Starting up a business in the countryside

Tired of working for someone else’s bottom line and with a keen interest in design, Tasha Edmondson decided to take the plunge that many of us dream about and handed in her notice at Knight Frank to start up her own business.

‘Working for myself is something I have thought about for many years,’ she said, sat at the large wooden table in her airy, rustic kitchen. At her feet snoozed the hulking figure of Monty, her one-year-old black Labrador who rarely leaves her side. ‘I really enjoyed my time with Knight Frank, but I knew it was a case of now or never.’

Fast forward to the present day and her business Monty and Me is fully operational. The online trading company sells ‘fabulous home accessories’, of which many are handmade, British and available for £100 or less. It bills itself as a one-stop shop for buyers of quality gifts, wedding presents or household furnishings.

‘It is an area I have been passionate about for many years,’ said Tasha, holding up a canvas sand-filled door-stop in the shape of a chicken. ‘I always took a great deal of time finding presents for family and friends that I knew they would enjoy. Monty and Me allows me to indulge this passion.’

It has been a busy year. The first step was to sit an interior design course at the Kensington School of Design at Chelsea Harbour, which taught her a very important lesson. ‘That I didn’t want to get involved in interior design!’ she laughed. ‘I realised quickly that, although I had enjoyed the course, what I really wanted to concentrate on was home accessories. Sometimes you need to get things wrong to find the right path.’

Her mind set, Tasha booked herself into a start-up course at the Business Link centre in Cheltenham. Their experts taught her to write her business plan, to run cash flows and manage her budget. They were sufficiently impressed by her idea that they offered a Government-funded grant to help design the Monty and Me website.

‘They could not have been more helpful,’ said Tasha. ‘It is a wonderful boost to be Business Link accredited. I thought I knew a little bit about stock taking and accounting, but there was so much more to learn. For example, you have to factor all your costs into your budget from car insurance to mobile phone bills. I realised I was taking a risk by starting Monty and Me, so it was reassuring to learn from professionals that I would not be wasting people’s time.’

This optimism would count for nothing though, if Tasha could not tempt the suppliers on board. With insufficient products on the website, there would be no website. ‘It was nerve-racking at first, because I could not be sure how they would react,’ she recalled, ‘but the response has been excellent. We all seem to be on the same wavelength. They like the feel of the site and the fact it champions handmade, quality pieces. Most of them do not want to sell to big vendors who insist that each item is the same size and colour. For example, there is a wonderful lady in Sussex who makes beautiful ceramics. On a Monday she might choose to paint blue spots on her egg cups; on the Tuesday it could be red stripes. Bigger businesses won’t give her that freedom.’

Tasha has been able to combine market research with her social life as every other weekend this summer involved at least one hen party, wedding or christening. Weddings and the hen parties can get a bit expensive if you have four or five in a summer. Monty and Me therefore has plenty of affordable, original ideas.’

The site went live at the start of September and interest has already been high. Tasha will hand-wrap every item that leaves her door, as she wants everything to be perfect at the other end. ‘I’ll also send an email to say it’s on its way, because there’s nothing worse than needing a last minute present and then getting it late or broken.’