Students from Bath College have been receiving advice from local entrepreneurs in how to be flexible and willing to compromise to become the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Being flexible and comprising where needed was the advice of successful businesswoman Charlotte Calkin, who shared her tips with business students at City of Bath College.
She was invited to speak to students as part of the College’s new Entrepreneurs Panel set up to help build a culture of enterprise.
The idea is that learning about journeys to success will help prepare students for self-employment and business start-up.
Charlotte, who set up and runs a successful clothing company, urged young people to pick a career that suited their personality, not just their skills.
Her top tips also included learning to do everything yourself from tax returns to website design to save money. She also advised students “to go the extra mile for people” as it pays to be nice when you never know where the next big break will come from.
Charlotte, who lives near Bath, trained as an actor but didn’t enjoy the lifestyle and quickly decided that “acting and I just weren’t going to get on.”
She then worked in community and youth theatre, but decided to put her passion for vintage fabric to good use about 18 years ago.
As a mother of four children, she decided to set up a mail order children’s clothes company from home.
She recalls making a template for a little girl’s dress, then walking in and out of shops in Bath trying to sell them.
Charlotte said: “I didn’t know anything about anything. I’d never done a design course or a business course.
“It became really apparent that I had a really awful business model. I was working really hard but not making any money.
“It was tough at the beginning; it was unbelievably hard work. There’s so much to do and so much to learn, I never really stopped working.
Charlotte used all her connections to get her clothes into shops and used in magazine photo shoots. But she had to change with the times and start to sell knitted jumpers then thermal tops.
She set up the business with about £5,000 and built it up to have a turnover of about half a million pounds.
Charlotte, who now only runs the wholesale side of the business, said: “Over 15 years I just shifted and changed what I was doing. You have to find the right place in the market.
“It’s all about being really flexible, you have to know when to shift and move.
“If you do start with a vision, it is very important that you can be quick to realise when it’s not working. If you stay stuck in the same place, things just aren’t going to work.
“It’s about making the business work rather than the product. I started with little girl’s floral frocks then moved onto knitted garments and thermal tops for adults. Where I am now is nowhere near where I started.”
Charlotte fondly remembers being called an entrepreneur for the first time about seven years ago. She said she didn’t have a clue what it meant and questioned whether she was one!
She said: “I didn’t start my life saying I’m going to be entrepreneur when I grow up. It just happened.”
Charlotte, whose father is the late TV presenter Leslie Crowther, is also heavily involved in restorative justice work and organises TEDx Youth events.
The Entrepreneurs Panel was set up at the request of students. Other business owners talking to students are Lisa Speigal from Bath Mums, Seb Hawker from NOW Bath and Richard Tidswell from Business Doctors.
City of Bath College Principal Matt Atkinson said: “We’re inviting in four people who are running small businesses to give students an insight into what it’s like to run your own business and the journey you need that needs to be taken to be successful.
“The word entrepreneur conjures up images of Alan Sugar and Richard Branson, but the reality is often very different.
“We want students to understand things from a business perspective. Small businesses are vital to Bath’s economy and many people running businesses locally have taken very interesting journeys.”