Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Country Living Magazine's Build-a-Business Day

Photo from Country Living's Build-a-Business event page 

Last week I ventured into London for Country Living Magazine's first Build-a-Business Day. The day consisted of a series of talks and workshops aimed at both established businesses and those with the germ of an idea for a new business. The main 'scary moment' was having the opportunity to pitch your work to a Country Living editor.

My ticket was a birthday present from Dad. I'm not a natural extrovert to say the least and although I can very happily stand in front of large groups of children for hours at a time with my teaching background, the thought of pitching my art business to proper editors and grown ups struck cold fear into my heart. Nor am I a natural Londoner. So many of my friends and peers have headed for the city to fulfil dreams and follow where the work is but I just find it overwhelmingly impersonal. Give me fresh air in a place where someone is more likely to smile and start a conversation with you at a train station than (literally) walk over you in a suited mob any day. 

Safe to say I was very much out of my comfort zone at the start of the day!

However, as soon as I arrived at the venue I instantly felt more at ease. The group was fairly small, with around 50 attendees and everyone was really chatty and friendly. The organisers, from lovely interns up to Susy Smith the editor, couldn't have been more welcoming.

Fiona Davies
Photo from Country Living's 
Build-a-Business event page
We began with a talk from bubbly Fiona Davies of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE) about why now is such a good time to be running your own business. She gave lots of helpful advice about forming a business plan and identifying your brand. We then split off into smaller groups for a workshop to write and discuss our own with the help of an expert leading our discussion. We were lucky to have Paula Hutchings from Marketing Vision talk us through this and discuss any areas we had difficulty with. The workshop helped me to identify the areas I want to work on in the short, medium and long term.

Paula Hutchings of Marketing Vision
Photo from Country Living's
 Build-a-Business event page 

Next up was a refreshing talk from Sophie Conran entitled 'What I Wish I'd Known'. It was so reassuring to hear someone talk so openly and honestly about the changes their business has gone through over time and tell you about their failures as well as their successes. This was my favourite talk of the day.

Sophie Conran
Photo from Country Living's 
Build-a-Business event page
As you will probably have gathered by now, I am largely governed by my stomach and the venue (The Good Housekeeping Institute Cookery School) was a foodie heaven. It was immaculately presented with vast quantities of tea, biscuits and cake and a delicious buffet style lunch with lots of gluten free choice so I was a very happy bunny.

After lunch came the dreaded pitch your work talk. As is so often the case, the workshop I was most nervous about was the one in which I learned the most. This began with an interview style panel led by Fiona Davies and included Features Editor Anna Jury, Food & Drink Editor Alison Walker, Health & Beauty Editor Kate Langrish and Deputy Home Design Editor Alaina Binks. It was completely invaluable to learn about what an editor is looking for, the best times and ways of getting in touch and what grabs someone's attention. The main thing I took away from the session was the importance of telling the story behind your work. This is something I definitely plan on developing and making more of a feature of on my website.

Next we split back into our smaller groups and had the chance of pitching to the very kind Kate Langrish in our group. She was so helpful and positive in her feedback and I think everyone who pitched their work to her felt much more confident about doing so in future. Thank you Kate!

Social media followed with a short talk from Paula Hutchings and a group workshop with Ruth Thomson of Social Social. I think social media is always a difficult topic to cover in a short space of time because there's always such a different amount of experience within a group of people. Ruth did a great job of advising us of the pros and cons of the various platforms and gave us lots of material to take away. I've got a fairly good understanding of how the various platforms work but would like to use them to better effect and she gave me some really useful tips which I am looking forward to putting into practice.

The day concluded with a Q&A session between Features Editor Anna Jury and Emma Bridgewater. This was another very inspiring talk and her passion for British manufacturing really came across. It's so interesting to hear the different routes such successful people have taken to reach where they are today.

I think creative people tend to prefer spending time creating much more than putting themselves and their work out there in the world and this was something we discussed in our group during the day. It was so nice to see everyone learning more and growing in confidence with that we'd learned as the day went on. I had an absolutely fantastic time, met lots of lovely people and even got sent home with a goodie bag! My brain is completely full of new ideas and I feel more confident with the business side of selling artwork. This is going to be the first of many Country Living Build-a-Business Days and I would thoroughly recommend going if you get the chance. What a valuable experience!