Friday, 31 October 2008

Time for another Picture

So what do you think? This is what the home page should look like sometime very soon except that following feedback the text will be darker to make it easier to read.

It is not just what you are good at...

The feedback from my questionnaire is flooding in. It is fascinating to hear the feedback. I was initially a little cynical, thinking that it would just be good for data capture, but it really is influencing all my plans. (As is this blog, as following a comment I may well go to Zoomerang rather than Surveymonkey in the future - thanks Rob).

The thing that is most interesting is that it is highlighting some real weaknesses that I had not considered. Chief amongst those are my spelling and grammar! At school I was a scientist then since have done a couple of arts degrees, so it is clear that the humanities (and English) are not my strong points. It goes against the grain to say it, but this criticism is so worthwhile, it never crossed my mind that this would be an issue. Potential customers are saying that if they see a typo either they would log straight off, or they would just trust the sight significantly less.

It reminds me of a conversation that I had with...the head of the Swindon Festival of Literature (sorry, were you waiting for a good name for me to drop? as they don't get much better than that). He was saying how Will Self attended his festival as there were no spelling mistakes on any of the correspondence. Three things struck me, first being: my surprise this a critical issue and that standard documents must be littered with typos; secondly, that this should matter, and finally how smug the guy was to focus the conversation on a banal comment about his qualities. Apparently I should have taken note, as it is an area of concern that is deeply relevant to many people.

I am not saying that I will never make a typo, but at least now I know that I am crap at spelling and really must get someone to sub-edit. So apologies for my English, on this blog at least I will stumble on as before but hope that my honest approach to sharing information will compensate for all other errors.

p.s. Is is mitigating circumstances that fact that I have a dog who appears to relish licking my legs while I type? Yuck, it is off putting.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Legal Redress?

I have by now spent over a thousand pounds on lawyers fees. One of the things that persuaded me to get my lawyer to set up the company was he fixed me with his steely eyes and asked me if I understood what I had copy and pasted into my Memorandum and Articles; while he was impressed that I had read them his glare made my confidence seep from every pore and I commissioned him to do the job. I have just received confirmation from Companies House that it is all set up, but rather than merely not fully understanding the governing documents, now I have not even seen them!
I got the lawyer to help with my T&Cs (apparently in business you never say Terms and Conditions in full). I had wished that I had known that the FSB has down loadable T&Cs on its site available to members.
In retrospect I am not sure I should have commissioned such a large job - frivolous no, necessary, I am not convinced.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Bank Interest

Credit crunch or not I need a loan to start this business. I have been liberally using the banks' information as a basis for my business plan and cash flow forecast, and now it was time to go into battle.

I had heard that RBS was a good friend for start-ups and take an interest in helping women entrepreneurs and prior to this latest financial debacle they appeared sound. Alas the nearest appropriate branch is over a hundred miles away so on with the quest.

Quickly I narrowed it down to HSBC and Barclays. I have banked with Barclays since before I could say ethics (thanks Mum) and HSBC came recommended by many included my technical guru. Then I thought that I should pursue the ethical angle and contacted the Co-op. So with three in mind I started my inquisition.

Fortunately I contacted Co-op first as they proved an interesting bench mark and it was the start of another circuitous journey. Interest rates on a business loan would be 10.33% with an arrangement fee of £100. This sounded quite impressive, but it had strings attached - I could only get a loan if I had an account for over a year unless I joined the FSB. F S Who? Federation of Small Business, an organisation who thus far had escaped my radar. Membership of the FSB would be in the region of £150, but they could not confirm nor deny that until I met with a representative. They were darned evasive they required a face to face meeting to give me any real information. So, on with the quest.

HSBC had the telephone manner of a prison warder with tooth ache and thought that, if I was incredibly fortunate and clever, they would offer me a loan at 16% interest. However, both directors must sign away their lives for the privilege and that would cost an additional £160 to arrange. Onwards, there must be something better than that.

Barclays were keen to meet so I arranged to visit the manager of my local branch. They very much sell the expertise of their business managers as a bonus for banking with them, so I put on a shining suit of armour to do battle and prove my credentials. Poor guy, when you are pushing retirement it must be difficult to suggest gravitas wearing the corporate teal polyester tie and shiny black striped shirt. Nevertheless I attacked with gusto, and being a local branch in an undynamic area, I may have over-pitched. Suffice to say, I had the upper hand and he was determined to match if not improve on the C0-op's terms; I was being begged for my custom but he had to appeal to his boss / the central computer for decent loan terms for me. Sadly this coincided with Barclay's darkest liquidity day and he came back with an offer of 20% plus arrangement fees.

Back to the Co-op and the shady world of the FSB. I am delighted with the results! The FSB has enabled me to shortcut an array of difficulties. It did cost £150 to join but I get free banking for life with the Co-op so the subs should be covered with that alone. I also get a legal helpline that I have since used twice, and a range of other discounts. The best one is help with Internet payment, via Streamline. For many companies you need to be established a year to be able to take on-line payments but none of those hurdles apply and they have the lowest rates around.

If you have been reading all these posts you can see that the need for the loan is real, £100 here, £150 there and so far nothing real to show for it - but I am getting there. I am proud to be banking with the Co-op that is all set up, with Internet payment capacity and loan pending - but with only 10.33% interest and lovely friendly people things are looking rosy.

What does it do?

I have been focusing so much on the mechanics of the business I have failed to talk about what it actually does.

'Mothers of Innovation' is going to be the best website, selling cool and practical stuff for families that has been designed / sourced / invented by parents and thoroughly tested on our own kids.

When my daughter started to go to nursery I initially came up with the idea for a 'Rockin Hood' as we needed the warmth of a coat but with more flexibility. From that design and loads of compliments the concept of a resource for parents with similar eureka products emerged and then 'Mothers of Innovation' was born. 'Mothers of Innovation' will be selling loads of great stuff, as well as my 'Rockin Hoods' from where it all began.

Hopefully that will explain the two logos, which have been a source of confusion!

'Mothers of Innovation' will only sell stuff that I would buy, it will be as ethical as possible and will be looking for long term happy relationships with buyers and sellers. While at this stage I am really keen to find as many sellers as possible I am still turning people away if I don't think their products are up to scratch...(scary, bleeping scary).

The other thing that is really influencing the final format of the site is a questionnaire. My lovely Business Link lady recommended 'Survey Monkey' for on-line questionnaires. If you only want something simple it is a free service - and although the designs are a bit basic it is really user friendly. I now have a new vice, forget Facebook, checking Survey Monkey for completed questionnaires is far more compulsive. You can see what the survey looks like as, at present there is a link to the survey from my home page or if you need to type it in you can try the shorter version

Please feed back if you have any thoughts on the holding page - or anything at all really.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

My Marketing Postcard

Well, I needed something and a post card seemed so much more stylish than a flyer. Besides, there is a chance it may be used minimising the eco-extravagance of marketing.
Dot Com Dot did her usual magic and came up with a great design.
I did a fair amount of shopping around and settled on Vista Print, the big on line company as they seemed infinitely cheapest...then. Since settling on Vista I have got a little frustrated, the original appearance of 500 cards for £44 rose quickly to £82 once they had added on a range of expected and less expected fees - then they bored and frustrated me by the endless attempts to get me to buy more.
I'll update you shortly on my credit crunch discussions with a range of banks...I think I am going to have a happy ever after story there

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


I have just heard that the company has now been formed! Yippeee! It is now official! Welcome to the world 'Mothers of Innovation'!
Hard work and long hours await, but I am sure that this will be a success as it is a great idea.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

More Pictures to wake up this blog

It is a tough one, sinking money into a project during global economic apocalypse - but there are times when my Blu-tack and sticky back plastic efforts are not up to the challenge. My lovely Business Link adviser cautioned that many women in business fail because they wimp out don't invest enough in their dreams. So, no I am not planning to throw caution to the wind, but I have spent a full £150 to get a professional to design my logo and to design my first advert.

You can compare this with my home made Rockin Hoods logo and consider whether I made the right choice. I am confident that DotComDot (the designer) has earned her cash.

I was aiming for quite a slick company identity (I hesitated to write corporate id, the usual term, as it does not really fit with a hippy in a dilapidated cottage that is fast being overtaken by unruly animals) but following on from the logo another look emerged.

This is a preview of my first advert which will indicate the look that is emerging. You will have to use your imagination as in the upload has made it look a little strange, putting colours in negative and loosing the text...

My lessons that I am learning are: research the most cost effect ways of doing things, but don't be afraid to shell out provided you fully track what you are spending! (cue for me to practice what I preach and quickly add the cost of the advert to my forecast....I may be some time).

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Setting up the Company

Government and Companies House pride themselves in making business more accessible and reducing red tape. I was going to take them at the word and set up a Limited Company on my own. From what I could see I needed to fill out a few simple forms and send them off with a fifty quid cheque and my liability would be limited.

I was keen to pass from the ranks of the talkers to those of the doers. I had advised about setting up charities, companies house and being a charity director so I felt that I had a little insider information. (Maybe this was another source of my cynicism for Business Link, had they, like me, merely read the Internet and a skimmed few books to prepare themselves for the role of adviser).

I sailed past first base, understanding the need and purpose for a Limited Company. I could also navigate my way around the Companies House site. I was further delighted when I came across that sent a three email tutorial on How to Set up a Limited Company, including a free document to help with write your Memorandum and Articles worth £24.99. I went to work to prepare my Articles, the Memorandum of Association and the all important forms 10 and 12.

The first delay was getting the right software to amend eSource's template documents. So I downloaded a free trial of Adobe Acrobat and squandered hours setting this up, then read endless clauses, sub clauses and exemptions. I cross referenced this with the hallowed 'Table A' that is so critical to company law (if you want to know more go to Companies House and search for it, reading it makes paint drying seem a dynamic spectator sport). Things were going swimmingly until one of the two key forms need to be signed by a notary or a solicitor...

I knew that I needed legal help, and it was just a matter of time until I started to shell out cash for my dream of professional* self sufficiency, so I took up Business Link's advise and tracked down a 'Lawyer for Business'. A bargain, I thought, a free half hour consultation. It was very simple finding one, I contacted the Law Society who sent a list of participants in my area. I did a search on the most local lawyers; only one seemed to focus on business (divorce is not on my mind and most of the lawyers on the list seemed to rank this as their preferred sport) so I booked an appointment with him.

To get the most out of the session I was going to get the documents signed and talk about other legal aspects of the business. This week has been a frazzle of terms and conditions. What would the business be doing? what did I need protection against? what do other similar companies put into their terms? (and why do they need to registered in Luxembourg)? I came up with twenty odd pages of document for the unfortunate lawyer to unpick.

If there is a theme to my journey into business it must be this: set aside everything that you think you know and prepare for it to cost more! The lawyer seemed a great guy, but he did ask impertinent questions. Had I read Table A? Yes - one up. Did I understand it? No - lip starts to wobble. Had I thought about half a dozen wise issues that these pro-forma documents would fail me on? No - over and out.

All I can say is that this free half hour consultation has cost me a fortune! I understand that if I want Mothers of Innovation to have a long term future I really need to get the legal footings solid. I walked out daunted and since have signed up to a course of action that will cost me over £800 but should set me on clear course to focus on the bits that I can really do well.

*I will start another blog when I renew focus on my other aim for real self sufficiency, but then again will a chicken poo generator power this computer?

Link in

Cynicism had clouded my judgement, but the last time I met someone from Business Link all I heard all about the iniquity of their sales targets and all that that the 'computer said no'. I really never found out what they were selling except that I am sure their experience would have taught me a great deal about folding and selling a t-shirt. However, all web roads seemed to lead to them and eventually I picked up the phone: five minutes later, all questions answers and I had a host of fact sheets (that I may read when I get desperate) and they have passed my first test.

The best thing they told me about was 'Lawyers for Business', the Law Society's scheme to offer free 1/2 hour consultations - more about that later.

Buoyed by this success, I logged onto the regional pages of Business Link. With the click of the 'Enter' the permanence of this move dawned on me, the clouds darkened and I had entered the layer of hell dedicated to those dealing with the government. Two minutes later the phone rang and it was a gleeful soul from Slough Business Link (yes, I do mean gleeful) and five minutes later I was signed up to meet one of his advisers... At least she passed her first test, she was not called Carol and I was meeting in the library, far away from any computers.

How many excuses can you think of for avoiding a meeting? The dog ate my house keys? I am scared of being swallowed by a Kafkaesque nightmare? Well, not a pin stripe or sneer in sight. I found a very breezy lady, with significant business experience sent me through a mental assault course; making me explain, justify and project future ideas about my business - while her brain leapfrogged through advice and anecdotes. Her style could have been discombobulating to the tidy minded, but it worked for me.

Two days later a typed report came through highlighting our discussion - and I sensed this is where the sales came in: there were random and inexplicable references to London 2012 littering the pages. I rejoiced in overcoming my prejudice and filed the report in the recycling. I can't wait for our next meeting (unless the dog really does it my house keys).

Thursday, 11 September 2008

It should be easy to set up in the UK

I just heard, it should be easy to set up a company in the UK:
As I trawl through pages of small print I am not sure if that is any consolation. Today I have spent hours just collecting information for the loan application and to set up the on-line payments. Every time the post arrives it is more junk that needs to be read and almost understood.
I had been warned, everything takes twice as long and is twice as hard.
I am not downhearted, the lawyer's bill came in under estimate. The world is a wonderful place!

Now for some pictures

The logo is finished - I have even saved, exported and taught it to sit (er, sorry that was the puppy). The only other thing I discovered it the huge range of fabulous downloadable fonts that I could have used - procrastination I know, but it was either that or look into VAT. With a bit of patience I downloaded and installed a great font in about 10 mins.

And this is the hoody (or another version of it, you can also see it in my blog picture).

Monday, 8 September 2008

Now OpenSource IS the dogs bollocks

Today was spent playing zoo keeper. A border collie pup and toddler desperate for attention and dragging me in opposing directions. All was very mild mannered until Stephen Fry stepped in; who would have thought that Radio 4 could be such a malign influence? He repeated 'dogs bollocks' with such relish that Miss Trouble was bound to be impressed. So, as the dog bounded after new smells up the hill, Miss Trouble escaped to the blackberry patch at the bottom of the hill, I failed to look composed as I held onto both (guiding the buggy with my elbows) all to the Troublesome toddler refrain of 'DOGS BOLLOCKS'.

Business has been a haven of calm by comparison, until I started to save the evening's work. Working on a shoe string I decided to design my own logo for my hoodies even though things have moved on in the two decades since I last dabbled in graphic design. I looked at some of the standard logo design packages available for free such as AAALogo, that Amazon seem to recommend their sellers, and quickly ruled them out. I had to tackle something much more complicated.

I love Open Source software, it has been the greatest find. OpenOffice is brilliant and I salute all those who have contributed to it. Graphic design needed something much more specialist, so I quickly found Inkscape. I am not technical - and those who speak fluent geek despair at my inability to grasp the basics of the language (I think I am waiting until my toddler can explain it to me in a version that I can understand) - but most graphics programmes seem to have similar fundamentals. Four hours later I have something passable that conveys style and does not look as if it was created from clipart and a uniform template. At some point within the next month I should have worked out how to save it in a format that will be useful.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Starting at the beginning ...

You have the idea, you have bored your friends about it and then comes the reality. Take a deep breath and go! Many small businesses are set up each year, some will become defy the odds and make it. This is my story as I to try to launch an innovative new website selling children's products.

My great idea came over a year ago – we got fed up of parcelling my daughter papoose style to get her to nursery when for most of the journey she would be over heating. Ever inventive, when DH bemoaned the lack of something to keep her warm, I quickly ran up the cutest little hoody for her. That would have been that, but every time my daughter went out in her little hoody the comments came flooding in. I was keen to pursue this, but trying to bring a single product to market is rarely cost effective – so the project went on hold.

Even this early on I found out a thing or two about the perils of internet business. Before I got to the name Rocking Hoods I thought that Babes in a Hood may be a good idea. Wrong! I made one for a little girl in a wheelchair (up to then at the end of daycare they just sat her in her chair with her anoraks back to front with her little hood dangling about her chin) when her Mum tried to look up Babes in the Hood to write up something complementary, she did not find me - and the only feed back I got was that what she saw made her a beetroot! (Hence Rocking Hoods not Babes in the Hood).

The good news is that you really don't need to start with a blank page; there is loads of advice out there to help. The big problem is working out where research ends and procrastination sets in. My plan is to share with you some of my research and the pit falls of stumbling into business. I hope to have some uplifting successes, but we shall see...