Work That Works: Becky Cope, Lit Wicks

When I asked today’s interviewee, the lovely Becky from Lit Wicks, for some photos to illustrate this piece the response was typically her. “Couldn’t find a background I liked much” she said, “so I borrowed someone else’s garage!”.

I first met Becky a year ago, when she emailed me to tell me about the business that she’d just launched. I liked the cut of her jib (and her gorgeous products) and we started chatting on Instagram – read on to find out how she used the platform to build her business – and she came to my book launch party a couple of months ago.

Becky’s success with Lit Wicks has been completely organic and built on community and her warm personality. In just one year she’s gone from candle-making as a hobby with an initial investment of only £200 to a £50k turnover, counting Urban Outfitters as a stockist and a feature in the money section of The Sun .

I’m so delighted she agreed to speak to me about her journey: read on to find out how Becky became the go-to for anyone who likes their candles to come with a side of sass…

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What gave you the (brilliant) idea for Lit Wicks?

I’ve always loved to make people presents; I’m not sure people like receiving ‘Becky’s home-made gift’s, but whether its jams, marmalades, pickles, shortbreads or homemade chocolates, handmade has long been my go-to for special occasions.

So 9 months after being made redundant from my city retail job, and with no income stream on the horizon, I started to think about what to make people for Christmas that would be inexpensive yet a nice treat. I’d made a few candles as a trial and after giving a couple to a friend (I had one of those label makers and created a funny caption to put on them: ‘the scent of your ex, smelt fine but what a d*ck’), she said I should give selling my creations a go.

That’s when the idea was launched: one rainy weekend I bought a domain for 99p and I was off!

You have to be very self motivated, there’s no boss looking over your shoulder checking up on you. Its very easy to say, sod it, today I’m going to lie in bed and eat toast.

You have a really corporate background. How has the transition into self-employment been? What do you miss about your ‘old’ work life?

Oh just the usual… friends and a regular salary! I joke, but it’s something you never think about when going into self employment: when I left my job it really affected my social life. I’d speak to my friends who were ‘just out having a few after work’ and it really upset me that I was missing out.

You have to be very self motivated, there’s no boss looking over your shoulder checking up on you. Its very easy to say, sod it, today I’m going to lie in bed and eat toast. And as for the salary, I think most people who take the plunge into self employment have the financial backing of a partner, or at least someone else to pay the mortgage if it goes tits up. And as a single person I had expensive London rent and bills to pay, so I had to know I was doing the right thing.

I’d get criticised trying to start a business with the pressure of such high expenses when I lit wickscould live much cheaper elsewhere. But I didn’t care, it was important to me (and my mental health) to at least have one thing that remained a constant: London.

I do sometimes miss the challenge of my old job, the dynamics and the people and pace. Never say never, I might jump back in one day. But for now I don’t miss the sweaty tube commute, the long hours, the mind-numbing office politics and the 25 days a year annual leave.

You’ve built your business pretty much completely via Instagram. Have you got any tips for any budding small business owners wanting to do the same?

When I went into candles it was never intended to be a permanent career, just a nice hobby whilst I looked for my next job. So with that in mind I set myself a budget of £200 for my start-up costs, thinking if it all went tits up it would be no great loss.

I’ve used Instagram for years, and I love the community, the support and encouragement. It challenges me to think differently and I discover new people to follow every day, so I knew it would be a great platform to launch my business.

As my candles can be completely tailored to the person, I set myself the task of approaching people who I felt were engaging and have a following of like minded people. Whether that person is passionate about motherhood, body confidence or just bossing it as a woman, I made sure there was a candle that reflected them.

People were so supportive, and everyone loves a candle! I quickly built up a following at very little cost and orders came in. From that I got approached by a high-street retailer – Urban Outfitters – who wanted to place a big order, I know I was very lucky but if it wasn’t from the support of Instagrammers who posted for me, I wouldn’t have been spotted.

My Instagram tips;

  • Posting your own stuff is only 50% of it, you have to engage with others; I’d compare it to turning up to a dinner party and just talking about yourself. Instagram is a community and always has been, make friends, comment and support others.
  • People see through you if you aren’t genuine so relateability is the key. Think about who you follow and why you follow them, it should be like-minded people who make you laugh.
  • Don’t think it’s easy: you really have to work at it. Instagram can be an absolute minefield for a novice but there are people out there to help, so follow accounts that give you tips as a budding start-up for social media. I like @thecovengirlgang @girltribegang @nobullschool and @socialmouthsam.

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What’s been the biggest challenge in setting up the business?

There are two big things that nobody tells when you’re starting your own business.

The first is that you have to wear a load of different hats, finding knowledge and expertise in aspects of business you’ve never dealt with before. For example, as soon as I was ready to send my first shipment to Urban Outfitters I suddenly needed to be an expert in distribution and logistics: it was mind-boggling but I picked it up quickly and there were no huge disasters. Being your own boss means every day you’re learning something new, and you are the only one making the decisions. They might be right, they might be wrong,

but who cares? It’s all part of the learning curve!

The second thing no one tells you is CASH FLOW! I am so proud that the capitalinvestment in my business was only ever £200, but you still need upfront cash to fulfil orders. I did two large shipments earlier this year and between me investing in all the raw material to when I was paid for the finished goods, 5 months had been and gone.

This is quite normal as lead times of raw materials, production times and retailer payment terms mean you will be out of pocket for a while, so you need to factor that in to your model. There are start-up loans available for exactly that; Virgin Money do one as do the government. I was lucky enough to have some savings squirrelled away, however it was really daunting  to see all my money disappear!

To have a scalable business you need to recognise where you can streamline and make efficiencies, recognising what your customer wants at every stage.

Who do you admire in the world of business?

Sooo many people! I think with Instagram playing such a big part of my business, I’m more exposed to others ‘doing it for themselves’ people like @life_with_ivycoco and @mre.soeur are a couple of my faves.

However, I think my corporate background will never leave me, and my brain is hard wired to really appreciate a profitable and scalable business. I hugely admire tech businesses that run seamless organisations with very little assets or physical products; I sell a product and I own the end to end production of that, so there are a multitude of different cogs that need to turn to make me a living.

But to have a scalable business you need to recognise where you can streamline and make efficiencies, recognising what your customer wants at every stage. For example, although all my candles are hand poured by me I know that’s not the number one reason people buy them, so for me to scale the business I’ll need to find a partner to outsource this to. It

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will cost me more money no doubt, but in order for me to scale it will be necessary, and my business model will need to adapt. Then I can spend my time building the brand, which to be quite honest is far more enjoyable than being covered in wax all day!

What’s next for Lit Wicks (and Becky)?

Christmas is my busiest time of the year so I’m currently gearing up for the festive season; I figured if I spent the summer tucked away in a workshop making candles that would free up my time to sell over the winter period. I’ve got a big trade show planned this month called TopDrawer where I hope to find more retailers (particularly small independents) as I’d like to be listed with as many shops as possible.

And then hopefully on to craft fairs or Christmas markets which will be a hard slog, so I’ll be calling on friends and family for a bit of support (or at least someone to get me a mulled wine to warm me up whilst I’m stood on a cold stall!).

Next year I’ll start developing the range, maybe start doing some larger candles or even smaller votives for wedding favours as I’ve had a few requests for these. I’d also love to start hosting candle making workshops.

As for investment, my £200 has only taken me so far, so to expand I’m going to have to pump some money into it. However, I’ve proved the business model and established there’s a demand for my candles, so I’m more confident taking on a loan or asking for investment.

And Becky? She would love to go an lie on a beach and sip Piña Coladas for a couple of weeks!

Huge thanks to Becky for speaking to me. You can see her gorgeous products here and follow her on Instagram here

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