Last September, I was chuffed to bits to be asked to speak at Red’s Smart Women Week. The talk was about launching your own business. I’m certainly not an expert! But, I love the idea of women sharing their ideas and experiences.
I was speaking with two amazing (and lovely!) business women – Adelle from BKD London and Emma from Olivier Baby and Kids. Rather than reading the words out that I’d prepared, editor, Sarah Tomczak at Red put us all at ease by doing a live Q&A on stage on the highs and lows of running our own businesses.
But here’s what I had ready to read out. And I really hope that if you’re sitting on an idea but not sure whether to give it a go, it’ll maybe make you think about saying ‘yes!’
You can do it!
I don’t have a business degree. I am an ex-teen mag editor whose only claim to fame is giving the Spice Girls their nicknames! Before I launched Love Boo, my day job was chasing pop stars around with my dictaphone! From asking Celine Dion what vegetable she would be, to dancing with the Macarena Men. All great fun but not exactly what they teach you at business school.
Trust your instincts
But learning on the job is so much better than learning it in theory (although there can often be a lot more money at stake!) If you know, deep down that your idea is good, trust your instinct, it is. Just because someone else may be doing the same thing, if you know that yours is better then go for it.
Even if you don’t have a clue how to get your idea off the ground, other people can help you. Having the idea is the main thing. Sometimes we lose our confidence, we’ve been on maternity leave, maybe been out of work for a while but that doesn’t have to stop you. When we had our idea for Love Boo, to create natural skincare with specific ingredients, we knew exactly what we wanted but had no idea how to execute it. We made a list of chemists and started visiting them to talk about our ideas. We didn’t stop until we found a chemist who we loved. Take Bottom Butter for example – none of the chemists we visited could make the formula we wanted, until we found this amazing lady who was just about to retire. Her other claim to fame was making the queen’s lipsticks. She made an amazing formula for us which constantly gets five star reviews and has gone on to win the GOLD award from Mother & Baby for best Baby Skincare – yay!
Don’t worry about sounding clueless…
When Corinna and I started out, we didn’t have a clue about all the business terms buyers were bandying around. We did a trade show in London and big stores were approaching us asking about margins, mark-ups and trade terms. It was like they were talking a foreign language!
We were great at knowing what ingredients we did and didn’t want and we were fab at coming up with designs and wording for our products – after all, that’s where our past-expertise lay. We had to learn the other stuff, and we soon discovered that the vast majority of small business owners, really won’t mind sharing their advice. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve bribed with bubble bath to find out what trade shows we should do, what terms we should ask for etc! But we were quite embarrassed to ask questions at first, like we should have known already. Why? Everyone has to learn this stuff at some stage!
Stand up to the bullies
As your company grows, you’ll end up in some surreal meetings where you feel pressured into making a decision that doesn’t necessarily sit well. We very nearly signed on the dotted line to do a deal which, when we read the small print wasn’t fair to us at all. Some big retailers, not all, but some, take advantage of you being small and relatively new.
It wasn’t actually until the very last minute we realised that we could actually just say ‘no’. And it actually felt very liberating doing it! I think that’s the great thing about being in a business partnership is that you can use each other as sounding boards as to whether something feels right. That said, if you are doing it on your own, you can still get advice – it’s out there, you just have to find the right people.
Other mums are your best asset
You can have the best brand in the world but having people to prop you up when things are tough makes it so much easier. The great thing about launching a kid’s brand is you tend to end up working with other mums (and dads). The brilliant thing about mums employing mums is that we get the need for flexible working. We’ve had loads of ups and downs but when you’ve got someone to take up the slack when there’s a family issue makes things so much easier.
The rest of our team are also mums, from our sales team to our designers, they may not be around on email when its school pick-up time, but we’ll all be emailing each other at 10pm when the kids have gone to bed. The downside of that can be it’s hard to switch off, but when you’re doing something you love and you’re watching it grow then you don’t always want to switch off!
So all in all, I’m not going to pretend launching a brand is easy. But along with having my children, it’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done.