What a Way To Make a Living

Calypso Rose, the founder of customisable bag company Clippy London, shares her experience of and tips for setting up a business.

I started my business on the kitchen table (that bit always seems terribly important; it mustn’t be the dining-room, bedside or occasional table) with a roll of PVC bought from Berwick Street market and my mother’s sewing machine. That was six years ago, and I now have my very own gift and accessory company.

The journey has been eventful. I certainly didn’t go out to run my own company, but I have had an interest in creating and selling throughout my life. My first venture (at 12) was into the publishing world, with a niche publication called Pig Patrol - a monthly magazine dedicated to all things pig-related. We had excellent guest writers – ‘Miss Piggy on Miss Piggy’ was headline stuff - and the circulation grew to 100 copies a month, only closing with the demise of the local print shop who had donated their copier to the cause.

It does seem that an entrepreneur is born and not made. I have never studied business, and I have learnt what I needed to know when I needed to know it. I have shamelessly asked for advice from directors who run and own very successful companies, and who have always been remarkably generous with giving help. Now I find myself mentoring students and start-ups, and it is exciting to realize that you have acquired certain skills that you can pass on. Businesses seem to follow very similar patterns, especially when they start-up, something I never gave much thought to before I had my own company.

It does seem that an entrepreneur is born and not made

There seems to be a pre-conception that women have a hard time being taken seriously in the business world, and it is certainly true that I have found some men do get those testosterone moments. They promise your company the world and then do precisely nothing. I have learnt to control my excitement until the ink is dry on the paper.

There is always something new to learn and discover. All the stuff you take for granted when out shopping has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I look at packaging, racking and ranges with fascination. A trip to Selfridges is no longer an indulgence, it's research.

Working for yourself means less time, not more. Lunch hour becomes a hazy memory, so I have to remind myself that it is vital to get out. Cities feed you with input, and I have to remember to plug in. It's the same with networking. I used to be rather dismissive of the genre but now I am a disciple; it really is good to share. Just chatting to friends at the trade shows is productive, and I can't remember life before Twitter.

The great thing about being your own boss is that you are in charge. You have built a company from scratch and the surge of excitement from even small successes is exhilarating. Opportunities come at you from odd angles. I have had a working breakfast at Downing Street (and got the pencil to prove it), organized a schools competition with an exhibition at City Hall and taken on sales missions to Japan. All that and I get to work with my mother 24/7, who is also committed to the Clippy cause.

Yes, the pay is terrible, hours are long, and you don’t get holidays. But would I do it all again? Of course!

Want to get your work published on Find out how to submit your Reader's Column and read previous columns here.