JO MCCARTHY, SHOP CURATOR AND OWNER OF FIRAIN.
Firain, an online lifestyle store, opened in September 2017. Taking its name from an old Welsh word meaning ‘noble, beautiful, fair and fine’, Jo has filled Firain with handmade treats, gifts and beautiful homewares. She runs Firain from home, sourcing products from makers, using her spare room as her office and stock room.
Jo’s idea: Firain had been at the back of my mind for a long time, but since my husband and I were living overseas I didn't pursue it. When we came back to the UK, the idea of running a little online shop became more of a feasible income stream. I knew that I wanted to work from home and have a flexible schedule and I had hoped that the necessary skills would come along at the right time. I told myself that if it didn’t work, I could turn the experience into something to learn from. I love that I am slowly carving out a little niche for myself.
What came first, products or a website? I emailed makers and small businesses to ask if they would be interested in selling through me, despite me having no website to show them. I was so encouraged when supportive and enthusiastic emails came back and that’s how I started to curate the shop. At the same time, I started to share on Instagram about my new shop opening and used targeted hashtags which seemed to gain a little bit of attention.
With the website, everything has been very 'DIY' and done within an extremely tight budget - I built it myself on SquareSpace. I am certainly not techy! Don't be put off by your lack of experience. I am never happy with my website and tweak it every day!
And everything else…? I set up my shop with zero budget for branding, marketing materials or photography (a graphic designer friend helped me with my logo). Taking product photos and uploading them is the most time-consuming task and using a professional would be a good solution, but it’s not in my budget right now. I am trying to enjoy this creative process and not think too much about what I can't achieve, right now!
How much work is involved? I try to set time aside each day to work on the shop in some way, around my other jobs. Usually, it's keeping up with baseline tasks - posting on Instagram, updating the website, fulfilling orders, answering emails and keeping on top of invoices. Then there’s writing monthly newsletters and blog posts too.
Running a creative business will never be the easiest, most lucrative path to take and I have struggled to justify some of my decisions. The ebb and flow of running a shop can keep me awake at night! I need to make an income from Firain and I wish I had prepared a little more about the start-up costs and the potential challenges. But I absolutely love packing up orders for my customers. I feel that my creativity is coming back.
1. Do the best with what you have, be self-sufficient and financially responsible but try to enjoy the creative process. Seek out interesting products that speak to you somehow, for some reason. You can't expect your friends and family to be your most loyal customers, so try to find your own tribe beyond your current network.
2. Be modest and acknowledge where you have gone wrong and try to learn from those mistakes.
3. Be selective about working with people who understand your limitations as a small business. Allow yourself time to breathe and pause. You can't make good decisions when you feel frantic and stretched. Most of all, be patient with yourself and with the business. In time, you will be proud that you swam against the tide and created something from scratch.
To buy the latest copy of 91 Magazine, click here. If you write ‘SHOP SMALL’ in the ‘special instructions’ section of the checkout, I will refund the postage as a little thank you for reading the Journal!