I started a business with a baby: Jan Steward of Babybond Ltd

Tell us a little about your business

My business is Babybond Ltd – The business started in Uppingham, Rutland in 1998. We were pioneers of the time by directly offering parents-to-be an Ultrasound scan for Emotional and Bonding purposes without having to get a referral from the GP or Midwife. It is now a National Company and the UKs largest private Ultrasound company for self pay scans. We have just opened our 50th location and have recently extended our services into Mens Health and Womens Health scans. www.ultrasound-direct.com.

What was your job before starting your business?

On leaving school at 18, I trained as a Radiographer and then specialised in Ultrasound – This role is called a Sonographer. I spent most of my early years working for the NHS. I did have an exciting 2 yr “career break” to work at running the Ultrasound service in Barbados. On my return to the UK I went to work for an Ultrasound Company as an Applications Specialist and I suppose this is when I got my first real experience of the business world. After having my daughters I returned to the NHS part time as the company I worked for wasn’t keen on part time staff (working mums!)

How did you go from your old career to your new business?

Babybond was initially what could be described as a “Lifestyle” business – something that I could do with a young family. Although we did have the dream initially that it would be a “Big business”  & something that both my husband & I could do together- it took longer than anticipated to fly. So I continued to work part time at the hospital and part time with the business. It was 4 years before I gave up the NHS to go full time with Babybond.

What were your reasons for starting a business

I believe Entrepreneurs are born not bred, if there is an entrepreneurial spirit in you – it will come out. The idea came first and we believed so passionately that what we had was so good we just had to do it. It was more than “being your own boss” but that was certainly a positive consideration with 2 small children. I did believe it would give me more flexibility. That however is a debatable point.

Did you use any childcare?

None of this would have been possible without the support of our extended family, in particular my mum. My girls have always been looked after in their home. I am not sure how I would have felt if I had had to leave them in childcare elsewhere for the long hours it took. It was a comfort knowing they had their own toys around them. They did go to nursery/play school but that was for the developmental reasons rather than childcare reasons. I have to give credit to Mike who was a brilliant hands on Dad. I know people say I have missed a lot but I feel I was always there for them and have been at every key stage in their lives so far.

How did you get your business idea?

Even after 15 years of scanning it wasn’t until I was pregnant did I fully appreciate the emotional impact of Ultrasound. We were full of the anxieties and excitement of pregnancy, but the official scan was over in a flash. I knew from every day at work that parents wanted more – More time & something more tangible i.e pictures & videos.

A pregnant woman on average received 30 minutes of scan time in 40 weeks and more often than not it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

The main challenge at the outset was having to create a market. A good thing about competition is that it raises awareness. But at the start it was pre-internet days so we were totally dependent on expensive paper/magazine advertising. It was a national advert in a pregnancy magazine that really ignited the interest. Marketing a business and getting right is the biggest challenge for any business big or small. The second challenge was growing the business with a young family. That is why Franchising was the best option for growth. It takes time to find the right people and it is quite hard having to hand over the reins for someone else to run. We have a great team of Business owners many of whom are Babybond customers who liked the service so much they bought the Franchise!

What training, information or advice did you need to get started?

As this was a completely new concept there was not a lot of information around for such a “niche” business. We took advise from several sources but it was mainly retail or product based businesses which is completely different to the service /health sector. The advice we were given didn’t work. Good advice is only good if it works!

The standard help for all business about writing business plan and raising finance and employing people is all worth reading but I would stick to the well known official websites like Banks, Businesslink, Federation Small business etc.

Getting started is all about self belief and drive and energy.

If you could give one  piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?

I couldn’t pin it down to just one piece of advice – I use many clichés –

  • Success is a stairway not a doorway – it will take longer than you anticipate.
  • Put your dreams/ideas on paper – Build a strong realistic business plan. Pull it to bits and build it again.
  • Fail to plan & your plan will fail.
  • Business sense is 90%common sense! – You can’t do it all – Play to your strengths – what you can’t do, outsource

My Motto –

Its not what we do that determines who we are –
Its who we are that determines what we do !

Photo: Ella Steward

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