PhotoArtistry Limited: Anne Herbert

Anne Herbert purchased a printer for her own artwork and decided print the work of a few other artists to help pay for it. Demand for such a service exceeded her expectations and prompted her to start PhotoArtistry Ltd, a digital fine art printing company. Anne tells Startups all about it.

Startup profiles go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up. We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Anne Herbert Age: 42 Business: PhotoArtistry Limited Type of business: Digital Fine Art Printing Start date: Registered 17 May 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? It was more of a hobby, which developed into a business. I don’t think it was something I’d always wanted to do, though the idea of the flexibility of working hours and financial freedom had always appealed to me.

PhotoArtistry started because I purchased a large format digital printer to print my own artwork (I have a B.A in Fine Art, but ended up working as a product marketing manager for a computer security company). I put together a very simple website in 1998 to see if other artists and photographers would be interested in printing their own work. The idea was to help me to pay for the printer.

Tell us about your businessPhotoArtistry is an internet-based business providing a printing service to anyone wanting a large format digital print of their photographs or artwork.

We specialise in printing the images onto canvas and stretching them over wooden stretcher frames. We also print on a variety of other media: photo glossy, semi gloss paper, matte and a range of digital art papers.

95 per cent of the orders are taken online. Customers are able to choose the size and dimension of the print they want, calculate the price with our online price calculator, pay for it online, and then submit their image by uploading it to us.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? Not really, I spent some time as a jewellery designer after I left university and had ideas of setting up my own business making costume jewellery, as well as snuff and trinket boxes made from pewter. It was an idea I was never able to pursue because I did not have the money and was concerned that the lead content of the pewter might not be good for my health.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? I’m very inspired by people like Stelios Haj Ioannou (EasyJet), Richard Branson (Virgin), Anita Roddick (BodyShop), Charles Dunstone (Carphone Warehouse) etc… I’m an avid reader of the Sunday Times and like to read the business pages and the entrepreneurs stories of ‘How I made it”. I am inspired by women of courage. I like to read stories of how people triumph over adversity.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?It sounds pretty bizarre but the market found me. Quite simply I had wanted to pay for the printer I’d purchased by looking for fellow artists who had a similar desire to make single or low volume reproductions of their artwork. The cost of litho printing was prohibitive and you had to print large quantities to justify the cost.

I’d wanted to print onto something more exciting than paper so I chose canvas printing because of the texture that this added to the reproduction. I found a lot of people who came across my website not only wanted the canvas printing but wanted to know if I’d do the stretching as well. So I decided add it to my portfolio of services. The market now consists not only of artists and photographers but also interior designers, people who provide architectural services and a range of other people.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?Real practical stuff like registering the business, voluntarily registering for VAT, getting a good accounting package like Sage Accounts. The thing is I’d put up the web site in ’98 and one or 2 orders had trickled in. It was not until late 2000 that things started to pick up. I decided to take it seriously and registered it in March 2002.

I had already started an MBA course on the Open University because of my daytime job as a product-marketing manager. I started to apply the principles to the business. It was important to get quality leads from the website so we put an incentive there in the form of a free print offer.

What research did you do?It was important for me to see what else was out there. I needed to know my market as well as who my competitors were and how I could price my services to be competitive. I quite like to play with Microsoft Excel and with this package I could work out various models to help me determine my break even points, the cost of production, how many prints I could get per roll of canvas, how many prints I could get per day etc…

This kind of information helped me to determine how to price my products. The research on the competitive marketplace was quite extensive. The idea was to look for a differentiator that would be a unique selling point for me.

What advice did you seek? I spent a lot of time talking to friends. This is not always a good thing, as they’ll only tell you what you want to hear and are not always objective. Someone put me in touch with a person from the Business Link and this proved to be quite useful. The chap is something of a mentor to me. I also found the startups.co.uk website and wish I’d found it a lot sooner.

What other help did you get?Not much else. I was not sure of where else to go. It’s not very clear where one should go and what one should do when they want to start a business. At least I did not find this so easily when I first started. Perhaps I was not looking in the right places, but then nothing jumped up and hit me in the face either.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?Startup information, guidelines, roadmaps etc. should be more easily available for entrepreneurs. It is certainly getting better but information on taxation, employing people, insurance etc. should be provided in an easily digestible form. Courses on the principles of business administration would be invaluable, as they would probably cover basic aspects of accounting, marketing, human resources and strategic planning. Last but not least, funding should not be so difficult to get.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.My mentor from the Business Link gave me a template for the business plan. I also managed to get a couple of good books with sample business plans. I find my business plan is a ‘work in motion’. I’ve never used it to apply for a bank loan, for example, but I find it helps me with my strategic planning.

The business plan changes as my customer demands change. If enough customers ask for a particular product I will adapt to accommodate them and then add it to my portfolio of services and offer it to the rest of my customer base.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?The business plan has been very useful and I would urge every start up to have one. One useful part has been the SWOT analysis, i.e. looking at the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats to the business. The financial section helps me to project future growth based on past performance. In a sense, the business plan puts into words all the ideas that I have in my mind for the growth of the business.

How much did it cost to start the business? Initially I paid about £10,000 for the large format printer, a computer and a scanner. I paid a further £1500 for the initial development of the website. I’ve paid a lot more since then as I’ve replaced the printer and purchased a second one. I’ve also purchased a laminating machine, two or three more computers, a slide scanner, revamped the website, and have this week moved out of my home and into a warehouse unit.

How did you fund this?It has all been self-funded. I had a good job that paid well and the company gave me some very generous share options as well. I’ve used most of this money to buy the equipment I need.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? Until recently, I was using whatever profit I gained from the business to run it. As I was working full time, I was not paying myself from the business but used the money instead to develop the business further.

I had the website updated for e-commerce so I could take orders online. I also had some glossy brochures printed and was able to take a small stand at an exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham. I purchased a couple more computers, a laminator and a second printer to cope with the increasing demand.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?Not specifically. I want to be able to keep abreast of changing demands and adapt accordingly. As I have so much equipment I want to be able to offer a range of services so that I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket.

When did you stop working? I was made redundant in the middle of May 2003. It was already getting a little tough for me with the full time job and the business, which I run in the evenings and at weekends and this was doubly tough because I am a single parent with a single income. I had considered leaving the full time job but did not have the guts. I had all the fears, uncertainties, and doubts that accompany any decision to take the plunge into self-employment and running your own business. In the end the decision was made for me.

How did you find working from home? I was working at home until June 2003. I needed to get some more equipment and physically did not have any more room at home to accommodate this. We produce some very large canvases and packing these in the spare bedroom was tricky to say the least. Every room in my house had been commandeered in one way or the other. In the end it started to get on top of us and I decided to find a warehouse unit.

How did you find he warehouse and are you pleased with it? I found an office/warehouse unit of 1500 square ft. It’s ideal! Only 10 minutes from where I live. I been driving past this unit en route to the courier company I use and allowed myself to dream of renting it. In the end I made enquiries and found it was feasible. The thought of having to find the rent each month is pretty daunting but so far I’ve managed.

How many hours are you working at the moment?I’d say 60 or 70 hours a week. It’s not ideal as I have young children but we have a fair few orders and I’m doing all the paper work as well; bookkeeping, VAT etc…

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? I have an accountant but now need to hand over the bookkeeping to a part time bookkeeper so I can concentrate on business development. We have recently purchased a second printer so we can run several jobs at the same time. Prior to that, we had to wait until one print job was finished before starting the next one and when the printer broke down, it set us back several days and created a huge backlog of work.

What about staff, is it just you?I have one full time employee who joined me in February 2003. She is a friend who was happy to leave her job to work with me and even took a pay cut. She has run her own business before; has a lot of experience in data management and takes care of the ‘leads’ database, which we use extensively for marketing mailshots and newsletters. She also does all the printing, order entry and packing whilst I do the bookkeeping and canvas stretching.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? I worry about things like employee liability insurance. I see articles in the paper that fill me with dread. I had no idea about payroll, national insurance and tax but have had to learn a lot. The Inland Revenue run some very useful courses and will have a consultant visit you if you request it.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? We market directly to our customers with a periodic newsletter that tells our customers what we’ve been up to, what’s new in our portfolio and will occasionally add some incentive like time limited discounted offers. We generate the leads directly from the website through a ‘free print’ offer.

We’ve done hardly any magazine or internet advertising and prefer to use word or mouth and promotional incentive offers. We have found trade shows and exhibitions quite useful. We participated in an imaging exhibition at the NEC in February and will be at another one at the Business Design Council in July

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?I’d like to run a bit more efficiently than I’m doing at moment. Right now, we seem to be fighting fires a lot and trying to cope with demand. We do have the capacity for more work but need to be efficient in our processes and perhaps a little more organised. I would personally want to be focussing purely on business growth and strategic development. I like seeing my ideas coming into some kind of fruition.

What are the main obstacles to growth?I spend a lot of my time doing mundane production tasks. This means I am not able to focus on the strategies that will help the company to grow. I have a lot of good ideas but cannot implement some of them because of the time constraints. In addition, we’ve until recently been working with just one printer meaning that we can only work as fast as the pace of that printer. If the printer breaks down, it sets us back a couple of days and the backlog piles up.

How do you plan to overcome these?I need to get a part time bookkeeper to take care of the paperwork. I’ll also need to look towards hiring someone to take over the printing and stretching of the canvases so I can focus on building my customer base.

Tell us about your website. The website – www.photoartistry.co.uk – is our main sales tool and is crucial to our business. A customer should be able to find everything they want there. In a sense it is also our product brochure and technical datasheet, but doubles up as an order form as well.

I paid a professional web designer to put the site together for me. It took a few months to get it right as it was quite complicated and at the same time we wanted to keep it simple. The biggest feature is the price calculator. Many of our customers find this quite fascinating as they can enter different size dimensions, choose the media the want their image printed on, calculate the price, and then place an order.

It was important that once people came to our site that they should stay and browse for a few minutes. We decided to place an incentive in the form of a free print offer, which also allowed us to gather quality sales. We have a conversion rate of about 80% from these leads.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?Obviously I would like to make a lot of money from this as I see it as a measure of the company’s success. I do however derive a lot of intrinsic value from the satisfaction that our customers get from our services. They very often write us an email to let us know. This is perhaps the most important measure of success. So I guess, deep down, it’s that I really enjoy what I do.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?I certainly wish I had found the Startups website a lot sooner. There is so much information there. I wish I’d read the information about renting premises, for example, before taking the lease on the property we are renting right now. I’ve found managing cash flows to be the most difficult. We are so focussed on customer satisfaction and getting the orders out, and sometimes it’s several weeks before we invoice some of our regular customers who place orders directly with us.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?You need tons of energy, a will to succeed and good strong shoulders. It’s not always plain sailing and it’s during the tough moments that most people tend to give up obviously. If you research your market and can determine a need for your product it’s only a matter of time before it yields the right results.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?Spend time researching your intended market, look at potential competitors and see what they are doing and how they are doing it. See if you can offer something that would be a key differentiator. It does not need to cost lots of money.

The internet is a useful tool these days for free marketing. Also check out the Startups website for guidance material. Also, as soon as you can, try and find a mentor who is objective and understands your goal. Sometimes they help you see things from a different perspective.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time?Most certainly.

If you’d like to be a startup profile email matthewt@crimsonpublishing.co.uk

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