This week marks the beginning of a new blog series by Fi Mason, one half of Northern Fettle – a small business support service that offers a holistic and modern approach to helping independent businesses. Fi will be exploring some of the inspirational minds behind the best independent businesses, sharing her own experiences, while also urging us to remember that running your own business requires not only grit, but support from those around you. In her first post, Fi asks the question, is being an independent business just a little too independent?
We are consistently reminded that our trade and hard earned pennies should be supporting the flourishing Indie scene. From sourcing our white stuff from our local dairy, to buying refurbished garden furniture from a flea market down the road, this encouraging cultural shift is both positive, and generally, well received. Backing your ‘local’ clearly supports the economy, creates jobs, lowers our carbon footprint and boosts much-needed community-spirit.
But how much support do our local Indies actually need? I’m not saying skip past them on your way to Tesco, swinging your ‘bag for life’ in their face, I’m simply asking, what else do local independent shops need from us, besides our pennies? We so easily hang weight upon monetary donation, but the truth is, that contrary to what Instagram is willing us to believe, these incredible and brave entrepreneurs behind the counters, are in real need of support on a very different level.
Stress, worry and sometimes struggles over small-business ownership and management, are often the inevitable symptoms for those fledgling business- owners, whose main mission is to simply get their idea (and passion), off the ground and into full independent flight. For those up against it, the challenges lie not only in the daily grind and operation of their ship, but creating growth, keeping up with the competition (both large and small), while making it look like they’re also having the time of their lives. Thanks Instagram!
Ask any cafe owner and they’ll be sure to tell you that the effort it takes to get a perfect latte-art image ready for the gram, whilst in the meantime serving customers, putting the bins out, calling the suppliers, contacting the water board about a leak, and printing off next week’s rota simultaneously, is no small feat. To run a local independent, you literally have to be an expert in everything, from first-aid to website maintenance, people management to DIY. But what is that doing to the brain and emotional state of these Indie owners? Everyone can benefit from the ability to multitask, but as creatures that can, by design, only perform one single mental task at any one time, the high expectation from both consumer and themselves really does create a recipe for ‘burn-out’.
So where does that leave the small-business owners? Frazzled no doubt! Well for the magic few, who’s cortisone levels miraculously remain low, it leaves them buzzing with ambition, determination and an inner drive facilitating them to weather all the storms and expand their enterprise further, in some cases even starting a small fleet. But for the majority, it simply leaves vulnerability to stress, worry and anxiety and in some cases depression.
I personally ran a popular barbershop in the thriving business district of Sydney, Australia for 3 years. Barbering was becoming ‘in’ and as we had an award winning Gin bar hidden in the back, it was mayhem. Although it was not my name above the door, or more importantly on the bank loan, I felt it was mine, my responsibility to drive it to be a successful, profitable business. It took, literally, blood, sweat and buckets of tears. It became the all consuming narrative of my life at that time. I woke in the night thinking about beards and rotas, fed myself with the social media posts of our competition, refreshed my emails like it was a nervous twitch and lost all ability to see the greater picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed parts of it too, the prestige that comes with running a popular business, the payback of happy customers and praise from the owners. It was just overloading. Everything I did became my job, spending my weekends completely detached and in recovery from the insane hours, resulting in me feeling desolate and lost. It was as if being in the four walls of the shop with a rota and product order spread sheet in front of me were the only things I understood how to interact with anymore. I became ill. I came home to Leeds with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder in my suitcase.
Instead of being half a person, I am now half of a team, half of Northern Fettle, a small business support company that my sister and I started together last year. We built our ethos and focus upon the theory that helping to simply decrease the ‘to-do’ list of a small business is not quite enough, we must also support businesses on a very human level with care and a shoulder to cry on. Our approach is a holistic one, keeping your head above water, not simply financially, but emotionally too.
During a recent partnership working with Masters of Craft, an eco-focused Salon based in Leeds, I was watching one of the owners Heather take shots of the goodie bags she was creating for an eco-charity event night. The dedication she had in making sure she took the right image was a metaphor for how they run their entire business. Their dedication and effort seeps in to every part of the company that Heather and co-owner Chloe have so lovingly created. Their vision and ethos filters down to every last drop of their service and the way they operate, from eco-friendly hand soap to supporting their clients with matters of the mind. It dawned on me during a pre event meltdown moment, that together they are solid, they need each other. Individually if they are worrying or concerned, they internalise those concerns and they would be building themselves up for a fall. They speak freely and openly to one another, to me, to their staff and clients. I feel completely at ease in their presence because they have it right; they are organically open and have real love for what they do.
The event they are hosting is the first in a series of eco-themed events where topics will range from environmental impact, mental health, social impact and the encouragement of habit change to increase conscious and kind interaction with the environment and each other. They are a hair salon on one level and I reckon unbeknown to even themselves, they are the ‘warriors of good’ that we need more of in the world.
During our time together as I help them plan their work calendar and prepare for their incredible event, I took note to remember that there are so many talented, driven, and kind individuals out there. We need to step over the threshold of our local business and simply ask the question, “how are you doing today, do you need a hand with that?”. So, maybe we all need to have a little patience, not expect perfection because at the end of the day a coffee is a coffee, but the barista who steamed the milk is a person, and they may need a hand on the shoulder not a shout in the ear. Kindness is free, and we all love free don’t we.
Keep fettling…keep kind.