Self employed people contribute strongly to the UK economy, with over 5 million self employed people and represent over 15% of the labour market. This blog aims to shout out to just some of the hard working and talented self employed people I know.
This week we profile Elka de Wit, a fountain of experience and wisdom who i can always turn to for good advice. I use her products religiously and even my son can't go to sleep without his massage with Elka's 'Body silk' which is a lavender and oregano moisturise which smells heavenly and is as silky as you can imagine.
Elka proves that anyone can have a career change at any time. I love this bit... "I'm a trained actor. I've also cleaned toilets, worked as a dishwasher, a chamber maid, an estate agent, a language teacher, managed a women's gym and founded a hand-made greetings card company." LOL 😂
But seriously, i have never met anyone so positive, and i think it might have something to do with her willingness to change if she is not happy. We could learn a lesson from this attitude. In the interview below she has generously shared how she has set up her amazing social enterprise skin care business and 34.4°(pronounced thirty four point four) and how her business has been faring during Covid.
Describe your 34.4° and how you started your business
When I founded 34.4° it was with two purposes in mind: To provide high quality, organic, chemical free skincare that is kind to people and the environment. To test our products on friends, not animals.
To create a social enterprise with a view to giving 50% of profits tosocial causes. We planned a volunteer structure until such a time as the business generates enough income to pay wages. Wages will then be equitably (not hierarchically) distributed. From the first jar we ever sold, we have been giving 34.4% of every single sale to The Natural Beekeeping Trust, whose focus is on re-wilding the environment with wild bees.
What is your background? How does it link to what you are doing now?
Everything anyone ever does influences who they become and who they are. At the same time it's possible to change everything about yourself if it no longer serves you. Attitudes and paths are a choice. I have a degree from SOAS (SE Asian History and Politics), I'm a trained actor. I've also cleaned toilets, worked as a dishwasher, a chamber maid, an estate agent, a language teacher, managed a
women's gym, I founded a hand-made greetings card company. They were all formative experiences and I can honestly say that every single one of those jobs has been helpful in what I do now.
What was your breakthrough moment?
When I realised that what other people think of me is none of my business and that applying the question "How can I serve" to my life is what constitutes success.
What is one of your proudest business moments?
The more obvious answer is: Supplying NOBU with an 'Executive Gift' package and THE SAVOY with Kukui and Honey Balm for the 'Turn down'. But, what really fills me with joy is the many appreciative letters we receive and the excitement I experience when someone shows me their healthy skin or receding scars as a result of using 34.4° products. I feel really privileged to have helped many children be free of skin problems, especially as I suffered from them right up to the moment I started this company.
What was your plan?
Well, the plan was to win a £20k start up fund and proceed. The best thing that ever happened is that plan being thwarted! It meant that we didn't have to adhere to anyone else's schedule for how to spend the money or when to launch. Auspiciois for us, as we realised that we weren't happy with our original branding, so we spent another very worthwhile 6 months working on it. We learned to remain flexible. If plans don't work, make new ones!
How have things changed in Covid times?
Our customer base has been really, REALLY supportive. Initially I moved the entire operation back home and customers would swing by my house on their exercise loop. We've gained new customers from the 'support local' movement. Best of all is that many more now go for telephone consultations and more intimate connections have been formed. Naturally we're not on markets, but we were already geared up for e-commerce which was very helpful. We also immediately
introduced a 15% discount code for all key workers. The code is given out on application. We've donated soaps and creams to a women's refuge and St Christopher's Hospice.
How and when did you launch?
Launches are a bit like award ceremonies. Your peers may come to a launch, but if you're just starting, you don't really have a following as such. I'm a great believer in gradual build over big launch. We're still launching now :)
How have you continued to build your brand?
Our biggest brand builders are our customers. Old fashioned, slow but sustainable word of mouth propaganda. We focus on our ethics, we focus on kindness, we focus on our environmental remit. To use 34.4° products is to be part of a movement to consume less, slow down, to become mindful and to develop an environmental conscience. Once people become more aware of what we are aiming for, they are loyal and bring their friends. We value giving our time and friendship over and above 'brand building'.
What challenges have you faced?
Hackney Council condemned the first building we set up a lab in within 6 months of our being there. (They offered no affordable alternative). We'd spent £10,000 on that lab. Luckily not a single nail had been used, so we dismantled the whole thing, put it into storage and I moved back to my kitchen. A year later a very generous benefactor offered us a space rent free. What I learned on that occasion? Sit tight. Trust everything happens for a reason.
How do you stay motivated?
Yoga. Meditation. Joy. Healthy, mostly organic food and skincare. If something doesn't work I change it. I can honestly say that I'm happy and motivated 95% of the time. If I'm unhappy I ask myself why and usually I find out something about myself that I don't yet know. Motivation is the simple alchemy of enjoyment and presence.
What have you got your eye on for the future?
I trust that a benefactor will appear to buy 34.4° a permanent home. Our focus is to attract more volunteers to help us with innovative sales platforms.
What are you favourite things to carry around with you?
Open eyes and ears.
Do you have a motto? If so , what is it?
"If you don't like something, change it, if you can't change it, change
your attitude." (Maya Angelou)
How can people get in touch with you?
I love a phone call or a text. 07389 881 318
Or via email email@example.com
Our website address is thirtyfourpointfour.com