Pinky Accessories: Claire O’Connell

Claire O’Connell was waiting for that ‘magical business idea’ to come along when she realised that all she had to do was combine something she was interested in with the skills she already had.

Claire tells about giving up work as a web programmer to start Pinky Accessories, an online fashion accessories and jewellery e-store.

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: Claire O’Connell Age: 29 Business: Pinky Accessories, Type of business: Online fashion accessories and jewellery e-store Start date: April 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? Like many people, owning and running my own business was always on the personal ‘to do’ list. The only thing holding me back was finding that magical ‘business idea’. Then in 2001, the idea came to me.

Tell us about Pinky AccessoriesPinky Accessories is an online fashion accessories and jewellery e-store, with a chic and stylish range of contemporary fashion jewellery.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?Yes, it was my first business idea. I have a love of fashion and jewellery, plus over five years web programming experience, so I have combined the two together to follow my dreams.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? A number of family members have, or have had, their own business so I am inspired by them and often seek their advice and wisdom.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? I felt there was a gap in the market for stylish fashion jewellery, which was good quality, and at a reasonable price. I had certainly spent many Saturday afternoons trawling the high street looking for that combination. So I set myself the business challenge of filling this gap in the market. I also wanted Pinky Accessories to provide exceptional service and convenience at your fingertips.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I went on a shopping spree, sourcing the most irresistible accessories from all around the world.

What research did you do? There are 3 key areas of research for the business:

Firstly, research into historical and predicated retail spend, consumer behaviour patterns, small business success stories, ecommerce growth and future trends. Secondly, talking to people I see as potential customers – this is invaluable. Finally, following the fashion trends and lots of window-shopping.

What advice did you seek? I met with a number of banks and presented my business plan to them to test if they would lend me money. I regularly attend selected networking functions that will impart a skill or information that I need to know more about – this varies from entrepreneurial speakers or presentation skills etc. Skills that a ‘normal’ employee may develop on a training course or mentoring through the workplace, which I need to source myself.

What other help did you get? Family and friends are a big help from two different perspectives: maintaining a view on the bigger picture, plus the finer details, such as proof reading work. Sometimes you are so close to your work you need an outsider to review it. I also have a mentor who is an incredible help.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?It needs to give it services more publicity, and should intorduce a mentoring program.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I initially used a template provided by one of the banks. This was a great start as it covered most of the foundation blocks. The business plan is a working document, if I waited till I was 100% happy with the plan Pinky Accessories would still be a concept. Both the company’s growth and my insight will change with time, and I want the BP to reflect that.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? It has been very helpful in maintaining focus and discipline. With the business plan you can monitor your progress and success of achieving objectives and goals. Discipline and planning are critical for business success.

How much did it cost to start the business? Over £10,000.

How did you fund this? From my own savings.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? Business income covers running costs.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? No, I am an optimist.

When did you stop working? In April 2002, and the transition was hard. When you work for yourself you have to quickly devise a new routine to your day, which may be a routine of something different every day!

Are you working from home or from premises? I work from home to reduce overheads. It can be difficult at times. However, the positives outweigh the negatives.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I work 60 hours on average, but I try not to work Sundays.

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? Every day I have a to do list which is realistic and prioritised. And so the day is about staying focused on this list and working through it.

What about staff, is it just you? Yes currently I am the staff, however I have a number of wonderful Pinky helpers.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? If it is, what will you do about it? Not really as that is part of a company’s expansion. My aim is to keep all business admin. tasks at a minimum and perform them efficiently and effectively.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Marketing is quite varied, from exhibitions at wedding fayres, corporate events, and theme and charity functions. An appearance in a number of Bridal magazines, the jewels for a jazz singer’s album cover – and word of mouth is very important. The 2003 marketing strategy is being finalised at the moment.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time? The number one, most popular, fashion jewellery site in the U.K.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Time and money.

How do you plan to overcome these? To grow organically but focus on actions that will give big results. Prioritising where money is spent and how my time is utilised is mandatory. Running a business is exhausting so you must avoid wasting your time unnecessarily.

Tell us about your website. is the business. It is a functional online catalogue of the accessory and jewellery collection. I have designed it both visually and technically, plus added secure a shopping cart software at the backend. The most important requirements for the site is it is easy to navigate, secure and images of the range are clear and detailed.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? To make money while enjoying myself.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? At times it’s daunting the number of tasks and responsibilities you have, but I try to methodically work through it. What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Obvious traits are ambition and personal drive, but an understated skill is the ability to appreciate hindsight without dwelling on it. No one can have all the skills to begin with, but the main thing is to learn from mistakes.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? When you start a business you meet lots of cynics and ‘know-it-alls’. So follow your instincts and look after your customers – they are everything.

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? Yes, of course.

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