Successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common. They are all passionate about their business. This devotion drives them to work the long hours often needed to thrive. Of course, passion alone is not a guarantee of success, but it is a starting point.
Mother and medical illustrator, Amanda German, found her passion while fulfilling a life long dream to renovate a property.
“I was made redundant in 2005 and started freelancing,” explained Amanda. “I had always wanted to do up a house and found the perfect project: a 1930s semi. The plan was to do most of the work myself. The house had a lot of stained glass so I took a course. It was important to me to use traditional methods to make the repairs.”
Amanda completed a stained glass course at Middlesex University. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to develop her skills further. A glass painting course at the Mary Ward Centre in Russell Square, London soon followed.
“Although, I enjoyed the stained glass work, it was the painting that I really fell in love with,” recalls Amanda. “I started doing some freelance work for a local glazier and friends.”
Once the house was complete, Amanda decided to sell up and started exploring how she could turn her new found passion into a business.
“I had always drawn and painted, but struggled to make a living from it,” explained Amanda. “Galleries take so much commission, it is hard to make it worthwhile. A friend recommended the School for Creative Start-ups.
I thought the course would be a good way to get a business focus. As a creative it is easy to get caught up in what you are making, rather than what will sell. And it is easy to become precious about the work. To become a business you need a level head. In many ways they are totally opposite skills.
The course was great! It seems impossible to start-up, but on the course you learn that it is possible. It’s not a big mystery. It takes hard work, persistence and determination. It’s much harder than having a job! That’s why you have to love what you are doing. It’s about striving for contentment and fulfillment.”
As Amanda progressed through the course her business concept slowly evolved and took shape. Her initial vision had been to create hand painted Arts & Crafts style mirrors. Each mirror takes around a week to finish. As a result, the final sale price is relatively high and therefore only available to a small market. Selling enough mirrors to earn an income would be challenging.
Manufacturing options in China and India were investigated as alternatives to the hand-made approach. In the end, Amanda decided that strategy did not fit in with her vision. Instead she developed a range of more affordable tiles. With a lower price point, Amanda could generate more sales and use screen printing methods to make a greater volume.
“I had a few wobbles along the way because the course tears you apart, before building you back up. You have to question everything you are doing,” said Amanda. “It is easy to be dragged down a path just to make some money. For me it was important to stay true to what I wanted to do. That is more important that trying to become mega rich.”
The product range consists of screen printed splashback tiles, individual picture-tiles and hand painted murals. The aim is to have the tiles stocked in specialist gift shops and top end department stores such as Liberty. In this way, Amanda hopes to build a brand that will lead to commissions for the mirrors. She is also hoping to develop relationships with interior designers.
“I am just at the beginning of my business. I am taking it slowly because I want to do it the right way,” concluded Amanda. “Mass production isn’t the right way for me. I have a vision for my future and I want to stay true to that.”
Lessons from Amanda German
1. Many luxury brands use entry level products to build loyalty. Buying a Channel or Dior lipstick is an affordable way to buy into the brand. Start-ups, like Amanda can use the same strategy to build a brand that will in time lead to high value sales. Amanda’s low price tiles and splash-backs reflect the value of her work and brand, but at a price that is affordable for a wider market.
2. Amanda’s dedication to her vision and values is important. When starting out, it can be easy to be pushed and pulled down roads that are not right for your business. Having a strong. clear set of values helps to assess which options are right for the business.
2. First time founders often have visions of their business taking off and becoming hugely successful overnight. Reality is rather more prosaic. It takes hard work and time to build a successful business so don’t be afraid to take your time and build carefully and slowly. After all it was the tortoise not the hare that won the race.