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Natural next step!

After 16 years battling the elements as a gardener, Rachel was ready for a change. After becoming fascinated by seeing willow sculptures online and having a go at weaving, she decided to order some willow and see what happened next. By her own admission, it was a steep learning curve, beginning with how to correctly soak the willow in preparation for weaving. Undeterred, her interest, knowledge and skills quickly grew after starting regular basketry classes and it wasn't long before Rachel was hooked. Knowing that if she was to start a new business, it was important for it to be eco-friendly, willow is sustainable, biodegradable and baskets provide a great alternative to plastic bags, for Rachel setting up a willow weaving business was a natural next step.  

To make the transition and starting from scratch, Rachel has valued the opportunity to learn through training and practice.

"I would not be where I am today without the generous teaching I’ve received at basketry class, on willow sculpting courses and at welding class. Then it’s been a case of putting it all into practice again and again."

Rachel's family and friends have been very supportive, as have other basketweavers. In addition Rachel understood that reaching out and looking for professional business support was also key, and got in touch with GrowBiz. She joined the mentor scheme and found that being able to bounce ideas and discuss next steps with a mentor was extremely beneficial as well as enjoyable. After working with GrowBiz, Rachel applied to join Perthshire Artisans and being a member of this supportive collective has opened doors which would have taken longer on her own.

"It provides continuous support in numerous ways, from helping me increase my profile, having access to opportunities and events and then there's the support from the other creatives and the Perthshire Artisans team whenever needed."

Rachel has learned to override a tendency to be overcautious and has begun to reap the benefits of saying yes to things even when they’re out of her comfort zone.

What's next? During 2023 Rachel started delivering weaving workshops and realising how enjoyable sharing the joy of willow weaving is and the potential of workshops as part of her business, this has become one of her goals. Clearly meant to be, as the opportunity to take on a workshop space has become available and Rachel is busy organising how this will help her run her creative practice as well as offer a programme of workshops.

"I can’t wait to have a really organised area to weave in so that I’m not spending so much time and energy trying to organise the logistics of the business. It’ll make me more focussed and efficient."

Mindful of both her own running costs and everyone's living costs increasing, and customers being more careful about how they spend, Rachel knows that baskets and sculptures are a considered purchase, and is including smaller and more affordable items as part of her collection.

Building a self-sustaining business, making time to explore different styles of basketry and creating a wider range of sculptures on frames, using hew newly gained welding skills, are also part of Rachel's future plans.

One of the hardest things Rachel has found about running her own business is how to keep a decent work life/balance and avoiding feeling regularly burnt out, which can seriously impact her creativity. Having to learn skills which aren't particularly enjoyable, but necessary to run the business, such as IT skills, is also a regular frustration and challenge. "

It would be lovely to have an IT expert on call and someone to deal with the paperwork, but the reality is that I couldn’t finance either of those, so I’ll just have to keep multi-tasking."

Having asked Rachel if she has any advice to share with anyone interested in starting their own business, she said:

"I would say start small, engage with customers and other business owners and find your tribe. Running a business by yourself can be very lonely, but by meeting with other small business owners and creatives, I’ve found a sense of community, and also a source of support and help when I’ve needed it. Reaching out to GrowBiz and working with them has given me the confidence to make important decisions and offered invaluable advice about specific issues related to running a craft business."

Read Rachel's Artisan Profile Page and see more of her work here.

This information featured as part of the Courier's Business section on 27.3.24

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