On my mission to find out what drives small business owners in Scotland, I’ve spoken to some pretty interesting people, who all have fantastic insights into what running a small business is really like.
My latest interviewee is Jane Banks, the owner of laser cutting and engraving business LaserFlair, who is based in Upper Largo in Fife, just outside Edinburgh. I chatted with her about her business successes, inspirations, struggles and everything in between!
Why do you do what you do?
I love making things. I always have ever since I was wee. My first job was in pharmaceutical manufacturing. I didn’t expect to love it, but I did, and a subsequent job creating new products for Curtis Fine Papers near Dundee was so much fun and very challenging too. So when I decided to set up my own business, making things cost-effectively was at the top of the list.
All my work is contract manufacturing and I work with business old and new, large and small to create products from signage to specialist engineering parts, jewellery components to unicorns!
What are you most proud of?
I’m so proud to have worked with big companies like Diageo, Volvo, RBS and Studio B (Clydesdale Bank) and organisations like The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
I also love working with small companies across the UK, but it’s a particular pleasure to see the local customers when they visit the workshop. Tom Pigeon are one of my longest standing customers and it’s been a privilege to help them develop new ranges of their own and for The Tate.
And The Wee Couper of Fife is a brand new gift shop in Anstruther who opened just this month. They’ve hit the ground running in time for the tourist season, and the stainless steel hip flasks I engrave for them and their unique gift box sets (I cut the foam box inserts) are flying off the shelves. I love seeing the excitement on Tom and Karen’s faces and being part of their story.
What keeps you up at night?
I deliberately set up LaserFlair in a very organic way and chose to find a way to work from home to minimise risks to the business. That’s given me peace of mind from the start. So there are only two things – the worries all self-employed people have when things go quiet every now and again, and having a new challenge I have to make completely by myself. But they don’t really keep me up. I try to exercise every day to make sure I sleep as well as possible.
What was the best business decision you ever made?
Blogging and getting stuck into social media. They’re a great way to do your own free marketing and they have a wider impact than I thought possible. And working from home is so flexible.
And the worst?
To not do any marketing apart from networking and the odd bit of cold calling for the first few years. I couldn’t get my head around social media. I think it’s something you just have to get stuck into without overthinking it, learning as you go along. What’s the worst that can happen?
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
Not to worry about things and just get on with them instead. That really works for me. I used to procrastinate and worry about some tasks, but when I actually did them, it was never as bad as I’d thought. Ticking hated jobs off the to-do list was so satisfying and justified small rewards! The realisation that the worrying about it was the worst option has gone some way to helping me cure myself of this silliness. Mostly.
And a piece of advice I would pass on is to gather business friends around you to encourage and inspire you. Self-employment can be a lonely journey. Collecting like-minded customers and new friends along the way has made it a wonderful adventure.
How do you attract new clients or customers?
Blogging really has helped drive traffic to my website. I love showing what I can do in a non-salesy way. I’m the kind of person who likes to see things and understand how they’re done, so I use my blog to demonstrate what I do and how I do it.
Many customers have said that it helps them understand how I’ve helped other customers with all sorts of weird and wonderful projects.
What do you enjoy most about your marketing?
I love the social aspect of social media, especially Instagram which is my favourite platform. I’ve met so many interesting contacts and had a lot of new customers through enquiries and word of mouth and I didn’t expect that.
It’s also lovely keeping up with what friends and customers are doing and supporting them. Instagram’s such a friendly place to dip in and out of throughout the day and it adds a lovely social dimension to my routine as I work alone.
How do you relax?
I like cooking and baking because I love eating it! I’m not sporty, but I like to keep fit, mainly by walking and I recently discovered golf. I’m in a book club and we’re reading novels from around the world this year. And cuddling our ginger rescue cat, Harvey.
What is your favourite brand?
Right now it’s Ritter Sport. I’ve just finished a bar of their salted almond chocolate. It’s just as well I only bought two! A little chocolately treat every now and again is one of those little pleasures of life that makes me smile.
What’s something you dream of doing?
More travel, definitely. It really is life-affirming and enriching. We spent 16 days driving from San Francisco to Seattle in May this year. I loved the Yosemite, Gold Country and coastal scenery, meeting locals through Airbnb and getting an insight into their culture. A Scandinavian road trip is near the top of my wish list. Maybe next year.
My husband is on the verge of starting up an interesting business after working on lots of ideas for a couple of years. It’s so interesting chatting through things as he did with me when I started LaserFlair. I’m looking forward to helping him as he helped me. We’re a good team, and I wouldn’t have started LaserFlair without his encouragement and belief in me.