How I Started a £6k/month design and manufacturing business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Aaron Chohan and I am the founder of Chohan Innovations. My business is a product design and manufacturing firm that specialises in design for manufacture. We have the proficiency to produce batches and mass items, as well as offering bespoke, one-off items. Our wide-ranging specialisms include Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, vinyl stickers, laser cutting and graphic design. We also have a heavy focus on engraving, model making, 3D Printing, prototyping, branding and bespoke finishings.
At Chohan Innovations, we work hard to ensure we capture our clients’ needs and vision. Before starting any work, we offer free one-to-one consultations to all customers. These are held to ensure that I can gather information about what a client is looking for. Our goal is always to make the customer aware that they have our knowledge and experience at hand. We try to make suggestions that, I believe, are most suitable to expand on existing ideas they may already have. I lead a close-knit four-person team including a surface pattern designer, an electronics-based designer and a legal assistant.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
My academic and professional background is in Architecture, Interior and Product Design. A personal achievement of mine was gaining a scholarship to study at Brunel University, where I graduated in Industrial Product Design with honours. I have always had an interest in all elements of design, electronics, and craft. My business was created from my love for creating bespoke artifacts, and complemented by an eye for fine detail and a mindset for creativity, business and innovation.
I have gathered a vast knowledge of materials, electronics, coding, design and user interaction from over eight years of working in workshops, design studios, labs and with silversmiths. I have a wealth of experience working with your typical industry machines from lathes, milling machines, laser cutters, CNC millers and 3D printers. Not only has this allowed me to build on my design and prototyping abilities but also in my practical manufacturing skill of assembling products, detailing, painting and finishing. Also, and best of all, it has allowed me to turn my passion into a career! With my combined ambition for design and owning a successful business, these attributes allow me to provide a service that I am passionate and proud of.
Outside of running my business, I enjoy travelling the world and am always keen to explore and learn about different cultures. I am an avid gym-goer and enjoy working out as it frees my mind from the business for a short time. I love participating in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, hiking, jogging and zip wiring. Whilst I enjoy these thrill-seeking activities I also like to relax my mind with lots of reading. I am a keen chess player and occasionally binge-watch Netflix!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Finance has and will always be a challenge. This was immediately evident right from the launch phase of my business. You can have the passion to execute all of your ideas and ensure you meet client satisfaction targets, but there are financial challenges that you will face in doing both. Whilst starting up, I had to balance building a rapport with my clients with ensuring timely payment. This is always a difficult thing to get right! Through experience, I have now acquired a better understanding of cash flow to ensure that all creditors are happy.
A personal challenge I faced was attracting new clients since I am naturally quite an introverted person. I overcame this by focusing on the vision of what I wanted to achieve. I knew I had to push myself. This has not only aided me professionally but personally too.
Who is your target market?
Our business clientele primarily comes from companies in the party and entertainment industry. Although we have recently seen an upward trend of customers coming from the catering and wedding industry.
Our other customers are those in local food specialists, silversmiths, freelance artists, car modifiers, local schools and the medical industry. We have also placed a lot of marketing into the 21-35-year-old age bracket. Particularly those who are getting married or planning other events. Through analysis of our sales data, this has been the primary demographic trend in our customer base, so we are pushing this as our main focus.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
At this present time, a lot of my new business comes from word of mouth. I am grateful that my networking with other businesses and industries has been an excellent source of unpaid advertising for my business. Another effective method has been distributing leaflets and brochures that I design myself and which include samples/snippets of my manufacturing work. I have also advertised on social media using free and paid methods on Instagram and Facebook.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
A primary business goal of Chohan Innovations is to ensure that customer service and satisfaction is at the heart of what we do. All feedback we receive is viewed as constructive, whether positive or negative. I always make a point of liaising with my clients and asking for their feedback and request that they leave a public review on forums like Google and Trustpilot.
I have always said to my staff ‘never assume no news is good news’. As a design and manufacturing business, we need to ensure it is not just the quality of the product people are buying, but they are also buying into a quality of service. I believe this is a way to mark your business as distinct from its competitors. If customers are treated fairly and know that they will receive high-quality product and service, without hassle, we can all but guarantee repeat custom.
In addition to this, I believe that the uniqueness of my product and service is my ability to take a concept from my customer and add our artistic design and manufacturing flair to it. Through my experience and knowledge, this has allowed me to build on ideas and ensure they are innovative.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I truly believe in two cliché concepts: ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, and ‘work hard, play harder’. Through the launch and growth stages of building my company, I have developed the motivation to achieve personal goals I have set for myself.
As I said in a previous question, I am quite an introverted person, but building and growing my design and manufacturing business has given me newfound confidence which I have worked hard to instil into my team. Though we are a small crowd, we are there to guide and challenge each other through any project, and most of all do our best to ensure that we produce the best result possible.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a lot of design software as you can imagine! AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Rhino, ZBrush, KeyShot, Google SketchUp, V-Ray, Vector Works, and a few programs from the extensive Adobe suite, namely: Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and InDesign. We also make use of Google Drive and Google Analytics to share files and monitor and analyse traffic to our website and social media pages.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I truly stand by all the decisions I make. I am a firm a believer in the idea that ‘if you fail, you’ll learn from your mistakes’. Everything is a learning experience. Before starting, I was unclear about the financial side of running a design and manufacturing business. Having all of the necessary information readily available for our accountants was a challenge! Also, I was unaware of the legal and HMRC procedures that we needed to adhere to. Finding reliable information is difficult without paying for it!
Early on I made the mistake of discussing the most important things verbally. For new entrepreneurs, I would say it is sensible to make sure you have written copies of all agreements and contracts. Make sure everything is correctly signed. I also ended up trusting the wrong people, which cost me a lot of time and money. I now believe my business ‘gut instinct’ enables me to make the correct decisions, and I would encourage people to do the same!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
There are many enjoyable aspects of being an entrepreneur. The first and most obvious is being my own boss and having the authority and confidence to make vital business decisions. I also enjoy the freedom of having a flexible schedule and being able to manage my workload as I see fit. Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to gain self-confidence and this experience has allowed me to learn daily and develop my skills. It has also allowed me to have unexpected, thrilling experiences. I have been fortunate enough to meet like-minded people and been able to develop my leadership skills earlier than I would have in a regular job.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Having to do most things yourself! You should expect to work overtime, not everyone understands the commitment. Cancelling social events from time to time is inevitable!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I listen to inspirational celebrities such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Will Smith. I also read a lot of self-development and business books. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle is a book I’ve just started to read. It is a great tool for learning more about the power of the mind.
Alan Sugar’s autobiography helped me to see that anything great starts from a small idea. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries opened my mind up to developing the building blocks of a successful business. It uses real case studies from a range of different businesses to illustrate the principles he discusses.
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is another book which has hugely impacted my business and personal life. It showed me that if you focus intently on something, it will eventually come. The journey is not always pleasant, but you will get there in the end!
Another book I strongly recommend is The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha. Neil explains how important happiness, compassion, understanding and emotional intelligence are to business success. Working around the clock is not always the best way. Time is money and there is no point in working so hard if you don’t get to enjoy your money!