Sonal Bhaskaran is the founder of Sonal Bhaskaran London, a small independent label making statement jewellery with Eastern spirit. Since launching the business two years ago, her work has been regularly featured in media including Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Grazia, Instyle, Glamour amongst others and worn by Rita Ora, Mel B, Laura Whitmore, Alexandra Burke and PIxie Lott. http://www.sonalbhaskaran.com
What drove you to start your own business?
I’ve always been fascinated by Indian mythology, growing up with stories of gods and goddesses, what they symbolise, their intricately embellished jewels and weaponry.
I was brought up with the mindset that setting up on your own in something creative wasn’t a “sensible” career option and wouldn’t lead to anything, so It wasn’t until a holiday to Barcelona that I wanted to start my own business.
I had stayed in a hotel with incredible architecture. Inside, the place was decorated with sculptures and unique artwork. I walked in completely awestruck and came out wanting to create things to make people feel the same way I did each time I walked into that place.
I came back to my day job in the City finding myself wanting to do something creative. I had accidentally stumbled across a gemstone store online, and before I knew it, had amassed a huge collection of gemstones. I started teaching myself how to make jewellery in my spare time after work and then set up my first brand Eastern Mystic.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I’ve been working in investment banking since I was 19, working my way up from client services to change management, where I worked on implementing new regulations in various areas of the banks I work for.
Tell us about the business planning stage (for example: did you write a business plan? did you contact any business support agencies?)?
My first brand was a “learn as you go on, and learn from ALL your mistakes” process! I had no network of people who I could ask for help. My inquisitive nature led me to Google everything. I was trying to do everything myself, from the making, the photography, the admin, marketing and PR but with no end goal in mind.
With my second brand, I was more structured and was more aware of what I wanted to achieve. By then, I had people I could ask for advice. It helped me make sense of mistakes I made previously and identify what I wanted and didn’t want to do, as opposed to following the herd.
Jewellery forums and trade shows were useful in building my knowledge of running a creative venture. It helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, to find people who could help fill those gaps, so I could focus on what I was good at. It also helped me identify my brand goal and identity.
I found Start-Ups UK useful for business planning and UK Trade & Investment for understanding the export process.
With my first brand, I blindly went into increasing my stockists as it was what everyone else was doing. My focus with Sonal Bhaskaran London is on direct sales.
The world has changed a lot since my first brand too, so a lot of my planning is around social media, Instagram and ensuring the brand is engaging on the platforms my target audience uses the most.
My planning revolves around collection launch dates and working back from that with my PR, SEO and photography teams to ensure there is enough time to market the new designs ahead of launch. This usually means planning 6 months to a year from a launch date.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I still work in the City, so my typical day involves juggling two very different careers. I’ll be up at 6 am, designing collections on my iPad on the train to work or trying to finish any jewellery related admin. I usually finish work at 6 pm and use the train journey home to catch up with emails. Once I’m home and dinner is done, I’ll get onto the laptop, check my website analytics and follow-up with any queries from my SEO and PR team.
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
I still think the best is yet to come! But so far, personally, it was the day I outsourced certain aspects of my business so I could focus on what got me to start my own business…the creating! Delegating is so difficult especially when it’s your baby. It’s hard to let go of things and hand over control, but by far, the relief of pressure I felt made me realise I did the right thing to move my brand forward
What has been your scariest moment?
Without a doubt, the answer above! Having other people take charge of parts of your brand is the scariest moment I have faced for now, but I faced my fears and definitely haven’t looked back!
How do you work on making your business grow?
Time management, especially when running a business is in parallel to other responsibilities.
Understanding what you are good at and where you need help. You won’t grow if you’re jack of all trades. Finding trustworthy people to work with is an expensive learning process, but in the long run will allow you to focus on your strengths and for the teams you have hired to focus on theirs for the success of your brand.
This also means scheduling regular reviews to assess what’s being delivered. At the end of the day, you’re paying for a service, so you need to make sure your money is working for you.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
It is the least glamorous role in the world, but the rewards of all the blood, sweat and tears are immeasurable. As it’s your own business, your baby, you push yourself to the limit and find yourself forced out of your comfort zone, which are things that can only make you grow as an individual. It’s made me more confident and strong as a person which has helped in other aspects of my life.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
There is so much to do and it’s non-stop. I don’t think anyone really understands how difficult it is until they do it themselves, as they just see the finished product.
There are days where I feel under pressure, so I have a timetable now that I try to stick to. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a step back, have a break for an hour, and come back to it with a clearer mind.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
Last year, I watched a series on Netflix called “Chef’s table”. I was engrossed in the episode with Indian chef Gaggan Anand. Hearing his story and the challenges he overcame to now become one of Asia’s top chef’s was truly inspiring for me. From all the stories of success I’ve heard and read about, this is the one that always stands out and for me, he shows that while it’s a tough journey, you don’t have to follow the mainstream to be successful.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
I was at a trade show, and my stubbornness to make each piece of jewellery myself meant I would not even entertain polite conversations with manufacturers or other companies. A manufacturer enthusiastically came up to me but I just wasn’t interested, My friend, who was also exhibiting, said, “you’re not a machine, you’re human. If you have a passion for what you do and want to continue doing it well, you need to let others help you, else you’ll burn out and so will your dream”.
Five years later, I’m still working with them! It’s opened up so many possibilities that I would have never have been able to do without learning to let go.
What are the three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
Years ago I read “Anyone can do it” Bobby Hashemi & Sahar Hashemi, founders of Coffee Republic. Despite the apprehension from family, this book gave me the encouragement to set up on my own.
Startups.co.uk – a great website with resources from the type of company to set up to how to tackle PR and marketing.
I google a lot, as I like to hear about other people’s stories in similar situations and it always leads to finding out about courses or social media forums specific to your industry. I would say do your research and you’ll find the resources which will help you the most.
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
Jewellery making was my escape from my City job. As I do both, and the jewellery is now a business, not a hobby anymore, I love to read and watch films to escape from the world for a bit.
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