Skip to content

Learning the hard way – Zoe’s story

Business learning the hard way

The internet can be a great source of information. You can literally Google anything. One downside I have noticed is that there is a lot of misinformation too. When it comes to business, it seems to be glamorised. It’s cool to run a business. Anyone can do it. To add more fuel to the fire, most articles are either overnight success stories or some form of how-to-build-a-6,7-figure-business-under-30-days nonsense. Not many are brave enough to share what it really takes to run a business and how it can impact small business owners physically, mentally and emotionally.  

That’s why I’m introducing this new mini-series with Zoe from Barley & Twist, who is part of our Atelier of Success and kindly agreed to document her journey once a month. Zoe started it after realising that corporate life and fitting in wasn’t for her. Her love of furniture goes back to times when she was a student in the 80s and couldn’t afford new furniture. Even though her career took her in a different direction, she kept honing her skills and developed a love of classic looks with a touch of difference and a hint of character. Zoe went on to pursue her passion and attended upholstery school, and undertook extensive and intensive training to perfect her craft. Now she runs her business from her new premises in Ormskirk (below is the REAL story so keep reading on) where, aside from working on her commission work, she also hosts monthly pop-ups and upholstery workshops.


Here is her second diary entry…leaning the hard way.

At the end of this month we conclude the summer time. And what a summer it has been. I’ve heard stories of people sacking their clients, but it’s not something I’d experienced myself – until now. I’ll be honest, there were warning signs right from the start. The client wanted factory consistency to a bespoke brief and service, for a knock-down price at a rush job pace.  Not an easy combination for any business, but for a sole trader that’s truly impossible.
I have a saying which I’ve used for myself in my business for many years, and when coaching clients – “nobody undervalues the person who values themself.” Well, you guessed it, I undervalued myself. When the client asked me repeatedly for a lower and lower price, I found myself agreeing before I realised the intricacies of the job. 
As an upholsterer who mainly reupholsters older chairs it’s seldom that chairs from one job to the next will be the same, though there are similarities. And I thought I understood the similarities for this project. However, I didn’t allow for the differences, or that the customer only wanted 2 chairs to leave his premises at a time, making the job much more difficult than I expected. For 3 weeks solid I worked 7 days a week from 8am until I got cramp in my arm, around 4:30pm. Epsom Salts baths became my best friend through those 3 weeks.
I’m not going to take you through the sordid details but suffice to say I couldn’t do right for doing wrong, and the client felt like he was ‘bending over backwards’ for me –including paying for materials before I purchased them. Being exhausted, I found myself telling the client I was no longer working for him when he complained about the work (not the quality, I hasten to add, more the timescales and the use of studs on the sides of the arms). I’d done all I could do, and so I turned away a lot of money and accepted that I’ve effectively not been paid for 3 weeks of work. Not an easy decision to take, but I do believe it’s the right one.
Sadly, with the job taking too long I also lost 2 other customers. So it’s not felt like one of my better weeks in business. Thankfully a client, who has been talking with me for 10 months about doing her double drop arm Victorian sofa for her, has now booked in which means it’s not all bad news.
But wait, there’s an addendum to this story. I handled the fall-out with the client delicately (though it wasn’t always easy, I’ll admit). As a result, the job is back on, with an apology, an acceptance of timescales (and the studs!) and an extra bit of money too. I very nearly let my pride get in the way, but you know, you can’t necessarily win standing on principle, so even though humble pie can get stuck in my throat at times, I do find it’s worth eating.
And the lessons I’ve learned from this? Well, next time I’m going to act on the warning signs for sure. And when the price is what the price is, well, that’s the price, so there’s no reason to be knocked down. I guess the last lesson is from the fall-out – there’s often a solution on the other side of pride. So, onwards and upwards, and learning from the lessons I encounter along the way.

For latest updates please follow Barley & Twist on Instagram.

Website: Barley & Twist 

Want to be part of a group of like-minded creatives who are going through what you’re going through? We have an amazing community of emerging designers, interior designers, stylists, fashion accessory brands, artists and photographers, where we help each other grow. This is where I encourage sharing knowledge and brand collaborations. No fakes, self-centred liars and backstabbers are allowed. Please join us here. And, feel free to share if you found this useful!


Never miss who's doing what, when and how...

We respect your privacy.