Why I’ve decided to start a business amid Brexit chaos

I’ve now been on Universal Credit for a month. Though I’m grateful it exists, jumping though hoops to take handouts from the state makes me feel a bit helpless and hopeless. I really don’t want this to continue for longer than is totally necessary. So, with the help of my wonderful Patreon supporters and super-kind Ko-Fi donors and incredible Peter Weilgony, who has generously gifted me €1,000, I have decided to start a jewellery business.

I’ve been a jewellery-making addict for more than two years, so already had thousands of beads and materials, and had learned the skills needed to design and create pieces. All I needed, really, were some pretty packaging and a website, along with a unique and memorable name.

I have many names for the eight-year-old: Lilypops, Little Pops, Littlest Popsicle, Lil Popalous and Lillabilla. So when it came to deciding on a name for the business, I chose Lillabilla as (along with the rest) it’s close to my heart.

My extremely talented best friend Graham Nunn designed the following brilliant logo for me:

Lillabilla-logo

I then bought the font licence and found a reasonably priced Danish packaging firm who debossed the logo onto high quality jewellery boxes in rose gold foil. I had to buy three different sizes for necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Lillabilla box.jpg

I wrote a business plan, and Graham also created an amazing spreadsheet for me, which enabled me to see exactly what all the materials cost and therefore what profit I could make from selling each piece. I decided to sell my pieces at roughly the same price points as Accessorize (£6 for earrings, £7 for bracelets and £12 for necklaces) even though they’re handmade and not mass produced. This will enable me to make roughly £2 from each piece.

Tamara bracelet 1

If I can sell five pieces an hour during the working day, I can get off Universal Credit, which will be a huge relief.

Annalise bracelet 1

Candy necklace 1

 

Brexit is worrying. Am I still going to be able to order packaging from Denmark, or will there be huge tariffs and lorries stuck at the border? I can find a new supplier, but at what price, and what cost to quality? Are people still going to want to buy jewellery if there’s an economic downturn? Are some of my bead suppliers going to go out of business?

I concede that Brexit may not be the ideal time to start a new venture, but in the absence of a job, it’s necessary, unless I want to start eating things people have dropped on the floor. And I’m really hoping that Brexit will never happen, which seems entirely possible right now.

People always want to know what a business’s USP is. So what makes Lillabilla different from all the other millions of jewellery businesses? Well, all the designs are entirely original and unique, but also: instead of being one-size-fits-all, each design can be personalised. You can select the length of the bracelets and necklaces, and can choose whether the earrings are clip-ons or for pierced ears.

In addition, you can choose the metal plating used in the design (silver, gold or rose gold) and there are even eight ‘name’ bracelet designs where you can specify the name you’d like on the bracelet. Oh, and I’ve decided to do themed collections for occasions, so will soon be launching a special Christmas range of earrings and bracelets using wintry colours and Christmas charms. (It’s only seven weeks away, guys!)

Kristy earrings 1

I think if you’d told me in 2009, at the height of my Atheist Bus Campaign fame, that ten years later I’d be a divorced single mum on the dole making jewellery instead of writing, I’d have been properly depressed. But actually, I’m quite excited. I love making jewellery and very much hope this could be a viable and profitable second career.

I genuinely have no idea what the response to my jewellery designs is going to be, but that’s the great thing about life: it’s full of surprises.

So here it is: Lillabilla Personalised Jewellery! I hope you like it. Christmas is coming up, so do consider placing an order, as your wife/mum/sister might like a pretty bracelet as a Christmas gift. You can tell them it was designed and made by that weird crazy girl who did the ‘probably no God’ buses.

Now that’s definitely a unique selling point.

www.lillabilla.com

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander and Jelly, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Fowler, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis and Marcus P Knight.

Please support me on Patreon.

My former life as a cartoon writer

In 2006, when I was 25, my flatmate Zarina Liew was a very talented aspiring illustrator, and as two Asian girls, she and I decided to produce a range of greeting cards for girls with the tongue-in-cheek name Love You Long Time. The venture was emphatically not a success, and I think I lost around £4,000 altogether trying to get it off the ground. It was the first of my three failing businesses. (Remind me never to start a business again!)

BeautifulThing

Then my lovely journalist friend Michael Shaw put a cartoon strip we created forward for a slot in his newspaper, the Times Education Supplement. Our bid was successful, and our cartoon All-Time High ran for six months in the magazine that came with the paper. We used the weekly £150 payment to replenish the £4,000 savings I’d lost on the greeting card business!

Each week, I would script the cartoon and send it to Zarina, and she would produce the strip. Here’s my favourite of our efforts:

TES - 'Definitions'.png

This next strip was based on my experiences at school, as teachers’ default positions seem to be that kids have a great relationship with their parents:

TES - 'Mother's Day'.png

And here’s another one I quite liked:

TES - 'Mendacity'.png

I really enjoyed scripting All-Time High, but the editor at the TES who was responsible for commissioning it (who has now left the paper) wanted to exert more and more control over it. At first everything was fine – we’d just deliver the cartoons each week – but then she wanted to see the scripts before they were inked; next she wanted to agree the topics before they went to script stage; finally she was vetoing everything I suggested. Eventually it became impossible to continue, and I quit in fury, thinking she was being thoroughly unreasonable.

Having been a journalist for many years now, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of control freakery again, so I think I was probably right. It’s a shame though, as it was a fun gig and I would have liked to carry on.

I can’t draw like Zarina, but I dabble from time to time. I wrote a little children’s book which never got published, about a hippo who wanted to be a supermodel, and I drew this illustration as part of it:

hetty.jpg

Here was the text:

Hetty the hippo and the supermodel dream

As Hetty the hippo
Lay dreaming in bed
A wonderful vision
Swam into her head

Of walking a runway
In beautiful clothes
Fine frocks on her figure
High heels on her toes

She leapt out of bed then
To tell all the land
About her ambition
So epic and grand

“A famed supermodel’s
What I want to be!”
Brave Hetty confided
To friends over tea

Alas, she was faced
With both laughter and scorn
At first, Rae the rhino
Sighed, tossing her horn

“What makes you think
You could strut like a star?
A massive fat hippo
Is all that you are!”

“She’s right!” chimed Pandora
The petulant pig
“Like me, you can’t model
We’re both much too big!”

“I won’t let that stop me!”
Het cried, undeterred
“Who cares what my size is?
That’s truly absurd!”

“We care,” hissed Camilla
The sleek and mean cat
“The whole of the world thinks
You’re simply too fat!”

Poor Hetty felt crushed
And her dream now seemed bleak
A single large tear
Made its way down her cheek

She stumbled away
Through the forests and streams
Vowing to give up
Her big fashion dreams

“Hey,” came a voice
“I don’t know who you are,
But your figure’s amazing
I’ll make you a star!”

Hetty turned round
And a jackal stood there
“I’m Jen,” she explained
“What great curves! What good hair!”

“But there’s no time to waste
Let’s not stand here and talk
My show’s in an hour
Please say that you’ll walk?”

Hetty was thrilled
Soon she donned fancy clothes
Sashayed down the runway
And strutted and posed

“This is the life!”
Hetty smiled, “It’s a doddle!”
For Hetty the hippo
Was finally a model.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 39

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 39 days: 8.8lbs)

Back on the wagon today.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 39 days: 2lbs)

John is plugging another of his books.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)