As some of you may know, a little while ago I entered a couple of awards The Mumpreneur Awards and Mum and Working Awards and one of the questions I have been asked is, ‘why did you set up your business?’ and ‘what would you say to others thinking of setting up their own business?’ Well, for those who I haven’t told my story and for those who’d like my perspective on why they should set up there own business, here it is, I’m not saying it’s your classic ‘how to successfully set up a business’ story, but it’s mine and it’s working for me.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family
So here goes: For my story to make sense, it’s important that first of all I give you a bit of an insight into my background. The second of two girls, I was born into an entrepreneurial family, my dad had his own printing business and stationery shop were he and my mum worked together when we were young. Every holiday was spent working at ‘the premises’ (don’t know why we called it that!) filing, collating papers, numbering printed invoices, etc., you get the picture.
So running your own business was something I grew up with – in fact, my sister and I sold ‘pom pom pets’ we’d made to our school friends, had a ‘shop’ on our front lawn for passing mums and often used to make ‘fizzy apple juice’ *wink* in our shed, to exchange for sweets with our buddies. On leaving school, I went to work at East Midlands Electricity for 10 years, where I had a great time, working simply to have money to go out at the weekends, not pressure, responsibilities, just fun – it was the Eighties!
Waving goodbye to the 9 to 5 – Operation Raleigh
Then in 1992, getting bored with the 9 to 5 and weekend ‘binges’ I had the opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe with Operation Raleigh for 3 months doing charitable work and having life-changing adventures. These 3 months of exhilarating, scary, life-affirming experiences, were to be turning point in my life and opened my eyes to the possibilities than could be min
University, my first business and starting over
Fast forward to 1995, I moved to Nottingham to study BA Hons in Design Management, in 1998 I graduated with a First Class Degree and in 1999 I set up my first business, Lighthouse – a healthy option catering company. With no other business serving this market in my area, the business was an instant success, within a few months I had taken on staff and my client base was growing – then disaster. One day when preparing the orders my legs collapsed. To cut a short story, shorter I had got ‘spondylolthesis’ grade 3, a degeneration spinal condition which my consultant bluntly advised me could mean paralysis and absolutely NO children, if I didn’t have it operated on. That was it, with only 2 weeks warning to my operation date, I had to give up my business and lay off my staff. Three operations later (the first operation was unsuccessful and the third operation was to rectify a substantial mistake they’d made in the second – that IS really a long story) and 6 months prostate and later in a wheelchair I was without a business or a job.
How Deal or No Deal set my life on a new course
However, by September 2000 I had got back into employment at Nottingham City Council as a marketing assistant. In 2001, I got married to my wonderful husband Jason, by 2002 had my first son and then later in 2004 I’d been promoted to Marketing Assistant for the NET (Nottingham Express Transit) team and in 2005 had my second son. This is where the story gets really fun. Whilst on maternity leave, I was surfing for theatre tickets when I stumbled across a website which asked the question ‘Would you like to win £250,000 on a new daytime tv show?’ – well, who wouldn’t say ‘yes’. So without any expectation of being selected, I applied. A few months later I got a call from Endemol asking would I like to come along to the auditions. This was then followed up with several calls letting me know that I’d been shortlisted and that if I was to be picked, I’d be one of the first contestants on a show they were calling ‘Deal or No Deal’ with Noel Edmunds (although Les Dennis was also rumoured to have been a possible host). ‘Noel Edmumds’ I thought, who’s going to watch this, he’s not been on the tv for years – little did I know? Anyway, cut to October 2005 and there I am in the studio with 20 others ready for the show that was going to add a new exciting chapter to my life. A dozen shows later I was lucky enough to walk away with £15,500.
A flash of inspiration – a new product is born!
It was then that I knew the time was right to start off my own business again, so that’s what I did. In 2007 when my first son had just started school and my second son was about 18 months old I set up Open Design. Originally established as a design consultancy to cater for the housing market, I diversified into product design when the market started to slow down and after musing one day how long a jar of pasta sauce had been opened. Sniffing, pondering, tasting and desperately trying to recall when I’d opened the jar, I asked myself ‘rather than trying to guess how long this has been opened, if only there was a way I could easily mark on when I first opened this?’
After unsuccessfully trying to use pens and labels, either one or both disappeared, or didn’t work, I decided to put my design skills to use and come up with a solution. I then had my ‘eureka’ moment, a label which you could simply mark with your fingernail which showed the exact date food was first opened or stored. Count On It® labels had been born, a scratch-off label which clear show at a glance the date and could be used in the fridge and freezer.
After researching, designing, surveying, sourcing manufacturers, prototyping, trialling, all undertaken myself, in April 2008 my first batch of Count On It® labels were ready for market and these went on sale on my website www.countonit.co.uk. Then, after I had speculatively sent a sample off to Lakeland Ltd, an order came in from them and Count On It® labels were to go on sale in the famous catalogue, in their online store and in all of their stores, nationwide in Janaury 2009 – just 12 months after I’d had the initial idea! Since then I’ve had orders around the globe, from another major retailer, Betterware, have received glowing endorsements from celebrity mums, Amanda Holden, Angela Griffin, Janey Lee Grace and Love Food Hate Waste’s ambassador, Nell Nelson. Count On It® labels have also received national publicity in the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Essentials, BBC Easy Cook, That’s Life to name just a few.
Count On It success leads to Queen of Easy Green
Following my success with Count On It labels, I was being asked by various companies to contribute to green articles, from food waste reduction and energy saving tips, my inbox was groaning with fabulous opportunities from the likes of British Frozen Food Federation, Sainsburys, Energyrethinking.org, Simple and At Home magazine to name just a few. That’s when I made the decision to pool all of my green knowledge, eco-friendly advice and passion for sustainable design to create the brand, Queen of Easy Green.
With the sole focus on helping everyone take practical, easy green steps towards a greener life which is better for them, their pocket and the environment, Queen of Easy Green features everything a busy family needs to know, from reducing food waste, saving energy and recycling to reviews of affordable energy-efficient appliances, organic beauty products, environmentally-friendly housewares, eco-friendly family activities and showcasing green businesses there is something for everyone.
BBC Radio, Public Speaking and an invite to Downing Street
In addition, I have been invited to speak on BBC Local radio numerous times, been invited to be an ambassador for Enterprise UK, spoken at Business Link events, been invited to speak at my local ‘Meet the Entrepreneur’ events and Business Award event. Since establishing my business, the most exciting experience has undoubtedly been being invited to meet the Prime Minister at Downing Street earlier this year, to celebrate the success of small and medium sized businesses – what a night to remember.
Why I love having my own green business
Would I recommend to others that they should follow their dream and set up a business, well my answer is a resounding ‘yes’. I know have a business which is my passion, it fits around my family commitments, gives me a creative outlet, enables me to be able to interact with people who’s company I enjoy, opens up amazing opportunities where I can really make a difference, all whilst also being able to work when and where I like. I have a wonderful husband and two fantastic children with whom I can be there for whenever they need me, school plays, meal times, bed times and all those other ‘special’ moments in-between.
So that’s my story on ‘why I set up my business’, I know it’s not conventional, but if it was, it wouldn’t be me. Like raising a family, having your own business is one of the most demanding and rewarding things you can do, though by choosing something you love it will never really feel like hard work, just pursuit of your passion.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who considers I should be shortlisted for these awards and for nominating me for the other awards that I have won. I’m thrilled to be doing what I do and thank you also to those along the way that have supported me. There are so many of you, you’ve not only giving me moral support, you’ve given me practical advice, tips and a ‘pat on the back’ along the way.
If you would like me to talk at your event or would like to interview me about my green business story, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Queen of Easy Green and how we could work together, please visit my ‘What else I do’ page.
Count On It, easy peel food labels. These removable labels are perfect for jars, freezing leftovers and baby food storage, freezing baby food. No need for Sharpies, Count On It self adhesive labels can be used on freezer bags, food storage tubs and glass storage containers. Ideal for safe food storage in both the fridge and freezer, First In First Out – they are an easy to use food storage calculator. Count On It food storage labels for safe food storage, helping you get the most out of your food whilst reducing unnecessary food waste.