I've never had a job with 'sales' in the title, or considered myself any type of salesperson, but in reality there is some form of sales in most jobs. My last job involved convincing my bosses to spend tens of million of pounds upgrading sewage treatment works. I didn't expect to take inspiration from pleading the case for a new pump, or trash screen, to selling personalised keepsakes. But I did.
The company I worked for spent a lot of money on complex programs to analyse the cost-benefit of their investments. Every benefit of a new piece of equipment (from fewer customer complaints to safer working environments) had a financial value assigned. Once you knew the cost of the upgrades you wanted to make, and the benefits you expected to see, you could plug the information into the system and it would spit out a value. Higher numbers were better - it meant you were getting more benefit for the money spent. In theory, all the funding requests from across the company could be objectively compared to one another. Deciding which projects to fund should be easy, simply by picking the top scoring options you'd be spending your money in the best possible way. But guess how often I was asked for the cost-benefit information when I was pitching for money? Rarely. I'm tempted to say, never - in 3 years working there.
So how were decisions made? Well, quite honestly, by the stories they were sold. Despite their best efforts to create a systematic impartial approach to decision-making, many of us connect with stories much more than we do numbers. Show somebody a picture of crumbling equipment, tell them the stories of close shaves or near catastrophes, and you take them on the journey with you. A number on a piece of paper is sterile in comparison.
So to successfully get the money I wanted, I learned to tell stories and add colour to what could be a pretty bland proposal. It shocked me one day to realise that what I had done instinctively when discussing sewage plants, I had failed to do in the marketing of Scribbled Squirrel. If storytelling should come naturally anywhere, it should do here. Scribbled Squirrel is all about stories. Every piece we make has a story behind it. And yet I realised that my photography and social media posts were sterile. There was no context behind the pieces. Nothing that told of the meaning behind them, the people involved or the stories they had to tell.
I can't claim to be any kind of expert in sales or marketing, but I do enjoy telling a story. These days I try to make sure my photography hints at the story behind the piece. I mix product profiles alongside personal stories on my social media. I've seen a lot more engagement but there's still a lot to learn.
This week my eldest daughter started school, and the youngest will begin nursery. It's been difficult to get much done during the baby's nap times, so the prospect of having whole days to myself is quite exciting. However, it does mean that I have to get serious. It's time to stop hobby-ing and try to turn Scribbled Squirrel into a proper (money-making!) business - or face the alternative, and return to employment.
Over the last couple of months family and friends have tried and tested the designs. Their feedback has been invaluable and has led to some exciting improvements.
In February last year I was almost 3 months pregnant, and off work with a chest infection when I got a call from my boss - he needed to see me urgently. He confirmed what we'd known was coming for a while, restructuring and redundancies. I got a lot of sympathy at the time for what people perceived as the unfortunate timing of the announcement given my pregnancy. I must admit, the thought of finding myself out of a job at 5 months pregnant was disconcerting at first, but in truth I had known for some time that it wasn't the job for me.
It was convenient - 10 minutes from home and sharing a site with my daughter's nursery, it was generally low stress and well-paid, but I'd never had any passion for the work. Since I'd started 3 years ago I'd had a slightly hollow feeling and struggled to see the value in what I was doing (not that there wasn't any of course, it just didn't give me the feel-goods that I'd had in my previous jobs). I knew that when I returned from maternity leave I should cut ties and look for something new. I didn't want to risk spending a lifetime in a job that was comfortable but unfulfilling. The announcement was an opportunity to act a little earlier than I had planned.
I was fortunate that my employer agreed to maintain my employment throughout my maternity leave and grant me voluntary severance afterwards. In May, despite not working there for 9 months, I formally left the company. And so here we are. We have enough money to live (frugally!) for the best part of a year and an opportunity, which may not come around again, to try something different.
Like many people, I have always been interested in working for myself. Being responsible for your own decisions and setting your own path is pretty appealing. Scribbled Squirrel is a chance to try it out; to see how long we can make that money last before I have to return to paid employment - and who knows, maybe with a bit of luck I won't need to!
I intend to keep this blog to document my experiences starting up a new business, managing childcare and work, developing new products, testing new materials, and anything else that crops up. In my next post I'll write about my experiments with 3d printing since that was really the start of Scribbled Squirrel.
My name is Sarah. I live in Warrington, UK, with my husband, two daughters and dog.