Falling out of Love with Your Social Business

Hannah, co-founder of Tamay and Me, provides a personal insight into the highs and lows of growing a social enterprise.

by Hannah Cowie, November 1, 2017
Tamay & Me

This is my second post of a series for tbd* in which I provide updates on my progress in starting my own social enterprise - an ethical fashion business called Tamay & Me. And so much has happened since the last time I wrote.

I actually fell out of love with Tamay & Me since my last blog post. I took a breather. It had been two years of non-stop head in the laptop, filled with adrenaline and anxiety, trying to make it all to work so badly. Adrenaline flowed for the passion, excitement and absolute belief in Tamay & Me and the anxiety was always about cash flow! I had been absolutely besotted. This feeling is something we all need to fuel a start-up, especially a socially motivated, sustainable one. However, in the last couple of months I have taken a step back and have had a more objective perspective on where Tamay & I are, and where I am. And it has been healthy.

Last year, I was part of the business accelerator programme, Entrepreneurial Spark, powered by Nat West. It was extremely helpful and I would highly recommend it as an experience for businesses of any size. The part that was particularly poignant for me was having to pitch every month in front of my fellow accelerators. For some in the group they had to develop their brand stories and to dig to find the soul of why they do what they do and why other people should buy it too. For me, however, my story appeared to be consuming my business. Mountains, stitching, ancient wisdom, sustainability, crazed modernity. Every time I would do my pitch in front of the group I burst into tears! It was sweet perhaps, my group appeared to be captivated and loved it, but I knew that if I couldn’t get to the end of the pitch it was never going to be the thing I wanted it to be - a business with sustainable cash flow. There was so much love that I couldn’t get my words out.

Falling out of love came after the accelerator programme. It was summer and my 4.5 year old was about to start school. I wanted to give her the time she deserved before embarking on the journey of education. I had to re-align my priorities, there are other loves in my life! In a way, it was a test: What happens if I don’t do anything? If I let go and take a real break from the business?  Do I still get web traffic? Do I still make sales? Do people come to me with ideas and future projects? The answer was no. I stopped putting in the time and the business went as quiet as tumble weed. One friend of mine describes her business as a fermenting culture, you have to feed it. Of course you do!

My daughter started school and I got my working week back. I started sending out emails and pushing projects. I was back on track and once again full of hope for everything that is possible. But now something had shifted. I had realised that the business clearly doesn’t have a life of its own. It does exactly what I tell it to do. I drive it, the story doesn’t drive it. I make it happen. I had fallen back in love with it, but in a much more objective way. In a way which involved knowing that if I push the buttons to make things happen, then I can also push the buttons to control the cash flow. I went back to my business plan and I started again. I looked at how many jackets I would need to sell each week to make myself a salary. I then made an action plan of how to make those sales happen. I am now trying as hard as I can to stick to this revisited business plan. I do have a tendency to be over ambitious… So now I have a very busy schedule and am a little terrified about the cash flow, but onwards!

I have looked at my marketing personas and am developing strategies to target these three different sorts of people: The older woman who loves interesting textiles, the younger woman who wants to change the world through how she buys and wants to wear the change she wants to see in the world, and the youngish man who wants to keep things simple, high quality and completely unique.

The weekends are booked with ‘fairs’, selling events where I can meet and sell directly to persona one - the mostly older, arty, creative women. My most exciting strategy is undoubtedly Tamay coming to the UK to meet persona two - the women who want to see change in the world and learn about sustainability by directly asking Tamay questions about how we can integrate ancient wisdom into our modern, everyday lives. To make sustainable changes for our own wellbeing and that of the planet. We have a series of events planned, with the highlight taking place on 29th November at The Forge, Bristol.

Then to reach our persona three: men (for whom we have plenty of stock on the shelves and need to get moving!) we are reaching out by running a pre-Christmas pop-up shop in South-East London’s buzzing Camberwell with Ishkar, curated craftsmanship from countries at war.

Looking ahead, I am deliriously excited and overwhelmed. I'm trying to keep a clear, strategic head and ride the cash flow wave and lets hope we can keep up with our happy production if demand starts to go through the roof? Wish me luck!

For next time … We will soon be delving into the world of Facebook advertising to reach people beyond the UK. I will have more to report back on the successes and failures here in my next post. And fingers crossed my anthropology degree might just come in useful again here. Anthropology is proving to be useful after all! 


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