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