One of the things that separates Gift Shop Hub from similar blogs is that we’re run by retailers. Our articles are often wrote by gift shop and small business owners, which means our tips have been tested in the ‘real world’. Small businesses often work with little or no budget, with the owners putting in extra hours, working long into night. With this in mind, with put together a selection of business tips from experienced business owners. 10 great ways you can improve your own business by fellow retailers, artists and suppliers.

Find the right area for your shop first. Location is really important, so do your research. Network on social media and get involved with campaigns and blogs like this one. Don’t be afraid of rejection and be brave (sometimes you’ll have to have a thick skin and keep on chipping away to find results). Sign up to social media and get yourself out there online. Be true to your own principles, find your own voice and innovate don’t imitate. Whilst it’s great to see what other people are up to in the industry, find your own style and message. Do your research, as ideas don’t cost anything. When Julia (Wishes of Cudworth’s owner) was first planning on opening Wishes she created a scrapbook packed full of relevant and interesting products/displays. Julia is forever thinking of ingenious ways of producing things that look great, work well but don’t cost a lot. Be smart with your packaging and presentation to add perceived value to your products. Display your cards in logical sections and rotate stock to boost exposure. Be prepared to work harder than you imagined but in the end it’s all or nothing so you so give it 110%.

Don’t jump and leave the day job unless you at least have some savings to live off of (I saved for years and years in my old job). Unless of course you’ve managed to successfully juggle the full time job and/or parenting with growing your business to the point where it pays you a salary – in which case you deserve a massive pat on the back!

Then you need to persevere. This is the first year where my growth has been sufficiently encouraging to give me hope that I will be able to continue to do this. Don’t listen to that doubter* inside you who tells you to give up when things aren’t going too well (unless of course you can’t afford to eat in which case…!), but if something isn’t working, change it. Oh and constantly keep trying new things – not following trends but whatever your heart says you should do. I’m always using the marmite analogy – better to be loved by some and hated by others, than to be ignored by everybody.

*By the way my doubter works hard and is constantly active!

Believe in your idea or dream.  Accept you make mistakes along the way – even after twenty years I still make some – and be prepared for plenty of very long hours.  I work much longer hours now that I am my own boss than I ever did when I was doing the standard 9 to 5.

If there is something you struggle with, delegate, put your energy into the things you are really good at. Also have a great network of people around you, I certainly could not run my business if it wasn’t for my family.

You have to be organized and stay focused. I run my business by myself, there is a lot to manage and it can be overwhelming. I’m an advocate for list making. If I have a project or an event with a deadline I make a list and then use my diary to allocate time to each task. I think it’s so important for small businesses to be reliable. If I have told a customer I will send them something or contact them on a certain date I always note this down in my diary, it seems simple but if you don’t do it sending an email to someone can be easily overlooked.

Keep working hard. Keep going. It’s very easy to think you’re not good enough some days and feel you aren’t achieving enough. Sometimes it’s not all about the sales, it’s about appreciating the fact people are actually appreciating your work.

Small business owners should understand their USPs and promote them. What motivated you to establish your business and what gap was there in your marketplace that you identified and decided to fill. It’s important to establish and grow a customer base, working with them to understand what their needs are and effectively develop the business together.

Utilising social media as much as possible. Also, I have found that making contacts with other small businesses up and down the country online and getting involved in online communities where everyone helps each other has also been successful.

People often talk about the folly of youth but in hindsight I think I would have liked to have had more of it. I would encourage seizing opportunities and enjoying following leads. On a less exciting note I would also advise keeping on top of paperwork and creating a fantastic filing system. I only recently discovered that putting a sticker on a file with a reference to the contents saves a lot of time. As an illustrator I have a large amount of reference material as well as illustration work that I wish that I had started filing rather than piling years ago.

Don’t limit yourself by your business name. We should have called ourselves something like Westminster Design Ltd. The name ‘The Westminster Wire Factory Ltd.’ was thought up in minutes.

Westminster works well and  came from the road name. It was chosen because we could use Big Ben as our logo and answered the phone just as ‘Westminster’, so that every time our customers heard ‘ Live from Westminster’ on the news they would think of us.  It also made people perceive us as a national company straight away.

Wire (was a mistake), we are specialists at bending and forming wire and do a lot of subcontract work for other companies but it limits our perceived offering. Fifty percent of our work is sheet metalwork and woodwork. We make shelving and gondoliers and library pod units but you would never think so from our name.

Factory (another mistake) as new customers do not think of us as designers which is a shame as that is a key part of our offering.