The 5 pieces of equipment you (really) need when starting a small business
Starting a Business
The slow and steady route to a self-sufficient business
with Grain & Knot
The path to purposeful creation has been a winding one for Independent Award winner and founder of Grain & Knot, Sophie Sellu. From training as an interior designer to being made redundant not just once, but twice, Sophie has remained resilient and listened to the quiet voice within when things have got tough.
After a casual conversation about a wood-carving course, she got herself on that very course within days. She loved how it offered the perfect outlet for her design skills and her passion for the natural world. Then a passing comment inspired her to apply for the Enterprise programme with the Prince’s Trust. On completion, she won funding, which she combined with her redundancy money to set up her workshop.
A firm believer in starting things small, Sophie kept her overheads low by building her own website and roping in friends to help with graphic design and photography. She also gave herself a time limit to see what she could achieve and avoid pouring money into something that wasn’t working. ‘I said to myself, right, if I’m not selling my stuff in six months, I will look for a job.’
She did start selling pieces, but like many makers, she had to confront the question of why her handmade products command the price that they do. The time invested in crafting an item is the obvious answer, but Sophie’s response is simple – if you’re prepared to invest in a cooking pot which will last, why wouldn’t you spend money on a wooden spoon that’s built to last?
‘I said to myself, right, if I’m not selling my stuff in six months, I will look for a job.’
‘If you really enjoy cooking why not elevate that experience and have a spoon which is a joy to use every day and is beautifully tactile? I think with everyone spending more time at home, people are aware of the fact that they would like that unique thing that would brighten their day slightly.’
Sophie has also had to justify her less than traditional, but progressive and sustainable, techniques – from using reclaimed wood rather than green wood (freshly cut timber) to incorporating machinery in the initial stages of crafting, which speeds up the process.
‘It takes me less than a minute (to cut out a piece of wood) with a bandsaw, yet it could take 45 minutes using an axe. So, the luddite version of that, is that it’s not handmade because I’m not doing every part with my hand – that didn’t make any sense to me because my hand is using the machinery and I’m using one piece of machinery.’
It’s a practical hack that makes good business sense. But in a world where it feels like things are getting faster every day, Sophie’s focus is on the slower way of doing things and producing a limited number of artisan products.
‘With Amazon, there’s a sense that everything is available now, and my products aren’t always available. I normally do six shop updates a year. I always say, trees take so long to grow, why rush it? With the pandemic, people are more prepared to wait.’
In a world where it feels like things are getting faster every day, Sophie’s focus is on the slower way of doing things.
Grain & Knot is in its eighth year so understanding what works for her hasn’t happened overnight for Sophie. By trialling limited shop updates and calculating the amount she makes from those updates, she’s developed a good idea of what her income will be, which gives her a sense of security. It’s a rhythm that works for her and which she’s honed after coming close to burnout while teaching workshops. The physicality of her work meant that on some mornings, she was waking up in pain. At these points, she could have fallen out of love with wood-carving, but she re-assessed and went back to basics – back to making it not feel like work. Sometimes the slow ways are the best ways, and it’s so inspiring to see such a successful maker advocating them.
1. Talk about your work: ‘One of the things that I learnt from the Prince’s Trust is that you need to be talking about your product all the time because you never know who you’re going to meet; you need to be able to talk about it really well and show passion for what you’re doing. This really prepared me for when I attended a Liberty open call for makers.’
2. Know your audience: ‘The first few markets I did, I remember people coming up to me and being like, “You do know you can buy this in IKEA for a pound, don’t you?” And it would just be like a stab to the chest. I had to say to myself, okay, well you’re not my market, you’re not my audience, and that’s fine.’
3. Keep things manageable: ‘You do need to make money, but I used to have my shop open all the time and it just didn’t suit my lifestyle, it was disrupting my creativity. Once I started focusing on smaller collections, I could slimline the whole process rather than spreading myself too thin. Fewer updates allow me to focus on making things and having that slower pace of life.’
Hear more from Sophie
After being made redundant and deciding to attend a wood carving course, Sophie bought an axe and a set of knives and set about carving her own future, by embracing a craft that she loved.