African Greeting Cards
Sharon Gaisie is the founder of African Greeting Cards, a specialist stationery and greeting cards company.
Based in South London, African Greeting Cards launched in November with a unique range of products available exclusively online, targeting both consumer and business markets.
African Greeting Cards’ 2010 Christmas range takes its inspiration from Kente, Ghana’s traditional woven cloth fused with Christmas imagery.
Why did you decide to start your business?
African Greeting Cards came about by accident. My main business focus is journalism and PR but I hit a point where I needed some extra income beyond the temporary jobs I’d been doing to support myself.
The idea for African Christmas cards came along and before I knew it grew into bigger operation than intended and now a business is emerging.
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
It was and still is journalism.
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
Yes, I studied Media at A-level and after the second lesson I knew I would have a media business. The stationery company has come as a surprise but I’m learning that business can often take you in unexpected directions. The main thing is to have a clear vision.
Can you tell me a bit more about the range of cards you offer and what makes your company unique?
Our Kente range is our flagship one and we will make more of this next year by using different materials and expanding on the designs. We will also look at launching a couple more ranges that reflect different parts of Africa.
Our uniqueness is that we seek to have a close relationship with the two markets we are targeting which are business and niche consumers. There are so many organisations in the UK whose brand and values are well represented through the type of cards we make, and in 2011 we will be working with some of these companies to see how we can customise our products to meet their needs.
The second group enjoy expressing themselves through African art, be it fashion or prints for example and again we will be regularly engaging with them to see exactly what it is they want from their stationery products. Interaction with our customer base is key.
Where can I buy your cards?
Online at www.africangreetingcards.net, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for custom orders.
What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
I’m working hard on pushing sales and planning what next year will look like for African Greeting Cards. Besides that, I’m working on an interactive news site which will launch in the New Year.
A typical working day can vary, I generally spend the first part of my day privately with God, I’ll then make totally unachievable to-do lists before honing in on the priorities – I’m still learning that I’m not superwoman, though sometimes it’s easy to believe otherwise!
It could then either be a day working somewhere while using my lunch break and train journeys to complete little tasks. Or sometimes I’ll be at home on my laptop responding to emails, writing, making calls, posting out orders and putting things in place for the 2011.
I do believe brainstorming sessions are key to creativity and I generally spend half an hour a day just jotting down ideas.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
Seeing an idea work and being enjoyed by others, meeting likeminded people, realising that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for and working from home – especially when it’s snowing!
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Overcoming the limits I place on myself. Even if extremely intelligent, focused and capable we will only go as far as the paradigms and mentalities we allow ourselves to believe. Everyday there is a new barrier to overcome.
Also trying to get the balance between having enough money to live on and having enough time to develop the businesses can be hard.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Not allowing my emotions to get involved when dealing with money. When a price has been set for something, it’s important to stick to it as much as possible. While there is a place for negotiation, it’s also crucial to trust in the value of the product or service.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
Pioneers, people who see things that don’t currently exist and are able to bring it into reality.
If you could select anyone as a business mentor who would it be and why?
I don’t have a mentor currently, though I am looking for one. I’d go for Karren Brady, one of Lord Alan Sugar’s advisors on The Apprentice. As someone who was MD of a football club at 23 having already been a director of a company, I’d love to know how she thinks and how she confidently achieved everything she has done at such a young age.
Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2015?
If I’m really honest, I’ll probably sell it before then. I see this as a business which I will establish and build value into but not necessarily keep for the long-term.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a greeting card business?
Know your market and stay focused. Get the right people in place to do the jobs you don’t have the capacity to do. For example there is a lot of administration and market research involved.
In the early days, the luxury of paid staff may not be an option but you can always recruit interns on a voluntary or expenses basis. In order to get the right intern, interview for the role so you get the quality you want. Places like www.graduatetalentpool.bis.gov.uk and www.enternships.com are great for new start-ups needing extra pairs of hands.
Not only do you release yourself from doing too much, you provide opportunities for young people or graduates to gain experience which we all know is crucial.
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For more information visit www.africangreetingcards.net
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Sharon Gaisie was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.