For International Women’s Day 2019 I felt that I really wanted to share the stories of women creative business owners that I admire. There are literally hundreds of women I admire who run creative businesses big and small, but I have chosen a little smattering of amazing women to feature.
I know how tremendously hard it is to run a creative business, I know how much fear there is, how constant the self-doubt is, how financially precarious it is, how wondrously challenging it is day-to-day – so I have just the greatest admiration for women who pursue this path. I also know how satisfying it is, how affirming it is when you feel like you are making a contribution, big or small, that is all your own.
Often when people talk about ‘women in business’ or ‘entrepreneurial women’ it is women who are regarded as successful because of their profile and financial status. Women like Janine Allis (Boost Juice), Roxy Jacenko (Sweaty Betty PR) or Lorna Jane; it is not small-scale creative businesses that earn a living from their work and who employ a small number of people within the business (and provide lots of additional employment in the form of stocking different products, paying for courier services, printing services, IT support, and so on).
These are the women I wanted to get some insight into.
Without blowing my own trumpet I am one of these women. I have developed a small creative business (with lots of support) - which I love, and I work very hard to build and grow this business. I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do, but it is also incredibly difficult.
I want to preface this clearly and say I have a deep understanding of my absolute privilege and that has informed strongly my ability to start and run a small business. I am one of the most privileged people on the planet - I mean that not in the sense of effusive gratitude (‘oh I’m so lucky’ – and I am), I mean that as a statement of fact. I was born into circumstances of great privilege and I recognise that privilege and that this is a major factor in my ability to create and run Brown’s.
So to start off our International Women’s Day week and the sharing of women’s creative business stories I will share my business story!
- Can you tell me who you are and what you do?
My name is Cate Gilpin, and I own and run Brown’s General Store.
- How did you start your creative business?
I started the business after thinking of and dreaming about it for many years. I studied in the Creative Industries and did a masters degree in Arts Management, and I worked in many shops and galleries on the road to starting my own small business in this space.
Finally though in 2017 I was working full time for a university running student programs, and I was really unhappy. My son was 2 at the time, and I was so rushed and busy and the work itself was wholly unsatisfying. In the April of that year my husband, son and I went to Japan for a holiday and I fell in love with the beautiful shops and gallery spaces there, and so Nick (my husband) and I decided to open Brown’s.
We came home, I resigned from my job a few weeks later, and we got to work. It was hard, and Nick was my hugest (and still is) support, but we opened in August that year.
- What have been the hardest things in building your career/business?
There are so many, so very very many.
There’s the practical things like cash flow, stock management, website maintenance, oh the list is endless.
But, I think perhaps the worst thing is self-doubt. I am plagued by it constantly. Also the uncertainty of running a business and not knowing how you will continue to pay bills, staff, attract customers… Money is a big thing. Money is a major, major difficulty for a small business like this.
- What have been/are the best things?
Again there are so many.
I think the absolute best thing is the customers, I just love our customers, I love talking to them, I love serving them, I love the community we are building.
I love running a values based business, where I chose and choose to only stock local, ethical and handmade products. I love supporting makers and helping them have their own small businesses, make their own living.
I love the extra flexibility for my family life. I work harder, but I work when it suits me.
- What’s your next big goal (personal or professional)?
Well I’m having a baby in July, so my big goal this year is to get insanely organised so I am ready for that massive addition to our lives. At the moment I’m just trying to survive pregnancy, which is exhausting for me. And of course, my professional goal is to grow Brown’s, I want to extend what we do, connect more widely, support more makers, and generally keep this business growing and thriving.
- Finally, what do you think is your one ‘superpower’ that has allowed you to create this business?
While still acknowledging all the absolute ‘leg ups’ I’ve been given, plus the support of my superhero partner Nick, and my amazing staff Caitlin and Sarah, I think my superpower might be… persistence. I don’t give up easily, I dig deep and I keep going.