“Looking back, the seeds of my business were sown in my childhood. Not only did I spend every spare minute making things – soft toys, clothes, jewellery – I was also determined to be financially independent as soon as I could. I got my first Saturday job at the age of 13 and kept it until I went to university at the age of 17. I always worked hard, and I always earned my own money.
Writing about the retail sector for the city pages of the Times in London during the late 1980s retail boom and interviewing FTSE100 chairmen and CEOs gave me fascinating insight into the world of retail and business. When I started my own business, I knew it would be an ecommerce business, digitalising and applying automation to the selling the process to reach an engaged customer base without the filter of retail buyers who didn’t really cherish our products in the way we did.
Entrepreneurs are advised to work their way methodically to launch, ticking off aspects of their business plan as they go. That wasn’t how it worked for me and I don’t think I would have ever launched a business if I had taken that approach. For me, taking the plunge was a potent cocktail of grabbing an opportunity, the right timing in terms of where I was in my career and family life, boredom with having reached a ceiling in my career, and the need to establish a Plan B after 85% of my colleagues were made redundant in one sitting.
I launched my business because I love a challenge and because I love to learn. I quickly came to realise that it was the technical side of ecommerce which would make the biggest difference to my business growth, so despite having no prior knowledge or understanding, I immersed myself in that. It has been a massive learning curve and it has paid off.
If I were to do it again, I would be more laser-focused on the digital side of things from the start and I would have learned Search Engine Optimisation techniques in a more methodical way. I would have moved out of my comfort zone more quickly and I would have employed staff earlier. But actually, the risk has paid off. More importantly, I have learned a lot about myself and about leadership which I would never have done had I stayed in a 9-5 career.”
Gillian Crawford is managing director of designer jewellery business Lily Blanche. She is also chair of the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Scotland and a Director of the Institute of Ecommerce.