“My mental health was suffering. And despite it being mid pandemic, I thought, ‘I'll take my chances – at least I get to be in charge of what I do,’” recalls 27-year-old Londoner Alexandra, who launched her home fragrance business, llum Studios, during the pandemic and started working on it full time last October.
Until then, she’d been in charge of marketing at a visual effects (VFX) company, but was feeling unfulfilled after a change in management and having grown tired of the work.
“I noticed a gap in the market for sustainably sourced candles. I realised I could be creative and do something with a positive environmental impact,” Alexandra remembers. When her VFX contract ended in October, she didn’t renew it.
“My brain could finally have a break. It was nice to feel like, ‘Whatever this is, at least I’m not as stressed.’ Saying that as a founder sounds weird, but it was a different kind of stress,” she says.
Alexandra’s income was down by 100% for the first couple of months. “It was scary,” she says, but her savings provided a cushion.
Alexandra's had a Monzo account for four years, and used Pots and the round up feature to build a financial safety net before taking the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship. She didn’t have money set aside specifically for starting a business, but had been saving up since university.
Alexandra didn’t start out with a business budget – the early experiments came out of her monthly salary and she treated it like a “hopeful hobby”. “When it was clear I was going to go full time, I used £1,000 from my savings to buy the first round of materials, a website subscription – I use Wix – as well as any other monthly and ad-hoc costs, like my email account, email marketing service, market stall fees and business development classes.”
She’s since reinvested most of the income back into the business. “I do a lot of things myself as well,” she adds, such as photography, design and marketing, which helps keep costs down.
When Alexandra’s income was minimal in the early months, she also used Monzo to budget her daily spending – the instant spending notifications and reminders of upcoming direct debits kept her aware of what was coming in and leaving her account.
Monzo’s user-friendliness also appealed to Alexandra: “I'm a very visual person and I like to see where everything is,” as well as its approach to the environment. “I try really hard to be environmentally friendly and socially conscious,” she says. “I used to bank with a high street bank and I wanted to swap from a very environmentally damaging bank. Monzo seemed to be up there with its credentials.”
She’s eco-conscious in her business, too – her coconut and rapeseed wax blend candles are produced in small batches, vegan, plastic-free and she plants a tree for every order.
“Monzo made me very efficient in my own finances, so why would I not use the same thing for my business?”
When she starter her business, Alexandra opened a Monzo Business account so she could manage all her money through one app. “Monzo made me very efficient in my own finances, so why would I not use the same thing for my business?”
She says the account has been useful for figuring out how much was coming in, what she needed to save for taxes, and what other costs she needed to cover. “My business Pots don't have the most creative names. I have one called ‘tax’, another called ‘supplies’, one for marketing and another for expenses.”
Alexandra and her boyfriend have also had a joint account with Monzo for the last two years, which they use to pay the rent. Previously, Alexandra would often forget to move her money between account for bills, so she suggested getting a joint account to streamline the process.
The ease of having all her finances in one place lets Alexandra focus on her multiple responsibilities as a sole business owner: researching and developing new scents, design, pouring and packing online orders, marketing, selling her candles at London markets (East London’s Spitalfields Market is one of her favourites so far), and more.
Next in the pipeline for “candle season” – September to December, when most people buy their candles – are some new scents that Alexandra will be creating for autumn and Christmas, plus a limited edition blackberry and bay candle to mark the business’s first birthday.
“I'm enjoying it,” she says of her many roles and responsibilities. “It's overwhelming at times and also very enjoyable. Right now, the fact that no one really depends on me – I don't have to pay anyone's wages except my own – means I get to be as creative as I want and take risks.”
“It took me about seven months to go from impostor syndrome to ‘Oh my God, I did this thing by myself.”
Alexandra says she struggled with self confidence in her new role at the beginning. “It took me about seven months to go from impostor syndrome to ‘Oh my God, I did this thing by myself.’ I feel great about it now and much more optimistic. And the fact I now have money coming in definitely helps.”
She’s pleased with how the business is faring at this early stage and proud of how far she’s come. “I'm happy with the projections that are coming in because I actually get to pay myself now. It’s not quite 25% of what I was making before, but it's still something.”