I thought it would be fun to end the week with a rather exciting Behind The Biz interview. Actually, all of these interviews are really exciting but this one is accompanied by a video. There’ll be more information on my new video series early next week but for now, I hope you enjoy the interview and please do check out the video.
Behind the Biz is my weekly interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with Ben, the founder of The Owlery.
Please tell us about your business.
I am a product based printmaker and and fine artist specilising in Lino cuts and Screen Prints. I work with textiles, paper, wood and ceramics and my designs are primarily based around the British Woodland with some seasonal prints thrown in for good measure.
Where did the inspiration for your business, The Owlery come from?
My inspiration comes from a number of different areas. Primarily the world around me which is a terribly broad subject area. In reality I am completely obsessed with David Attenborough and that has sparked my love of nature, zoo’s, aquariums and safari parks. I spend way more time than I should watching documentaries when I should instead be working (but lets face it…Planet Earth is a masterpiece)! On top of this I take inspiration from places like my part time job as a teacher where I get to read wonderful children’s picture books and work in classes like ‘Woodpecker Class’ (which inspired my latest bird print range).
On a more serious note I do also take inspiration from ethical issues and conservation issues in the media such as the plight of the honey bee and the badger cull…but lets think more about David and children’s books!
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
The first lino print I made was a rather ambitious 30cm square print of an owl face. That then became my branding and my name…I often get asked if it comes from Harry Potter but sadly not.
What did you do before starting The Owlery?
I worked full time as a Special Needs Teacher for a few years and continued to work full time up until last September while running The Owlery in my spare time. It was evident that this was not always going to be the case and I needed to find more time to dedicate to the business so I went part time in September and now work 3 days as a teacher and part time as a self employed printmaker.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
No. I always wanted to be a teacher, from being quite young I always thought that I would become a music teacher but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Currently working 3 days suits me but I do not rule out being self employed on a full time basis. There is a great sense of accomplishment knowing that every penny you make is from something that you have created.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
I would say simply time. Time is the biggest challenge any business can face. There is never enough time in the day to achieve everything you want to achieve and even if I worked 24 hours a day for 7 days a week I still wouldn’t get everything done! Despite this you have to realise what you have achieved and know your own limitations and celebrate the things you do achieve as it is easy to overlook these with a large to do list!
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
My biggest achievement and most enjoyable experience has been exhibiting at some of the UK’s biggest and best trade fairs. I recent came back from a trip to London where I exhibited my work at Top Drawer. This is one of the biggest events in the calendar for meeting and selling to retailers in the UK and to have been part of this was unbelievable. It came with a great sense of achievement in exhibiting work alongside some of the UK’s biggest and best brand and best independent makers and creatives.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Social media is key for building and maintaining an audience. It is the easiest way to communicate with your followers, promote your events, new work or online shops and engage with people on not just a national but an international level. For me it has enabled me to promote and sell my work internationally and engage not just the public but retail buyers as well. As for a favourite platform…it has to be instagram…however I do not profess to be that knowledgeable about the platform! It appeals as a visual artist for the obvious reasons and it feels like you get more of an international reach that other social media platforms.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The usual advice I give is ‘Just do it!’…why not? What have you got to lose? It really is that simple. If you have an idea just start making on the kitchen table and take it from there. That is how I started, small lino cuts on the kitchen table with a few products stored in a large box in the bottom of the wardrobe and now, 3 1/2 years down the line I’m working form a studio in the center of Sheffield. Just go for it, develop your skills, build it up and try not to put any limitations on yourself.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
Following on the the last sentence of the previous question – I try not to think too much about what I want to achieve but instead try to embrace anything that is thrown at me or any opportunities that arise either from my own doing or something that is thrown my way. There are obviously things I know I will be doing or want to do. For example I am going to be at 3 trade shows next year building from the 2 I will be attending this year and taking the business to the next level with new stockists. But I try not to get too hung up on achieving goals as it can be quite demoralising if you do not manage to achieve what you set out to achieve. Instead I am going to throw myself into any and every opportunity to then look back and celebrate my achievements.
Massive thanks to Ben for taking the time out of his busy day to be a part of Behind the Biz. He was also kind enough to let us pop down to his studio and chat to him while we put together our first video for Behind the Biz (subscribe for more exciting videos). I love Ben’s ‘just do it’ attitude. If you’ve got an idea at the back of your mind just get started. It’s so easy to create a side hustle from the comfort of your home and just see how it goes. I adore Ben’s work and can’t wait to see The Owlery grow throughout 2017.