Painted red nails, suit and high heels, this was Lizzie’s life up until she left her well paid corporate job to follow her dreams. Lizzie’s life now consists of steel toe capped boots, a leather apron, lots of hammers and a blacksmith forge!
Becoming a self taught artisan blacksmith has been a work of passion for Lizzie since she went on a one day blacksmith course on an impulse. Spending the day getting very dirty, heating iron, getting burnt and hammering iron to form a very basic fire poker was the start of a hugely enjoyable journey over the last few years.
‘I loved it from the minute I lit the forge to the end of the day when I was totally exhausted. The next day I could hardly move my shoulders from all the hammering, but I had two basic fire pokers which I was very proud of’.
From there Lizzie bought herself a second hand forge off the internet and set about starting her own business. She was given tools and hammers by friends and asked a multitude of questions to the couple of blacksmiths that she knew. It was 3 months before she got her first client and it was a steep learning curve.
‘You learn really quickly when you have to make a living and don’t make the same mistake twice.’
Lizzie was originally going to be completely traditional and use fire welding, the old fashioned way of joining iron rather than a modern day welding kit. But she soon realised that this was very time consuming, didn’t give her the scope she wanted for the jobs she was getting and also that she wasn’t that good at it!
‘It pays to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and fire welding wasn’t a strength. So I asked a local blacksmith to teach me MIG welding, which he did in exchange for a crate of beer. Since then I’ve taught myself ARC welding as well and it opened up all sorts of doors for me. But it still makes me laugh when I tell blokes I can arc weld and watch their reaction, as it’s still seen as a very male job.’
Lizzie built the business in the first year making gates and railings, but soon realised that being out in the cold installing gates and railings wasn’t really her cup of tea. In the second year of business she attended her first large garden show to test her new furniture designs and sculptures. Selling her first sculpture at the show and a new ‘organic’ looking garden arch gave Lizzie the confidence to start saying no to new business which consisted of railings and instead promoting more abstract garden pieces. Upon delivery of the first sculpture she sold, her new client asked her to also make a large garden arch with leaves and seed heads attached. Lizzie was now building up some repeat customers, which was an extra endorsement of her work.
Having a business background has helped Lizzie tremendously in understanding her marketplace, where to sell, how to sell and who to sell to. She views her marketing and selling techniques as a really important part of her business, understanding that people buy from people and still most of her business is produced from face-to-face interaction with her clients rather than internet or advertising.
But Lizzie does still use the internet a lot. With Linkedin, a twitter account, one website up and running and another being built, Facebook, ebay, Pinterest and Salvoweb, Lizzie spends a lot of time promoting her business on line. She also sends out a monthly newsletter to over 1,000 people which she says never fails to bring some business in.
‘I try to keep my newsletters a bit chatty and light hearted, telling people what I’ve done and where I will be exhibiting next, rather than a hard sell newsletter, that way I build a relationship with my customers. That’s not to say I don’t pop things for sale on the newsletters, never miss a selling opportunity!’
Lizzie also says Facebook is a good selling tool if you get it right and have the right type of business that fits into people’s social and private lives, allowing you to hit a wide audience for not much money. But it’s important to watch out for scams on Facebook and try not to get totally distracted by all the other stuff on there.
Now 4 years into her business, Lizzie is allowing her creative side more scope and producing more sculptures. She found when she first left her corporate job that her creative side wasn’t very prevalent. Having spent 22 years in an organisation being taught how to plan and review and analyse, it’s taken a few years to retrain her brain to accept that abstract and ‘organic’ looking is in great demand. More coat racks are being made with rough reclaimed oak and driftwood, rather than ‘clean’ pine and hooks are being made out of used horseshoes, left a natural rusty colour.
‘Most of the pieces I now make have a natural feel to them rather than painted and clean. That’s not to say I don’t do painted, as I have a few clients that like traditional black ironwork. However it’s often better to have something that’s more natural than painted. At the end of my first year I had a client who had a lot of rusty old estate fencing that he wanted made into tree guards. I didn’t paint the tree guards, but coated them in linseed oil. It’s a natural product that won’t harm your garden and also gives the iron protection. But crucially, because it looks natural and blends in with the garden, when it’s placed round the tree, you see the tree first and not the tree guard, which is a better alternative to seeing galvanised tree guards or thick wooden tree guards, which tend to block the tree from view.’
You can contact Lizzie through her website www.woodandiron.co.uk