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This week we have been talking to Louise Daniel, founder of the #thinksmalluk movement and AndSoToShop website.
As a small business owner herself she went looking for a targeted platform to sell her wares. After approaching various huge bridal blogs and marketplaces, she felt that her business would be lost among all the other suppliers featured on these sites and that they weren’t specifically tailored to support small hand-makers.
She therefore decided to do things differently and champion Britain's best microbusinesses. Louise believed that if she could help suppliers to grow and nurture their businesses, they would have time to create unique, beautiful and tailored pieces.
And so to Wed, her first blog, has helped hundreds of independent businesses to grow, providing them with a platform to showcase their wares, social media and press coverage to share their creations and an online community providing them with the space, companionship, knowledge and opportunities to thrive.
Not long after, And so to Family and And so to Style were created, bringing lots of exciting new independent businesses into the And so to Community.
And so to Shop was launched in summer 2017 bringing you the ability to shop from a variety of creative and talented artisans whilst supporting small, independent businesses in the UK.
How did you get started with And So To Shop?
Having run my own small business, hand-making cards, I felt there was a niche within the UK to create a space run by small business owners, for small business owners. I wanted to promote small, independent brands here in the UK and encourage people to shop indie, rather than spending money with big business.
However, when it comes to running a business, you need to be able to wear many hats, including being a marketing expert, photographer, social media whizz, accountant, copy editor, SEO expert, admin organiser extraordinaire, IT technician, the list is endless!
It became very clear very quickly that actually, trying to wear all these hats and still have a life is near on impossible, especially in the first few years when you’re trying to learn it all. This is when I had my ‘Eureka’ moment. What if someone could take all those hats and either do those bits for you or teach you how to do them well? This would allow your business to grow and thrive as you have the tools and support needed to succeed.
First of all, we had to make sure that the need for this concept was there and so decided to test the water by setting up a blog. I wanted to inspire people, showing them beautiful things that they could then purchase from these fabulous independent suppliers. And so, in 2014, we launched the first step, And so to Wed. A blog designed to shout about indie wedding businesses up and down the country. And so to Wed quickly took off with huge numbers of brides, grooms, bridesmaids, hens and family members visiting the site for inspiration and ideas. It brought together unique, independent brands and those people wanting something different for their wedding or celebration – it was a match made in heaven.
And so to Wed has since helped hundreds of independent businesses to grow, providing them with a platform to showcase their wares, social media coverage to share their creations and an online community providing them with the space, companionship, support, knowledge and opportunities to thrive. With a real focus on creating a positive, creative and beautiful space, I brought on board my first team members, Ellie Kime, writer and wedding enthusiast, and Laura Billingham, queen of organisation and sourcing all things lovely.
We worked tirelessly alongside full time jobs and completing a degree to nurture the fledgling business. The And so to Team has now grown to over ten team members and six Partners, all of whom know, love and wholeheartedly believe in the brand. We are a real family.
The blog was there to shout about how amazing indie suppliers are, but in order to create the sleek, style driven look that I wanted, further support needed to be in place for the suppliers involved to help them achieve flawless photography, good copy writing, excellent SEO etc.
We set up The Café as a free online community for all independent suppliers, not just those with whom we work. We wanted it to be a vibrant, energetic, positive place that allowed independent business owners to share ideas, be inspired, gain support and access opportunities to grow. Suppliers can source other independent businesses who are able to do the bits that they can't/don't want to. From photographers to admin support there is something for everyone. The Café now has nearly 1,000 members, all of whom run their own businesses within the UK. Countless numbers of photo shoots have come about through The Café, giving the suppliers involved beautiful images to use within their marketing and listings. There have been various events and meet ups organised, allowing business owners to network and have that companionship that is often missing when you run your own business. A further level of support has recently been added through our Members Club which offers monthly resources to help suppliers to grow and develop their businesses through learning.
Not long after, the And so to Family and And so to Style Blogs were created, branching out from the bridal and foraying into the worlds of family and design.
It was at this point that I felt that the time had come to create a way for people to shop the unique looks that were being shared on the blogs, quickly, easily and safely.
I wanted to bring all the beautiful items we were showcasing in our blogs together, in one easy to navigate space.
So if you wanted to buy a handmade bridal veil and also pick up a personalised gift for your niece, you could do so at the same time.
In August 2017, And so to Shop came into the world. Bringing shoppers the ability to buy from a variety of creative and talented artisans, as well as being inspired by the style driven blogs at And so to Wed, And so to Family and And so to Style.
This really is shopping with the feel good factor! Not only are you getting something totally unique, you’re also helping someone to realise their dreams and grow their own independent business. And so to Shop is the final piece in my original vision but is by no means the end of the journey. We now want to really spread the word about shopping independent and supporting small UK businesses. This is our next challenge and one I'm already enjoying.
What can we do to support small businesses?
By supporting businesses I don't just mean shopping with them (although this is clearly very important), by sharing their social media posts, commenting, liking, sharing, recommending to friends and giving business owners constructive feedback is so, so important.
It's easy to think that as one person, you can't really make a difference, but you can. I still get a happy feeling every time we get a sale in the Shop, every time someone comments on a post or submits to our blog. It shows that someone cares about and believes in what we do and that is amazing.
We are powerful when we come together so lets spread the idea of shopping small. You can join our #thinksmalluk movement and get behind independent business owners.
Why do you think it's important to support small women led businesses?
I think there are lots of reasons, each are slightly different for supporting small businesses and businesses run by women. Firstly because they need it much more than the larger businesses. Trying to achieve anything in business usually takes time or money. Money is often difficult to come by as a small business owner, especially at the start of your journey.
Having that support from customers, makes a huge difference as to whether you succeed or fail. It is also important as it allows you to give back to your local community and economy. By shopping indie you are employing someone, feeding their children, helping them provide a home, and a life for their family and so on.
Thinking more widely, in the tax that they then pay, you are contributing to our NHS, fire service, education and so much more. This is something often not thought about, but many big businesses don't pay tax here in the UK and often don't employ workers here either, so by shopping with them your money is not benefiting your local community, by shopping indie it is.
As well as this, it's just lovely to know where your items and services are coming from. By shopping indie, you often get better value, better quality and better service so it's beneficial to you as a customer too.
In relation to supporting women in business, this is something I feel very strongly about (as you'll see from my dissertation style rant!) but I am also mindful that many of the issues and challenges women face in business, can also be encountered by men and other specific sectors or groups, so it's a really tricky issue. I think that historically, women haven't had equal opportunities in many aspects including business. Now however we are on our way to achieving this but there is still much to do.
There is clearly a real issue with people's mentality in relation to women and positions of power. There are fewer women at the top within industry, politics, religious institutions etc and this just highlights that being a woman in business is different to being a man. We have perhaps an even steeper hill to climb on our entrepreneurial journey, challenging stereotypes, bias and preconceived ideas.
This cultural and historical conditioning means that as a woman in business, we often have more hurdles to overcome. It's clearly a very complex issue that needs to be dealt with both as individuals and by society as a whole.
Myself, I strive to achieve what I can, I don't shy away from being in charge or pursuing money/power or my goals. I try to accept myself for who I am, what I want to achieve in my life. I have a family, a husband and a son who I love more than anything and they are at the very heart of what and why I want to achieve.
Do I see my identity as a 'mum' as all encompassing? No.
Am I a 'wife' first and foremost? No.
Am I a 'woman' in business? No,
I am a business person who has skills, thoughts, ideas, traits, weaknesses, all of which are unique to me and have nothing to do with my gender.
Do I feel negative about the role of women within business? No.
I think there are many amazing women in business, as there are men, many of whom I'm lucky enough to work with.
What I know is that the women who are in business need to spend less time worrying about gender issues, believe in themselves and just rock what they are doing.
What do you enjoy the most?
Seeing the businesses we work with grow. It's so nice seeing anyone develop and thrive, but when you've worked with someone for years and you see them then become what they've always wanted, it's a real privilege.
I love being able to get to know so many inspiring and amazing people, all of whom have chosen to pursue something more than the norm. It keeps you going on those difficult days, reminding you of what you are capable of and offering that amazing support that can only come from a fellow dreamer
What advice do you have for solopreneurs?
In the 4 years that I have run my own business I have learnt so much it's difficult to sum it all up into a short, succinct paragraph so I'll try and bullet point the headline lessons I've learnt.
3 things you may not know about me...
1. I am a teacher and work 4 days a week which I love but it can be very stressful.
2. I am from a tiny town on the east coast and I love the sea.
3. I can't cook. At all. I burn frozen pizzas.
There are so many reasons to be supporting our #thinksmalluk campaign, click the link to check us out, tell your friends and shop now