Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Sunday, February 07, 2021

The worst week in business and the miracle that saved me

It's early Sunday morning, it's snowing outside but not the good snow, not the abundant soft white flakes you can catch on your tongue.  This is the small gritty stuff which lashes against your skin hurting it with its painfully cold stab of ice, this stuff rarely lies and is not at all the fun stuff we dream of.

Afternoon tea birthday celebrations, the worst week in business and the miracle that saved me, mandy charlton

If you follow me on social media you'll probably know that A) I was 47 (see photo for the resulting afternoon tea, a present from an anonymous lady who I thank dearly if they're reading this) on Monday and B) this was a week in business where I wanted to hide under a blanket in the corner and never come out.  I had expected that retail would be quiet in January and I'm lucky really as it wasn't quite so bad and orders did come in but without my photography income to sustain me it became a massive juggle between paying bills and restocking the shop.  The truth is if it comes down to it, would any of us choose to do a restock when we can't be sure we can pay for our next gas or electricity?  And when you start having to deal with those kinds of financial conditions you end up in a vicious circle.  You can't afford to restock which means the shop is empty and so no one can shop.  With the best will in the world, you can spend a million on advertising but if there's no product to buy, you will just end up even more broke.

Starting a business of any kind isn't easy dear reader, if anyone tells you it is, they're lying! One lucky thing about photography is that the overheads are lower because I'm not selling a product, I have the equipment and I don't have a studio.  Product-based businesses are expensive to start, especially if you're not making the product yourself.  I was lucky when I started the boutique, the economy was opening up again and I used a bounceback loan to start the boutique rather than invest it into my photography business which might have sustained me for a few months but ultimately it would have run out eventually and I would have gotten to this lockdown with no other business or any form of support at all.

I do not, for one single second regret starting Philomena's Boutique, there are days when my last scrap of sanity was saved by being able to go up to my second-floor office and do some work, my mental health does not allow for sitting and doing nothing, I'm constantly thinking about my next move and I need things to distract me from the anxiety caused by the pandemic, the lockdown and daily life.

My first thought from the bottom of the dark chasm I found myself in was that I could sell, I had the boutique valued by 2 different companies both specialising in Shopify stores and was pleasantly surprised by how much it was already worth after just 8 months but if I sold, realistically, I'd be back to sitting doing nothing and just watching my income stagnate for goodness knows how long.  Now it's a very weird position to be in where you have 36p in your bank account, but you know your business is worth a lot of money, and with my credit score, especially after the financial instability caused by Covid, it was unlikely that I would be able or even capable of paying back any kind of loan.  It was just not a feasible idea.

Thursday came and I burst into tears in my hall upon receiving a letter addressed to "Princess Mandy Charlton" followed shortly after by a collage made for me by Alice, age 9, one of my clients and previous student of my photography classes which I ran during the first lockdown (remember that one, the sunny one).  I'd checked my bank and knew by next week I'd have no money (after having no sales all week) and my gas and electric would be cut off (I have a smart meter which I top up because I was always afraid of big winter bills) and I'd not be able to pay my rent (again, again, again...).  I did know I have friends who wouldn't let me be without gas, electric or even food but I'm a proud independent warrior woman, I'm full of hope and even at my deepest, darkest moment, I kept repeating "everything will be okay".  I said my affirmations every single day feeling like a fraud as I laughably told the universe I was welcoming more income into my life and that I was abundant and everything was okay, better than okay...

And then a miracle happened, I had a message through my website to apply for Shopify Capital, now let me say, Shopify Capital is a bit mysterious, you can't apply for it, they just contact you when you reach some kind of threshold, no one really knows what that is and even if you are invited to apply, there's still no guarantee you'll be accepted.  So, for anyone who doesn't know what it is, basically, they lend you a sum and then they take back a percentage of your daily sales so that on the slow days you don't have to pay anything if you haven't made anything.  I received 3 offers and chose the one I thought would help and in less than 24 hours I was accepted and it hit my bank so I could restock the boutique.  This funding stream has almost certainly saved my business as well as securing my future and once you're in their program they will keep helping you to build so you can be as big as you dream.

My dream is that one day, I'll have a little shop with a flat above it, it will be on a cobbled path leading down to the beach and I'll also maintain my heavy web presence and keep nurturing the wonderful community who have continued to support me since the very first day I opened Philomena's Boutique.  When lockdown ends and people start booking weddings and photoshoots, all of the income from that will be funnelled into the boutique so that one day I can retire happily from a long and wonderful career in photography.  I want to buy a caravan next to the sea that I can rent out to families at a reasonable cost so that when things get too much they can escape for a weekend by the sea and forget about their worries, just for a while.  That was my dream for Inspire when I was there but I really feel I have the chance of achieving it now. Oh, and yeah, I'll probably be in debt now until I'm 475, don't think that everything is rosy because I could scare you in 15 minutes with the financial mess covid has caused, you can't lose almost an entire years income without it having an effect on your life.

Ways to support my writing

If you have enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to support my writing I'd love a virtual coffee
I also have a lovely Facebook group I'd love you to come and join 
You could also come and follow me on Instagram to keep up with my adventures, I really am grateful for all
of your love and support.
Oh and of course, you could just treat yourself to something lovely from Philomena's Boutique, my gift boutique
which is diverse, sustainable and totally lush!



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