of the destination print we launched several other spins on the classic to broaden its appeal. These included the airport destination board print, the couples destination print and the bus blind canvas. Having the front cover of the Valentine’s Gift Guide was an honour I imagined to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I was delighted to be approached again to develop a personalised family values print to appear on the front cover of the 2011 Winter Gift Guide, and this time I didn’t have to think twice about seizing the opportunity.

Personalised family values print by Betsy Benn

Personalised family values print by Betsy Benn

How has your business grown?

When we started it was just me in the conservatory, then the kitchen and I took over the bedroom as well. As you can guess we quickly outgrew the house and had a small studio built in the back garden. There are now five of us in the Betsy Benn team so we also outgrew the back garden studio and have just moved into a converted Regency House in Cheltenham Spa that holds our design studio, packing area and store rooms.

I still fondly remember the early days, that sheer joy when we received our first order and then another one three days later. Then I remember when we got to a point of averaging about 15 a week and thinking we were so pleased to be successful. We now regularly get 30+ orders a day. Over and above everything else I’m still really in love with what our customers say about us and notonthehighstreet.com. They are a mix of so pleased to have finally found the perfect gift and so excited to then give the resulting present. They often write to tell us how much it was loved and who broke down in tears at what point. We seem to make a lot of people cry! When we hit a big milestone earlier last year of our 10,000th order we ran a competition to refund the lucky number’s order. It was so exciting, checking the numbers every day!

Our Cheltenham Spa studio

Our Cheltenham Spa studio

Have you had any struggles along the way?

Plenty of course! We were very successful from the outset and have grown so quickly, which is a nice problem to have but has meant that we have always struggled with forecasting, making sure we had enough staff and a big enough premises. There have also been sharp learning curves along the way: learning how to stand your ground with suppliers who may have let you down, ensuring that you ask all the right questions from the right people before signing contracts and maintaining that tricky work life balance. So far we haven’t hit anything we couldn’t sort out, change, or make work for us. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

What bit of advice would you give to someone who was looking to set up their own business?

Know from the outset what you want to achieve from your business. Do you want this to be a part-time job so that you can free up some time to raise your family or learn a new skill? In which case, don’t let it become a full time obsession until you are ready. Or if you want it to rock the world and be a main salary, expect to put in far more hours than you would ever do working for someone else. Be passionate about it, don’t just fall into it. If it works this is something you could be doing for the next 40 years. Are you willing to spend that much time doing something you only sort of  like? And just as importantly, know your business inside out and be an expert in it. If you don’t understand figures find someone to teach you, and as soon as you can afford to, outsource all the boring stuff like bookkeeping so you can do the interesting bits that you fell in love with in the first place. You never know, you might even win an award.

Winner of the Best New Product at the notonthehighstreet.com Make Awards 2013

Winner of the Best New Product at the notonthehighstreet.com Make Awards 2013

Shop the entire Betsy Benn collection here.

  1. I have made several purchases from Betsy over the past few years. Their customer service is second to none and the quality of products is fantastic.

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