Your Name and Age: Dawn Raymond, 41
What did you do before? I graduated from Leicester Uni with a degree in French in 1990. I did various office-based jobs, and ended up at a French textile company in Leicester. I worked there for 8 years, starting as a sales co-ordinator and PA to the Sales Director, and ended up as an office-based Sales and Logistics Manager for lining fabrics and clothing accessories (zip fasteners, hook and loop products etc). I left in 1999 following the birth of my first baby, and settled into the life of full-time mum. When my other 2 children came along, although I was ready to go back to work, I found it extremely difficult to even get to interview stage. Having had a few years out, and with such young children, I guess I wasn’t the most promising prospect to potential employers!
When did you launch? September 2005.
How did you get started? I had my first website built by a fellow WAHM who I’d “met” on an internet forum. She took payment by monthly instalments, so that wasn’t as big a start-up expense as you’d expect. I sourced a few stock items (party bags and fillers) online, did my own product shots and uploaded them myself. I set up a PayPal account, and that was about it!
What research did you do before launching? Very little, to be honest. I had my own experience of children’s birthday parties, and found the party bags something that was often left till the last minute, a bit of a pain – a kind of necessary evil, if you like. I wasn’t the only one – most of the mums I knew saved them ‘til the last minute – one even commented to me (as she was judging a game of musical statues) that she hadn’t even done the party bags yet, and the party was due to finish in 10 minutes!
So, having been out of work for a while, and trying to come up with a business idea, I had the idea of providing filled party bags – they would be simple, affordable and a quick solution to a niggling problem.
I had a look online to see if there was anybody else doing them. To my surprise there were loads! All sorts of different companies ranging from specialist, high end filled party bags, though Ebay shops, to websites that sold the whole party package. You might think this would have put me off, but the fact that there were so many companies out there doing it, convinced me there was a big market for this kind of product, so there would be space for me.
How have you funded the business? I started off with about £300 on my credit card. After every sale, I ploughed the money straight back into the business and gradually grew, increasing my turnover each month.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best?
As my business is an online one, I find the best way to promote it is online.
I’ve been a member of several parenting forums for a number of years, and find the members there incredibly supportive. In the early years, the majority of my customers were forum members, and I can honestly say if it wasn’t for one parenting forum in particular (BGH), and the homeworker members there, I wouldn’t have a business.
So apart from participating daily on parenting forums, I also have a blog which I update regularly with articles, new products, competitions etc. This then feeds into my Twitter account, which in turn feeds into my Facebook account. I also have a Facebook page.
I’ve also written articles and posted them on Squidoo, and plan to do more article submissions as they are a good way to build inbound links.
I often run competitions and publicise them on competition sites, on Facebook, the blog etc.
Word of mouth is also invaluable – when you consider the number of children invited to one birthday party – each of those guests will receive one of my products, and their parents are a potential new customer.
The most effective way to promote my business has to be internet forums. There is a ready-made customer base there, wall with children. But you have to be very careful not to ram your business down people’s throats, or join forums just to promote your business. People will see through it immediately, and will be put off. It may even earn you a ban for spamming.
(The least effective marketing I’ve done is a paid advert in a primary school magazine.)
What has worked well about your business? What has worked well is the fact I can do it from home and fit it around my family. There is no commuting time, no office politics and no need to find reliable childcare.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it? At one point I found myself number one on page one of Google for the search term “party bags”. This was incredible, and led to a huge upsurge in orders. My biggest challenge came when, for some unexplained reason I suddenly disappeared from page one of google for this search term. I was sent back to page 100 or something equally silly. This was my biggest challenge because I had to figure out why it had happened and how to get back up! I dealt with it by learning all I could about Google and SEO. it took a while, lots of patience and work, but eventually I came back to page one. I’m still not entirely sure why I was dropped, but it gave me an opportunity to concentrate on my niche products (which rank very highly on Google), and to discover other methods of marketing, instead of relying only on a good Google position!
How do you fit in work with the family? My partner also runs his own business from home, and helps me with mine by packing my orders. The kids have always been used to at least one of us working from home, so they know they have to be quiet at times, and let us get on with work. They generally amuse themselves well, and can always come to us when they need something. It’s good for us too because their interruptions (demanding food mainly!) mean we have an enforced break from work.
During term-time, we have the luxury of child-free hours so make the most of it. My work day normally starts as soon as I get up – I turn the pc on, then the kettle, then I print all the orders off while getting the kids up and ready for school. My partner normally starts packing them while I’m on the school run so by 9 am we’re already up and running.
My working day usually finishes at 3.30 when I collect them from school, but I have to still dash off to deal with phone calls, orders and queries until 6pm when I let the answer machine take over. Saying that, when you run your own business from home it’s almost impossible to switch off completely. I always check orders and reply to customer emails etc in the evenings when the kids are in bed, so whilst it’s a disjointed working day, it’s a long one nonetheless.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area? Don’t try and be like everyone else – there were many people doing this when I started out, but there are many, many more now, so do your research and try to do something different. Decide which end of the market you want to target, and concentrate on that. Don’t try and please everyone at once. And don’t expect quick results – give it at least 18 months.
My website: www.funkydorypartybags.co.uk
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