Micro businesses run by women make a major contribution to the UK economy and should be supported as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, according to the founder of The Nose Warmer Company.
Sally Steel-Jones founded the business in 2009 after leaving her job as a teacher. She says there are many micro businesses such as hers that collectively make a “massive” contribution to the economy.
She said: “On a small scale I earn enough to feed my family and pay my mortgage. But there’s a hell of a lot of us. The crafting community as a whole is enormous.
“There’s so many working mums particularly. When you think about us collectively, we bring in so much in tax.”
Ms Steel-Jones, a former language teacher from Sheffield, is seeing a growing demand for her products abroad.
Exporting wasn’t something that Ms Steel-Jones particularly targeted.
“I didn’t particularly list abroad at first,” she said. “But I did start getting enquiries from abroad through my website and through eBay at first. That’s when I started looking into it.”
The former language teacher was spurred on to launch her own business when she went on maternity leave.
“I’d always bought and sold my own stuff on eBay,” she said. “I’m very craft-oriented and I was trying to think of something that I could make of my own that I could sell.”
In addition to be interested in craft, the entrepreneur found that she gets cold very easily and one night in bed she created herself a nose warmer.
“The next day I photographed one, put it on eBay and it sold within minutes,” she said. “That’s when I thought there’s demand here. It’s not only me that gets cold.”
Department for International Trade (DIT) helped Ms Steel-Jones relaunch her website, which has helped triple her income from the site.
The busiest period for The Nose Warmer Company is usually November-December. However, by opening up export markets Ms Steel-Jones is seeing orders come in throughout the year.
She said: “What I found after a couple of years is that the rest of the year I needed something else. In the UK they only really sell if it’s below 10 degrees if I’m honest.
“But I did start finding that they sold to Australia during our summer months, obviously their winter months.
“I sell them in the US all year round but mainly the winter. The Germans love them. I think the Germans have got the same sense of humour as we have and they get them as a funny gift.”
To further offset seasonal demand, Ms Steel-Jones has diversified into embroidery products and set up a second online business, selling cushions, bags and bedding, called Poppy and Petal.
The Sheffield-based entrepreneur’s advice to other businesses looking to export is to start on the big marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy.
Ms Steel-Jones, who owns UK design registration rights to the nose warmer product, added: “There’s lots of advice from the exporting team. Try and get a trade adviser. Mine has been invaluable really, pointing me in the right direction.”
Ms Steel-Jones is worried about the impact Britain leaving the European Union will have on small businesses such as hers that export.
She said: “I’m totally against Brexit because I just think it’ll be harmful for small businesses like mine.
“From Royal Mail putting the prices up to having to put a customs declaration on every small item I send, which obviously at the moment I don’t have to do. I think it will be really bad for small businesses.”
Discovering a real passion
Setting up her own business has enabled Ms Steel-Jones to juggle childcare and also do something that she is passionate about. “I do really appreciate the fact that I can take my children to school and fetch them from school. I couldn’t do that when I was a teacher,” said Ms Steel-Jones.
She added: “To other people thinking about setting their own business up – it’s not easy. I work all day. I work harder now than I did when I was a teacher. But I love it. You’ve got to find something that you have a passion for.”
As the business grows, Ms Steel-Jones has plans to move out of her home workshop for more space.