STEPH DOUGLAS: FOUNDER OF DON’T BUY HER FLOWERS, THOUGHTFUL GIFTS & MUM OF 3.
Where did you get the idea to start Don’t Buy Her Flowers?
When I had my first baby I received eight bunches of flowers from lovely, well-meaning family and friends. But I felt sore and weepy and overwhelmed and they were another thing to take care of, when I was doing more caring than I'd ever done in my life. We launched as gifts for new mums and very quickly our customers were asking to send packages for get well, bereavement, birthdays - basically any occasion but the main thing was they wanted to send something thoughtful. The premise was the same - wanting to encourage the recipient to take a bit of time for themselves and let them know they're loved. All of our packages have options and add onsso they can be tailored to suit the recipient and are beautifully gift wrapped with a handwritten tag so they're really special (if I do say so myself!)
What is the best thing about your job?
It always feels really good when someone gets in touch to say they sent a package and the person loved it, or it made them cry (in a good way!) and they often screen shot messages so we see what the recipient has said first hand. When it's something along the lines of 'it was the most thoughtful gift I've ever received' I'm really bloody happy. Also making decisions and being able to move quickly - so different to when I had 'proper' jobs in Brand and Marketing and there were a million stakeholders and people to approve every decision until whatever you originally wanted to do was so diluted it was unrecognisable.
..and the worst?
It has to be when you lose perspective and don't know when to stop or feel guilty and overwhelmed about the to do list that is never actually going to be completed. I've got better at this - our sales month on month show steady growth since launch and we're also growing as a team, our customer base is growing and everything is much more slick than it was when I ran the business on my own from my house! So it's remembering to pull yourself up and take a pause every now and then, and have some people around you that can help with that too!
What do you wish you knew before going into business?
I think you learn so much when you're doing it and I don't know how much of that can be taught. I'd be interested to talk to someone that did a Business-type degree and see if they were any more prepared than I was! Actually I do wish I'd realised what a thing it is mentally - the ups and downs that feel so extreme at the beginning, and how every minor thing can knock your confidence. I think probably you have to go through that and learn for yourself how to manage those ups and downs, but I feel much more steady now four years in.
What is a parenting rule you said you would never do and now do?
I don't know if I had any major rules - I honestly hadn't thought that much about parenting until I got there! I like routine so while I'm a more relaxed parent third baby around, both Doug and I and the kids all work best with some routine and I've accepted that rather than trying to fight it!
How do you manage the work/life balance?
I think probably in relation to the above question, it's more steady because I can separate those things a bit better and can switch off - I know how important it is that I do. To get something started, you have to work really hard. You're probably doing multiple roles and on a small budget. I ran the business from my house for the first two years, initially packing orders myself, managing stock, sales and PR, driving packages to the courier drop off every day... I always worked weekends, evenings and on holiday I'd be on the laptop. I couldn't really concentrate on conversations because my brain was immersed in the business and my social life was right at the bottom of the pile. But it was a means to an end and I think it's important to acknowledge that - getting something started takes hard work. It's got better because there are more people taking on some of the roles and operationally, it can run without me. I've also accepted that I can't 'do' any more.
At certain times it's back to late nights and longer hours - we've Mother's Day coming up and that is really big for us, and a new package launching, so I've got to put the hours in. But it genuinely doesn't feel like a hardship because I love it, as long as I know when to put the laptop away and make eye contact with my husband!
How do you spend your YOU time?
Exercise is important for me and actually, I've just started playing netball for the first time ever! It's for fun with a load of local women but it's been really good to have something regular in the diary that is just for me, is sociable and is something I've not done before. I wasn't a sporty kid, I was more in to art and drama so hadn't done team sports. I'm really enjoying it! Frank is still one so any time to myself - even work - still feels like ME time to be honest.
Best piece of advice in business?
When you're 70% sure of something, do it. That was Ben Jones, one of the founders of Graze.com, when I was faffing about deciding on a logo. You can spend so long overthinking something and actually, once it's live you can make changes and also see how people react to it.Noonestarts with the perfect 'thing' - whether that's a product or a service - and you want to have somewhere to take it so better to get going and start that process. For example it wasn't until we launched that we found the market for our packages was so much bigger than we intended with New Mum Gifts. I couldn't have predicted we'd end up working with Stand Up To Cancer to create a Care Package, or that corporate gifts would become a part of our business. So get going!
Best piece of advice in motherhood?
I've banged on about this so much, but what the hell I may as well keep going! It's to Pull Up The Drawbridge. I wrote about it after I had my third baby last year and the response was huge - so many women who wished they gone easier on themselves after having a baby, some really heartbreakingstories of women powering on and feeling they have to carry on like nothing major has happened and then a few months in they're ill - physically or mentally or both - because they're exhausted. The idea is really about looking after yourself. Not feeling the need to go anywhere, not having a stream of visitors, eat the food, don't put any pressure on yourself to do anything or be anywhere...babies don't need to go to all the classes and you definitely don't! All really sensible but not something I did with either of my first two children. We can keep going and do everything we did before and throw a baby in the mix but the majority of women that do will break at some point. The experience of my third baby was so different for just looking after myself and actually, I was probably feeling more 'back to normal' sooner for it. It's not just for new mums or even mums - you can stop and pull the drawbridge up at any time.
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