Interview with Beth Elsdon from Walter & May
Beth Elsdon had always longed to pursue a creative career. Find out why having her first child gave her the motivation and inspiration to launch her new business Walter & May.
What’s your career background?
After a great but penny-pinching-and-baked-bean-eating few years in London after university I decided to move back to my hometown of York.
I got the first job I could find, which was admin for an oil and gas and mining coming – a far cry from my art degree background and my desire to teach art (or be a florist!). But it was a job.
Fast forward 10 years, I was a Senior Operations Manager taking care of the UK rest of world region sales team, of 10 men. I was involved in sales and marketing strategy and sales development and I loved it. I got to travel – Australia, Brazil, Singapore and Aberdeen!
How did your career change after having children?
After my first baby arrived, things changed. I was still very driven at work but wanted more flexibility and did not enjoy the guilt of either being away from work when my little one was sick, or the guilt of leaving Jack at nursery at 8am and being late to pick him up!
I spent many an hour day dreaming about my own business and would bring my little notepad home with all my scribbles on to show my husband over dinner.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have a creative background and had an itch to do something with that that wouldn’t go away. I always had some kind of project on the go – from unfinished paintings to half completed cushions.
I thought then about my combining my love of all things handmade and creative with my skills in sales, marketing and design. In my previous role I got such a kick out of seeing people develop and succeed that I wanted to do something with this too.
And so Walter & May was born, a super flexible and supportive selling platform for small UK creative businesses.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
If I’m completely honest, I probably moved from idea to business too quickly. By this time baby number two was here. My desire to be more flexible with my time and to do something for me was so great and I was so excited by my business that I convinced myself that leaving my job and just setting up business was the only way to do it. I wrote my business plan, started marketing, created the website and off I went.
What’s your USP?
When I tell people what I do they also say ‘Oh a bit like Etsy?’ and I guess the answer is yes. But I wanted to be different.
So many artisans I spoke too just didn’t have the time, inclination or knowledge to market themselves online yet without it they didn’t have a business. At Walter & May we do all the admin for our seller so they can concentrate on creating.
Etsy is a wonderful marketplace and I often shop there myself, but I wanted to help the small businesses a little bit baffled by SEO, muddled by meta data and in need of the some business support.
Who’s your target audience?
I work with small businesses who want to grow their business but simply don’t have the time or knowledge to market (yet!).
They have a desire to perhaps leave their jobs or not return to work after maternity leave. I want to help them achieve that. The target audience in terms of customers is anyone looking for quirky, unique and original gifts and home wares!
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We’ve just launched but social media is a must for us. Great product images helps our sellers and the products make an impact.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
People like to hear about our seller stories, what their backgrounds are and what inspires them to make the products they do.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Going from working in a big team to working solo has been tough. Getting into a great routine of planning and staying motivated really helps with this and also networking with likeminded people.
And your proudest moment so far?
I was in the playground the other day and another mummy stopped me and said ‘I’ve just come across your website and its fab. It looks great and you have some amazing things on there, what you’re doing is amazing’. I was super excited to hear that.
Also the realisation that I have self taught so many things since starting my business (including HTML coding, design principles and SEO strategies) makes me kind of proud too.
Why is work so important to you?
To make a difference to someone’s life is so important to me. If I can inspire someone just a little or boost someone’s confidence to enable them to move forward with their business then I am happy.
Who inspires you?
All the women I work with inspire me. They are so talented and have such drive to succeed.
How do you balance your business with your family?
This is a tricky one and something I have struggled with since leaving work. Setting up and running your own business can be all consuming but I have to remind myself of the reasons for doing this – to be with my children more. To be able to pick them up from school and have their friends round for tea.
I try to set specific time aside to work and remain focused about goals and targets. This doesn’t mean I am not at my laptop at midnight, in my PJ’s with a strong coffee by my side – I am still working on the balance thing!
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurial mums?
- Get support from friends and family – if you are going it alone in business, don’t underestimate the emotional support you will need. Join networking groups too who offer fab support from people in exactly the same boat.
- Think big – remember what your big vision is but keep your goals small and achievable. You will get to your big vision much faster if you split it down into manageable chunks
- Don’t be afraid to make a change – if your strategy isn’t working, don’t give up. Change your strategy and find what works for you.
What’s next for Walter & May?
I am very excited about the upcoming year. We will be showcasing our sellers at Kirstie Allsop’s The Handmade Fair in September. And as a development of Walter & May and the support I give sellers, I am just about to launch my business mentoring business, focusing on the handmade market. Quirkarium – bring your creative business to life!
You can find out more about Walter & May on their website.