Catch up profile: Signature Balloons

We last spoke to Rachel Brown of Signature Balloons one year ago. Now we catch up with her again to see if her idea took float

Rachel Brown’s company provides helium filled balloons and gifts for special occasions. We spoke to her just over 12 months ago not long after she decided to go it alone. Now pays her another visit.  How has your business been getting along since we last spoke?It has grown from strength to strength. Sales continued to increase month on month with sharp peaks over the Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day periods. We have just added a new section to our website called for Corporate Printing. We have been responding to printing enquiries for some time, but felt that this should be reflected in our website. We have printed balloons for Volvo, John Lewis Direct, American Golf and even undertaken a printing and fulfilment request as a PR exercise on behalf McCain.

In April, Signature Balloons became a partnership when my husband, who was already ‘moonlighting’ for Signature Balloons by constructing boxes and managing the web marketing campaigns after work and at weekends, was made redundant.

We thought that with two of us, there would finally be time to be pro-active and develop the business but with orders continuing to flood in and VAT returns to complete, this hasn’t been the case! We are now at the point where we are recruiting a third pair of hands.

What do you feel you have learnt about running a business and yourself in this time?I’ve learned that it can be as exciting as it is challenging and as flexible as it is restrictive. It really is a roller-coaster ride, particularly now that it is a ‘family business’ and the financial pressure is definitely on!

What about being your own boss, has it turned out how you expected? Yes, I think so. No interference, no corporate ‘across the board’ decisions that don’t apply at a local level, no unrealistic targets, no ‘jargon’, no ‘moving the goalposts’ and much less frustration. However, home and work life tend to be difficult to separate!

It’s great to be able to tailor-make a solution to every email or telephone call we receive and there’s nothing better than receiving good feedback and fantastic testimonials – it makes me feel really proud.

What do you feel has been your biggest achievement since starting up? Retaining some sanity and maintaining a high level of professionalism at all times!! It has not been easy juggling a start-up business with a newborn baby, particularly one that cried for hours on end with colic. But things have definitely become easier as time has gone on.

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Winning business from large organisations such as John Lewis Direct and Sheffield University and then receiving wonderful testimonials always reminds me of how far we’ve come.

What has been your biggest disappointment? Finding out how much things cost in a business environment. For example, business rates, solicitor’s fees, broadband, telephone lines/calls – it’s all so much more expensive than for personal/private use, just because you’re a business. Sometimes it feels like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back in the early days when trying to grow and develop a small business. It’s so hard to take the next step forward particularly when considering a move to business premises.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?I think I probably said this in my first Start-Up Profile but it still remains true. I wish I’d have had the courage to leave the corporate world a long time ago and started the business way before we had any plans to have a baby. I feel we would be much further on, perhaps with an employee or two so we can take holidays! The business would be more established and efficient and perhaps I’d have found time to be more pro-active.

How close have you stuck to your original business plan? Has it turned out vastly differently from what you expected? The original business plan was very basic and was really to increase sales to a level that my husband could also become self-employed. However, that step was taken a little earlier than anticipated due to his redundancy. We’ve diversified a little in that initially, we didn’t expect to offer balloon printing – that developed from the number of enquiries we were receiving.

How have you managed your finances?We were fortunate in that the start-up costs came from a combination of savings and a grant from Business Link. From then on, the business has been self-funding. After a year of trading, we were able to negotiate discounts and credit terms with nearly all of our suppliers. This is not something that is automatically offered, we had to ask, but it has definitely been worth it and has made quite a difference overall. Initially, we were going to attempt to manage our own accounts. But as we rapidly approached the VAT threshold, coupled with the level of business and becoming a partnership, we employed the services of a local accountant whose advice has been invaluable.

What next – where do you see your business in a year’s time?We would really like to move to business premises and are currently considering several options including opening a retail outlet, buying/renting warehouse or workshop space and just moving house. Depending on the outcome of the above, we expect to employ two or three people. Short term, we will definitely be employing someone to fulfil orders in the very near future. We also expect to see an increase in sales from Corporate Balloon Printing and hopefully by next year, we hope to be getting regular, repeat business from a core number of clients.

How many hours are you working now and how has this changed since you started? Is it more or less than you expected? I probably work approximately 50+ hours over a seven day period, as does my husband. I find there are fewer late nights than when we first started but we now work on a Saturday morning and the new week starts on a Sunday night after our daughter has gone to bed.

What tip would you give someone who is thinking of starting up their own business?Absolutely just do it. It’s a lot of hard work and pressure but the ‘ups’ far outweigh the ‘downs’ and the personal satisfaction is second to none.


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