International Women's DayTo celebrate International Women’s Day we are speaking with successful women who have started their own business and are happy to pass their tips and advice on to others.

In today’s blog we speak with Olivia Knight, the founder of Patchwork, a website that lets friends contribute cash, time and skill to help make something amazing happen.

Before creating Patchwork, Olivia spent ten years as a brand strategist working with a multitude of different businesses. During this time Olivia had an accidental idea which she describes as her ‘liberation moment’. Olivia was planning her own wedding and knew she and her husband didn’t want lots of department store gifts. Instead they wanted to find a way to ask guests to contribute cash towards the honeymoon they were planning to Cuba. Olivia built a website to show everyone a ‘patchwork’ of images to represent all the things they wanted experience on their honeymoon so friends could choose which part of the trip to treat them to.

This is where Patchwork differs from the likes of JustGiving and CrowdFunder – it’s not about begging strangers on the internet for money for medical bills or an education, it’s a way for friends to fund, make or do things to show their love rather than buying you unnecessary gifts.

If you’re thinking about starting your own business, read on for tips and advice from Olivia.

What inspired you to start your own business?

I had worked for over 10 years in the advertising industry when I accidentally had the idea for Patchwork. What inspired me to take the leap and start the business was the fact that our company wasn’t and isn’t trying to sell anything! It’s a platform that facilitates people to organise and fund whatever it is that they want to do. And that’s it. It was a hugely liberating idea and one that still excites me every day.

What kept you going in the early rollercoaster days when you were just starting out?

My husband, kids, friends, family and cheese.

Have you had any significant life events that have affected your business positively or negatively?

Getting married. It was the inspiration behind patchwork as I was wondering what to do about wedding gifts. We wanted to ask friends and family to help fund a honeymoon to Cuba with the kids. So that’s where it started

Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?

We’d like people to be using Patchwork all over the world to celebrate all sorts of occasions. We’d like Patchwork to be a happy, household name!

You have described yourself as a ‘socialist entrepreneur’ what do you mean by this?

I’m a socialist and an entrepreneur. I use the juxtaposition deliberately because I don’t think the two terms are mutually exclusive. As my friend Tony Benn once said, “One of the most common mistakes made about socialists is that because they are suspicious of multinational corporations, they also somehow dislike enterprise.” He argued that while we socialists should of course object to global corporations that are unaccountable to their customers, exploit cheap labour, dodge taxes, blacklist union members, bully small businesses and have more wealth and power than entire countries, we should support any enterprise that offers a useful product or service, provides decent jobs, respects labour laws and workers’ rights, and pays back into society via a system of taxation.

This is the kind of enterprise that I am interested in.

At its core my business is built on a simple socialist principle – “from each according to their ability to each according to their need”. Patchwork lets friends get together to give whatever resources they can afford (whether that’s cash, time and/or skill) to help someone they love make something amazing happen. Whether that’s family chipping in towards a much-wanted birthday bike, friends organising to cook meals for new parents after a baby is born or neighbors coming together to organise a street party.

You wrote an article in The Guardian in 2014 about how being openly feminist can be damaging for brands and businesses – is this a problem you still face today?

I was writing about someone warning me that being openly feminist would be damaging to my business. I hope our success so far proves that it isn’t! I’m a proud feminist, as are our whole team at Patchwork, and I will continue to be until with have true equality.

What advice would you give to women thinking about setting up on their own?

Don’t do it on your own! Running your own business requires so many skills. And it’s impossible for one woman to be an expert at everything. Find people who can help you. And if you can’t start out with a team, make sure you have a network of people around you who can who advise and support you.

What tools and tips can you offer women determined to do it?

Don’t do everything from scratch. There are so many great Apps, tools and networks designed to support small businesses. We had to build a bespoke platform for Patchwork but you can get great template websites from Square Space that are perfect for most small businesses. There’s great accounting software from companies like KashFlow that make your life easier. There are brilliant free stock photography sites like Unsplash. There are networks for women like Flock where you learn from a range of experts at monthly events and also meet other women also embarking on the startup journey.

What is your proudest achievement relating to your business?

Realising that it works! Most businesses fail in the first year. My proudest achievement is that we have built a sustainable business that truly helps people. I am proud and pleased everyday that I walk into our studio and see that our little team is really helping peoples’ dreams come true. Sounds Disney, but it’s the truth.

We hope that this has helped you in your journey to starting a new business and inspired you on International Women’s Day. On the KashFlow blog page you can find more tips and advice on setting up and succeeding in a new business. 

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