Meet Sophie Biggerstaff – the founder of BYRCOLLECTIVE. She has worked in the retail industry for the past 11+ years, for some major global premium – luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren, Diesel, Kate Spade, and Burberry. She has worked in various areas across the industry but spent most of her career in Buying. She left her buying career in April 2020 to explore entrepreneurship and now runs BYRCOLLECTIVE, a retail consultancy that provides mentoring, freelance support, and training to small retail business owners. Since starting BYRCOLLECTIVE, she has supported over 100+ brands in setting up and leveling up their businesses.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Sophie Biggerstaff: Hi, I’m Sophie, I am the founder of BYRCOLLECTIVE. I’ve been working in the retail industry for the past 11+ years. Throughout my career I’ve worked for some major global premium – luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren, Diesel, Kate Spade and Burberry. I’ve managed businesses of up to £380 Million in revenue across EMEIA, Americas and Asia markets. I’ve worked on multiple product departments including apparel, accessories, home & footwear within retail, outlet and wholesale channels. As much as I loved worked for global brands I felt like my skills, experience and industry insights could be put to use for a bigger purpose so I left my buying career in April 2020 to explore entrepreneurship and I now run BYRCOLLECTIVE, a retail consultancy that provides mentoring, freelance support and training to small retail business owners.
Through BYRCOLLECTIVE I work with product based business founders and small brands helping them set up or level up their business. I help them take ideas and turn them into a reality to raise brand awareness, drive sales & increase profits. Most of my work revolves around sales, product or marketing strategy and I have supported 100+ businesses since launching. My proudest achievement to date has been onboarding 35 premium brands including the likes of Calvin Klein & Tommy Hilfiger for a childrenswear multi-brand e-commerce start up. I also recently hosted a networking event to bring 30+ like-minded product based entrepreneurs together in London for an evening of inspirational chats and panel talks.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Sophie Biggerstaff: This is a tricky questions and actually I think successful entrepreneurs are usually a bit of both – born & made… I believe to see success as an entrepreneur you definitely need to possess certain personality traits, the most important of which I would say are perseverance and resilience – these could be both born and made depending on the circumstances you grew up in and environments you’ve found yourself in throughout your life.
I am also a strong believer that you need passion for what you are doing and this is what fuels 70% of your success. Passion is likely to be found through certain experiences you might have had in life, so this is likely to be made. With these 3 things, passion, perseverance and resilience I believe as an entrepreneur you have the power to make anything you put your mind to successful!
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Sophie Biggerstaff: I would say I am fearless, persistent & have a very clear vision of what I want. A lot of entrepreneurship revolves around taking risks so if you don’t have the courage to take them, the persistence to see things through even when things go wrong and the vision of what it could look like if you keep going, you will likely just give up.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Sophie Biggerstaff: BYRCOLLECTIVE is a retail consultancy, although it is still in it’s infancy, it has already seen a lot of success and change. Through BYRCOLLECTIVE I work with small retail business owners on product, sales and marketing strategies helping them set up and level up their businesses. There’s been a few variations of BYRCOLLECTIVE and I am pivoting as I go along, capitalizing on the opportunities that present themselves…
Originally my plan for the business was to help students get in to work in the retail industry as it can be a cut throat industry to get in to, especially within head office roles, I used to recruit for junior positions in my past roles as a Buyer, so I knew exactly what businesses would be looking for, and I wanted to help. I set up some CV guides, interview prep sessions and started shortlisting jobs for candidates to apply for… Quickly I realized this wouldn’t be a huge revenue driver as students tend to not have a lot of money to invest in the services I wanted to offer so after about 2 months I pivoted the business..
It then become a freelance buying agency and saw some success, with a lot of clients being impressed by my previous work experience, they came to me, but again I quickly realized that trading time of money was going to make it difficult to scale and I knew there were so many more small businesses that needed help, than I able to do just by offering freelance services. I still do run agency style services, but I now have a team of people that I subcontract work to as and when the jobs come in.
A lot of the small businesses I was working with all had the same problems, and I recognized that mentoring and coaching was becoming a more popular route for business owners to get the support they needed, without recruiting a full team, so I started offering mentoring services or one off consultancy and this has become one of my core service offerings.
I also have plans to launch an accessible membership where brands can get the support they need through guides, courses and online resources, which is perfect for a start up budget where they might not have the cash flow to invest in mentors to help.
My biggest goal with BYRCOLLECTIVE is to bring people together, and entrepreneurship can be lonely, so more recently I started hosting networking and inspirational events, so like-minded business owners can come together share wins, learns and experiences.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Sophie Biggerstaff: I think an entrepreneur should assume that the business that they first thought they were starting, will likely not be the exact business they end up with… Ideas flop, things outside of your control will challenge you, your idea may not resonate in the way you initially thought, the execution of your ideas might be more difficult than you anticipated, money might run out – whatever the reason, it is highly likely that your business plan will change over time and that is in no way a bad thing…
A change in plan can sometimes feel like you are changing what you set out to do, but actually it is just you learning and growing as you go along. Pivoting on opportunities that present themselves, and changing direction when challenges arise are both signs of growth in business.
As long as you ultimately achieve the mission you set out on when you when you started and conduct business within the values you set, the idea of what you thought your business would be and what it turns out like does not matter. Go in to business with an open mind and you can’t go wrong.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Sophie Biggerstaff: Yes, I assumed that my work/life balance would improve because I was “my own boss”… Which eventually I believe it will, but in reality starting and building a business is all consuming! I wasn’t strict enough with myself at the start and I let it take over my life… It didn’t help that I built my business in lockdown so I didn’t have much else to do and was working all sorts of crazy hours, but in the end this was really detrimental to me and my business as I suffered from 2 burnouts in 6 months!
When I was feeling burnt out, my physical and mental health suffered, and this had a direct knock on affect to my business as I was unable to work, was super unproductive and my ideas and passion dried up. Setting boundaries with yourself and anyone you are working with is so important from day one, as this will ultimately allow you to separate work and life so you can be the best business owner you can be and show up for your business!
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Sophie Biggerstaff: “Know your value!” I spent the first few months massively undercharging for the services I was offering in my business, which was hard as I was juggling lot’s of jobs, but not really seeing the financial reward.
I felt because I was a new business I needed to prove myself, even though I’ve worked for 12 years prior to this and knew exactly what I was talking about when it came to offering my support in other peoples businesses, so I charged low prices, didn’t know how to structure my pricing and even did some work for free to gain testimonials.
This left me resenting some of the things I was doing, and deflated that I had left a well paid career to take such a big step back financially. If I could go back I would tell myself how valuable I actually am to the businesses I am supporting and change my pricing structure to reflect that!
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Sophie Biggerstaff: One of the worst bits of advice I have ever received was just prior to me starting my business, and it was from someone interviewing me for a business accelerator programme. Having rejected me for the programme they then gave me the advice that I should “get some more experience in startups before starting my own business”.
It wasn’t necessarily “bad advice” in the sense that it wouldn’t have been helpful, of course all work experiences are going to benefit you in your business journey in some way, however the reason I felt this was poor advice was because it left me with imposter syndrome. Them telling me I couldn’t start a business because I hadn’t had previous experience in startups left me feeling like I wasn’t qualified to run a business, and I doubted my abilities, despite knowing fully well I had the experience to do what I wanted to do.
I managed to overcome that in time, but what I learnt from that is that actually regardless of your experiences if you want to do something badly enough and you are committed to making it work, you have the capabilities to do anything you want and unless you try you don’t know what you are capable of doing, with or without experience in the field you want to go in to!
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Sophie Biggerstaff: I think COVID-19 has actually opened up the idea of entrepreneurship to many more people. Prior to COVID-19 I think entrepreneurship was bit of a foreign concept to many, a lot of people didn’t know how they could do it, or what they might be able to achieve, but then suddenly with so many jobs being lost, furlough schemes and a new found freedom from working from home I think more and more people are now realizing that actually they do could build a business of their own.
One assumption anyone starting a business post COVID-19 should think about is how they will pivot their business should another situation like this happen again. Most of the established businesses were caught off guard because they didn’t have a plan or were stuck in their ways and found it hard to make changes. New businesses have the opportunity to create a back up plan from day one, so they will be ready for every situation thrown at them.
An assumption that hasn’t changed is that you need lots of money to start a business, this is a barrier I see a lot of entrepreneurs face all the time, and something that holds many of them back taking the leap. As I said earlier if you have passion, perseverance and resilience you will find a way to start this business with or without the cash you need. When there is a will, there is a way!
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Sophie Biggerstaff: A myth is that you will get rich straight away from being an entrepreneur! Let’s face it success is unlikely to happen overnight, and actually financially it can be really tough for entrepreneurs to find their feet.
Like I said one of my biggest challenges has been pricing and for the first year I did not make a huge amount of money at all! If you are in entrepreneurship hoping to “get rich quick” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that probably isn’t going to happen. It takes a lot of hard work, investment in the right things & time to build up your credibility as a business, get leads and get your customers to buy in to what you do.
My best advice would be is have a plan, know what your goal is financially, but break that down in to realistic and manageable chunks so you can work towards mini targets in order to achieve your bigger financial goals, but don’t just expect growth to happen quickly, be patient. Slow and steady growth always wins the race!
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Sophie Biggerstaff: I think the most important qualities and traits for starting a business as I’ve already mentioned are perseverance, resilience and passion for what you are doing! And as for assumptions, the most important one is to always assume you can, thinking you can’t do something will always hold you back, but if you believe you can do something, even if it feels a million miles away from where you are right now, at least try, as when you believe you can do something and you are willing to give it a go, you have 100% better chance of making it happen!
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Sophie Biggerstaff: Get yourself a copy of profit first – I would say about 90% of the small business owners I work with have no idea what profit is! Profit as a small business is SO IMPORTANT as this is what will help fuel the growth of your business going forward. Get a grip on your profits from day one and this book gives some great examples of how to do just that.
Another great way to prepare yourself is speak to people that have done it before. Is there anyone in your industry that you aspire to or take inspiration from? Reach out and ask them for a coffee and talk to them about what you want to do. The best way to learn is from people who have been there and done it all before!
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Sophie Biggerstaff: Travel journalist! I dabbled in travel blogging a few years ago, as I LOVE travelling, but I didn’t have the time to keep up the blog. Getting paid to travel around from place to place, reviewing hotels and restaurants in exotic locations would be my dream job if I wasn’t an entrepreneur.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Sophie Biggerstaff: As a brit I had to google what Mount Rushmore was, but I would say maybe Vinton Cerf or Bob Kahn for inventing the internet, let’s face it business would be much harder to run without that!
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sophie Biggerstaff for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sophie Biggerstaff or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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