Kirstie Clifford: I have belief my paper boutique won't fold

As Bank of England governor Mervyn King warns of "choppy" times ahead for the economy, entrepreneur Kirstie Clifford explains why she thought it was the right time to launch her own business

FROM the start I knew it was going to be a risk. The country was just about to climb out of recession - at least officially - but on the high street I knew that people were keeping their hands firmly in their pockets and spending was being kept to a bare minimum.

The newspapers were full of doom and gloom: falling sales, rising unemployment and how if we thought it was bad now, it was only going to get worse as we entered the age of austerity.

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I was one of those unemployed and, faced with such negativity and uncertainty, I decided to do something radical. It would have been easy to sign on, to shelve my own ambitions, but while I was being told I was mad, that it was the wrong time, I thought 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'. I decided now was the moment for me to go it alone.

There had been months of forewarning that I was set to become a redundancy statistic as the stationers in which I worked in Morningside was set to close. I had been surprised. Business had appeared to be good, sales had continued to grow despite the recession (we specialised in wedding stationery). We'd been established for four years and had great feedback from customers. Word of mouth was bringing new recommendations every week. All should have been rosy.

It turned out, however, that the business had been struggling to make a profit due to large overheads - mostly very high rent and rates. The location was also a little problematic as we were hidden behind a bus stop, so people just didn't know that we were there.

With the countdown to redundancy looming, the question arose: what was I going to do? I knew I wanted to stay in the same kind of creative business, but I had tried years ago and it hadn't worked out. I'd designed and made cards myself, and it was so time-consuming that the hours and financial investment put in never equated to the money made.

But I decided I would do it all over again, although this time with a shop selling beautiful papers, card and ribbons for others to have the option of doing the work of putting their wedding invites or Christmas cards together, as well as still offering my own service. Perfect for those brides-to-be working to recession budgets.

In Edinburgh, there are a lot of people who just aren't affected by the recession and still host parties and events, want to send out baby announcements or just like to buy paper to write a nice letter. Worst case scenario was it wouldn't work but at least I'd have tried; best case that I'd do really well and be a great success.

I knew it was a big risk, but I had a few accountant friends look at the figures and see if it could work. With the financial advice that it could and my belief that the business was a fantastic one, I felt it had a really strong chance of working - as long as there wasn't the drain of a large rent.

Keen to be in the Bruntsfield area among other creative, independent stores, I checked out local rents and found the perfect place.

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Now came the hard bit. There could be no bank loan as I had no collateral and they'd told me they don't lend on the strength of a business plan to a new company even though I had the accounts from the existing (stationery) business and could show the turnover. They were lending to no-one.

My hopes were pinned on some money left to me in my grandmother's estate, but that depended on her house sale going through. I got confirmation that a sale was in the offing so put an offer in on the shop, but the house sale then fell through.

I approached the bank again and asked if the house sale cash could be used as collateral on a loan whenever it appeared, but was told no.

The dole beckoned. Luckily, my mother offered to borrow the money on my behalf. I signed the lease and my husband, family and friends helped enormously with fitting and painting.

My "job" finally finished on June 26 and White Blossom Designs, Paper Boutique was open for business on Bruntsfield Place ten days later.

It's been stressful and a lot of hard work. Some days I work 15 or 16 hours, I work six days a week and there are times I'm awake at 4am worrying about stock, but I am happy.

I've set up a place I love to work in and hopefully customers will love to shop in. So far, the till has been steadily ringing. My advice to those in my shoes is go for it. Take the risk. It can work - despite what the bank says.

• White Blossom Designs, Paper Boutique, 96 Bruntsfield Place, EH10 4ES. Call 077940 87663 or visit


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Bank of England governor Mervyn King has braced households for a squeeze on their own budgets, due largely to a combination of high inflation and a slowdown in UK economic growth. He warned the Britain is facing "a choppy recovery" over the next two years as he announced the Bank's latest forecasts yesterday.

His report showed slower growth than previously expected next year as Chancellor George Osborne's emergency Budget kicks in, while inflation will stay above the Bank's two per cent target until the end of 2011 due to next January's VAT hike.

Households will also be squeezed by tighter credit conditions as banks repair their balance sheets, his report added, painting a grim picture of disposable incomes being hit by the deficit-tackling measures.