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Dawn Elliott was born and raised in Kirkcaldy, Fife before moving to Ulverston, Cumbria. After graduating from Bolton University, Dawn decided to settle in the area and start a family. Having two children and 20 years of marriage, Dawn was more than rewarded in her personal life, but professionally, she wanted more. 

Dawn always worked in office jobs and was laterally an office manager for an engineering company for nearly 10 years. In Summer 2019, Dawn decided it was time to bite the bullet, start a career that truly fulfilled her and utilised her crafty skills. After a quick online search for sewing classes, Dawn quickly realised there was a gap for sewing classes in the Lancashire area. Her search led her to the Sew Confident sewing franchise, which had two franchises in Glasgow and Dundee Scotland. 

From a young age, Dawn had a creative flair. Her hobbies included making cards, knitting, DIY, painting and sewing on her Granny’s old Singer sewing machine. After searching for classes to reignite her passion for crafts, Dawn stumbled upon the Sew Confident website. After a couple of meetings with founder Jenny Drew in Scotland to discuss Franchising, she decided to take the plunge, pursue her passion and quit her office job. With that, the first English Franchise, Sew Confident Chorley was born.

Almost three years since the launch, Dawn (and her now team of 5 freelance tutors) have taught over 500 clients’ new skills, with most customers returning to at least 3 more classes. Dawn is thrilled with the success, loves meeting and creating with new people and has never been happier!

What was the moment you decided you needed a career change? 

The moment I decided I needed a career change was when I hit my 40’s and my kids started looking at GCSE options. I was creative from a young age but didn’t want to go against the grain so I ended up doing a degree in Accountancy and Business studies. I worked in retail, then had two office jobs, one for an airline and then an engineering company. In 2019 I made boldest and scariest decision of my life and left my well-paid job at the engineering company, where I had worked as an Office Manager for nearly 10 years.  When my daughter was choosing her GCSE subjects, we had a conversation that really made me take a long hard look at myself and my career.  We chatted about what subjects interested her and what she enjoyed doing and what she was good at. I said: “Just do what makes you happy, as you will be working for a good majority of your life, so do something you are good at and something you enjoy”.  She responded “Mum, you don’t like your job and live for your weekends!”. She was right. I wasn’t practicing what I preached, and I decided I needed to be a better role model to my kids. Life is too short! In October 2018, I took a trip up north to attend a Sew Confident class in Glasgow and this sparked my decision to make a change.

How important is it to have a support network around you?

Very important, I could not have started up my own business without the help and support of my family and friends.  My husband is very supportive and encouraged me to go for it. Having his support, emotionally and financially, meant the world to me. My parents, sister and in-laws are always there for me and are my biggest fans.  I don’t have a huge family, but they were all there for my open day and there whenever I need them. My friends are also tremendous and very supportive of my career change. A few were sceptical about me buying into a franchise but that made me more determined to succeed. Nearly three years on, I’ve definitely proved that I made the right decision. A few of my friends have even got the sewing bug, it really is contagious. 

I have a great support network through the Franchise. Sew Confident Founder Jenny is amazing and always there with some great ideas and advice when I need it.  Her franchise model made that first step to self-employment so much easier. I also have the lovely Sandra in Dundee who I can chat to and we are regularly in touch to help each other out. We are like a little family. 

Are there any female entrepreneurs who inspired you?

Yes plenty! When I met Jenny, she truly inspired me. She’s so positive and upbeat and really has a head for business. She is so focused and good at keeping her employees and us franchisees focused too. 

What have been the biggest challenges for you? 

The biggest challenge has to be surviving a pandemic and lockdowns when my business was only 9 months old. We managed to sell lots of sewing machines, as so many were looking to start new or reignite old hobbies with their extra free time. Jenny cloned her retail website, giving me a mini website where I was able to bring in some sales. My hand embroidery kits were very popular. I shipped them out all over the UK, some even went overseas!

We also turned to virtual classes. Some of which are still going after the studios reopened. Jenny created a fabulous online course called ‘crafty zero to sewing hero’, which is due to run again soon. It’s a mixture of prerecorded classes and live classes. I would sew along with our customers making tote bags, zipped pouches and cushions and it was a huge success. Lots of our customers went from this class straight into having a go at dressmaking. Many have gone on to sew themselves a wardrobe of handmade clothes thanks to Sew Confident. I also took our chunky arm knitting blanket class online. In two hours, people could sit at home, link up via zoom and I’d teach them how to knit a cosy, giant chunky blanket using their arms! It was suitable for complete beginners, and it was (and still is) a huge success. 

What advice would you give to other women hoping to pursue a creative business?

Do your research and fact find as much as possible, talk to other creative people, join some groups and speak to those with creative businesses. I love what I do, and I think a creative business is definitely one of the best to have. Having a creative business is still hard work but it’s so rewarding and the people in this industry are just great to be around and they are so inspiring. My advice would be to go for it, think positive, believe in yourself and do what you love! 

How did you establish your network? 

From the start, I was so excited about being my own boss and starting up the first Sew Confident Franchise in England. I would talk to anyone and everyone. I have a studio mascot and most Fridays, I do a fun social media post with him. His name is Wes (sew backwards) he’s a toy moose. I take him to other businesses, snap some pictures, then share and tag where he’s been. I enjoy doing it and other businesses love getting involved too. I also love meeting people and have tried out most networking groups in the North-West area. I must admit, I am more comfortable and prefer female/mums in business events. I have made some lovely business friends through female networking groups such as Mums in Business Int., Unique Ladies Network, CWS Creatives and Pink Link Ladies. There are lots of great ones in my area. Other women in business understand what you’re facing and they’re great for bouncing ideas off and asking for advice.

Are you following any other female entrepreneurs’ journeys who you think are smashing it?

I met some amazing woman as part of a Natwest Business Accelerator program I managed to get a place on. Frankie Noone was one of them, she’s a British makeup artist who is amazing at what she does and shares so much with others. 

Another, Linda Monk, who has a retail business in Chorley called Freckle Boutique and is so much fun to be around. We met when she was nominated for an EVA award, and I loved her down to earth attitude and passion for her business. Her business has grown so much during the pandemic. There are loads more women who have inspired me, I could easily chat all day about them. 

What drew you towards a franchise?

I guess knowing that the business model worked from the information I’d gathered and what I’d heard about the Glasgow and Dundee studios. The franchise terms were really good and lots of support was given right from the start from finding the right premises to helping me with advertising and marketing. I didn’t have to source suppliers or hunt for the best prices for stock as this had all been done for me. 

What’s the 5 year plan for Sew Confident Chorley? 

I’d love to grow my business and I’m focussing on my team and customer base. I currently have five freelance tutors and I’m looking to take on my first employee. I would love to collaborate with other businesses this year too. One day I’d love to even look at a second franchise in England, although maybe that’s more of a 10 year plan! 

What’s been your biggest ‘pinch me’ moment?

Hearing my name mentioned live on the radio before being interviewed on BBC Radio Lancashire and BBC Radio Manchester or possibly being featured last year in a well-being book written by Gemma Margerison or seeing myself in the local paper. 

Do your kids plan to follow in your footsteps?

My son is 14 and only just choosing his GCSE options and my daughter is nearly 18. They are really good kids and work hard. My daughter wants to travel and is determined to have a great job and already has visions of what she would like out of life. I’m not sure what they’ll do yet but maybe my entrepreneur spirit is in them! 

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