The term 'small business' has taken on a whole new meaning in recent times. The rise of social media, increased accessibility to DIY-marketing and advertising solutions, and an increased public desire to 'buy local' or 'shop small' are just a few of the reasons that small business now accounts for over 48% of private employment in the UK. The term no longer solely conjures up images of Mums making jam and cake at the kitchen table and selling it at school fetes (but we're very glad that they still exist. Yum!).
Marloe Watch Company are, in theory, a micro business. We do almost all of it ourselves; from design and administration to finance and marketing, from photography to written content, shipping to stock management. And we love that; variety and collaboration are at the heart of MWC and, although growth is very much part of our plans, we have some way to go before we're considered to be any kind of behemoth in the watch world. However, that isn't really our goal - we want to stay true to the spirit that we were born of, keeping our unique space within the market safe and thriving, with the same passion and involvement that we've always had.
Both Oliver and Gordon had full-time jobs up until around two years ago. For the first couple of years of Marloe Watch Company they pursued their dream in evenings and on the weekends, juggling young families with full-time, intense day jobs; building a successful brand on snatched minutes, a long-distance partnership and more than a few very late nights. Anyone who has set up a small business alongside their regular job will know the phase of utter panic and anticipation that followed; the moment when having a 'day job' and your 'passion job' becomes impossible to balance, and you realise that one has to go. We will never, as a company, take the moment that we realised we had the option to do this full-time for granted. So many creative, passionate, determined and skilled individuals never get that moment, for one reason or another, and their dreams of running a small business full time fade before they have a chance to commit all their time and energy to it. Luckily for Marloe Watch Company, we had that opportunity, and we grasped it with both (nervously clammy) hands and haven't looked back since.
Over the last few years, we've found a real gem glowing brightly in the often dark and dusty corners of the internet, from where we now draw a lot of inspiration; the Small Business club. It's an unofficial club, admittedly, but one which we are honoured to be a part of. We are constantly getting to know incredible individuals and teams who have brought their businesses to life, bringing us solutions that we knew we needed but could never previously find, and filling voids that we didn't even know we had. We draw inspiration from how people do things, we learn from their mistakes, knock heads and make valuable contacts, and we do a lot of this through social media.
Many don't realise how the complex web of social media works - beyond its endless supply of funny cat videos, aspirational lifestyle gloating and recipes which we screenshot and never actually make - and therefore don't appreciate its impact on business growth. And that's fair enough; it's not something that is particularly interesting or relevant until you find yourself as one of the people clamouring for attention and income amongst millions of others; until you have a gut-wrenching moment of realising that you just can't, with your limited resources, get the product that you have created, that you love and that you know others would love, out there into the world without social media. Sometimes, you just can't do it alone, no matter how hard you work. So love it or hate it, social media is a key part of most brands' growth plan - and a huge element of every small business' survival plan.
For example, tools like the swipe-up function on Instagram are reserved for those with 10,000 followers or more. Allowing social media visitors to quickly access a linked webpage from an Instagram story is a highly valuable marketing tool; without it, the customer is required to tear themselves away from Instagram, seek out the webpage and browse through to the content or product that they were particularly interested in; a process which is often vetoed by our content-hungry brains while we are mid-social media scroll. Seemingly small moments like this - hundreds or thousands of often lost opportunities - can be make or break for a small business.
And then we have influencer marketing. A term which will turn the stomachs of some, and excite others. If it means nothing to you, in a nutshell, influencer marketing is when a brand employs the use of a social media 'influencer' - someone with a lot of followers and perceived influence over said following - to promote their product or service, in exchange for payment or a gift of the brand's product. If you use social media, you'll have seen a fine array of influencer marketing, both good and bad, whether you're aware of it or not, and you may have had either a positive or negative experience as a result. Perhaps someone that you admire led you to a brand that you hadn't been aware of, you purchased one of their products and now you can't imagine life without it; or, perhaps you bought something which an influencer recommended and have since wondered why on earth they would be promoting such an item, ruing the day that you allowed yourself to be misled by someone with such poor judgement.
All too often, brands engage with influencers who aren't authentic and who haven't really gelled with the brand beyond obtaining some nice freebies and flinging up a quick Instagram story as 'payment' of sorts. Influencer marketing can work very, very well when the influencer is truly passionate about what they're promoting to their audience; because people recognise authenticity and enthusiasm. There are a lot of good people out there, people who have become a true influencer because they have a very positive influence over their followers, who encourage positive engagement with whatever their specialism is. And then there are those who have set out to become an influencer as a career path - rather than because they are in possession of any unique skill - through the promotion of any product that they can get their hands on for free, while potentially misleading their audience. We regard poor or badly-done influencer marketing as dishonest and quite often destructive. At its worst, it's dangerous, and Instagram is beginning to make progress in cracking down on unsafe promotion, but there's a long way to go.
New Instagram followers, more engagement, more website visitors and therefore more sales can be life-changing for a small business owner, and can allow them to make the leap from limited production, minimal marketing and being relatively 'hidden', to manufacturing in line with demand, creating freely, and bringing more of their good stuff to their audience. Marloe Watch Company has this freedom to a certain extent; we are able to focus on design and high-quality manufacturing because we have attained a position that enables us to do so, but we could do so much more if we did have that elusive 10k followers on Instagram, for example, and if James Bond wore our watch... the ifs are plentiful, but we are fortunate, and content, to keep focused on healthy, controlled growth in the right way.
Tim Wiggins on the Isle of White
Other brands aren't at that stage yet; brands which we love and which deserve the recognition and breathing space that come with having a healthy community around them. That's why we're making a vow; to showcase more small businesses on our Instagram page and sometimes right here in our Journal. We may not have swipe-up functionality, we may not have hundreds of thousands of followers, but we believe in the power of our community and we know that, if you spot a business that interests you and you'd like to follow and be a part of their journey as you have ours, your enthusiasm, sharing the business with your friends, or your purchase will go a long way. We have a fantastic community around us, and we don't mind sharing it - the more the merrier. Make sure you're following us on Instagram, and be prepared to discover your new favourite small brands and businesses.
If there's a small business that you love, which you feel deserves to be shared, please do make us aware - either drop us a message, comment beneath this blog or send us their profile on Instagram, and we will check them out.