Five minutes with…The Story Mouse

Today I’ve got something a little different for you. Usually I feature mums who start their own businesses, but in this post I’ve interviewed Alan Smith of The Story Mouse.

Alan’s business works with creative mums who work from home, which is my first reason for the interview! Alan also gives us some tips on running a business that involves both writing/illustrating children’s books and developing iPhone apps, which are ideas that I know some Business Plus Baby readers are thinking of exploring.

Over to Alan..

  • Please could you tell us a little about your business?

At The Story Mouse we love telling stories! So all our efforts go into creating interactive read-along storybook apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. In the main, the titles we publish are those we all grew up with from Jack & the Beanstalk to Goldilocks & the Three Bears; from The Gingerbread Man to The Three Little Pigs. These stories have stood the test of time for a reason – simply because they’re great tales which children love!

All our books operate in a choice of modes: “Read it to me” (where the pages turn automatically and the voice reads the story), or “Read it myself’ (where the voice is turned off and the child advances the pages at their own pace, effectively turning the app into a normal book). The feedback we’ve had from parents suggests this choice of modes is very popular – the former familiarises the child with the story and the latter enables them to read it for themselves, giving tremendous confidence to a young reader.

Our main Talking Books app comes with a free story too, so you can try what we have to offer without spending a single penny!

Additionally, we licence our stories to 3rd parties – if you fly long-haul on most British Airways routes you’ll find The Story Mouse in the in-flight entertainment menu (mice can fly too!).

  • What did you do before starting The Story Mouse?

The two people who run the business are from media and technology backgrounds. Alan has spent 20 years in broadcasting – he deals with all the content and co-ordination of authors’ and illustrators’ work; Philippe has a background in data management and computer programming – he deals with all the technical stuff!

  • What particularly interested me about your business is the the way your writers and illustrators are mums working from home. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

The people without whom The Story Mouse wouldn’t exist are our authors and illustrators. They are based in all corners of the UK and work from home, sending their work via the internet to be compiled into the finished apps.

It works like this: We contact our illustrators to tell them about the next 2 or 3 titles we’re looking to publish. They then decide which story they’re most drawn to (this really brings out the fun in the illustrations because we find our illustrators come to love the characters they create!). For a 10 minute story we’d normally ask for around 20 illustrations and when these are done they’re sent to Philippe who does a bit of technical wizzardry to put them into the format Apple likes. They’re then sent to Alan who compiles the app, matching the audio with the pictures. The finished app is then submitted to Apple for their approval and a few days later it appears around the world on the App Store!

The illustrators and authors receive a monthly share of the sales based on a percentage of the revenue earned from each story. All the contributors have access to the sales figures on a daily basis so they can see how many of their stories have been sold and in which countries.

The advantages of working this way are numerous! First it means the illustrators can work at their own pace. Working from home fits in with their lifestyles too – several of our illustrators are busy mums and being creative when it suits them gives maximum flexibility. Also, it’s great that through The Story Mouse talents which might otherwise go unnoticed are finding an audience.

One of our authors, Helen Aitken has a 4 year old daughter. Helen came to us with an idea for a completely new character, Bertie the Guinea Pig. It would be an extremely tall order for an established paper-and-ink publisher to take a risk on a set of stories which are completely untested, but we saw the potential in Helen’s work so we commissioned an illustrator to work with her and now there are 4 Bertie stories available in just about every country in the world!

  • I come across quite a few mums who are aspiring writers and phone app developers (although not usually both at the same time!) what would your advice to them be?

I’d say if you have a good idea, give it a go! Make sure you test the idea thoroughly on friends and family who will give you an honest answer. Although the barriers to entry in online publishing are low compared with traditional paper-and-ink publishing, there are still costs involved. We are lucky at The Story Mouse in that the 2 people who run the business possess the skills necessary to get the idea off the ground – technical development and content are the biggest cost areas.

  • Which marketing methods have been most successful for you?

We have an active Facebook page and Twitter feed. This allows us to communicate to several hundred of our customers, but the biggest influence is the App Store itself. We have been delighted to be featured in their “New and Noteworthy” section several times – this gives us Apple’s “stamp of approval” which customers like!

  • What’s been your biggest challenge?

The sheer amount of hard work that’s gone into creating the stories! When we look back nearly 2 years to the day we decided to make our first books, an enormous amount of work has taken place. Since then we’ve expanded the catalogue, introduced animation into some titles and launched a character unique to us, Bertie the Guinea Pig.

Looking forward we’ll be adding many new stories and we are at the early stages of developing a series of educational apps which will make spelling and maths fun!

There’s more info at www.thestorymouse.com

You can see us on the App Store here: http://itunes.apple.com/app/story-mouse/id390726873?mt=8It

Becoming a writer (and earning money as one)

Many work at home mums would love to earn a living as a freelance writer. But if you think the best way to earn an income as a writer is to spend nine-to-five writing novels, think again…. 🙂

With the book publishing industry going through massive changes due to electronic books, the Kindle, IPads and blogging, it’s much harder to get a book deal than it was just a few years ago. Even if you do, as the author you’ll be expected to do virtually all of your book’s promotion yourself. You’ll only get to keep around 8% of the book’s cover price, so unless you’re JK Rowling and can sell books by the truck-load, that’s a lot of work for not very much money.

True, there’s more to life than money. But if you’re determined to use your writing as a way of keeping a roof over your family’s head, you’ll need a better strategy than getting a novel published.

Now isn’t an easy time to break in to journalism, either. Digital publishing has taken its toll on newspapers and magazines too, meaning that any budding journalist will be competing for work with trained journalists with years of experience. Plus tight deadlines mean that journalism often isn’t flexible enough for mums with young children.

But don’t despair, there’s one place that always needs fresh writing – the internet.

Here are some of the ways you can earn an income writing for the web: Continue reading “Becoming a writer (and earning money as one)”

Overwhelmed By Business Advice? Try This…

One of my weaknesses is my talent for over-complicating things. Whenever I have an idea, it usually expands into a massive project that would take me years to work through. And that’s not good while I’m working part-time around children.

Like many mums of small children, my life is very much online these days because it’s hard to travel far. Especially last week, when we were grounded by chicken pox. That means I’m exposed to a mind-blowing amount of information about running a business.

I think being a mum actually makes this worse. On top of all the practical info about marketing, legal requirements and tax, you’ve got the work-life balance, confidence-building, dressing-for-success stuff as well as all the guilt-inducing articles about being a good parent.

That doesn’t help me simplify things, that’s for sure.

Last week the UK Government announced their Start Up Britain campaign to help British entrepreneurs. It seems to have been widely slated by the small business community, but it was thrown together in less than a month (why?!) so let’s hope it gets better. Start Up Britain’s top tips are…

1. Find a great idea

2. Write a business plan

3. Get a free start up kit

4. Create a logo

So far it’s looking pretty straightforward, which makes a refreshing change. But great ideas don’t simply pop out of thin air – I should know, I worked through so many business ideas that I wrote a book about it! Most small business owners see a business plan only as a means of getting a loan from the bank and there’s no point in getting a logo unless you’re pretty sure your business idea is going to fly.

Not so helpful?

That’s why I loved the way JFDI Britain (presumably ‘Just F****** Do It’) was set up in response. JFDI Britain says…

“Contrary to popular belief, thousands of people create wealth in the UK everyday without great ideas, business plans, startup kits or logos.

You can too by following three simple steps and applying one golden rule:

STEP 1) Create something that would be useful for you and thus others

STEP 2) Keep changing it, whilst listening to and delighting customers

STEP 3) Cash is king, so find a way to get money from their pockets into yours

GOLDEN RULE: Don’t spend more time or money than you can afford to lose

Which  is the most useful piece of business advice I’ve had in a long time.

So from now on I’m going to put aside my messing about with details and  JFDI.

Want to join me?

Creative Commons License photo credit: TinyTall

Five Reasons To Buy a Franchise

Many family friendly businesses can be started either by buying a franchise or from scratch. It can be tough deciding which way to go, which is why it’s great that today’s guest blogger, Pippa Highfield, is going to give us her own reasons for buying a franchise 4 years ago. Pippa is the Bedford editor of Raring2Go! , a local magazine full of ideas of what to do and where to go with children.

I recently completed a survey for the British Franchise Association and one of the questions they asked me was why I bought a franchise as opposed to setting up a business from scratch. It was an easy question to answer as starting up the Bedford edition of Raring2go! magazine, a local what’s on and where to go guide for families, really was the best option for me.

Having worked in the corporate world for most of my career, I was frankly terrified of going it alone.

Having worked in the corporate world for most of my career, I was frankly terrified of going it alone. Yet I knew that starting my own business was the only viable way for me to achieve the work/ life balance I needed with a young family. Running a franchise generated the income I wanted whilst giving me a much needed support structure whilst I learned how to run my own business.

Here are my top five reasons to consider buying a franchise:

  • Greater financial certainty: when purchasing a franchise you are buying into a tried and tested model for making money. Clearly nothing is 100% guaranteed, but the franchisor should be able to give you real-life examples of the profitability achieved by other franchisees or a set of accounts if you are looking at a franchise resale. If you need to earn a certain income to make the family finances balance this can be a great help.
  • Business support and training: your franchisor will be a great source of practical support and advice – it’s like having your own IT, HR & marketing team to call upon! Very few people have all the skills necessary to run their own business so knowing you have a team you can rely on takes the pressure off.
  • A recognised brand and business model: it takes most companies many years and a big budget to build a reputation. By buying into a franchise you are piggy-backing on a brand that has national backing giving your business kudos and credibility. As well as a brand, you are buying a business model or way of doing business. Most franchisors will provided a detailed operational manual showing you the best way of running your business. The manual will help you cut through a lot boring background ‘stuff’ and let you get on with making money.
  • Easier route to financing your business: yes, you need capital to buy a franchise, but then you need to invest money in most new businesses. The benefit of buying a franchise is that the banks are likely to put more store on the franchisors projections or an existing set of accounts if you are looking at a franchise resale.
  • Franchisee support network: often other local franchisees are the greatest source of motivation and support. In most franchise arrangements you are not in competition with fellow franchisees which means you have a group of ‘colleagues’ who really do know what you are going through. If, like me, you are used to working in an office environment the benefits of being part of a ready-made franchisee network can be really valuable.

After four successful years Pippa is now planning to move on to new projects. So if you think franchising could tick your boxes and would like an informal chat about taking on the Raring2go! Bedford franchise please contact Pippa on 01908 583232 or bedford@raring2go.co.uk

Business Ideas For Mums: Photographer (Part 2)

This is the second part of Karen Gunton’s article on starting a photography business. Karen runs her own photography business www.smileplaylove.com and has a blog that helps mums start their own businesses called Build A Little Biz.

If you didn’t catch part one, you can read it here:  Business Ideas for Mums: Photographer (part 1).

START SMALL

Don’t go rushing out to name your biz, buy 1000 business cards, print out glossy flyers, and hire someone to build your website. (I can’t stress this enough, I wasted time on this stuff when I should have been mastering my skills, and ended up completely renaming and relaunching my biz later on, once I was producing professional quality work!)

Do your portfolio building by running your biz as a hobby under your own name. This will help you when it comes time for taxes, and will allow you time to think about the brand you want to build. Charge just enough to cover your printing costs with a little extra to put towards the equipment and supplies you need. Start sourcing out vendors to do your printing, and master the process for printing professional products. Once you are creating professional level products you can…

BUILD YOUR BIZ

Once you have mastered the skill required to do professional photography, and you have a good sense of your style and the type of photography business you want to run, start establishing your brand: your biz name, logo, colours, fonts, icons & designs, taglines and marketing materials. Don’t rush this, think about this stuff as you are portfolio building and really spend time creating a brand that will make you stand out among all of the other photographers out there.

BUILD A MARKETING PLAN

I do not recommend spending a fortune to create glossy flyers and printed marketing materials, at least at the start. The main things you need are business cards and a website that includes a blog. Further marketing materials can be added later as they become necessary. I find that I am constantly tweaking my pricing structure and adding to my product list so I now have letterhead that I can print out price lists and products list, and I get just small runs of flyers or other promotional materials printed as I need them.

My main source of promotion has been word-of-mouth, so establishing a client base that loves your work as you are portfolio building will really help you to make money as a photographer down the road. I also now get clients who have found me online (which is why a good website and blog are key!) and I have done some promotional events with mums groups, schools and kids markets.

BUILD YOUR PRODUCT & PRICE LIST

Pricing can be a tricky thing as it is tough to determine how much to charge for your ‘art’. There are many factors to consider: your cost of printing products, any overhead you have, your level of expertise, the value your customers get from your service, what other photographers are charging in your area, and the ideal client that you are marketing your biz too. You need to charge enough that you cover your costs, cover your taxes, cover the cost of upgrading equipment and doing further education, and enough to pay yourself after all of that.

Don’t sell yourself short and under-charge for your time and expertise. Undercharging also undervalues the photography industry in your area. Getting clients by being the cheapest photographer around isn’t sustainable – someone else can always come along and charge less. You need your clients to come back not because of your price but because of your product and service!

BUILD YOUR SESSION & SALES STRUCTURE

Some things to consider here are: Where are you going to hold your sessions and how long will you spend on each session? Will you meet with clients before hand or have a pre-session chat on the phone? Will you require a deposit in advance or payment at the time of session? Will you give clients an online viewing gallery, do an in-studio viewing and ordering session, or give clients a proof album or CD? How many edited photos will you show clients? Will you have a minimum spend for clients? Will you offer packages, sell digital files or do prints only? Will you have a time constraint for clients to place their order? Will you do follow up calls throughout the year, offer referral incentives, or do promotional events?

STAND OUT

I know I have already mentioned this but in a field that is quite saturated with just starting out mum photographers it is worth repeating. What are you going to do to stand out? This is going to come partly from your style and your brand, but really have a look at what is being offered in your area and think about what you can do that no one else is. Is there a niche you can tap that no one else is, is there a product you can offer that no one else offers, is there a business practice you can adopt that no one else has? This can make all the difference to the success of your biz!

I love to chat about having a little business and am very happy to offer any assistance I can. In fact I like talking about it so much I have started a second blog called Build A Little Biz where I share ideas with mums who are working on creating their own little biz. I especially love to talk about creating a stand out brand and share marketing ideas. My goal is to help other mums like me, so please feel free to send me an email buildalittlebiz@gmail.com if you have any questions. I am happy to help!

Thanks Karen!

If you’d like to start a business that fits around a family you’ll find my new book Start a Family Friendly Business really helpful. If you buy it from Amazon this Friday you’ll be able to download a pack of bonuses too, including e-book and a podcast.