Posted: Fri 25th May 2012
Maria Allen (above and left) graduated from the University of Brighton with a degree in graphic design in 2011 and went straight into self-employment. But she'd already been selling her own creations for years before she started her full-time venture, Maria Allen Jewellery."I started making cards when I was 14 and a friend said I should sell them," explains Maria. "So from 14-18 I was making cards and selling them to shops on the side while I was at school and college.
"At university in Brighton, I approached some of the little card and gift shops in the Laines and started selling to them as well. "I've always liked jewellery and whenever I've gone on holiday I've found interesting pieces that were unique," the 23-year-old continues. "In Brighton, I would go to the Laines and look for old charms and lockets in antique shops to use in my jewellery. I taught myself how to make them into jewellery and eventually I started selling them to friends and then to friends of friends and people would make orders. So I opened an Etsy shop. I found suppliers of charms and jewellery findings so that I could make more of the same designs. Finally I set up my own website through Big Cartel, an online shopping cart for artists and makers. "From there, I created a wholesale catalogue and started approaching stockists. Whenever I'm on holiday, I drop into boutiques, leave a business card and ask for the buyer's contact details. I'm now stocked in Paris, San Francisco, New York and the Netherlands. I'm always looking for new boutiques to stock my jewellery. "When I first started running my business full time, I thought that it would be fantastic to have my jewellery in the Tate Gallery shop, so I got in touch with buyer and she told me about an Alice in Wonderland exhibition. I created a collection based on the original illustrations and she loved it. So my jewellery was in the Tate in Liverpool and the Tate Britain!"
"I didn't think I could ever be self-employed, but when I tried really hard at university, I realised that making jewellery could potentially support me. Both my parents are self-employed and they gave me advice about things like invoicing - plus I use their accountant, too. With finances, you need to understand what you're doing and what the HMRC needs from you at the end of the year. "I've also received mentoring from our local MP and from Dean Walton of Mask-Arade who was on Dragons' Den. He employs ten people and it was good to see how a bigger business than mine works because my aspiration is to expand my business further. "You need patience and perseverance to run your own business. Lots of the time you're going to get knocked down, so you need to understand and learn and get back up again. I would say also try to get support as much as you can - there's lots out there, whether friends, family or other professionals. I'm constantly getting opinions and advice. "But the most important thing is to really love what you do. My brain never switches off from my business, ever. I'm always thinking 'What opportunities could I be missing?'."
If you're aged between 18 and 25 and thinking about starting a business, you can apply for a low-interest loan of up to Â£2,500 to get you on your way. In addition to the cash, you'll get vital mentoring support and a free copy of the StartUp Loan Kit, packed with advice and offers. Find out more about StartUp Loans.