This week’s small business superstar is Sophie Kirkpatrick, owner of Atlas and I, a Wimbledon-based SME that specialises in making personalised maps. We sat down to discuss the challenges facing small business owners, what she would do if elected as Prime Minister and why she wants Gwyneth Paltrow to play her in a movie about her life.
Tell me more about Atlas and I and your small business journey
Atlas & I is a bespoke gift company where every product tells a story of a great memory or achievement.
We take the location of that event or accomplishment and reproduce it on a beautiful antique map, making either personalised silhouette artwork or leather stationery.
Owning your own personalised map company is very niche! What inspired you to start this business?
I started Atlas & I in 2011 when I had just moved to London and feeling rather hard up I decided to make my family meaningful Christmas presents.
I had some old maps I had collected over the years, which I cut up and made into artworks, featuring shapes and locations that were relevant to the recipient of each gift. They loved them so much that they asked me to produce more for their friends who in turn wanted me to make more to give to their family and I realised that this could be a successful business.
What part of running a small business do you find the most challenging?
Multi-tasking and time management is something that is always a challenge. Having to juggle sales, website, PR, Marketing and Customer services with the added complexity of recruiting and managing staff as the business has expanded have all been challenging.
This means that you have to prioritise the most important tasks and some areas don’t get the attention that they need. I’m at a point where I’ve started to outsource the tasks and expertise where I can. The challenge is knowing when someone else can do a better job than you in certain areas because they can dedicate more time to it.
If you were Prime Minister, what would you do to help small firms?
Last month I attended a ‘Power Lunch’ organised by The Entrepreneurs Network which provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to speak with Government ministers.
We met with Baroness Neville-Rolf, the Parliamentary under Secretary of State at the department for business, innovation and skills who has regular meetings with SMEs to hear about issues straight from the horse’s mouth.
I think it’s fantastic that ministers do this and as Prime Minister I would encourage all ministers to integrate themselves into their area of government expertise for a day a month so they do not lose touch with the people and businesses they represent.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being able to stand on my own two feet and support myself. The year I quit my job and was able to make enough money to live on without having to rely on a pay cheque was the proudest day of my life. I’ve always been very independent and it was a big step to prove to myself I could do it.
What frustrates you most in business?
Sometimes I am so wrapped up in the day-to-day running of the business that it’s frustrating finding the time to work on future business goals.
The constant flow of operations and daily orders can sometimes take over from the strategic planning and development of the business. As the business expands and I take on more employees I can concentrate more of my time on long term growth plans.
What do you do to relax?
I go to the gym or go for a cycle to wind down after a busy week. The studio I work from is an active environment but there’s nothing like fresh air in your lungs and the open road to get your head straight or to re-gather your thoughts.
If a movie was being made about your life, who would you want to play you?
In the public sphere I respect women who can juggle their personal values and beliefs as well as business and family life.
If someone was to play me I would choose Gwyneth Paltrow who juggles her acting career with being an entrepreneur and supporting women in business.
Most small business owners are crying out for a mentor to give them advice. If you could choose anyone, who would you want to be your mentor?
I have been a seller on notonthehighstreet.com for four years now and they are one of the reasons I was able to quit my full time job and “go it alone” with Atlas & I.
The online marketplace was set up by Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker, who are two very inspiring women. Their company motto is “choose a life less ordinary” and their attitude towards the small businesses that sell with them and their customer service is very admirable.
Over the past year I’ve been involved in the Innovating for Growth Scheme, a government funded programme run by the British Library. Through this I have received guidance and advice from a range of mentors in different areas of business that I have found invaluable.
As a successful female entrepreneur, do you think there are enough women in business?
In my sector, the creative industry, there are quite a few women. I think this is due to the flexible hours, so you can shape your day around family commitments without being less productive.
However, I do feel there are barriers when it comes to things like funding or investment. I found that most events I have attended with investors have been heavily male dominated which can be intimidating.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking of starting their own business, what would it be?
Listen and learn from anyone and everyone. You can learn something from a waitress in a café or the MD of a huge company and both points can be equally as valuable.
Never dismiss someone because their industry is totally different to yours. A tree has many roots in the ground that all connect to one trunk that then sprouts into many branches and twigs. Listen to other people, they are the roots which help you and your company grow.