I Started a Business With a Baby: Debbie Talbot of Toys and Clothes Ltd

Tell us a little about your business

I run three websites with the help of family and a close friend.  Magicfairywings.com sells baby and children’s products.  Footiemad.co.uk sells official Football Merchandise and Totsactivities.com is a directory of activities for children of all ages.  Magicfairywings.com came first in March 2007 and the others followed. Magic Fairy Wings and Footiemad sell via Mail Order and the website.  They also offer low cost Business Opportunities such as becoming a Sales Consultant. I had some beautiful personalized cards and invites designed by a lovely children’s book illustrator, Loryn Brantz.  I have recently launched a business opportunity for  running your own personalized cards and invites business.

What was your job before starting your business?

I worked in IT, Accounts and Finance in various roles since leaving university with a 2.1 European Accounting and Finance degree.  Whilst working in finance I took several CIMA exams and now have part qualified CIMA status. All of this study/experience has proved so useful whilst growing my business.

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

I opened my limited company in January 2003 after suffering a miscarriage.  I wanted a less stressful role for when and if I got pregnant again. Back then I was selling ex-chainstore clothing on ebay.  Sadly all the large supermarkets started selling budget clothing and so I realized that I needed to change my product focus if I was to continue running my own business.

Whilst I was pregnant with my little girl I temped in a Credit Control role. I hoped to do so after having her but was sadly unexpectedly poorly after her birth and needed an operation when she was 6 months old. A couple of months after that an unpleasant situation occurred.  Since this time I have suffered with depression, anxiety and PTSD.  I wanted something to focus on to use what I had learnt in my career and at university but which fitted in around my daughter and my personal situation.

What were your reasons for starting a business?

I started my business as a result of being ill, but also due to the cost of childcare and because I wanted to work flexibly around my young daughter.  I also wanted other people in a similar position to have the option to do the same but for it to not cost them a lot of money to get started.

Did you use any childcare?

I did use childcare but always as little as possible. Now that my daughter is at school I have 6 full hours in which to work on week days which is great.   In the holidays I split my time between fun time with her and working which can be a struggle at times but overall is fantastic.

How did you get your business idea?

My eBay name was Magicfairywings and my mum said that it would make a lovely website.  I was struggling to find top quality toys for my daughter which would last and had an educational value. I also wanted to help local schools and groups raise well needed school funds and to this end my optional cashback scheme was launched.

With Footiemad I found a company which offered fully stocked dropship websites and decided to give their football products site a try.

With Totsactivities I had struggled to find things to do with my daughter locally and thought that I could not be the only parent or carer in this position.  I also wanted to give children related businesses the chance to advertise for a small fee. I understand how tight the cash flow situation is for small businesses, especially as they are starting out.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

A big problem has been having not enough hours in the day, especially when my little girl has been poorly.  As she has got older it has become easier and I get more done.    Illness has been my biggest challenge as it has affected my concentration and I am tired a lot. Thankfully I have had the support of family and a close friend who share the load. The economy has not made things easy over the last 18 months or but I have found that suppliers have been really helpful by reducing minimum order levels and therefore tie up the least amount of money possible in stock. I have learnt not to be disheartened by quiet periods and to work consistently to provide the best products and customer services possible. Supporting my Sales Consultants has been a learning curve because I did not have a lot of supervisory experience.  I overcame this by using resources such as netmums which have also helped with getting my businesses more well known.

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

Luckily I knew how to do the Accounts side of things because of my degree and working in industry for so long. Being fluent in French and German has proved useful in dealing with European speaking customers and suppliers after our recent expansion into mainland Europe.  I struggled on the marketing and advertising side at first and so used an outside person until I learnt how to product marketing materials myself by changing existing designs. I have always approached the relevant government bodies when unsure about something and have always found them really helpful. I found an excellent Accountant who specialises in small businesses.  Overall trawling the internet has proved to be my most useful resource.

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

If you are thinking about running your own business but are apprehensive go for it.  There are so many resources out there to help you on your way.  The improvement in quality of life is so worthwhile and the satisfaction you get from thinking ‘I did this myself’.

Ten Tips For Success In Direct Selling

Direct selling businesses are a great way for mums to earn some extra cash whilst still being a full-time parent. Mumpreneur Robin Bradley set up her own direct selling company, Phoenix Trading, 15 years ago and shares her top tips for being successful in a direct selling business.

  1. Always be prepared – You never know when you’ll meet your next potential customer, so have a bag with you that’s big enough to carry a few brochures and products, just in case a selling opportunity arises.
  2. Set yourself realistic goals – Set short-term and long-term objectives for yourself that you can realistically achieve. Write these down on paper so you can remind yourself what you’re aiming towards.
  3. Keep it simple – Don’t over complicate things, too much information or a huge choice of products can confuse people.
  4. Network – Contact people that you think are suited to your market. By using people you already know to start with, you’ll feel much more comfortable selling to them. You can decide on the best way to contact people, a phone call, posting a brochure or dropping in to give some samples and products to encourage impulse buying.
  5. Follow up – Keep good relationships with your contacts by following up with them. For example, call your customers to check they received their order and use this as an opportunity to discuss new products coming out.
  6. Promote yourself – Take advantage of the events and fairs happening in your area and book yourself a stall. Any type of event would be a great opportunity to promote your business and a mix of events would reach different types of customers.
  7. Manage your time – Diary planning is key to running a successful business!
  8. Have regular contact with the business and your colleagues – Keep your knowledge updated by attending company and team meetings. Share ideas and best practices with your colleagues to keep your business fresh.
  9. Step out of your comfort zone from time to time – Try something new, something you ordinarily wouldn’t do. You could build a Twitter feed or set up a group for your customers on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or specialist sites like MumsLikeYou, to keep people up-to-date on your business. Try speaking to school mums you wouldn’t necessarily speak to. Doing this will help build your confidence and build your network.
  10. Have a positive mental attitude – It’s the people behind a business that make it successful and create a positive image. People will be more likely to be interested in your business if you come across as enthusiastic and passionate about what you’re selling.

How Theresa Started J&M Baby Equipment Hire

I sometimes kick myself for not starting a business before I had my babies. It would have had some free time in the evenings to get a little business started and money wouldn’t have been so tight. But I know that I simply didn’t have the push I needed to get me started until I had my first baby.

Often it takes a major life change to nudge us into self employment. For some, being a mum is the change that does it, but there are mums who have faced other challenges and made the jump into self-employment too. Jen Sargeant who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago was one of them. Today I’m handing over to Theresa Lodge of J&M Baby Equipment Hire, who started her business when she became a single parent…

“I am 37 and mum of two boys Jack aged 6 and Max aged 4.  I was a part-time time stay at home mum with three small time part time jobs to help our finances – they were Medical Secretary, Legal Secretary and a Dinner Lady.  I have always wanted to “work for myself” but never really had the nerve to actually do anything about it.  However last year me and the boys’ father separated.

After I initially got over the shock of being a single parent it gave me the boost I needed to actually do something about my dream.  I knew from previous experience of taking our two boys on holiday what an ordeal travelling with two young children and all the equipment you needed to take with you was so decided to start a company hiring baby and toddler equipment.

The first problem I came across was a name but after lots of umming and arrhing I decided what better name than to call it after my two boys “J&M”.  I spent every spare minute that I wasn’t being a mum and doing mummy chores and playing with the boys researching, setting up a website etc even thought this meant spending lots of sitting at the laptop until the early hours of the morning and then still being up bright and cheerful for the school run the next day.

In June this year my website went live and I cannot believe how well it is going already.  The feedback I have got from customers is great and it really makes me proud that I am helping them as well as fulfilling my dream of working for myself.

At the moment I still have my three small part time jobs as a Legal Secretary, Medical Secretary and Dinner Lady just so I still have a regular income to rely on but if my business keeps going the way I am hoping it will I may have to give these up to concentrate full time.

I would love your readers to read my story as it would inspire them to go for starting up their own business.  Its a shame it took such a drastic action as my relationship breakdown for me to actually get the nerve to do it and I wish I had done it years ago but I am up and running now and plan to keep going from strength to strength.”

With your energy and determination, I’m sure you will. Good luck Theresa!

I Started a Business With a Baby: Alexandra Atkins of The Ultimate Baby Shower

Tell us a little about your business

My business is The Ultimate Baby Shower Ltd (TUBS), which is the first company to focus on the British baby shower market. Rather than copying the way the U.S. are doing it, I have thought about what the British public would like. This involves cosy afternoon teas with girlfriends, swapping hints and advice, spoiling mummy to be, eating elegant baby themed cupcakes and cookies – supping the odd glass of pink champagne! The decor is elegant and sophisticated with butterflies, parasols and baby themed accents. I recognise the fact that new mummies should be celebrated and need plenty of hints and advice before baby arrives. It is a fun affair and watching the opening of the cutest of baby gifts goes down very well too!

What was your job before starting your business?

I used to work as an Environmental Consultant and travelled to Europe working on projects for oil and gas companies. I thought I would continue to do this once my baby arrived and employ a nanny to look after her while I worked but as soon as I saw my daughter I knew I couldn’t be away from her so I set up on my own.

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

I always thought I would continue my job because it is what I worked towards throughout university and it was the career path I always wanted. However during my maternity leave I handed my notice in because I couldn’t hand my daughter over to a nanny while I spent all day at work or travelling. I wanted to enjoy her as much as I could.

What were your reasons for starting a business?

I needed to use my brain and keep busy. I found I was spending time visiting other people with babies, going to baby groups, having lunch with mums etc. I felt I was being absorbed into a world of babies and I needed my own focus. I’d always been busy studying or working and I couldn’t cope with not having this organisation anymore.

Did you use any childcare?

To begin with I only worked during nap times – forming my ideas and getting things down on paper. I also worked evenings. After about 6 months (when my daughter was a year old) I had a part time nanny who worked 3 mornings a week. I spent this time creating my website, setting up the business etc. I worked 3 mornings a week, during the afternoon nap and in the evenings between my daughter going to bed (6pm) and my husband getting home (9pm). If my daughter was unhappy at any time when the nanny was with her then I would sit working with my laptop on my knee while she played on the floor with the nanny.

How did you get your business idea?

I have cousins in the U.S. who had numerous baby showers and kept asking why I wasn’t having them. I always thought they were rather tacky and not my kind of thing although I loved the idea of getting the girlfriends together to offer hints, tips and advice to mummy-to-be whilst eating cupcakes and having a glass of champagne. I found a way to create baby showers with elegance and style.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge has always been, and still is, splitting my time between my work and my children (I now have 2 daughters age 6 and 3). I’ve worried whether my work is taking my time away from my children. If my children have been unhappy then they have always come first, meaning my business has suffered along the way and taken much longer to get to where it is now. I closed the business for 12 months after my 2nd daughter was born because I couldn’t cope with a new baby, a 3 year old, a house move and the business. We had just moved to a new house in a new area away from friends – there was no child care so I needed to be with them full time. I worked evenings to keep things ticking over but that was all I could do. I never wanted to compromise being a mummy. Even now I work 3 days a week and every evening when they are in bed.

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

I went to Business link to begin with but because my business was unknown to anyone at the time (baby showers weren’t really heard of in the UK back in 2005) it wasn’t much help. It’s been a huge learning curve for me because I didn’t know where to get help from and didn’t seek advice about running a business. I jumped into it, thinking I could do it and I did. Organisation and determination have been key to me succeeding. My business has changed massively along the way and isn’t what it was 5 or even 2 years ago. It has evolved as I have gained experience from my customers. I have responded to their needs and they have helped form the business.

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

If you’re starting a business and find you can’t cope because of demands from your little one then put the business on hold, sort out what needs sorting out, and pick it up again. The good thing about starting a business is that you’re in control of your time and where it is spent.