Thalia Shaw knows the power of a bit of sparkle.
Lighting can totally transform how your home feels,” she says.
When Thalia started redecorating three years ago, she struggled to find affordable lights that created a warm, cosy atmosphere, but were stylish enough when entertaining her friends.
Her search sparked an idea, and Sparkle Lighting was born. “It’s really a family business that started around the kitchen table in Buckinghamshire,” she says. “I thought I could combine my experience in international sales and my love of interior design with my husband’s IT skills.”
Thalia launched the business with more traditional lighting, “but customers absolutely loved the decorative lighting, like fairy lights. So we followed our customers’ lead and focused on pretty lights for the home that could be used all year round.”
After that, Thalia launched a children’s range, a teenage collection and a garden lighting collection with solar lights and high-quality festoon lights from Scandinavia. “We’ve even gone onto sell wedding and party lights,” she says.
While Thalia benefited from her husband’s IT skills, he works full time and she soon felt overwhelmed by the amount of choice when it came to using technology to grow her business.
“With so many resources out there, it’s so challenging to know which resources are the ones that will really help you take your business to the next level”, she says.
A friend recommended Digital Boost, which offers mentoring and advice to small business owners through Mastercard’s Strive UK programme. She began to regularly use a mentoring service which helped her to learn about digital marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO).
“Digital stuff is such a steep learning curve. Through Strive, I’ve worked with a range of industry experts that have improved my understanding of digital marketing for my business on a much deeper level,” says Thalia, who’s doubled her turnover every year since launch.
But it’s not just learning new skills that have been useful. “Running a business on your own can be lonely,” says Thalia. “Being able to meet new people who know what it’s like can really give you a boost.”
Thalia hopes she can use the resources through Strive UK as she continues to grow. “There are no obligations. I can jump in and out of the scheme whenever I please”.
But while no one wants to throw away good food, it can be hard to keep track of use-by dates, or when exactly you stashed those leftovers in the freezer.
Amanda Gordon saw this first-hand. “I used to throw away a lot of the food in my freezer because I couldn’t remember how long it had been there, or I realised it had been there too long,” she says.
Seeing a gap in the market, Amanda came up with Smartfreeze: freezable silicon containers with a QR code on the lid which links to an app on your smartphone, where you record the contents. You can either decide on the length of time you want to store the food, or default to the Food Standards Agency guidelines. The app then sends notifications at various points, prompting you to use food before it goes off.
Before launching her business, Amanda didn't see herself as particularly tech or business savvy. “I didn’t know anyone who had their own business, so I had no one to ask or resources to draw on.”
Amanda began trawling the internet to find free mentoring programmes. “Be the Business told me that they had a programme aimed at small, black and ethnic-minority owned, businesses – people like me – and put me on Mastercard’s Strive programme,” she said.
From there, Amanda was introduced to an experienced business mentor and embarked on a 12-week programme. Her mentor helped her see the bigger picture and focus on what matters.
“When I started the business, I was obsessed with making sales, but my mentor helped me think longer-term. He told me I should focus on my business plan instead. I was hesitant at first, but once I did, the sales started coming in.”
Making a plan for how to grow Smartfreeze and set it apart from others has had clear benefits for Amanda. “I’ve got more direction, a solid business plan, and I understand my business a lot better – including what I need to do to differentiate it from my competitors. Apart from anything else, that’s helping me to raise finance.”
Now, Amanda’s embarking on the next stage of her business growth – raising finance and expanding overseas to reduce waste and save families money.