If I'm honest, I never aspired to run a business.
My background, first working in labs and then in scientific publishing, definitely didn’t give me many useful skills to help me in my crazy new role of small business owner. To say it’s been a steep learning curve would be an understatement!
I set up my Instagram account in January 2019 as a place to share the play set ups that I was doing with my two children, aged 2 and 4. Even though I hadn’t even considered setting up a business yet, using social media as anything more than a personal diary was a huge change for me. But I enjoyed learning the tricks of the trade and ‘meeting’ other members of the play community. I remember a friend teasing me, asking if I now only posted at certain times of the day and me feeling horrified at the thought of ever not posting at 7am or 7pm.
Things then began to move pretty quickly! At the end of January, I set up my first play dough ‘invitation to play’ with some (rather sad looking!) homemade play dough, dried grasses from the garden and some farm animal figures. Seeing how the children engaged and interacted with the set up was wonderful, it really sparked their imagination, and I started doing similar set ups each week. For Valentine’s Day I experimented with scented play dough for the first time. Which we all absolutely loved. And then at the beginning of March I attempted to make up my first play dough sets and gifted them to my children’s friends for their birthdays.
The first steps towards creating a business
One of my closest friends, who is very handy with a pen, drew my first logo for me based on a design I had scribbled on a post-it note and sent to her via WhatsApp. I typed up information leaflets and tags which my husband had to print off at work as we didn’t have a printer. It was so hard to print double sided on the thick kraft card that I insisted was used, he had to go into the office at the crack of dawn to do all my printing before anyone else came in! Unaware that A4 sheets of pre-cut round stickers were a thing, I used to print my tin labels out and then cut the circles out using a punch. This wasn’t too bad in itself, apart from the fact that the glue from the sticker paper used to gunk it up after every few punches. We had to soak it in white spirit before it would work again. I am grateful to my branding designer and friend Casey for many things but telling me about these pre-cut sticker sheets was probably the most monumental!
I think most of my friends and family thought I was mad. To be fair, I think most people still do. I always tell people I’m self-employed now as I got tired of explaining how I became a maker of scented play dough sets to strangers!
The very first Play Kits
To test whether or not this idea of mine had legs, I decided to put together a handful of limited-edition Easter Play Kits. I spent £40 on a business Gmail account and I set up a business PayPal account as I wanted to do things ‘properly’. I set all the components out on my favourite round play tray and made my husband hold a mirror at awkward angles while I snapped pictures on my phone. I posted my first product photos on my grid on April 1st and incredibly, they sold out in a day! I wish I could remember now how many kits I sold but I remember frantically counting out all of the different components that were lying all over the floor of our spare room as the orders came in, trying to make sure I didn’t over sell - something that I had never even considered happening.
At this point I made all my dough completely by hand and I had never made more than one or two tins at a time. Let’s just say a very messy and stressful few days followed… but they had sold! And the feedback that I got was wonderful. Seeing the photos of children playing with the kits over the school holidays, with their grandparents, on their camping holidays gave me the best feeling, and seeing customer photos is still one of my favourite parts of the job now.
Learning on the job
I was excited and ready to get things going properly but there’s a lot to do between having an idea and making it into a business, even if it’s a small one. I set up Organised Chaos with Kids as a limited company and started the process of CE testing the rest of my product range. CE testing is a long, complicated and expensive process. There were tears and I so nearly packed it all in. I’m creative and not particularly patient, my husband is book smart and risk averse so it’s a good balance overall, but it can be hard working together! I think a lot of the difficulty for me, which is something that still stands in my way, is imposter syndrome. I couldn’t fathom that I would need to put all these things into place as I didn’t truly believe the the business would ever take off. I think that’s why I’ve made every change to the business or to the way I work a while after I really should have done. For example, last year I hand wrote over 2,000 addresses myself – and last week I finally ordered myself a label printer.
I launched my Etsy shop in May selling four different themed Play Kits, which you can still find in my shop now (with very few tweaks); garden, ocean, fairy and dinosaur. I also listed all of the eight play doughs separately and wooden tool kits with rolling pins and stamps.
Things started steadily. Instagram is an amazing marketing tool, but my account was still mostly play based as I was bit scared to shout about my products and I think that confused my followers a bit. In September, my youngest started preschool (she was with me full time before), which meant I had some more time to work and less time for organised play set ups. The focus of my account changed, and I saw an almost immediate increase in sales. Throw in new Autumn and Winter collections, Christmas shopping and a shoutout from the incredible Gemma from Mutha.Hood and my sales were almost doubling each month.
With the money I made in those few months I bought Brenda (my 25L blender), paid a deposit to Andy from A Spark, A Flame, A Fire for my new website, asked Casey from Oyster and Pearl Designs to start work on my branding refresh and booked my first professional photoshoot with Laura Aziz.
This was the turning point for me when I finally accepted that this “thing I was doing” was a business and stared calling it my job.
So, what's next?
That question really terrifies me at the moment given the uncertainty of everything. We are starting building work at the end of January that will give us two extra rooms in the loft. These will eventually belong to the children, but I’m hoping that I will be able to move my studio up there in the summer. The extra space will allow me to employ a small team, and together we can try and maintain consistent levels of stock on the website and maybe even start looking into wholesale opportunities. But for now, my aspirations for the business are fairly modest, to survive another year! To be honest, I’m still living in fear of another flour shortage after what happened last spring!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my story so far – with all of its ups and downs! – and I can’t wait to start making your orders again throughout 2021.