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 Mark Lay from Planet Patrol Studio. In a new world of minimalism, Mark's (aka Mole's) maps have a timeless charm that works in all sorts of interior settings from homes to workplaces and restaurants. We are fortunate that this mostly private man has taken some time to answer my nosey questions.
Describe your business (and your big idea):
I have a studio space located in South London where I screen print limited-edition maps that are then sold either through www.planetpatrol.co.uk, at my stall on Broadway Market in Hackney, or to various shops and galleries. I would eventually like to look at selling my maps beyond just London and create a global range of popular areas from Paris to New York that will appeal to a much wider customer base.
What is your background? How does it link to what you are doing now?
Although I've had numerous jobs over the last 35 years ranging from a stint in the menswear department of Debenhams through to hard boiling a dozen eggs for 60's legends The Eagles.
I would have to say that when asked what my background is the answer would have to be music. As a semi-professional DJ (LOL) and part-time record label boss, it's the work I got the most enjoyment from and on occasion made a decent living. At the age of Fifteen, I was introduced to a book called Subway Art by legendary American photographers Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. The book documents the work of graffiti writers who illegally painted subway cars in New York City in the late 70's early 80's.
The discovery of this book and the music and friendships it led to cannot be underestimated. It had a profound effect on how I would go on to live my life and the career path I chose.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I think for me the major breakthrough moment was to witness the birth of the UK street art scene.
I was living in Stoke Newington in the early noughties and would often find myself drinking in Shoreditch which was also around the time I started to see Banksy pieces pop up in and around the streets of Shoreditch. It was at this point that I made the decision to start buying his, and other artists work. After a year or two of buying street art, I wanted to become more involved in the scene as it was no longer just enough for me to own some of the work of these artists I wanted to have a bigger role in a scene that I felt completely at home with. I then made the decision to start selling some of the earlier works I had bought to raise money for a series of live art nights at a venue in Shoreditch called Cargo. The money I raised from these events allowed me to set up the Planet Patrol website and to start selling limited edition prints full time.
What is one of your proudest business moments?
I don't yet have a proudest moment although the day that I decided to go it alone and start my own business was a good day!
What was your plan?:
I've never really had a plan which seems to be a common thread throughout my life. The last three years, I've definitely become more focused and can realistically see the potential in my business whereas before with the record label, It felt like a hobby and on reflection I guess it was!
How and when did you launch?
I launched Planet Patrol in the summer of 2007 with a series of live art events at Cargo in Shoreditch. These events caught the attention of Japanese retail brand AndA and that same year they asked us to tour Planet Patrol in Japan. It was a pretty good launch for the business even if it was over a period of twelve months.
How have you continued to build your brand?
The main way that I build the brand is through the use of social media and in particular Instagram. I don't yet have a huge following but the people who do follow me interact and respond well to my posts and videos.
On a good week, I'll sell more through Instagram than I will the website. I think this is due to the fact that our followers are actually genuine customers who want to know and hear about my business. I always encourage customers at my stall on Broadway Market that If they like the prints then they should follow me on Instagram as this is the easiest and quickest way to be kept up to date with my prints. I don't think Instagram works for everyone but it definitely works for me.
How do you stay motivated?
As a small business owner motivation is by far my greatest challenge. If I'm having a bad week it can be a daily battle just to work through the day. As someone who creates there own product you constantly question whether you are doing the right thing? Is this really what the customer wants? Will they get sick of what I'm offering? Is it too expensive, is it too cheap?
The self-doubt and anxiety that comes from this can be overwhelming so staying motivated is critical. One of the main ways I deal with this is through running and more recently swimming. So long as I carry on doing at least one of the above I think I'll be ok.
What have you got your eye on for the future?:
My main goals for the future have to be streamlining the business and introducing giclee prints into the mix.
What are your favourite things to carry around with you?
My wallet and phone, I'm basic.
Do you have a motto? If so, what is it?
Work hard, play hard, sleep hard.