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How I launched a business during lockdown

Nikki Elliott-Taylor started her business Hope & Graze during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.

Growing up, I knew that I was too creative to be sat in an office chair for my adult life, but I wanted my parents and teachers to be proud of me.

I thought that meant that I needed to have a ‘proper job’. Maybe I could be a lawyer or an author? But then, would I enjoy being a makeup artist, or maybe even a wedding planner? But wait, maybe I could travel the world?

Finding my path

I always thought I can do the knuckling down part, and then maybe once I get through that, then comes the fun part. So I went to college and started studying English literature, finance and law. I was so overwhelmed with all the options of who I could be, I decided to be none of those things.

While at college, I had to earn some money somehow, so I got a part-time job as a waitress. The dangerous thing about waitressing is if you’re good at it, or even if you’re not so good at it, the money is amazing. It sucks you into thinking, “if I didn’t have to go to my English literature lesson, I could pick up that extra shift and earn £££!”

But 12 years later, after moving towns and dropping out of college with only AS Levels; working nearly every weekend, bank holiday and serving hundreds of thousands of customers, it just wasn’t that appealing anymore. I had a husband and children that I wanted to spend those precious moments with. I wanted to be the customer who goes out for breakfast on a Sunday morning, tells them MY exciting plans for the rest of the day, and then leaves a tip on the table to compensate the fact that they are working anti-sociable hours. But above all, I wanted to create something that I could be proud of.

Finding my calling

I got thinking, what am I good at? Good enough that I could make a career out of it? I mean everybody always complimented my parties. People still talk about my Alice in Wonderland party almost nine years later, and my wedding décor which my husband and I made from scratch. I love creating beautiful things and seeing other people’s delight when it’s received.

So, I started to save my money. I figured I would probably need around £10,000 to start up, as I would need some props for hire, a small van to transport everything around, some insurances, marketing, etc. Does that sound daunting to you? Because it did to me! So daunting in fact, that instead of thinking of reasons why I could do this, all I thought about were reasons why I couldn’t do it. I would think about all of the other companies that had already been going for years, and there was no way I could ever compare. So I just never got it started. I had only saved a fifth of the start-up costs, and I put the thought of starting up that business to the back of my mind.

Then lockdown happened

Then, something crazy happened. The world got swept up by Coronavirus, and we all went into lockdown.

I, with many others, was put on furlough from my company. Which meant that while I was still benefitting from a percentage of my usual hourly earnings, I was enjoying LOTS of spare time. Spare time which I used to research how to create a lovely grazing table for my husband’s upcoming birthday celebrations, where my theme was ‘homemade’.

I worked tirelessly on it, along with all of the other BBQ food that I was serving. Once I had finished my creation, I snapped a few photos and put them on my Instagram account. Many friends praised my handiwork, and suggested that I could do it for a living, which I found flattering, but how would I fit it in when I went back to work? And just like that, the Universe listened, and I, like thousands of others, was made redundant from the security blanket of my well-paid job in the hospitality industry.

Back to the drawing board

At first, I was shocked, then the realisation kicked in. I only had a handful of transferable skills. And I hadn’t used a computer properly since I was a supervisor at a chain restaurant over nine years earlier. What was I going to do?!  I went to my mum’s house for a socially distanced visit, and I confided in her all of my worries and my plan of what to do about them.

Then I decided, I was going back to college! I was going to take a part-time course and learn how to use the computer, and maybe do something in business, just something to get me a little nine-to-five job.

While I was there, brainstorming ideas, I received a phone call. It was from my husband’s friend who had seen my grazing boards on my Instagram and was wondering if he could commission me to create one for his girlfriend’s birthday. I excitedly said YES before I even knew what I was saying yes to!

Starting my business during lockdown

Maybe this could be the ‘something’ I could create that I could be proud of? Maybe this will be my ‘defining moment’ which I could look back on in years to come and say this is where it started? It all made sense to me; I had worked around food since I could remember, I knew all about the food safety, health and hygiene requirements, it allowed me to be creative and design a centrepiece for events. Yes, maybe THIS is what I was destined to do all along.

I took the order on the Tuesday, and quietly, on the Sunday morning, without telling a soul (not even my husband!), Hope & Graze was born.

Spreading the word

I bought the rights to the name, set up a website and Instagram page, registered with the council, ordered a load of stock with the money I had been saving previously, and uploaded my first ever post to Instagram. Then, I told my husband what I had done, and sent out a few texts to my friends letting them know that the new page was me, and any support would be appreciated. I even launched a little giveaway to celebrate my upcoming opening weekend, which netted me over 500 followers and 1,200 comments in five days. I was taking pre-orders before my books were even open!

After one month, we had more than 1,000 followers, and I’ve just taken my first booking for the Christmas period. I feel so blessed and grateful for how well-received it’s been and how lucky I am to work within an industry that allows me to be creative every single day; from designing my boxes to putting them together, to thinking of the next big theme!

My advice

So, if I were to offer any words of advice to anyone who was thinking of starting their own business; particularly people who have thought about it before, but it hasn’t worked out, it would be this…

Never give up. I know it’s easy to say, but just because your first, second or even third grand plan hasn’t worked out, it doesn’t mean that you can’t strike lucky with something else. Sometimes it just creeps up on you and all falls into place.

Know your worth. I spent two weeks in the beginning fretting that my prices weren’t competitive enough, but I realised that I’m sourcing delicious, local ingredients and using my time to create what I like to call a ‘grazing experience’ for our clients, and that deserves to be compensated in a wage.

Networking is key. Get to know other businesses. Shop local where you can. Use your friends’ knowledge to your advantage, use them as soundboards for your ideas. Get them to help you to promote your work and compensate the help by returning the favour. All of these things have helped me out so much more than I could ever have hoped for!

Lastly, I love the Mark Twain quote, “Find a job that you enjoy doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

If you are excited to set your alarm for the morning ahead then you’ll know that you’re doing this to spark your inner happiness, and it’s exciting, so above all, ENJOY YOURSELF!

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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