We speak to 22-year-old English graduate, Liana Vassiliou, who has recently created her own online jewellery company (www.liana-maria.co.uk), about business, branding and being her own boss.
Your Business: Liana, can you give us a brief overview of your business and how long youíve been operating?
Liana Vassiliou: Liana-Maria Accessories is an online modern vintage jewellery and accessories site. The main aim is to make both vintage and contemporary accessories available at reasonable prices and we want to emphasise individuality. I graduated in July 2011, and have been working on my business full-time since; so am pretty new to the business world!
YB: Why did you decide on that particular area to focus on?
LV: Well, I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with jewellery, but in particular I became very aware that a lot of High Street stores had very similar designs. It became a bit of a struggle to find really good, individual pieces at reasonable prices. And it’s that gap in the market that I’m seeking to fill. I think it ís integral to spot a need that’s not being fulfilled when you start up a business.
YB: How did you go about getting funding for your start-up? Was this something that you found particularly difficult?
LV: I was very lucky in that I had quite a bit of money in a savings account that had been sitting there for years – years’ worth of birthday and Christmas gifts as well as a savings fund my parents had started for me as a baby! But, as I found out almost immediately, money runs out extremely quickly when you take on a task like this. I had no idea when I started just how much help I would need and how many people would be involved.
In addition to the money I had tucked away, I’ve also been all over the country doing jewellery parties – essentially people hold these in their homes, invite their friends, I come along with my treasure chest of goodies and sell sell sell! The hostess gets to pick up to £25 of jewellery to keep and gets a share of the profit too. The jewellery parties made all the difference to what I could afford to do and with the development of the business.
YB: How do you plan to move forward in 2012 then, particularly in light of the gloomy state of the economy currently?
LV: Well, I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible! But, of course, I understand there are so many things pointing towards 2012 not being a good year to start up a business, particularly a business that supplies what would be considered ‘luxuries’ (although I’m not convinced I could live without an extensive ring collection).
On the other hand, I have a target audience who I am confident will like the products and appreciate the special offers we have available enough to make the step from browsing to buying. Offers will hopefully encourage return customers (particularly in this environment) and encourage people to buy more than one item. Good customer service – items dispatched and arriving on time, someone always at the end of the phone to answer any queries or quibbles. I think paying attention to the minute details is essential to success for any business – big or small – in 2012.
Of course, the state of the economy has to factor into the growth of the business. I believe that the price has to be right for the customer and the product has to be good, above all else. We are all very aware that money is tight for everyone now, so fashion accessories aren’t necessarily at the top of everyone’s list of things to buy at the end of the week. The business was born in this climate, so to us, this is business as usual!
YB: What one piece of advice do you wish somebody had told you at the beginning of the whole start-up process?
LV: This will be the hardest and most challenging thing you will ever do. I wish someone had said “imagine the most difficult thing you have ever done, multiply it by a thousand and you’re about halfway there”. It wouldn’t have stopped me doing it, but it may have prepared me a bit more! Oh, and make sure to make copies of all your paperwork and file it immediately. A messy desk is not helpful and it’s amazing how bits of paper have the ability to sprout legs and make their way down corridors and out of windows.
YB: One of the biggest changes for any blossoming entrepreneur must be being your own boss. How does it feel to go from employee to the employer?
LV: I love the independence that comes with being your own boss. At the same time, the amount of responsibility is a lot to handle. As much as I love having all this responsibility and being my own boss, it’s also very frightening knowing that the entire success of a business rests solely on my shoulders, but there are pros and cons to every job. This business gives me such a sense of ownership that I love, and with that, comes my determination to succeed.
YB: And finally, we’ve taken a look at the wonders of online branding and online marketing in the magazine; how much has that been a consideration for you and your business?
LV: Branding, I’ve learnt, is one of the most important things for any business, and this is even more prominent online where every aspect of the business is purely visual – customers can’t pick up and feel the products, everything is for the eyes only! A brand identity is essential. What is your business? What are you selling? What image do you want for your business? These are all questions you need to know the answer to before you can decide on a definite brand identity. Ultimately, though, itís your brand identity that will attract people to use your site.
As for marketing, there are so many media that you can use to make sure your website and product is “out there”. From social networking sites to Google AdWords, it’s all vital – and what I’m learning is, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
This article was first published in Your Business with James Caan in January 2012.