Owning your own business is often seen as the American dream, with 66% of Millennials wanting to start their own venture. Over half of established businesses and 69% of new businesses in the US are home-based, meaning you don’t need expensive outgoings such as an office space to get started.
But how do you get started while working a full time job? And what do you do if you need to maintain a full time role, leaving you to juggle your day job with running a business?
We spoke to Sophie Fleming to find out. Sophie built up her eponymous luxury bag company while working full time and now runs it alongside her role as Marketing Manager for Expert Market in our London office.
When did you decide to quit your job and launch Sophie Fleming?
I launched Sophie Fleming almost 4 years ago now. At the time I had recently graduated from university and was working in fashion merchandising but had always wanted to start my own business.
After a year in fashion I left my job to launch my own brand, selling structured leather backpacks handmade in England.
Where did the idea behind Sophie Fleming come from?
I had always liked with the idea of creating something from leather as my Dad used to bring home off-cuts from his business for my sister and I to play around with when we were younger.
The idea for a luxe backpack came later though when I was at university and used to cycle up to campus every day and desperately needed a bag that could keep my hands free and carry my laptop around.
Backpacks have really boomed since then and now there’s a huge variety to choose from; but back then the only option was a shapeless canvas rucksack, certainly nothing more structured or formal.
It was actually a couple of years later when I started commuting to central London that I realized there still wasn’t this type of bag on offer and I still needed one - so I decided to do something about it!
How long did it take to transform your idea into a working business?
It took about 8 months from conception to the website launch. I did all the design work and prototype stages whilst in my merchandising role (this also proved incredibly useful as I was surrounded by people who had worked in fashion and accessories for years and had lots of useful feedback!)
I would say it took a further year until there were regular sales and I believed it had the potential to be a viable business.
What was your biggest difficulty?
I would say the first year after launching was the most difficult, I’d invested all this money to launch the business - minimum orders on everything from buckles and leather, to dust-bags and boxes saw costs rack up scarily quickly! I’d also given up my job, without really knowing how it was all going to go.
I think I’d naively imagined that I’d start seeing sales straight away but in reality it took the best part of another year to start seeing anything on paper that suggested the business could eventually turn a profit.
I also ran into an unexpected issue about a year in which meant I had to rebrand from Fleming London to Sophie Fleming (incredibly demoralizing when I had hundreds of branded boxes and all my initial stock printed with Fleming London) but I’m pleased to say I made it to the other side and learnt some valuable lessons along the way!
Tell us about your most rewarding moment.
To this day it still makes me happiest when friends send me photos of people they’ve spotted out and about wearing my backpacks.
It’s amazing to think that there are people out there who admire the design and have chosen to spend their money on my bags (who aren’t my friends and family, and therefore obliged to support me!)
It has also been truly amazing to see my bags featured by the likes of GQ, Elle, Glamour and Cosmopolitan among others.
I remember the first feature I saw, I was flicking through a Stylist on my commute home and was surprised to see my bags featured on a page - I quickly went and picked up 4 more copies!
Would you do anything differently if you could go back in time?
Order less stock! I was overly enthusiastic when launching and was certain I couldn’t launch with any less than 4 color ways - with minimum order quantities per colour. This meant I had huge outgoings before even launching.
It would have been far more sensible to start with only 2 colors and go from there, expanding the range once I’d seen evidence of sales.
How do you juggle managing your business while working a full time job?
I’m very fortunate that I genuinely enjoy my full time job and that I also learn so much from it that can be applied to my bag business. It can however be very difficult to juggle both at the same time.
I tend to use my commute for more operational tasks like responding to emails, but the bigger projects have to wait for the weekend.
Do you have any advice for others looking to start their own business?
At some point you have to make a leap of faith, so providing you’ve done all the research you possibly can and put a business plan together - just go for it!
Ready to make the leap and start your own business? Check out some of our CEO to CEO interviews and Startup Stories for inspiration in Success in Focus. You can also compare business equipment and services over on our main site Expert Market.