don't buy her flowers

#wegotthiswednesday - Steph Douglas, founder of thoughtful gift packages company Don't Buy Her Flowers

Every so often, on a Wednesday, we ask a mum how they manage their work and family. This week, Steph Douglas, founder of thoughtful gift packages company Don't Buy Her Flowers, gives us her approach to feeling like she’s ‘got this’. (Sometimes.)

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

I'm Steph, I'm married to Doug and we have three kids - Buster, Mabel and Frank. I started Don't Buy Her Flowers in 2014 selling thoughtful gift packages. The idea came when I had my first baby and received 8 bunches of flowers - they were lovely but I was so overwhelmed and exhausted and it struck me as bizarre that the go-to gift was another thing to care for.

We started as gifts for new mums but very quickly our customers were asking to send packages for other reasons - there are so many occasions when someone could do with some TLC and people want to create something more personal that shows someone they've really thought about them. The idea is that our gifts encourage the recipient to have a sit down and take a bit of time for themselves, whether that's with a good book and a G&T, enjoying a hot cup of tea or locking themselves in the bathroom for a full head to toe recovery session.

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We're about to launch a new package that is all about unwinding - whether someone is sending a package to a new mum, a birthday, someone who has been bereaved or someone who is just having a bad week, we're all pretty overwhelmed and someone saying 'here, look after yourself' is so powerful. That person is acknowledging you might need some looking after and I had totally underestimated how powerful that is. I ran the business from home for two years, and now we have a warehouse in Gloucestershire, where I'm from, and a growing team. Which feels bloody great. I'm really excited about our next phase. 

2. What is your most embarrassing parenting moment?
Three kids in, I don't think I get that embarrassed anymore! I'm more likely to feel flustered - I had one of those moments the other day where I'd loaded the pram like Buckeroo and when I took a crying Frank out his foot got stuck and it tipped up and stuff was rolling across the floor... those moments would have killed me with my first but now I'm generally ok. I like to look for the pair of knowing eyes who will give you a 'yeah, we've all been there' look. Some days I can handle it, sometimes an accidental kick in the shins from one of the kids will leave me in tears but that's more down to feeling overwhelmed than embarrassed!

3.  How do you juggle your business with being a Mum to three? 
Hmm... sometimes I feel on top of it and sometimes - a lot of the time - I don't! Frank is in nursery three days a week and I feel that is the right balance for us at this moment in time, except I can't actually do all that I need to do with the business in three days a week so there's a bit of a gap. He usually sleeps in the afternoons he's home, and with evenings and a bit of weekends I can manage, but I had reached a point where I had more days covered and I was doing less in the evenings and weekends before Frank arrived.

I think the grass is always greener so I need to remind myself that this was a choice, I'm very lucky that I have that choice, and also this is a phase. When Frank is a bit bigger he'll probably go up to four days and I'll generally be less sleep-deprived so that'll help!

The first couple of years in business were incredibly tough - it takes a lot to get something going - and it feels much calmer than it did then. The business has grown month on month since we launched and we're at a level I couldn't have imagined two or three years ago, so it's important to stop and reflect on that as if you're always just focused on pushing forward it's exhausting. And I have Doug and three amazing kids. We're doing ok. 


You can follow Steph here @steph_dontbuyherflowers, browse for Mother’s Day (end of March) and all other thoughtful gifts here. Steph has also been on loads of podcasts, and inspired me when I set up We Got This (Sometimes!) - just search for her in the podcast library. I think the Scummy Mummies episodes with her are ace.








Making Work, Work Event Notes

Hello - I don’t usually write up an event in such detail, however there were a few women who couldn’t make it so I asked Helen at @instrunctionaldesignbyhl to take notes - you’re amazing Helen!

Here goes:

Background

Annie was a self employed copy editor on a long term contract who expected to go back to work after the birth of her first baby. It didn’t work out, and she launched her digital magazine The Early Hour, making money through sponsored content. Annie used The Early Hour as her pitch when meeting people, and pitched a book idea to a friend she met through play group. She set up a column called The Freelance Mum - and the book deal came through that. Annie’s book features many of my favourite business women (Cherry Healy, Scummy Mummies, Steph, Zoë de Pass, Candice, Sarah Turner) as she wanted to include other peoples experience and include as much diversity as possible.

Steph hadn’t thought about the reality of motherhood before it happened, and has really retained that feeling (it’s her secret talent) and the emotional side of what it’s like to have a baby - feeling lonely, isolated, angry. She started a blog as the more people she talked to about the shock of motherhood, the more she found people agreed, and she wanted to make sure others felt the same before she started her business. 

Lots of people think Steph used her maternity leave to start a business - she said she didn’t - she may have had the idea but it’s taken four years to get to this point. 

So let’s dig into some of the big topics the audience were interested in:

Identity

Go easy on yourself. Steph said she didn’t with her first two babies, so she learnt to pull up the drawbridge with Frank, her third. You will lose your identity, but it will come back to you. It’s ok to concentrate on your baby. Annie’s advice is to find your tribe. Don’t be with people who make you feel rubbish, find honest friends.

Where do you start if you want to go freelance?

1. Try working part-time and building up freelance clients on the side. 2. Mat leave can be a good time if you’re able to, as legally you’re allowed to earn money from a new side hustle. 3. Have enough money coming in to pay the bills 4. Be laser focussed on the finance side, look at the margins if it’s a product business.

Confidence

Confidence comes from experience. Confidence is like happiness, it needs to be worked at. The confidence session on the Clementine app was recommended by Annie. Annie also has a “Special” folder in her emails, where she puts all her good and nice emails so she can reflect on them. Steph said her confidence has also come from experience, and that things will go wrong but it’s how you deal with those things - try not to take everything persnonally. It’s really important to reflect on what you have achieved so you can acknowledge what you have done. Confidence can be knocked by looking at what others are doing - stay in your lane and do you. 

Time management

Be realistic about what is possible. Endless lists are overwhelming - take one step at a time. Steph said she does take on too much, and that means some things have to be culled. We can’t do everything we were doing, and start a business or go freelance. Delegate what you can afford to, and cull social lives, cleaning, cooking “you might have cereal for tea, and that’s ok.” 

Annie’s advice was to be really organised. Secure repeat work (this means you’re not always pitching). Try to get childcare if you can, and know what you’re doing in that time. Annie will get urgent last minute jobs, and will use the Bubble Babysitting app to help. We do have Bubble on a small scale in Norwich at the moment. 

Work doesn’t fit nicely into childcare hours all the time - how do you manage the overspill?

Steph said to start with, she worked all hours (which was fun and hard in equal measure), and had to get to a certain point before it got easier. Annie isn’t allowing the overspill at the moment as she’s pregnant, but advised to adjust it when you can. 

Do you switch off from work when you’re with your kids?

Annie said definitely not - she will finish an email, or a phone call but tries to do the thoughtful stuff without the kids. She said she tried to do a podcast but that didn’t work too well! She doesn’t think it’s a bad thing as she is with her kids - if they need her, she is there. She said her dad was home a lot when she was young, and he was always thinking about the next thing at work, and it didn’t bother her - he was there.  Steph thinks it is easy to beat ourselves up and she leaves her phone downstairs at night to charge. Also, Steph is so right - none of us have it right, because we don’t really know what ‘right’ is - this is all new! Which is why we are gathering on a Weds Feb night to see how others do it.

How do you avoid burn out?

Steph, of course believes in the 30 min nap. Sleep is major - when you haven’t got time to stop, is when you need to stop. Sometimes she disappears for a bit, comes down and Doug is like “did you just have a nap?” - didn’t even notice. Like a stealth nap. 

It would be difficult to work in any capacity without the support of your partner - are you specific about what help you need at home? 

Steph - the mental load is half the work. Big recommendation to ask our partners to listen to Dear Sugars podcast on Emotional Labor: The Invisible Work (Most) Women Do. In the nicest possible way, back off a bit and let your partner figure stuff out - it doesn’t need to be done your way. Annie even tried a reward chart for jobs round the home and it turned out her partner did more than she thought.

Social media - how important is it really?

For freelancers, assuming a Linkedin profile is already in use - instagram is good for community and building a platform, but not great to referring people to your website. Twitter and Facebook are better for referrals. 

For product based businesses, instagram is essential - make sure to build your story around your brand, not just product. For example, Steph has a separate brand account, and has various themes such as motherhood, which she has a social media manager working on (the excellent Nicola). 

Tips for building an audience:

Annie: Create a good feed, have a viewpoint, by creating good content you have more chance of someone sharing it. Annie thinks the best way of growing your audience is by other people sharing your account. Don’t do the follow, unfollow thing. Create good enough content so people want to mention you. 

Steph: Be consistent, don’t over think it. Don’t become so focused on the numbers - if you need 50 regular customers, and you have 70 engaged people following you - that’s perfect. Like Vickie at @inpolife said - imagine all those people lined up in your house ready to listen to you, or buy from you. It really changes your perspective. 

What boundaries do you have in place to protect you from the dark side of social media?

Both Annie and Steph take a different approach to showing their children on social media - I wanted to touch on this as many of us have kids and it’s a big topic that’s fairly new:

Annie - started off blogging about parenting, so used to use photos of her children. Her husband didn’t want her to, and she decided to stop showing their faces. She thinks she definitely saw a drop off in followers and engagement, as people do want to see the family. However she’s now talking about freelancing and from a mum’s perspective so feels ok about that. 

Steph’s space is about motherhood, she is in it with Frank and feels it would be strange not to show her reality when she’s known for honesty and support. 

Basically - it’s up to you. I read a really good article by Mother Pukka about this last year, it is here

Creative process in a product business

Gemma at Mutha.Hood came to Norwich last year, and shared her approach, which is that she views her range in seasons, plans the products so she has these kinds of waves of concentration - similar to a fashion business (she used to be a fashion buyer). I think Emma at Little Hotdog Watson has a similar approach, as she has just launched Spring. 

Steph said the beauty of being digital is that she is much more off the cuff - she has an idea by talking and listening to customers, and can turn round a new product very, very quickly. She starts with the customer, and how she wants them to feel. Then it’s about product selection - the products have to be good quality and British. Her biggest advice is start small, and start focussed. 

PR

Both Annie and Steph have secured incredible PR. Annie did a Princes Trust Business Course (which is for under 30 year olds, the link is here) and the biggest tip from her mentor was to ‘find your story’.

1.     Find the right person at the publication - research the actual person, don’t send to a generic email address

2.     Follow the #journorequest hashtag on Twitter and be fast to respond

3.     Make relationships with journalists - they are real people. Send an email pitch, not an attachment.

4.     Make sure you proof read. 

I asked Steph what was the biggest thing that she can remember that drove sales, given that she has been featured in blogs, podcasts, the press, magazines. She said yes, there was one big thing early on. She started by blogging, and at that time, there were only a few big blogs about honest parenting, like Katie (Hurrah for Gin), Sarah (The Unmumsy Mum), and Steph had written a post that had gone viral. She got chatting to Sarah on Twitter and asked if she’d like to send a gift package to her friend. She did, her friend cried with gratitude (there is something wonderful about being sent one of Steph’s packages) and Sarah shared that on her Facebook page. Steph was on holiday at the time, and was happily overwhelmed with orders, getting back to her spare room as soon as she was home to dispatch. 

So the key learning is that if you have a product or service, you need to really think about a personal pull through - you can’t just ask many many “influencers” ‘can I gift you a product in exchange for a post’. It’s really not as robotic or transactional as that, you need to have invested in that person in an authentic way. They are very busy just like you. Pick three people, build a relationship, like their posts, comment on their posts. See the cost of sending samples as a marketing cost - sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t.

Most interesting person you’ve met?

Steph - Ben James, owner of Graze (he just sold Graze this week for a tidy sum) - very determined and interesting

Annie - remembered a mum when she was younger who she used to babysit for. The mum would DJ was super cool  - it made Annie realise she could be a cool mum

Most used apps:

Annie….

  • Clementine app - helps with fear and confidence

  • Barclays app - staying on the money

  • Google calendar - for synching with husband (who doesn’t check it. Similar theme to the FOD event)

  • Slack - for linking with colleagues on workload, instead of What’s app (avoids awkward knowledge that the person has seen it but has not replied yet)

  • Social media apps 

  • Hootsuite for scheduling

  • Guardian app

Top Tips

Annie  - Think big, Start small

Steph – Think about the emotion in your business – focus on the feeling you want your customers to feel

We then invited questions from the audience:

Q1) From Muddy Norfolk - Around the topic of confidence - she reminded us that having our children is a huge achievement, and that it does get easier and better. Steph agreed saying you’re never more efficient. Annie agreed saying its very empowering.

Q2) From Sophie at The Night Feed - Any tips for managing parent rage with your partner? 

Steph’s advice was to spend time together when you can. Although it’s an ongoing thing. Remember they feel pressure too, and it’s good to understand each other. She said she counselling before their third baby, which was useful. And her mums advice - remember to be kind.

Q3) Any big business disasters - Steph said at the start she over ordered stock and didn’t sell it, and didn’t understand cash flow at the start and now it’s king. Molly at Selfish Motherlaunches a product for pre-order, and then orders stock based on pre-order numbers, which minimises risk. I’ve seen Gemma at Mutha.Hood do this too. 

Q4) Podcast recommendations

And then looking in Steph’s insta highlight:

Scummy Mummies, Emma Gannon, Alison Perry, Bowel Baby, Nicky Raby, Bryony Gordon, Life Coaching by Anna, Cherry Healey, Emma Guns, The High Low, Katie Piper, Dear Sugars, Power of Mum, Holly Tucker MBE, Freaking the F*ck Out, Griefcast, Cheltenham Maman

You can search people you like, like Annie and Steph and work your way through. 

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This is a link to all the articles Annie has written on Forbes.com

This is a link to all the articles Annie has written on Guardian

This is a link to Steph’s blog posts

GOOD LUCK to anyone reading this - you got this!!! All photos by Emily Gray Photography

Do you have an Idea to Do Now You are a Mama?

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3 things that made We Got This happen

We Got This started from thoughts of what do I do now I have two kids…as a brand manager working from home I was lucky that I didn’t have to be at an office everyday, however buyers need meetings when they need them and it was when I was crying at Stowmarket train station as I’d got off a stop too early, pregnant and clock watching to pick up my daughter from nursery that I thought I can't do this with two babies! I was on the phone to my boss and I thought the station looked different but maybe it was a different side?!!?! Cue a very pregnant weeping women snotting to the train man about how long would a taxi take etc etc. Anyway. 

So. Will was born. I searched for something to help his dry skin and came across a coconut brand Kokoso (which I now use myself!), and saw a pic of Mother of Daughter's lovely twins and of course found Mother Pukka and her extremely relevant and epic Flexible Working campaign then scrolled and clicked and scrolled and clicked and found a whole world of mothers parenting, earning, having fun, learning, sharing mishaps AND actually connecting in real life at events. 

But not to Norwich…and that’s why I said to Mike one night, maybe I could host the events here as maybe other women would like to get inspiration from each other like me.

If you have an Idea-to-Do-Now-You-Have-Little-People, here are my top 3 things that made We Got This happen...

1> Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women This is a brilliant tiny book, really easy to read and its quite pragmatic, looks pretty, and I felt like I’d been given a little guide of how to own a little space and it was perfect for shifting my brain from full on baby mode to start-to-think-about-earning-again mode.

2> Podcasts. It's like going to college or listening to your mates chatting but actually you are sterilising/washing/driving (I wish I could say running). One Girl Band - I LOVE Lola’s podcast. Bit like a pep talk if you are thinking about starting up a business. Cherry Healey's are really good, I especially love the one with Steph from Don't buy her Flowers, and of course Scummy Mummies make me HOOT with laughter (do NOT listen with kids though!). I have also partaken in some Side Hustle School listening, and for stuff completely unconnected with parenting, Ctrl Alt Delete makes me feel like an intelligent adult, which is nice. Please tell me what podcasts you find!

3> Running the idea past a life coach, my long suffering friends and husband and anyone who would listen! And then asking actual Norwich women if they would come. That could have been a school girl error. 

My intention is run workshops / talks / supper clubs that focus on different bits of all of this...it's coming!