As La Basketry turns 4, our founder Tabara N'Diaye shares tips on starting a small business, advice for female entrepreneurs, and the lessons she learned from 4 years in business.
Tabara's 8 key lessons on running an e-commerce business
Running a small business is a marathon, not a race
I always had the big picture vision for La Basketry, from day one.
I could really see a niche in the market, and knew deep down that it could be something great.
Although I didn't go full time from the beginning, I did end up quitting my full-time job just three months in, and spent my time over the next three years split between La Basketry, freelancing and part-time work to get myself by.
I wanted more flexibility to grow the business, and was lucky to work in the event industry where freelancing was embraced, and although it's not been an easy journey, it's been so incredibly rewarding and gratifying to start a business and watch it grow over the past 4 years.
When you are starting your own e-commerce store, you can't always expect things to take off and become a full-time venture right from the get go, especially if you're running the business by yourself. You need to be flexible and find the balance that works for you.
If I could go back, I would have stayed in my full-time role a little longer before leaving, so that I could have saved a bit more money to sustain things. Once you go out there on your own, it can be stressful when you don't have a stable income, so that is certainly something to bear in mind.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners need to be agile and reactive to the market needs
During the last year in particular, La Basketry has grown and taken on new directions, launching home craft kits that have become a main driver for the brand.
The decision to take the DIY route was a no-brainer, and was a reaction to the shift of people being at home - I always say it went from banana bread, to sourdough, to crafting!
As a small business owner and an entrepreneur, you have to learn to adapt, to pivot and to become agile. The core of La Basketry was heavily affected due to Covid-19 as all the work I'd been doing in Senegal, and with the artisans, was put on hold for a few months due to restrictions and safety. This is where I had to think on my feet.
It's a great idea to read your audience, as well as the overall market. How are things changing? What are people looking for right now? Keeping these questions at the forefront all the time will help guide you if the time comes to pivot your business.
Don't be afraid to outsource to experts to help you grow your brand
At the beginning of any new venture, investing any money can be scary. It's easy to want to keep things as low key and cost-effective as possible, but there are times when spending some money upfront can mean a better return in the long run.
Right at the start when La Basketry was up and running, I invested in two things: a great PR agency and a retail consultant.
I worked with an external PR agency for three months, who helped me secure some amazing national coverage for La Basketry in Metro, Stella Magazine and Livingetc. The great thing about working with an agency like this is that they already have the contacts and the know-how to get your brand seen in the right places, and in front of the right eyes. I didn't have access to the network I needed myself, so this was a huge help in getting things off the ground.
Plus, once you're on a publication or journalist's list, you always will be, so chances of you securing coverage later on are much higher!
The retail consultant helped me to set my prices, look at my profit margins and work out how to make the business profitable. This is all information that you can trial and error as you go, but having an expert on board from the start will show you the bigger picture straight away, and hopefully help you avoid any costly mistakes.
Trust that by running your small business to your values, you will work things out
Not everything will go the way you imagine, but you can always work things out.
Early on in La Basketry, one of our collections was picked up by The V&A, it was a real pinch me moment but not a direction I had expected.
Wholesaling was definitely something on my radar as I had previously worked on trade shows - where buyers connect with brands - but I didn't think we would start wholesaling a few months after launching the business.
Yet The V&A was too good of an opportunity to say no to! I must admit, however, there were so many things I didn't know about when that discussion came up. I had to figure things out as I went and managed to make it work. Where there's a will, there's a way!
Wholesale has never been at the centre of my business and it’s only now, four years later, that I am starting to dip my toes into it again.
There are some specific products, like the DIY Kits, that are easier to scale and take into stores elsewhere, but for anything handmade I personally think it’s a lot more challenging and not necessarily the route I want to go on. And that's okay. If you're running your own ecommerce store, the beauty is that you can decide where you're stocked and the direction you want to take your business in.
Build a support network
On the same day you can go from being the accountant to the marketing manager while also doing customer service and dispatching orders. You’re wearing many hats and have to make a lot of key decisions by yourself which can be very scary. It can also be challenging to give yourself enough credit and positive feedback when you are working on your own.
I think it’s very important to build a network of fellow solopreneurs and female entrepreneurs around you with whom you can share your successes and challenges but also tips on how to run a start-up on a day to day basis.
Make the most of the many community resources, memberships and Facebook Groups out there - they are a wealth of support and knowledge while you're finding your feet.
Community is key: build it, nurture it and embrace it!
Looking back on those early days now, social media played a crucial part in La Basketry, and I’d always encourage new brands to make the most of all the ‘free’ tools that are available.
You can start building and nurturing a community right from the start, even if your shop or business hasn't launched. This will really help you in so many ways.
It takes time to build a solid community online, but once you start showing up consistently for your ideal customer, introducing them to your products becomes easier and more fun.
Now, I've built up an audience of over 27,000 followers on Instagram alone, and their loyalty and engagement helps me to decide on the next steps for my business.
Work out your business model
I see more and more brands and makers regularly doing ‘product drops’ or having products on ‘pre-order’ which is totally something I wish I would have done when I started the business.
Especially when you start as it’s hard to gauge the interest and quantity - you want the money to come in before you have to pay stuff out.
No one wants to end up with loads of stock in the house for months - not you, your husband or the kids.
Stop, collaborate, and listen!
Collaborations, whether you're a new brand or have a more established business, are a fantastic way to grow and share the journey.
By working together on a product, workshop or event, we're able to leverage each other's audiences and make much more of an impact with what we do.
All of the collaborations I've done have come from the amazing community I've built online. I've been able to see what people are resonating with, whose products they enjoy and what opportunities we can create together.
The small business journey can feel like a lonely space, but by working with other founders and expanding your network, it becomes a whole new world of opportunity!
Resources I have found helpful over the past 4 years
Podcast: How I Built This by Guy Raz
Marketing Tips: Kim Does Marketing
Social Media Tips: Grow With Vix
Financial Book: Profit First by Michael Michalwowicz
Your Sale & Wholesale Strategy : The Resilient Retail Club