Clothing designer and entrepreneur Sian Gabbidon launched her swimwear and fashion brand Sian Marie in 2016 – and got a big business boost when she won the TV reality show The Apprentice two years later.
The 28-year-old entered into a business partnership with Lord Alan Sugar, who invested £250,000 in her company.
Here, in part one of our business masterclass, Sian shares some of the secrets of her success – from learning resilience and diversifying your way out of a crisis to using custom business tools from companies such as payment specialist Square.
Oh, and getting an early night once in a while helps too…
What made you want to start your own company?
I’ve always loved everything about fashion. Once I’d finished my university degree, I realised that the rise of social media made it easier to make and sell my own clothes and get into the fashion world.
Did going to uni help give you a head start in business?
Definitely. You haven’t got to go to university to succeed in business, but studying fashion marketing with design and production at the University of Huddersfield was equivalent to learning my trade. I learnt about everything from how to sew to how to market products.
What are the key qualities you need for a successful start-up?
You need to be dedicated, resilient and passionate enough to surmount any hurdles you encounter.
In the early days, you’ve got to be very hands-on. Most importantly, you’ve got to ask yourself: “Am I going to feel passionate about my business every day for the rest of my life?”
What tips would you give someone thinking about launching a company?
The right business tools can make a big difference. You don’t need massive amounts of money behind you when you start, but finding the right products for your business can really help.
Square can make your life so much easier when it comes to things like taking payments, stock checks and bar codes.
And what advice would you give to small businesses looking to grow?
The key thing is to have the right infrastructure, and the right people around you. While I’m not an expert in everything, I can find the right person who is. Business owners shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help from the people who have the answers – so when it comes to things like GDPR, cyber-security or any aspect of your business, you need the right people to assist you.
Square gives your business a boost
Square offers a wide choice of innovative business products and services that help companies boost sales and serve customers more effectively.
Square for Retail, for example, has tools for managing your inventory, selling online or in-store, building customer relationships and running your business.
Business tools offered by Square include inventory sync between online and in-store, so you can clearly see all sales across both. You can also create and print barcodes quickly and easily.
In Square’s point of sale hardware range is the Square Stand Kit, which can be set up in minutes, swivels for easy access, and comes with a Square Reader – so it’s customer-ready straightaway to take payments.
These are just some of the many ways Square keeps your company moving and improving.
As an online retailer, how do you stay connected to your customers?
When you run an online business, you don’t have that physical contact with customers that you would in a store. Now it’s about finding ways to have that relationship. Social media has been always been hugely helpful for me in that respect.
What’s great for me is that I can ask my followers their opinions directly and get instant answers. I love to do Q&As with my customers directly to find out what they do and don’t like.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I’d always planned to diversify, but Covid pushed us to do it much faster. No one was going on holiday so no one needed bikinis. So we quickly moved into the loungewear market and it’s been a big success, creating a new revenue stream for the business.
What is the most effective way of marketing your business?
My target audience is 18-34-year-olds, and they are on social media all day, every day.
That’s something that’s changed a lot since I set up, but you can also get a huge amount of insight about their behaviour. Also, if you are running online advertising the feedback you get is so thorough you can often do a full evaluation of your audience based on those results.
It’s not like traditional market research where you simply ask people in the street what they like to wear.
What is the most rewarding part of running your own business?
Seeing people wearing the swimwear and loungewear that I’ve designed, and also getting positive feedback from my customers.
How was Lord Sugar most helpful for your company?
He’s big on branding, and is a great believer in getting your branding story and ethos right. Getting your branding right is particularly important in the world of fashion, so I really took his advice to heart.
To find out more about how Square can help your business, visit squareup.com