The Indie Series: Martha Gothorp, founder of Salt & Co.

Martha Gothorp discusses running a small business in the North East, her advice for anyone looking to take the jump with a business idea, and how she has adapted to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic

Tell us about Salt & Co.

Salt & Co. is a small business based in Northumberland that specialises in sterling silver jewellery. I work from my studio at The Old Bath House in Broomhill where I handcraft affordable, keepsake jewellery which is stocked by a few small retailers and available to purchase directly through my website.

My jewellery is inspired by Northumberland’s stunning coastline, which I am lucky enough to call home. Its just me here, I do everything from making jewellery, to marketing, to customer service and website design. It’s been the most exciting, enlightening and challenging journey, and I’m still learning and loving every minute of it. I’m now in my fourth year of being in business and hope there will be a fifth, but it’s a challenging time to be a small business right now.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

The people! In this last year, my business seems to have grown locally, every order is exciting, but there’s something really special when a local postcode order comes through. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing somebody in the local coffee shop wearing jewellery I’ve made! I never imagined seeing a stranger wearing jewellery I’ve made, nor did I imagine getting orders to be shipped all over the world. I started my website wondering if anyone would ever want to wear my creations other than my Mum! So this has just been the most overwhelming and special experience.

And the most challenging?

I probably find the most challenging aspect of it all is switching off. Northumberland is a lovely area with that ‘everyone knows everyone’ kind of vibe, which I love… but when you run a business it means you’re constantly representing the brand you have built. Often getting questions and requests wherever you go, which is wonderful but it does mean it’s very hard to stop and have some ‘me’ time.

Every business has its challenges, for me it’s when mistakes are made. I have a habit of striving for perfection, and I really beat myself up when I don’t get it right, especially when customers are involved. This is also a quality though, because it means that when I do get it right, it was above and beyond a customer’s expectation and I’m always striving to improve.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

The greatest thing you can do is ‘do what you love’. If you do what you love, you’ll do it well.  On a more practical front, always expect it to cost more money than you originally planned. You will encounter unexpected problems and costs along the way, don’t let it dishearten you, take the learning (there will be a lot of it!) and move forward.

Also, don’t underestimate the people you meet along the way- networking is SO important, starting a business can be a lonely and overwhelming experience, so accept help, talk to people about what you’re trying to do! Chances are, they or someone they know will be willing to help you.

What do you like most about living and working in the North East?

The inspiration that comes from living with such beautiful surroundings, I love being right on the coast and having Alnmouth beach on my doorstep. Most of my designs were thought up on the beach in the wind, whilst walking my dog. My pockets are always full of seaglass, shells and pebbles with interesting textures that I take back to my studio to draw inspiration from in my design process.

The second best thing would have to be the people. I’m lucky enough to have met some wonderful, inspiring friends and local business owners who are an invaluable support network. It’s really hard working day in and day out by myself, so finding other small business owners to talk to and share this journey with has really been my saving grace.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

This pandemic has effected my business in so many ways, most obviously, it has drastically affected my income and definitely left me questioning whether my business will be able to stay afloat and support me financially in the long run.

With all markets and events for Spring/Summer 2020 having been cancelled, I am looking at making considerably less than last year, on top of that, because shops aren’t open I haven’t had any trade sales or stockists sales, all of which drastically effect my revenue. I am reliant solely on online sales at the minute which have considerably dropped, presumably due to this pandemic.

The most difficult challenge I have had has actually been with my premises. I was due to move into my new studio in March, however due to all the uncertainty I felt it was not the time to sign a contract when I knew this pandemic was drastically going to affect my income and my business.

I voiced my concerns to my landlord and suggested I pay my rent on a month to month basis and asked if I could delay signing the contract until June, unfortunately he was not understanding of the circumstances and my new premises fell through which has been greatly disappointing and challenging, as it’s left my business without premises.

I am greatly relieved to not be tied into a contract with these premises right now however as the owner has not offered rent relief, and only suggested we apply for grants from the government. Unfortunately as I was a sub-letter, I have not been eligible for a grant, or any help from government support schemes.

The other difficulty I’ve faced during this time has been production and delays in order processing and replenishing my stock as my silver supplier closed for a period of time and the post office were experiencing delays. Luckily my suppliers have now reopened, but orders are still taking longer to get to me as their warehouses are running with reduced staff, due to social distancing measures.

How have you adapted in light of these challenges?

I’ve been focusing on email marketing and social media and promoting discounts and offers to increase sales online. Luckily my silver suppliers have now reopened and I am able to restock and make to order within a reasonable turnaround time for my customers.

I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to stay open during this time, being the only person behind my business has greatly worked to my advantage and I’ve been able to continue working safely during this time. I’m really grateful to Royal Mail and the postal service for everything they have done to keep their customers safe.  

What has been your greatest support during these times?

It’s been really challenging facing these struggles alone during isolation but I’ve found that talking to other small businesses has been really grounding. We are all having similar struggles and having that mindset of “we are in it together” has been a great comfort.

I’m part of a great group chat for female entrepreneurs and would recommend people in similar positions participating in something similar. The women I’ve met through it are all so supportive of each other.

Social media has also been so positive for my business and my own motivation, it’s been so encouraging to see people share my business and what I do even if they can’t shop with me right now. Every like and share counts and I think people can greatly underestimate these acts when it comes to supporting a small business!


Salt & Co.
Facebook – @Salt&Co.
Instagram – @saltandco

Photography – Rosie Davison