Thursday, 3 December 2009

Do we suit green?

Would I donate 50p for carbon off setting? I was amazed to be asked this when just buying a bathroom tap. Well no, but I have decided to go greener in the way that we live from using washable nappies to minimising the flights that we take. Besides every Mum knows that the a happy child makes for a happy holiday - and a day travelling, followed by the rigid necessity of slip, slop, slap can have its downsides. As you can see from my holiday snap, Sarita does not look too miserable on a Cornish beach in September.

I was just reading David Milliband's comments on Mumsnet on food miles: 'Seasonal, local food is good in terms of carbon. But it's not as simple as more miles = more carbon because sometimes food grown locally requires lots of carbon if grown in artificial conditions'. Which highlights my thoughts that it ain't that simple.

Mums are adept at juggling and finding a balance. Lets face it, when we were pregnant we all had preconceived ideas about our ideal parenting styles; who has not bent the rule - ultimately to the benefit of their children? Sarita loves a good party so there is no way that if her Godfather gets married I'm not going to wreck the routine to allow her to join the us. Likewise, has she had the odd biscuit or chocolate, but she has never have crisps or squash in the house.

We have a similar juggling act on the site. With my own Rockin Hoods I wanted an organic version, but as the non-organic version is better as it does not need to be tumble dried. Also, I did make the highly uncommercial decision to have them made in the UK to minimise the carbon footprint - it means that I can't afford to wholesale or discount them but, it is a price that I am prepared to pay.

We always go the extra mile to find products that have a good ethical balance, but it is a balance. Take Cheeky Wipes a great alternative to wet wipes as an example. Helen did her best to source all materials in the UK but finding locally made plastic boxes was just beyond her, so she had to source them from the far east. (As I write they have had the most amazing endoresment on The Baby Website)

As you may know I love the Baby and All Bag but would you pay £100 for it? Would you pay £75? Well, I could not afford that for a nylon change bag not matter how well made it was. By having it made in China was can sell it to you for £45. I did have long discussions with Debbie, the amazing Mum inventor of the bag, about how she sourced a factory that was up to the best possible ethical standards.

Then at the other end of the spectrum is the Storyshaping Cube number two in Green My Style's Top 10 Eco Xmas Gift Ideas A few of my friends have told me to take the Cube off the site as it make it look expensive (even tough at times we are the most cost effective retailer on certain brands) - but I really believe in the dream of this product and everything it stands for. It has been designed my artists and hand engraved by artisans in the UK. Is it so wrong to have something of this callibre selling for £45? Maybe we can't all afford it, but it does deserve to exist.

Being ethical and green should not always cost money. Besides, sack cloth and ashes have never been my style - so unflattering, but then I did find a rather diva full skirted 1950's coat in a junk shop that is much more my idea of being green with style.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Singing, Sharing and Massage

I'm delighted to launch the Gentle Hands Baby Massage set - as it is an ideal Christmas present for families with newborn babies. Not only does it explore how to massage but there is a CD with great songs and nursery rhymes - and with explanations as to how to link the songs to playful massage routines.

Have you tried baby massage? It is fantastic, Sarita used to love it and it really seemed to help with sleeping and that end crying session that seemed to happen every time DH got back from work. Speaking to Sue, who devised the Gentle Hands Baby Massage was so refreshing - she talks about setting the scene for Mums to develop their own confidence and intuition.

She says "I have been teaching baby massage for nearly 10 years, and feel that as the years creep by mums and dads seem less trusting of their intuition. I sing nursery rhymes within my classes and I am always surprised by how few mums know any nursery rhymes or even sing with their babies. My classes are designed to help with confidence, and for mums to begin to listen to their babies and their needs and not always to trust external influences. They all have their place in information gathering and help, but fundamentally, we seem to have lost our ability to go with go with our babies and do what comes naturally. Singing to me has a fundamental place, it seems only the West does not recognise this!

My kit therefore, is my way of trying to get mums, dads, carers etc to touch and love their babies appropriately, to sing and have fun, to bond instinctively and knowingly. Baby massage is a wonderful tool for to help promote closeness, gentleness and confidence. The towel is a way for toddlers to remember their babyhood, to talk about being a baby and to have as a keepsake in years to come. Baby massage can be a very special time for carers and babies, and definitely worth remembering!"

Now available for £22.99 on our site where you can read about the details of everything included in the kit.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Reviews that Rock!

Lets start by two lovely bits of feedback on the site in general:

This is a fabulous website selling fabulous products that are both funky and functional!
They're the kinds of products that you don't realise you need, but then once you've used them you wonder how you survived without them !

Not sure I have seen a site targeted to so many positive things at once, organic, fair trade, recycle...

But we have had some great feedback on my Rockin Hoods.

Read what they say at Madhouse Reviews before giving the Rockin Hood a star rating: 5/5

One of my lovely customers in Scotland writes:
I have to say they come in really handy my oldest daughter who is 2 and 1/2 won't wear a jacket in the car and it saves an argument in the morning my other daughter who is 13 1/2 months likes to roam about with it on like a Jedi knight!! They also came in very handy when my car got stuck in a ditch near my house last week they both had them on and when I finally got them out the car they were still cosy in their hoods!!

I can genuinely say that we used our Rockin Hood every day for over a year and loved it. I only made it in response to a plea from DH who was fed up of the great coat saga, but it lived up to all expectations.

Here is the link to the site:

You can also read a lovely review of our Toddler Dictionary too.

(Have you noticed that this post is shorter than normal? I have been told to stick to the point)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Thanks it was a success!

Thanks for help - the speech was a great success. I delivered it to 200 ladies, who are either just setting up or planning to set up in business, and it was perfect. Leaving the hall I was almost mobbed by people wanting to find out more about that Antonia Chitty Mumpreneur Guide that I had been recommended.

The only problem was that our allocated 10 minutes was reduced to 8. That sounds trivial but suddenly I was about half way through what I had prepared and I had two minutes to go. Your comments really helped as I cut out anything that you had not mentioned and I romped home to applause.

Yes, the biggest laugh I got was from giving the plug to Bath Baby Cakes! Please leave comments if you have ever got something unexpected just by asking, I'd love to do an update on this.

I took along a tiny selection of samples just to illustrate what we are all about. I was delighted by the response to both the Sock Ons (for being total ingenious and affordable) and by my own Rockin Hoods (what can I say, they are just GREAT and at just under £20 including P&P an ideal present).

Did you notice that those links open in a new page? Well, thank Nigel Morgan of Morgan PR who was amazing, spending his Sunday morning to telling me h0w to access the HTML code to do that.

What have I learnt?
1.If you want to write simple HTML the W3 Schools helped us
2. If you want me to contribute to a blog or an event - I'd be delighted to help as I have all the best advisers (you!).

Thanks xx

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Inspiring Mumpreneurs

am giving a speech next week, and I thought that I would try it out on you first to see if you have any feedback. It is a concise history of Mothers of Innovation and why fellow female entrepreneurs should take the plunge.

The first thing to examine is the word entrepreneur, the definition is: One who starts a business or other venture that promises economic gain but that also entails risks. Yes, setting up does involve risk, as if it was easy to set up a successful business everyone would have done it! Not only does it take risk but also a huge amount of hard work - as a friend recently said - working as if the hounds of hell are pursuing you.

The other thing about entrepreneur is that it seems to conjure up the image of Richard Branson, or a dragon straight from the den. Well, I resemble neither, and I view my customers more as intelligent individuals that I want to share ideas with. The first draft of the site has been all about sharing information - and I talked about the Mums, the products and the marketing. As you can see from this picture we have useful things, products that are unique to the site and prices as low as £2.99.The first critical thing was getting the name right; from that we moved onto the branding. While I have a background in design and have at least some experience of logo design I thought that I should employ a professional. Being a modern girl I thought that I would develop a very sleek look, but somehow when we started to play a very different style started to emerge. I am so delighted that I kept an open mind. You may be amused to look at some of the over 20 drafts that were considered - none of these passed muster. (While I listen and act upon most of your comments, it is too late to change this element now.)

A quick note about branding - a logo is only part of your brand. You need to sort out the whole identity, of what font to use, how to use it and your strap line and message hierarchy etc.

The first hurdle was to find Mums to share my vision and to want to stock the site. A designer I knew was very dismissive and just asked my how I thought that I was going to find stock. I had been hoping that this would be the least of my problems (having managed a gallery, this was more than just a hunch). I was delighted when before my holding page was even live I got a call from a lovely lady called Sarita to say how much she loved the concept of the site, and could she stock us. Not only is Sarita my daughters name (so it seemed like a particularly good omen) but her multi-sensory Splodge box is all that I could hope for - it is original, ethical, fun and kids just LOVE it! After 'recruiting' Sarita others followed in quick succession.

Working on your own it can be easy to take things to heart, you end up working 24 hour days and can loose sight of the overall picture. It can be very difficult to step back and accept helpful advice, as your natural reaction could be to defend your project first and listen second. There are so many sources of advice - I have tried to list the most useful on the links section of the site, from Business Link to your local council. One lady who is very worth tracking down is Antonia Chitty, recently voted Inspirational Mumpreneur of the Year. I would really recommend your site, Family Friendly Working, as it has a great free e-course to help you consider the options for setting up on your own. She has also written a few books which are excellent - they offer tangible advice either on being a Mumpreneur or her step by step guide to promoting your business.

The most useful thing I can say is just DO it! I spent about a month reading endless documents about everything you need to consider, legal frameworks etc. In the end I just found a lawyer through the Lawyers for Business scheme and had a free consultation that would have saved me hours of reading. The other great quick win was joining they FSB. As a member I have access to a legal helpline and they give me access to some great training and free banking. The best training session I went to was run by Nigel Morgan of Morgan PR on Organic PR . This opened my eyes to the potential of new media marketing.

All I can say that if you are not familiar with Twitter, Facebook and forum sites you should be. I won't repeat myself as you can read my earlier posting about Twitter. It suffice to say that I have even found some great suppliers from Twitter including BPA award nominee Cheeky Wipes and the amazing gift sets from Molliemoo in addition to all the other lovely contacts that I have made.

The highs have all been on-line from camaraderie of the fora to the access to training and information. Obviously you have to be very careful about what and who you trust on-line. I have saved hundreds of pounds by finding Opensource software on-line (and avoided the temptation of using illegal pirated software). I use Open office, I am a whiz with Inkscape and Gimp (the photo and graphics programmes) and recently I am publishing a charity fund-raising book using an Opensource DTP programme. When I get stuck there are tutorials, fora and help sites to help. The lows are while you may get the most expert advise the answers are only as good as your questions. I thought that by engaging a fabulous web designer and a SEO specialist my site you be user friendly and perfectly fit for purpose without being tied into a rigid structure of an off the peg e-shop - but there was a still a missing link between their specialisms (belatedly I am working with another specialist). Likewise when working with a solicitor to set up the company we discussed engaging the accountant later - big mistake, there are huge potential tax implications that I have overlooked.

Be critical about what your skills really are - I have been delighted and shocked in equal measure by my skills set, when removed from the comfort of a team setting. Having done an MA in Arts Criticism and written booklets, education packs and reviews I thought that I could write while the world of computer code was beyond me. I now realise that I can think like a computer (believe me that is a HUGE compliment from a computer programmers) and that my unproofed text looks like dodgy GCSE homework. This would only be a problem if I did not appreciate the issues and opportunities that this presented!

Another of the highs of setting up on your own is that you can do it! I have learnt so much. My single biggest lesson has been how to accept advice / criticism. I was so proud of the first draft of the site but much to my surprise customers found alternative ways to navigate the site - making it seem farm less user friendly than I had envisaged. Rather than getting defensive I got active and started the second draft of the site. It is amazing that as much as you can plan for one thing, customers may not see things that way at all. Find a mystery shopper who can offer constructive but honest advice.

A penultimate thought, since setting up Mothers of Innovation I have been surprised and delighted by how supportive seemingly random strangers are. My biggest tip is ASK and you will be amazed by how often people will take the time and effort to help you. Before I even had a working site over 200 lovely people (mostly strangers) had completed an on-line survey giving me hints on what would make a good site. Obviously this works both ways - recently I was approached by a Bath Baby Cakes who asked me to write about her in my blog. Readers of this blog may know I never randomly plug businesses, but I can use Hannah as a great example of pluck - if you are going to set up in business you can't afford to be shy! Just look at her site - they look good enough to eat :)

Finally, you may be aware that there are two types of marketing: profile building and the call to arms i.e. selling! The first draft of my site was so much about 'adding value' that it was hard to discover what the purpose of the site. You could read tips, recipes and help for Mumpreneurs - all great for differentiating me from the mainstream competition - but nothing to encourage visitors to shop. Well, I met up with the wonderful Julia from Storyshapes today and she told her audience that I was an innovator who helped Mumpreneurs across the country - well, Julia I can do that best if I sell your products to delighted customers. So, with that, I must conclude with my final tip: if you want great products for babies, toddlers or the family - long onto our site, browse then buy. Enjoy, leave lovely feedback, recommend then buy some more! xx

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Click Refresh

Time to step off the roller coaster to tell you what has been happening! I was all set for a London launch of Mothers of Innovation when the PR that I was working with had a series of calamities and head to pull out.

Panic! But as every knock back is an opportunity I have trebled my budget and recruited a new PR who should be in the top league. Let's just see what she can deliver.

The first thing that she said was how annoying my site is. A year ago I would have been upset and staged a military defensive. But, one year older and feeling many years wiser, this was fascinating to hear!

I had assumed that everyone would navigate the site in one way by looking at the six main pictures and using this as a starting point. Instead the standard route into the site seems to be along a top navigation bar.

Okay, so far, so dull as blog entries go. However, what IS pertinent is that sometimes you get so close to things that you loose all perspective. I had a niggle that the search on the site was not really working but it took someone saying it quite forcibly to make me overhaul it.

I have now set up new categories based on what I really stock - as oppose to what I thought I would ahead of launch. I have also had to recognise that, while many of the products are useful, most visitors seem to be looking for gifts. I have set up a whole new column along the navigation bar for gifts for different age groups, so it is easy now to search for gifts sets / gifts for babies / gifts for Mums etc.

My mantra for the day - I must always put myself in my customer's shoes and remember that the site is about them!

So if you have a business - get someone to be really critical as a mystery shopper and remember to listen first, and fight the urge to defend your baby. If you are a customer - I hope that I am getting it right for you; if not let me know and I will try harder. As for Mums - we all know that we need ME time, but so often our needs loose out to family priorities; lets all try to take time out and being a Mum will seem even more fun again! xx

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

But is it worth it?

What is value for money? Is it the cheapest? Or is it something that is really going to work for you? I am asking this question as I know that how I spend money had radically changed over the past ten years.

Initially, for example, Mark One was my student grant saviour (that shows my age) then in later years we would all pop into Primark for a fashion top up. Retail therapy seemed so easy. Then a few years back we were asked to question what we were buying on two fronts. How could a £1 t-shirt be sustainable? After a limited life span that t-shirt was not even good enough for the charity shop and landfill sites became clogged up by what was called the 'Primark effect'. At the same time scandals seemed to erupt around Nike, Gap and many others over the use of child labour and appalling standards in factories across Asia.

Since becoming a mother I have become yet more precious. Since learning that up to a cup of chemicals could be on every adult T-shirt, I was horrified by what effect pesticides and other nasties could be having on my newborn's skin. The obvious answer to me seemed that pre-loved clothes and organic vests had to be the way forward.

My way of feeling thrifty with organics was to buy one gorgeously soft organic double sheet from Gossypium and cutting it down and sewing it into a moses basket liner and both flat and fitted sheets for the crib and moses basket. (They now even do sheeting by the meter making it better value.) Another good thrifty tip is washable nappies (yes, I know we all know that) but did you know that many local councils will give you a contribution towards the cost of buying the nappies. We got a very welcome cheque for £30.

There seems to be a careful balance - obviously in an ideal world we would only buy beautiful fairtrade or local, organic produce. However, the world is not that simple! I know that Hannah set up the hugely successful Piccalilly as she was fed up of the limited range of Fairtrade, organic clothes for her kids - that seemed only to be selling by virtue of their ethics as they were very limited on the style front. (Here is a pic of one of her sets available on my website).Similarly, Tammy of Green Cheeky Monkey and Dinorah or Gizmoroo also bemoaned the lack of funky organic t-shirts for their little boys, so again, rather than getting mad they got busy!
Sarita is a very lucky little girl, she has been bought some lovely outfits. So far, top of the list was a Kenzo t-shirt that was such good quality that it lasted two years and countless washes and still looks good enough for best; in fact I can even take back the scorn that I doled out on anyone being foolish enough to buy designer gear for a one year old. An even more clever solution would have been to have bought a designer dress from Soph4Soph that is not only reversible but also designed to last from 3 to 18months, 9months to 3 years, or 4 to 7 years.

So why are designer goods so expensive? Are they worth it? It ranges from a bottle of designer perfume that costs around £1 to make some products that have valid reasons for higher prices (albeit out of my price range). When, many years ago, I worked supplying a range of high street stores it would be standard practice to be 'inspired' by designer goods. The first move was to find affordable fabrics (sometimes this was to the customers' benefit, as who wants dry clean only materials for kids' clothes?) then we looked at other elements of construction and detail. You could make things cheaper by making details smaller or compromising on fit (so a scarf, for example, could be shorter and less voluptuous as well as been made from a cheaper wool blend). Then we would look at the manufacturing process, you would examine how you could cut corners, or just make it neater and more practical for mass production. Once you worked out how to make things for a price you would spend sometimes months going through loops to ensure that it was not a 'dog' and refuse to sell - either this meant that it had to resemble last year's top seller or it should be as commercial as possible (sometimes that meant that the final product selection was a little dull).

I saw the final attempt of UK and European manufacturers trying to compete with cheaper factories in Eastern Europe and the Far East. I saw old family firms go bankrupt or sell up - you may have read about the devastation in a Welsh community when Burberry pulled out of their factory their recently. This is part of the reason why when it came to my own Rockin Hoods line I decided to work with an amazing manufacturing unit in London and compromise only my own margins; I could check their quality, see that it was not a sweat shop and generally feel sure that I could offer my customers a great product.

This leaves us with the critical issue of affordability, which realistically governs most of our buying decisions. We are faced with so many 'essential' items that we need to buy - but what do we really need? Deborah Jackson writes eloquently about this in her book Baby Wisdom when she compares the dramatically expanding list of baby 'essentials' across the centuries.

A 'Mummy' friend once came around to our house and was amazed at how well our girls played together. She said, approvingly, it must have been because we did not put all toys out. Surprise, surprise, we had every toy out - but I never felt the need to buy the latest toy/gadget/whatever that all the Mums rushed out to buy. We tried a Bumbo, a tricycle and an Activity Centre from the toy library and saw how quickly Sarita bored of them. Since then we have inherited a tricycle from a friend (a bit knackered but she loves it now that she is old enough).

The other huge variable is our lifestyles. A case in point would be the pushchair we bought before Sarita was born. When one of the Mums from the antenatal group went into labour early we panicked and rushed out to buy a travel system - we dashed between three of the main kiddy stores in town to compare what was on offer. We spent, what we thought was, a fortune on a Mothercare system with a pushchair, car seat and carry cot. Little did we realise we had bought the Lada of all pushchairs; it was large, heavy and cumbersome (and by comparison to some cheap). Within weeks it had turned me into a confirmed baby carrier. Later I went on to buy an umbrella fold Jane pushchair that I could comfortably carry onto tubes and trains in one hand while I carried my daughter with the other.

This is a bit of a long winded way of saying that no matter how cheap something is (and our Monster travel system was) it is incredibly bad value to buy something if you then never use it! Conversely some more expensive things may be worth saving up for as long term they can save you a packet. Besides the things that make parenting rewarding are all free: love, sleep and the sound of your child's first giggle!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Getting Ready for the Birth

As the site enters the final stages of development I feel at least ten months pregnant with the project, I am reflecting on preparations for giving birth. This weekend we went to the most amazing wedding of a great friend - whose new wife is beautiful, wise, kind and blissfully pregnant.

How do you prepare for the birth of a baby? I have a theory about books: we read different baby manuals until we find one that fits our preconceptions and then use the book to justify our parenting style. The only concern could be that books can instill us with fear and protocol at the expense of instinct and listening to our babies' individual needs. The good news is that, somewhere out there, you will find a book that you think is written for you, whether it is about strict routine or attachment parenting.

A few pieces of essential reading are for Mums how to detect the fatal childbed fever and for Babies and how to minimise the risk of cot death.

Next come the lists of 'necessary' equipment, bells, whistles and gizmos that help us with parenting. I remember going through a list and naively checking off all the bits and pieces as I bought them thinking that this was preparation for motherhood. Hold on... the list is the same if you are giving birth in the summer or the winter, whether you live in the city and have no car or if you live in the country and need to drive to the local shops. If nothing else, the best advice I would give is that you can stage what you buy over many months, until you know what you really need. What good is a stair gate for an immobile babe in arms, it will only be useful when you your baby starts to move around and essential when you have a toddler and stairs. I don't want to discourage, just empower. Have fun, enjoy: being a Mum is GREAT!

What were our most useful buys?
A selection of basic organic cotton vests and babygrows. You are rarely given the basics, but you may receive a wardrobe full of cute outfits from friends and family, either new or from those with older kids keen for a clear out.

Muslins. Essential kit for a variety of purposes! If you are using them to swaddle your baby you can buy extra large ones that are said to be fantastic. While on the subject, swaddling can be a great way to make a newborn feel secure; either you can use a muslin or you can buy purpose designed swaddling robes (Grobag, for example, sell one).

Crib. Do you want to go straight for a cot, or can you delay that purchase while you use a crib in the early months? Either way, a new mattress is strongly recommended as this leaflet from FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) details. Our family have shared a crib so all we did was buy a new mattress and waited a few pay packets before buying a cot. Even Mothercare sell a cardboard eco-crib for under £30 that seems to be well reviewed. Friends seem to be split as to whether a Moses basket is useful or not, but we all agree that the two cotton cellular blanket can be a waste of money if you either have a summer baby or go straight to sleeping bags.

Bathroom goodies? I never used a baby bath or bath mitt and many of the toiletries stood idle for months. Baby powder? Er, no. Initially babies need just a wipe down with water and a bowl is more than adequate, in case you thought that purpose designed top and tail basin would provide the meaning of life or wanted to buy shampoo for a bald newborn. Get your nappy rash cream and that should do you, initially.

How about bottles and breastpads. Well, obviously if you are planning to breastfeed don't finance a major sterilisation unit! There seems to be a war being waged between the two camps: lactivists (great name, huh? it is the term coined for promoters of breast feeding) being blamed for putting pressure on vulnerable new Mums versus the scary power of the multinational formula manufacturers. Breast feeding IS best for Mum and child - but it is can be a struggle and it is down to the individual to decide if it is too much; for some making a decision to give up has helped them form a more rewarding relationship with their babies, which is ultimately what it is all about. I was fortunate that my daughter latched on immediately and saved me the hassle of ever having to sterilise a bottle without even thinking of the health and financial implications. It is worth mentioning that La Leche league is one of many organisations that can offer support enabling Mums to breastfeed with confidence. I am delighted to have a breastfeeding scarf on the site that is quickly gaining a reputation amongst celebs and mortals alike for being indispensable for offering 'support, discretion and style' and at under £20 is within reach of most people's budgets and is cheaper than many breast feeding cushions.

Toys? Books? Okay, not essential for the first weeks, but they are always fun to buy and if you can get your babe into the habit of snuggling into Mum with a book it is setting the pattern for a rewarding life ahead. Remember, black and white shapes are the starting blocks for vision and communication and you could then build up to Austen and Quantum Physics in your own time. The one thing that I would recommend is a good mobile. If Sarita worked herself into a real pickle our musical mobile could really soothe her, much to our surprise. Some kids love those little bouncing cradles, which range in price from about £12 to the serious all singing all dancing, rocking, soothing tea making versions (well, maybe they don't make tea).

How about chairs? Wait until they are a little older before even thinking about high chairs. Our generation of Mums rushed out to buy Bumbos and some loved them, but I'm glad we borrowed one from the toy library to establish that it was not to Sarita's liking. Push chairs require much more investigation! What is your lifestyle? I know many Mums who bitterly regret the pushchairs and travel systems that they have bought. If you won't need a car seat and have not had a Cesarean you may prefer just to buy a really good sling (we sell Funky Slings and Sling Easy) while you make up your mind about what you want long term. There are so many decisions: forward facing / rear facing, three wheel or off road, compact verses robust. As this is probably the single most expensive bit of kit, do as much research as you can. Please remember that second hand car seats are not recommended and you should ensure that the seat fits your car, so get it properly fitted.

Nappy Bags? I struggled over this one. A small towel and a well loved bag should be all you need. As I never found the ideal bag I am delighted to have found what I think could be the ultimate bag for the site (this image here does not begin to do it justice).

We used a combination of eco nappies (such as Moltox) and washables. It is not for everybody, but it saved us tonnes of money and ultimately helped encourage potty training. There is such a huge range of nappies available and we tried a few, coming back to TotsBots in the end as convenient and comfortable; Twinkle on the Web seems to have a VAST selection as well as a Nappy Finder to help you choose. On an 'eco' note you may like Cheeky Wipes, a really well thought out alternative to disposable wet wipes. I don't want to preach as I know that you are intelligent enough to work out what will work for you! Besides, the irony of our choice to use washable nappies made me laugh when on the beach in Spain while visiting the in-laws; I turned to DH and said proudly that the money we had saved by using washable nappies had paid for the trip...I am not sure about how my carbon footprint fared when we work out nappies versus our flights there.

There are so many things that you can buy; remember freecycle, and eBay as affordable alternatives. There is very little that is essential, apart from love. But, yes, having a child is also a great way to have serious retail therapy and be assured that, as it is not for you personally, you can feel virtuous in the process. If you are having a baby shower or want to give hints that have the subtlety of a sledge hammer you can always make a gift list - the fun bit that we have added at MOIXX is that if any of your friends and/or family are also registered on our site you can check out each other's lists Facebook style.

Chocolate and biscuits...somebody remember to pamper the Mum! You are wonderful and just given birth to an amazing new child. I hope that you are doing fantastically and blossoming in your new role.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Who becomes a Mother of Innovation?

How do we choose what goes onto the site? The most stringent rule is that the goods must be produced by Mums, Dads, Grandparents or carers (we could not rule Nannies could we?). I was amazed by the steep learning curve of being a Mum, but soon every Mum works out products, methods and routines that can make their lives easier. It is this knowledge that can make a great product. There are so many amazing Mothers of Innovation it seems only right to bring their great ideas together. There is an amazing vibrancy to products conceived through necessity, rather than plotted in the board room.

The second criterion is would we buy it? We don't ask 'does it look nice,' but whether we would part with our 'hard earned' for it? I am a working Mum - I do not have a tribe of nannies and staff running around after me - I am juggling Mothers of Innovation, being a Mum and a tight budget; I need to be sure that I need a product before I part with my cash and assume that our discerning customers will feel the same way.

A product that you can safely say will never appear on our site is Heelarious - 'hilarious' high heal shoes for babies at $35 a pop. Okay, they may sell well for that ickle baby who has everything it out for yourself.

Quality is important to us too. The worst part of this job is having to turn down potential suppliers where we can see quality issues. Not only is this important to shoppers, but I think unless we kept the quality threshold high for all Mothers of Innovation suppliers, it would be unfair to those with inconsistent standards, particularly to those suppliers who put time, effort and energy into quality control.

We are not necessarily looking for niche products, but we must appreciate that we can not compete with the volume / discount retailers. So if your toddler is just starting potty training and you need a multi-pack of underwear in a hurry we would not be your ideal shopping destination. However, if you have concerns about the potty training process and leaks on your furniture, Sussex Mum Jen has come up with the Buppy Pad that you can buy from our site.

Does that mean that products must only be hand made by Mums at home? Absolutely not! Our main criteria is to offer great products designed by those who know best - whether by an award winning Mumpreneur with carefully vetted supply structure or a great start up business. We are only looking for goods with something a little extra, that will make you delighted that we have tracked them down.

Looking at the site you have probably spied our search banner that enables more value based searches; you may want to search for Fairly Traded products or Organic T-shirts. While we are not primarily an ethical retailer, we appreciate that it is important to make informed decisions. Anecdotally we are hearing that more and more people are questioning where products are being made and in what conditions; we also know that certain products would never make it to market if they had to be made locally. By labelling things clearly you can set your own ethical criteria without us preaching at you - making the site happy and friendly for workers, suppliers and customers alike.

Whatever you can see now on the site is part of a work in progress. We will be adding things constantly as we search out the best products for families. We want to make sure that we have our favourite products in any category and will avoid having pages of similar ideas.

There are still plenty more things that we would love to see on the site - a world peace machine, a solar powered magic wand (that works) and that essential extra hour in the day. If you have any thoughts as to what else we need, or if you have the product to combat parenting conundrums, please let us know.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


As readers of the blog may know, getting this site up and running has been a long and drawn out affair with endless false starts and many technical lurches. I have entered, re-entered, checked, lost the plot and rehashed a few times.

The easy way to have set up the site would have been to have bought / subscribed to a shiny bit of software or shop service and I would be earning as I type. That would be too simple, and also potentially limiting in the long term. We are building a site that offers huge flexibility and has SEO (search engine optimisation) built into the fabric of the design. (I will update this blog honestly to tell you if this strategy pays off.)

I have learnt so much along the way, how to think around issues and how, most importantly, to think like a computer. Now tell me, did you ever think that would be an attribute? I have gone from aspiring to be broad minded to thinking binary.

The one sanity crutch that I have had is my Masterplan. Everything, yes, everything gets added to a spreadsheet that links all ideas together. Years ago I was trained by M&S buyers on their fool proof administration systems and it still works for me.

Initial brainstorming went down on the masterplan with ideas, thoughts and 'lets pick up on this later' entries; this was formatted into a schematic. Next, the all important key words were added on another sheet, built into phrases, then linked with the schematic. Then text was linked then references overlaid. Any information I needed was saved in this hallowed masterplan. It is a spiders web of sheets, building up ideas, contacts, references and text.

When things go wrong this has been critical! Lost a whole heap of data? no problem, it is saved in there. Three months down the line forgotten the rationale for a then important decision, again, refer to the plan and the confusion unravels.

Does this mean that I have a spotless desk and a cross referencing filing system? Well, if dusty piles intermingles with toys and half working pens is spotless - erm, no, I think I can safely say my desk is NOT spotless. However, if you have a methodical framework then you are more prepared for the chaos that inevitably gets thrown at you by life. How am I sure? Check any Mum's handbag: it may look random but that fruit bar with a rumpled wrapper and the scuffed pencils at the bottom have been known to salvage a bleak outlook. Okay, that analogy is not thinking like a computer, but it does illustrate that having lots of useful stuff to hand can save the day provided it is in a format you can cope with.

Thursday, 30 April 2009


Things are moving a pace. If I had realised back when I started that it would take this long I am not sure that I would have started. It is an interesting tale of the recession with some suppliers really feeling the pinch.

Annabel Wynne used to produce the cutest toys called Smelly Ellys - calico elephants that could be heated up or cooled to pacify a young patient. They were ideal for the site as they were created after she hunted high and low for a solution to her family's needs, and when she found nothing to fit their needs she made a great product. I am constantly looking for high quality goods, made by parents will make a positive impact to family life.

A number of issues affected her business not least shops going out of business. The reason it is worthy of comment is that she has immediately diversified and gone back to being an illustrator. I am delighted to support her new venture in what ever way I can - even if it will not be on a commercial basis. While you may not see her works on the site now, she was an inspiring and pleasant person to work with so I hope, when the site takes off, I will still be a customer!

What lessons can we learn from this? Sometimes step back and look at all your options - diversification may not be a retrograde step. Oh, and you can never have too many pretty pictures on your blog (thanks Annabel).

Finally, a word to the badgers, my Grandfather's sage words about ruling the world were, if he was a benign dictator he would ban all ventriloquists!

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I am still on my quest to discover how social media and so called 'organic' marketing can help me. I dived into twitter with both feet, and now I am starting to learn the ground rules. I read a whole heap of guides and blogs to help get me to first base. Some of the information is so blindlingly obvious it escaped me when faced with the prospect of writing my first tweets.

When I first set up I just used the Twitter set up to create my page, but recently updated my page with twitback but twitback took quite a while for limited benefit.

Talking of obvious, the tweets must be 140 characters or less. This can be helped by shortening any weblinks via tinyurl, but if you get 'Tweetdeck' (software to make twittering easier) you can shorten url's really easily at the click of the mouse. The only benefit of going to tinycc is that you can get statistics about how often people click on your link - this is of interest to me as I have shortened the link to my facebook fan page and I can see when people take a look.

They are starting to write a Dummies Guide to Twitter, they are asking for contributions at the moment, but it is still quite a good read. The etiquette section is worth a look. The one thing that comes across is that Tweet as if you are communicating with one person who you want to give great advice to - don't get delusions of grandeur and try talking to your crowd of admirers - and write something worth listening to with humour and warmth.

Another funny bit of advice is don't be arrogant. It looks unimpressive if you follow one person and expect to have a flock of followers. I read this and immediately un-followed a celebrity Mum who crowed about her life and followed no one and contributed nothing. If you are not listening on twitter, I think you are missing out on the fun if not the point.

Work out what your identity is and stay true to it - so if I am trying to have a Mumpreneur following I should stick to a parenting and business start up theme with loads of good advice. That is not to say that the tweets should be devoid of character, far from it. They should be fun to read but not just what has been delightfully termed as 'twitteroeha'.

As a mumpreneur I try and follow like minded tweets, webmum is great and she has a site with some great starting tips on acornpad. It is great to hear what she and others say - I follow Mums (potential customers) and marketeers which really helps, reading all the links that they post.

You can interact in a few ways. You can give direct replies which is seen only by the recipient or you can reply in public by starting with the @ sign, for example to reply to a comment of mine someone could write '@moixx do you know what you are twittering on about?' You can engage in conversations and hopefully generate more interest while being friendly. It is also good manners to Retweet something that you have read, starting with an 'RT @moixx' for example if you are forwarding on a pearl of wisdom that I offered (I live in hope!). Also you can also send a direct message or DM to your followers (and only those who have chosen to be your followers), the benefit of this is you can continue a thread in private that may bore the rest of your followers.

Twitter has a search capacity and directories just like the rest of the web. So you can search for keywords, register yourself on directories such as Twello, you can also join a group or Twibe. You can work out how you are doing with Twittergrader or check your stats.

What is a hashtag? It took me a long while to sort it out! Physically it looks like this # but it is far more loaded. It is a way that posts can be collated and followed. You can search for hashtag themes, there is a inimitable video that will explain it all if you can face listening to it - but it will give you the low down. (maybe I am just too British to appreciate the accent). A great example of one is #followfriday - when you recommend to your followers who is worth following., a tweet could look like: #followfriday @moixx as she tweets inanely

Here are 47 great tips by successful tweeters.

Finally if you really want help and you think there is business potential why not get a Tweetmentor? Nikki Pilkington has a check list of information to help and she has a mentoring programme if you are serious about it - it takes time and before you sign up to it make sure that you are serious about it. As Nikki would say, it is important to market your tweets, so if having read this you want to see if I live up (or down) to expectations find out for yourself!

It is strange to think about being serious about Twitter - a social networking site fronted by a cartoon bird!

Thursday, 5 March 2009


Part of the reason for my blog hiatus was that I failed to get the loan I was hoping for at the rate that I thought was reasonable. Certainly a credit crunch issue! I was turned down by the Co-op, not for an unfeasible business plan, but, because it was too cautious. Well, if I have a cautious business plan that can pay back the capital and turn a profit in the medium term I should be set for the future. I have to remind myself of this, during these torturous months of delays. In fact, with current interest rates it does make sense to plough rainy day savings into the business as I would earn nothing and even at 10% interest on a loan - well, you can work it out I am better off using my savings. I am better off this way - but yes, I have put all my eggs in the business basket!

I have also revisited my original business plan and it seemed so out of step with the credit crunch and the potential for new media marketing. Added to which with the delayed launch of the site I have already spent £800 on fruitless marketing I need to get seriously smart about where I go next. I was chatting things over with my step son, and he was (oh the delicious certainty of youth) pointing out what I should be doing. Well he is one smart cookie and a joy to chat to, and while none of his ideas were not covered in the business plan it suddenly made me look at things from a different perspective. I had been wondering how to incorporate new media marketing and how to harness the potential - but suddenly I think I can see a way to bring everything together in one neat strategy! I am not economising by building new media into the strategy, in fact with the money that I am saving from interest payment I have re-established my original budget for marketing (writing off the spend to date).

I have always been so rude about businesses who just get a website without having an overarching strategy of what it is setting out to achieve, and used to be driven mad by an MD who would not allow me a marketing budget (when I was responsible for marketing) but insisted that we did ad hoc initiatives. The benefit of having a strategy is that you can clarify where you want to go, and then set a (budgeted) course.

I am now in the process of pulling everything together, and I think it is looking realistic and quite exciting. All I need now is a site to work with...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Quick call a strategy meeting!

The site is going to be delayed again - but this time it really does make me pause and think about priorities. A family member was ill and it shook me out of my mind set that the only thing that mattered was getting the site launched. Well, the delays will mean harder work, running to catch up - but it is not, in this scenario, life or death.
How often do we get so fixated on a problem or issue that we stop seeing the wood for the trees and worse, resort to cliches?
Well I am using this time to gen up on many issues, and this morning I took myself off for a strategy meeting.

Yes, little Pup has a higher IQ than many past colleagues, so I think this is one - nil in favour of taking the long term approach to creating the best ever website the world is about to see!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Instant Media

What are the seven deadly sins of modern communications? My questionnaire highlighted spelling as a bugbear - I now see it everywhere. From that long email thread started by me, with a cheery 'Gi'(instead of Hi) through to howling typos on home pages.

How often have we scanned an email quickly and shot off a reply without really taking in what we are reading. I had a classic example today, where I was trying to correct something, only to find that when I discussed the error that was the only thing noted and not the fact that it was an error. So, an email had been read and the facts had been understood as the exact opposite of what I had intended to convey.

Can I learn from this, I wonder? With my website, how can I set in place protocol for lax speed readers? How will I be able to fulfil customer's wishful thinking, that may not match with the merchandise? I am sure that there is little that I can do. maybe, my new twittering habit will be a great exercise in how to convey information clearly and succinctly. Or maybe I just need to work out how to start a global Chinese whisper (or should that be on-line WikiWhisper?)
So, 'Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance', anyone?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Testing out technology

fn:Sarah Dawnay
tel;work:0118 969 7746

I thought that I ought to check out a few more things about this blog,
so saw that I can post an email direct to my blog. There is a scattergun
approach to my learning I am a great believer in on the job learning
when it comes to technology, so here is my first email blog.
Does this work?
If it does work will email blogs become twitters with verbal diarrhoea?

Let's Twitter

So many years I have bluffed my way with marketing and PR with generally good results, now I am appreciating the extent of my ignorance. Now how do you gen up on new media marketing? Yes, we can all search the internet but how can we tell good advice from bad?

It is funny how many free sources of information are only really teasers hoping that you will follow up the free information my subscribing to something of minimal benefit. The problem with true ignorance is that you don't know what you don't know!

You can research, watch webinars, go to seminars but ultimately with limited resources how do you take care of organic marketing (the marketing that everyone assures you is free, solely because you are not paying up front for advertising).

I have got this blog (which I have been fairly relaxed about updating), creating a website , and I have my Facebook fan page but I have kind of left it at that. I am very condescending towards people who have websites because they think that having a site is an end in itself, rather than having the site as part of an integral strategy that will link into core business. Suddenly I am doing a strange equivilent. My fairly limp facebook page and a blog that I sometimes ignore are never going to help me promote my website and make it the best, most fun site ever.

This morning I went to a seminar by Nigel Morgan and suddenly I started to gather together the threads and start to make more sense of the potential of 'Organic PR' as he called it. Where do I go from here? Well already I have a bad Twitter habit and I am starting to link everything together. I am also determind to be a more faithful blogger, so I am going to work on a strategy and I will let you know how I get along.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Still standing...

Yes, my blog went off the boil for a while, but so has the business. I wish that I could have fast forwarded over the past few months as by now I hoped to be launched and seeing some great progress. We are now four months late and if you see the needle trembling on a Richter Scale it is just my fingers drumming the table with frustration at wait. It is just torturous! The delays keep on stretching out with tantalising false horizons while my reserves to keep me personally solvent ebb away.

The delays have all been technical, and the frustrating bit has not knowing exactly what needs to be done and why it needs to take so long. I think this could be a great case study in customer liaison for the techy industry. While I trust that the guys are doing their best and they are building something great, bespoke etc I am not abreast of their challenges, benchmarks and goals so I just have to cope with continual stretching deadlines.

Instead I listen to the news of the economy in meltdown and hope that there are still some customers with money by the time we launch. Strangely contradictory statistics come to mind, firstly Internet commerce is not being too badly effected in the credit crunch, secondly nine out of ten Internet business fail in the first five years. Laughing? Me neither...but then did I tell you the joke about my web developer and the deadlines?

Anyway, you can read a link about why businesses fail here - it is quite cheery as I fall into none of these categories....yet...