Suzi, mamma to baby Zoe, set-up her business Flying Baby Shapes when her daughter was only 8-months old. Inspired by her own experience of dealing with an unhappy baby during nappy changes, she created a new product for parents. Here she tells us why and how she did it.
What is the business?
We make baby mobiles with bold, high contrast patterns, specifically designed for a young baby's vision. It is about keeping babies calm and happy when they're having their nappy changed. And they’re all designed to blend in with a beautiful ,modern and neutral home.
What was your motivation to start the business?
When my daughter was born she hated having her nappy changed. So, I made a mobile to hang above her changing area to distract her. I used black and white felt, because I’d learnt at NCT classes that newborns can’t see colour yet. We’d been given lots of ‘high contrast’ (black and white) baby books so I was basically just taking that principle but hanging it above her head.
Friends saw the mobile and asked me to make one for their babies. We realised I’d stumbled on a gap in the market: parents wanted beautiful, neutral mobiles, but babies needed bold, high contrast patterns to engage them. Mobiles are typically brightly coloured, or fairly plain white animals or shapes. Neither engage a newborn. Plus, they are always designed to go over a cot, which was a big ‘no no’ in the baby sleep articles I read at 3am – and wouldn’t help my grizzly nappy change-ee!
What do you love about the business?
The creativity involved and the challenge of making something that is visually appealing for both baby and parents. It's fun having my own 'project' to play with, make mistakes, and see what works. Plus it's so motivating to get a sale - my phone 'pings' and I want to jump up and down!
Do you have any previous experience in creating products and e-commerce?
I’ve always loved creating things and am most relaxed when I’m making stuff. And I’ve had ‘behind the scenes’ insight into ecommerce as I work at a tech company that provides an ecommerce platform for the music industry. This has helped a lot, although I don’t have much experience with marketing (Instagram etc) so I’m learning that as I go.
Do you have any tips for setting-up an ecommerce business?
1) To get started, sell your product in marketplaces such as Etsy or eBay to check that there is demand for it.
2) Have a strong website to give your brand credibility and for customers to buy direct.
3) Create products at different price points so people can engage with your brand with any budget.
4) Grow brand awareness and reach through social media and mailing lists.
I get most customers through Etsy and Instagram and I run my website and store on Music Glue (where I work). It’s a bit of a funny one because the platform is designed for music artists, but it works perfectly for me to create a template website and sell my mobiles – and I love that there’s no monthly fee. As a small business I have to keep a very close eye on costs. It’s easy to be lulled into spending hundreds on Google Adwords, website fees or Instagram and Facebook ads.
Have you gone back to your previous job?
Yes, I went back when Zoe was 11 months old. I've enjoyed the change of scene and I’ve found I appreciate my ‘mummy days’ more. I'm fortunate that I can work flexibly and part-time as it really softened the blow when I first went back. Plus it means I can work on my Flying Baby Shapes business.
Could you briefly describe a typical day in your life?
On the days when I am not at my ‘real job’, I do a daily Instagram post after the morning feed. I post baby play ideas so I'm constantly trying out new things or just copying what seems to entertain my daughter! As soon as Zoe goes down for naps I'll work on Flying Baby Shapes. I spend a lot of time browsing for high quality, interesting fabrics - Zoe comes with me to all sorts of fabric shops and to the Post Office. After she goes to bed I'll usually do another couple of hours. I find it really relaxing to make the mobiles and it’s replaced binge-watching Netflix!
You hand make all of the mobiles?! Do you have a plan for when sales outgrow your ‘making capacity’?
Yes! (Well, mostly!) It’s still my favourite part of it all. Sales have outgrown my making capacity, especially as work’s been busier recently. To solve it, I’ve enlisted a growing network of grandmothers and aunties around the UK who have been my lifesavers! They have fantastic sewing skills and have taught me many tricks and new stitches. I’m now researching manufacturing options too.
What are the challenges when it comes to running a new business, looking after a baby and working in your old job?
Speed... I have a million ideas but can only get a bit for Flying Baby Shapes done in each time window. Oh, also that Zoe bursts into tears whenever I tear packing tape off the roll!
What would you say to someone wanting to start their own business during maternity leave?
Someone once told me that 'activity breeds activity'. I've found that to be very true with Flying Baby Shapes. The scariest bit was starting. Telling friends and family that I was doing it, worrying that I’d fail and embarrass myself or lose interest. Once I'd started, everything else has just followed.
Also, finding people with the right skills to support the business. A big part has been the help from my husband who is a graphic designer for We Mean This. He's helped with everything, from the name, brand feel and design, to the logo and packaging. Friends and family have been so supportive- I've had Instagram tips and copy writing from my sister in law and sister, to sewing and design ideas from friends who work in fashion and the arts.
Any tips for women thinking to start a business during their mat leave?
Do it! But don’t feel pressured to do it too soon. My brain was a mess until I stopped breastfeeding and sleep had settled down around 5-6 months. My braincells slowly came back, I couldn't have done anything productive before then.
Are there any benefits to being a mum and running a business?
Yes - it focuses the mind and I have to choose only to do the important things. Maternity leave gave me the space to think about doing something creatively. And having to be in almost every evening rather than out meeting friends gives me quite a lot of time once the little one is in bed.
Do you use childcare?
We have childcare while I'm at work for my main job, but not for Flying Baby Shapes. My Mum and husband have helped out a lot, which has been critical when I've had a flurry of orders to fulfil.
What does the future hold?
Refining the product first and foremost; what works best for babies and what parents most like to buy. So far the most popular is the hidden tummies range so I'm expanding that. I'll also be focusing on building awareness around the brand and the value of high contrast images for babies.