My name is Victoria Wills, but most people call me Vicky, and I have worked for myself since my youngest son was 12 months old, he is now 22. But I have only been running The Tea Set for just under 2 years, before that I was a bookkeeper, so have gone from Sage accounts packages to sage in my sausage rolls. I am a mother to four grown up children and wife to my rock, Steve, without whom none of what I do would be possible.
And now what’s all this about cupcakes? Is that your business? How fabulous!
The Chipping Norton Tea Set was born from an idea my daughter had for her 18th birthday. Whilst I was fearing the worst – parties, nightclubs, weekends away in Ayia Napa – she was planning a very sedate tea party. At this time I had greatly reduced my bookkeeping clients as early in 2011 my husband had been approached to work in Montana, USA, so I had culled my work to enable me to get ready for the move.
By the autumn of that year it became apparent that the move wasn’t going to happen, so I was at a bit of a loose end, and when Ellie suggested planning a tea party for 65 I jumped at the chance! It went incredibly well, we scoured charity shops and car boots for vintage china, friends were really helpful, decorated a marquee with bunting and balloons – even though it was January – and made all the food, sandwiches, cakes, scones etc. All our friends and family were blown away and suggested that I should do it for a living, so, never being able to resist a challenge, I threw myself wholeheartedly into starting my brand new business.
We have gone from strength to strength, employing up to eight people during the peak wedding season, catering for up to 150 people. Next year, 2014, is set to be a bumper year for weddings, already June, July & August are pretty much booked and September is filling up so I see the business expanding both in premises – we have just taken over a purpose made unit for cooking & storage – and employing staff for the whole summer.
What success tips would you share with those just starting out to follow in your footsteps in business?
Never compromise on quality. Buy cheap, buy twice is my motto, and you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Always be efficient, friendly, but professional, but above all be honest with your customers, there really is no point saying you can do something when you can’t, only to let someone down. People will always prefer to be told the truth, rather than what you think they want to hear.
What did you struggle with most in your start-up phase?
I struggled most with myself! Having the confidence to say: ‘This is what I do, and I’m good at it’. I have overcome this by putting myself out there, making relationships with like-minded business people at networking events and via social media and slowly believing in myself. I’ve always believed in my product so it hasn’t been a difficult thing to do.
What have you learned about yourself while working solo?
I have learned after 21 years of self-employment that I can motivate myself, I don’t need someone standing over me, but mostly that I would struggle to work for someone else again Some people call me bossy………!
Did you choose self-employment or did it choose you? Any regrets?
I chose self-employment as it fitted perfectly with my young family at the time and, quite honestly, I can’t see any reason to change that now they are older as it fits in with all aspects of my life.
What one thought would you share to encourage newbies?
You make the rules, the buck stops with you and you succeed or fail on your terms not someone else’s.
What are you most excited about right now in your business?
We are very excited about our upcoming cupcake website, The Afternoon Delights Company. Initially we will be supplying flavoured cupcakes – such as chocolate & Guinness, carrot, coconut & lime and red velvet – for delivery to homes or business, with a view to including loose leaf tea for mail order too.
Do you feel lonely or isolated working for yourself? How do you get your social needs met?
I do get lonely working by myself. This is not a problem in the summer as we have to have staff to service our events, but in the winter it is definitely a more solitary business. I remedy this by being an avid Tweeter, Facebooker, Instagrammer, Viner & Pinterester.
I’m also a regular at various networking events both locally and further afield. I would strongly recommend this to anyone working by themselves, it gives you a break from being by yourself and you can compare ideas and problems with like-minded people, and you don’t have to spend a fortune. One networking event I attend is £10 per month and another highly successful meeting, the Cotswold Tweet Meet, is completely free. And apart from getting you out and about, you make invaluable contacts and, importantly, friends.
Where can we find out more about The Chipping Norton Tea Set?
Facebook The Chipping Norton Tea Set