Our story: creating our Lara & Ollie silicone teething jewellery business
There’s a romantic notion about starting your own business and working for yourself. No boss nagging, no set hours, no office politics and no one limiting your creativity and ideas.
However, the reality is not necessarily quite so charming; it’s your own conscience nagging, it’s working all hours and rarely switching off, it’s no office at all and a scarily long and very free reign with a mountain of risk.
That said, it’s the most exciting, motivating and empowering thing I have ever done. And I would recommend it if you have a nugget of an idea, feel confident and passionate about that idea and are prepared to work your backside off and remain dedicated through ups and lots of downs. And you’ve got to be willing and able to take risks – including financial.
I grew up in a family run business, as did my business partner Lesley, so you could say it’s in our genes. However, the fact that we’ve both had interesting careers working for big businesses is testament to the fact that we’ve seen and lived through the reality of entrepreneurship and working for yourself yet not been ready to try it. Until now!
And why now? The starting point of any good business is obviously that gem of an idea. And frankly, this is the reason that many business don’t even get off the ground, or go back into the ground.
We knew our idea of silicone teething jewellery was not new and quickly Google became a friend, but also a foe, as every new idea we had, we found had been done already. But we didn’t give up. We mulled it over, looked at what was being done and spent hours discussing how we could do it differently and better. Luckily for us ‘different’ and ‘better’ was an exciting and viable prospect: new bead shapes, different colour combinations and a fresh and different brand to what’s currently out there.
We bought competitor products, experienced their brands and tested their customer service. We talked to our target market of women with kids. A lot. It was easy given we were new mums but it was important that we moved beyond our friendship groups who were obviously slightly biased. Numerous focus groups helped shape our thinking and reaffirmed that our idea might be doable. We were, however, prepared for it all to fall flat on its face at this point – it’s so important to listen and be prepared to hear the negative and the positive.
We wrote a business plan. It was a beast of a document and took us a while. As there are two of us, we needed to be sure that we were both on the same journey and had the same ambitions. It also forced us to contemplate things we hadn’t considered. Importantly we needed to consider the risks – including financial – and be 110% prepared to take the risks on together.
We got excited thinking about our brand and looking at names for our business. Google again quashed our excitement as we found that either someone had already used a name, or that the name resulted in unsavoury search results. We were adamant that our approach wasn’t just kiddie and mummy positioned; when you become a mum you put away all your jewellery so we wanted to enable women to accessorise again, feel stylish and more than just a mum. As such we wanted a more generic brand name. But we also had to consider that if we diversified beyond jewellery, we wouldn’t have to change our brand. We settled on ‘Lara & Ollie’ as they were the gorgeous names of our beautiful babies, they sounded good together, the feedback from our focus groups was very positive, and no one else had used it.
We started the lengthy process of sourcing our products: beads, cords and clasps. It was a minefield. Having contacted many manufacturers globally we narrowed down our search. We ordered and paid for samples, then chose one supplier based on colours, quality and efficiency and communications.
So we had a product and got really excited. Then the ‘boring’ bit began. But the boring bits are the most important. At this stage we did feel like we were taking one step forward and three back at times, so it was great having each other to share the pain and stay motivated. We ate a lot of cake, swore a lot and spent time ploughing through technical documents feeling like we were in Groundhog Day.
Above all else, we wanted to make sure our products were safe. Whilst our supplier sent us safety certificates for our beads, we also had them tested in the UK. But baby product regulation is not clear cut and teething jewellery doesn’t have its own set of safety standards. Standards differ globally and as we quickly found out, it’s an area that product safety testing companies in the UK don’t know much about either. Having contacted over 15 companies; we poured over regulations, gawped at cost (one quote was £15K!) then finally made headway and our beads were tested.
Then there was the legal bit. It was important to have advice both in terms of setting up our business correctly, but also to ensure we understood our liability and clearly communicated this. This was not an area where we cut corners and we took it very seriously. It’s also not cheap.
It wasn’t easy to find lawyers with relevant experience but we found two who specialised in working with ‘mumpreneurs’ so knew our market. The first, a trademark lawyer, ran due diligence on ‘Lara & Ollie’ and advised on trademarking. The second advised us on business set up, insurance and terms and conditions/contractual elements including legal disclaimers for our products.
We employed an accountant (someone we know!). As soon as we registered Lara & Ollie at Companies House and were trading we were required to provide accounts. Whilst our government promotes entrepreneurship, encouraging start-ups, they don’t actually make the process simple or easy.
We then got back to the fun stuff. We had a clever brand consultant/designer friend design our logo; we used the first logo he sent us which we loved. We spent a day creating our range, playing with bead colours, cords, clasps and trying on necklaces. And ran these past our friends, naming our necklaces after their babies. We sourced cotton bags for them to go in, a stamp for our logo and another friend, Jon Ellenor, who’s a brilliant photographer, did a photoshoot.
We worked with our accountant on margins and RRPs, doing our research to ensure we were competitive. Etsy was our starting point in terms of a sales channel. This ready-made platform meant we could sell immediately and easily – and their cut is reasonable.
We bought domain names – easily done online – to ensure that no one pinches our web names. Setting up our own transactional website was a big cost so that will come in due course.
We had some brilliantly positive conversations with shops locally where we’re now stocked, as well as with some great websites. There’s lots more to come so watch this space!!
We had a great brand and product, a competitive price, striking photography, all the legal/ financial things in place, but we needed to drive sales.
I have a background in PR and marketing so that is helpful. We ran a promotion for the lovely Gin Funders – the feedback blew us away! We’re attending fairs and fetes, although have had to start being selective as sadly we can’t do everything. We’re up and running on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and are starting to work with journalists and bloggers to spread the word and build our reputation. We have a lot more to come – and obviously don’t want to give away any of our ideas or secrets!!
So that’s our story so far. Setting up and running a business is genuinely a rollercoaster of a ride, more so than everyday working for someone else. The highs are higher, however the lows are definitely lower due to the bigger emotional investment that you have. But here are some top tips that we’ve learnt that might help and inspire you too…
Time. It’s frustrating when you have an idea and just want to get cracking. Give it time. To think about the idea, talk to people, research etc. Rushing and panic cuts corners.
Be brave. Don’t take silly risks but have the confidence of your convictions and put yourself out there.
Listen. Be prepared to hear the negative as well as the positive. And take on board feedback. Don’t be stubborn!
Make use of people you know. Beg, borrow and steal. It keeps costs down and it’s amazing how friends are willing to help. Think about how you can repay them?
Sounding board. Have someone you can bounce ideas off. Especially if you’re starting up on your own. Luckily Lesley and I have each other. Otherwise you’ll go round in circles and possibly lose perspective. Or lose the plot!
Childcare. If you are a mum it’s difficult to set up your own business without some form of support. Even if it’s just evenings/weekends. Washing, cleaning, cooking waits. Online shopping, ready meals and a cleaner are godsends.
Take a notebook with you. Everywhere. Or text yourself or your business partner. Thoughts and ideas come at random times. If you don’t capture them immediately you’ll forget!
Be organised. I’m a massive fan of a plan and realistic weekly actions. Set yourself realistic tasks and achievements otherwise you’ll always feel like you’re behind and failing.
Stick with it. Setting up a business seems so easy on the face of it if you have a good idea. But the ‘boring’ elements take time, understanding and provide much frustration. But they’re hugely important. Balance the ‘boring’ with the fun.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Such a cliché. But true. Try and look at the bigger picture and consider what is truly important. Sadly you can’t do everything.
Trust your instincts and go for it. You’re usually right!