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Published 03 Jul 2013

How do you eat an elephant?

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bit at a time.

This may sound a bit grim but it was actually the wise words of a bike training motivating man I was biking with recently…

Enthused by the experience, my bike buddy and I have been taking on harder and harder biking challenges, the most recent being the Helvellyn ridge last weekend. 5,000 feet of ascent, 40km and 9 hours on the go. As I tottered up the mountain carrying my bike up steep stone steps in the blazing sunshine (yes hot sun in the Lake District, it can happen!) it felt more like I had undertaken to eat a woolly mammoth, tusks, wool and all. One bit at a time.

The bits got smaller and smaller. But finally we accomplished the summit, to the amazement of many of the walkers. There was a superb traverse, then a bit more of a climb. Then a rather frightening but very exhilarating descent, then another climb. If you’ve walked the Helvellyn ridge you’ll know that there are 10 summits in a row, with Helvellyn being the highest but all of them commanding some height. The views were breathtaking but the incessant hills were starting to get on my nerves.

It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done physically in my life (which says something for my fitness levels I suppose, there were others up there who made it look like a ride in the park), but the long long descent by Clough Head and down the old coach road almost made it worth it.

So yes as you’ve probably guessed I’m using this as a metaphor for starting a business. There are so many different strands to it, that you can set your head spinning trying to focus on all the elements at once. I was aware of the various things I needed to work on, but kept them at the back of my mind until they became priorities. So as I’ve described before, I put all my energy into developing the felt head, while having in mind that I needed the handle.

When the felt head was sorted, the abstract handle designs and preliminary connections I’d made with people could be brought to the fore. And the same with everything else: finance, finding suppliers, premises, finding a website designer, getting the website information together, packaging, distribution logistics, logo design (let me tell you the logo saga another time!) marketing, finance, staff….all of this was going through my head all the time, but I could really only tackle it one bit at a time. I suppose the trick is to get the sequence right, for example I couldn’t get the website done without the logo design.

And back to the mountain metaphor, it’s been really really hard. People look at the Chimney Sheep™ and say, “it’s such a simple product. How could it have taken so much time and money to create a bit of wool on a stick?” But it’s been quite a journey to eliminate all the complicated bits, reduce it down to its essence, and keep tweaking it until it is right. I’m still working on the product range and will be bringing out some new sizes soon in response to all the queries I received from people with chimneys that didn’t match the standard sheep.

The packaging will be improved, the website will be improved with better simpler measuring information – I’m getting tired just talking about it. I think I’m just at the bit of the climb where we’ve reached Grizedale Tarn, we’re having a bit of a rest, we think we’ve achieved something already and can see the range of peaks yet to be ascended. One bit at a time. And all part of the ride.

Sally Phillips

Inventor of Chimney Sheep

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