Megan has turned her passion for stationery and laser cutting into a fully-fledged business. She works from a studio in her grandma’s garden in Harrogate, Yorkshire and we recently caught up with her to find out lots more about where and how it all began and why she loves being her own boss!
- What’s your story?
I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember. Since producing my first homemade greetings card aged 10, I haven’t really looked back! I specialised in creative subjects throughout school, and then completed a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at York College. My obsession with all things laser cut began during the first year of my degree in Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design at Leeds College of Art when I was introduced to two course laser cutters, ‘Celia’ and ‘Birtwell’, and I was hooked!
At the end of the third year we were required to complete a mini business plan as part of an enterprise module, and the basis of mine formed the idea for Pretty Neat Studios. After university, I spent two years working for Tigerprint. As well as giving me an invaluable insight into the inner world of commercial design, it allowed me to save money until 2014, when the stars aligned, and allowed me to turn my dream business into reality and purchase a laser cutter of my own. Since then, my little enterprise has steadily grown into a fully functioning and successful business.
- Tell us more about your business and how it has evolved…
Pretty Neat Studios comprises of a number of different strands. Although laser cutting is my main, I also own a high quality A2 printer, which enables me to offer other services too. I tend to focus on wedding, event stationery and accessories, and laser cutting and digital printing services.
My passion and inspiration comes from the wedding side of the business. It’s a way of expressing myself creatively, whilst making beautiful things for people who really appreciate them at a special time in their lives. This side of the business has been a slow grower. In my first year I only did one wedding for a close friend, and the few weddings after that were for friends too. Through a combination of word of mouth, social media advertising, work on my website and attending a small number of wedding fairs, I now have a steady turn around of wedding orders to work on.
The laser cutting and printing services offered a more regular source of income from the start, and they have become the financial backbone to the business. I continued working for Tigerprint on a freelance basis, supplying them with a fast turn around of laser cut samples to help with their product development. Other customers include designer makers such as Suzanne Oddy, who creates the files for her personalised wooden and paper gifts, and sends them to me for production. I’ve also worked with exhibitors at trade shows such as Top Drawer to create bespoke laser cut and engraved signage for their exhibition stands, and completed jobs for organisations such as the Green Party and GSPK Circuits Ltd.
The diversity of work means that there’s always something new to challenge me.
- What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Aside from the arrival of my long awaited laser cutter, I think my proudest moment to date was completing an order of 1,000 engraved wooden rulers for M&S. From producing the samples, to carefully cleaning and packing each one by hand (with the help of my parents!), to the joy of finding them in an M&S store in Glasgow knowing the journey they had been on – it was very exciting and I felt a real sense of pride and success.
- What aspects do you enjoy most about being your own boss?
Being your own boss takes time and effort, but it feels as though all the energy you put in directly benefits you, which makes everything worthwhile! Since becoming self-employed, I’ve eliminated a three-hour daily commute, which has saved me time and a lot of money! I also love being on the receiving end of positive feedback from satisfied customers. I enjoy having creative control, and being able to pick and choose the jobs I take on, as well as having the power to steer the direction of the business in the long term. I hope that the flexibility of running my own business will mean that in the future I’m able to adapt my work-life to fit around a family in a way that wouldn’t be possible if I was employed full-time.
- What do you wish you’d have known before you started out? Would you do anything differently if you could turn back the clock?
Although I’ve learned a lot along the way, I don’t think there is anything I would do differently if I were to start again. I’ve made a few minor mistakes, and have adapted and changed the business as I’ve gone along, but feel as though if I hadn’t been through that process, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
- What is your creative space like? How does it inspire you?
My studio space is in a detached ex-garage in my grandma’s garden. The space was left to me by my grandad, who sadly passed away in 2013. He was a keen woodworker so the place was covered in dust when I first took it on! After a lot of work, and with the help of family and friends, it was transformed into a bright, fresh, and clean studio. I find it hard to work with clutter, so don’t have lots of physical things around to use as inspiration, but the history of the building and memory of my grandad inspires me the most. I just wish he could see it now!
- What does a typical day look like for you?
My working day is almost always spent in my studio. I try to begin each day with a fresh to-do list (usually written the evening before) to make certain I prioritise the work that needs to get done. From then on it’s a juggling act trying to keep on track with my list, whilst slotting in any new/urgent requests, replying to emails and getting to the post office on time! As well as my daily lists, I also have an ongoing spreadsheet of jobs and weddings that I’m working on, colour coded to signal what stage they’re at and whether I need to be doing anything towards them.
Although I spend most days working alone, no day would be complete without at least one phone call to my lovely mum who also helps out in the studio when things get hectic! Having a studio in my grandma’s garden also means there’s always someone to have lunch with which is lovely!
My work-life balance could definitely do with some improvement as I am a workaholic and often spend my evenings doing admin! I try my best to switch off from the business as much as I can at the weekend though, and give myself a break.
- At each major growth point of your business how do you make yourself take the leap?
A combination of meticulous planning and going with my gut helps me make big decisions! There have been anxious times, but I often rationalise things by asking myself: ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ If I feel I can deal with that outcome, and if I believe the benefits outweigh the risks, then I tend to go for it!
- What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a creative businesswoman and what’s your advice to anyone who dreams of carving out a career in the industry?
I’ve learned a lot in the last few years, and most of those lessons revolve around time. Everything takes longer than you think – from the initial set up of the business, to getting your name out there, to packaging up orders and sending them out. Following that, my best piece of advice would be to not underestimate the value of your time, and charge properly from the outset for the work that you do. That’s not something I was very good at to begin with. Because I love my job and being creative, it was very easy to underestimate and undercharge for my time, but there is a big difference between doing something as a hobby for fun, and making a living doing something you enjoy.
- What is the key to your success?
Creating a business that I enjoy working on and that there is a demand for. Even with fantastic marketing, if you’re trying to sell something that people don’t want to buy, then you will struggle. There was a need in my area for fast and flexible laser cutting and printing services, and although the wedding stationery market is relatively saturated, I was able to do something a little different which set me apart. I think diversifying into different markets in a focused way has strengthened the business and helped me maintain a steady flow of work.
I was also in a lucky position, after the initial investment, of being able to start small and build things up slowly without the worry of huge overheads or the wellbeing of a family to think about. Without the generosity of family and friends, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.
- What makes you excited about your business now?
Seeing the investment of my time and money pay off and watching what was once a dream become a reality. On a daily basis I find the business exciting – every day is different and I never know what is around the corner. I also love looking at ways I can develop and grow it – I get butterflies just thinking about that!
- What is the big dream for you and your business?
I don’t have any grand plans to turn Pretty Neat Studios into a huge laser cutting empire, but I will soon outgrow the studio as it stands. I would really like a custom built workspace attached to my home to allow me to be more flexible with work. It would be great to have somewhere separate from the machine to have meetings with clients, and a bit more storage space wouldn’t go amiss! Other than that though, my biggest dream is to be able to spend the rest of my career happily and successfully making a living from doing what I love.
Quick fire questions
- Describe yourself in three words: Organised, optimistic, hardworking.
- Who or what inspires your work? Other than my grandad, I love the work of the designer Tord Boontje.
- What kind of pattern would you be and why? It would have to work well in cut form, so something like a Guipure lace!
- In your free time you enjoy… Well, aside from creative activities, I’ve been a gymnast for almost 20 years and a coach for nearly 15. The gym is like my second home!
- What three things don’t people know about you?
- I took resistant materials rather than textiles at GCSE as it was a step outside my comfort zone. I was the only girl in the class, but still managed to beat all the boys. I love that what I do now uses some of the skills I learnt back then.
- I don’t drink tea or coffee and have been teetotal all my life.
- I love heights but have a fear of going underwater!