Risking it all: Why starting a market stall business is the best thing I’ve done

Selling honey's not all about money for From Field and Flower's Samantha Wallace. The market trader shares why she loves the daily challenges

Serendipity played a leading part in determining Samantha Wallace’s future.

Made redundant from her City job but offered a deferred redundancy, it was the safety net she needed to explore the start-up plan she and husband Stefano had hatched.

Soon after From Field and Flower, specialising in raw honeys as well as rice and flour from small artisan producers and independent bee keepers, was born.

With Stefano hailing from Piedmont, an Alpine region in northern Italy famed for its honeys, truffles and wine, From Field and Flower was already blessed with knowledge of artisan producers.

A foodie, Samantha describes herself as a “ready convert” to Stefano’s passion for honey.

“Honey had always been a no-go for me. It was something you’d have in your cupboard and that would be it,” she says.

“But I tried these honeys and couldn’t believe how different they were. It’s almost like a wine with different flavours, different varieties depending on where the bees are foraging. And that blew my mind really.”

Risking it all

When Samantha left the City she and Stefano put everything on the line. Gone was the comfort blanket of a steady salary and a warm office.

Instead, she traded in for the seasonal wilds of running a market stall business, complete with the frostbite-inducing wind and rain Startups.co.uk experienced on our visit to London’s Borough Market. But for all the temperature controlled offices and regular pay cheques, City life had lost its lustre.

“I lived a very different life,” she admits. “I was always in corporate entities. I have worked all over the big blue-chip company sector. Typical City life, burn-out story really.”

One of the toughest challenges Samantha’s faced has been learning to trust in her decisions. “When you come from a corporate environment in a big company you are a really small cog in a massive machine,” she says. “There’s a whole infrastructure set up to support you. But when you’re on your own you’ve got to live and die by your decisions.”

Every decision, she says, costs money and you agonise over it. Rationalising the risk is easier said than done. “There are some sweaty nights,” she says.

Keeping on top of cash

Being a small cash-based business working from one market helps to ensure From Field and Flower is able to keep on top of its finances, but it doesn’t come without its pain points. When it comes to the ‘float’ of cash the pair keep on the stall, there’s a lot of guesswork involved, Samantha reveals. “When you’re a small business lots of people bring you £50 notes.”

She copes with the pain point of having enough change and cashing up at the end of the day by doing the sums immediately. “If you don’t, it’s just a nightmare,” she adds.

Throughout the day Samantha manually notes on a stock list how many items have been sold, so knows how much cash should have been taken by the end of the day. She then correlates that with a sales sheet once she gets home.

“I get to do the accounts as well and I’m not very good at it; it’s not my forte, it’s not what I love by a long shot,” she says. To deal with that Samantha and to avoid “rummaging through things” she writes everything down immediately, noting what each receipt was for.

It’s an issue many cash-based businesses face, but if she could change one thing it would be to generate predictable revenues every week. The thing about running a cash business, she says, is it’s never the same. But would she go back?

Put simply, no. “I love it, I wouldn’t change it for the world. You’ll find me on a grumpy day, it’s raining, it’s thundering, it’s windy, it’s cold, your hands have got frostbite and people are trying to push honey out of our testers and it’s rock solid. You can see them thinking ‘why did I even start this?’ and you worry it looks terrible.

“But if somebody said go back to the office tomorrow…? Never, not if I can help it, never. Fingers crossed I won’t ever have to go back. That would be nice!”

This film was produced in partnership with Sage One. For more business insight and tips to keep on top of cashflow and small business tax visit the Sage business blog http://uk.sageone.com/blog/.  

For a free trial of Sage One Start please visit http://uk.sageone.com/products/.

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