Archive | Guest Post RSS feed for this section

A New Approach to Marketing

25 Feb

Arabella runs the Natural Nursery, selling cloth nappies, slings and other baby items.  The Natural Nursery originally had premises in Bristol, but since moving to Exeter and having another baby, Arabella has decided to use alternative methods to market her products and reach her customers.

“Over the 8 years I have been running my business, the Natural Nursery, I have seen huge changes in the market and it has been very important to adapt to reflect these.  I have seen lots of small businesses set up, for example selling baby slings or cloth nappies, and, unfortunately, close down a few years or even months later as they have not been able to make a go of it financially.

Times are increasingly tough for everyone but it needn’t be all doom and gloom – there are lots of ways you can help to ensure that your business is one of the success stories.  At the moment, The Natural Nursery does not have a fulltime high street presence in Exeter, so I am always looking for new ways to make sure the local families know of us and what we can offer.  Advertising is very expensive and, I find, very hit and miss, so here are some of my favourite ways to market my cloth nappies and sling business to the local families.

1. Pop up Shop.  I love meeting people face to face but at the moment can’t commit to running a shop full time again due to family commitments. The pop up shop has been really popular with customers and allows me to commit to a few days at a time.  I found a local business that has some spare space and negotiated with them to rent a shop unit in one of local shopping arcades for 3 days a month.  We agreed a daily rate, I had some posters made up and marketed the days via Facebook, Twitter, baby forums etc.  Customers love the idea – it means they can come in and browse through my range at their leisure, they can ask all the questions that they want and many people, dads especially, feel more comfortable in a shop environment.

2. Table at local toddler groups etc. This is another lovely way to meet people and allows your local market to put a face to your name.  It is important not to be too focused on SELLING – people are there to chat, meet their friends, play with their children, not to buy something, so be prepared to introduce yourself and your business, say a few quick words and have information that they can take away with them.  If you show the group leaders and parents that you are happy to offer them information and advice if needed, and don’t go into a high pressure sales pitch, you will find that you build strong relationships, so that you will be invited back again and again and will be the first port of call when they DO want to buy.

3. Table in a local shop. In a similar vein to visiting local toddler groups, making contact with a shop that has a similar target market to yours can pay big dividends.  I regularly visit shops to provide demos of nappies and slings to their customers and it is a win win situation.  The customers have access to free, detailed advice, the shop owner has more people through the door who may buy something else while they are there and you have access to more potential customers.  There are lots of ways you can do this, a one off event, a regular session, you may simply do a demo or actually take stock with you to sell.  If the latter, it may be a nice gesture to pay some commission to the shop owner – after all you are using their space for free and they will have hefty rents and rates to pay.

4. Leave stock in shops on a sale or return basis.  This works really well with shops that you visit to do demos in – customers can listen to everything you have to say, knowing there is no pressure to buy there and then, and can return at their leisure to have another look and buy if they want.  Again, I like to offer some form of commission to the shop owner as you are using space that they could put other stock into.

5. Organise a special event. Get together with a group of other likeminded businesses where you all want to attract the same type of customers and hold a big event.  This could be a baby fair, a local street market, a bring and buy sale, a sponsored bake or dance.  Anything that you will enjoy organising, that you think your target market will want to participate in and will be FUN, would work.  With clever budgeting, it shouldn’t cost much more than the price of hiring a local Scout Hut or community hall, and that would be shared between the group of you.  Use Facebook, Twitter, posters in local shops and cafes and each other’s existing network to market the event, drop the local press a line about it (if you tell them in advance they may publicise the event for you and then you can also send them a short story of the event itself with some photos, so you could be in the paper twice).  On the day, make sure you circulate to make lots of contacts and remember it is not all about how much you sell on the day, the friends and extended network you create will pay dividends in the long run.

Remember, building a successful business is a long process, so don’t be too focussed on the sale today; look to creating a flourishing network of contacts that know you to be THE expert in your area and they will soon be recommending you to all their friends and clients.”


Arabella has been running the Natural Nursery for over 8 years, selling a range of cloth nappies and baby slings.

Arabella is available for demos of slings and nappies at various locations in Exeter, including the new baby shop, Lilibets on Fore Street, Heavitree, Exeter, on Wednesday afternoons.

Full details of these and other events arranged by Arabella can be found on

You can also find the Natural Nursery on Facebook.

Getting more visitors to your website – Search Engine Optimisation

4 Feb

Tim from has kindly shared his top ten tips for Search Engine Optimisation – a term that most of us have heard of, and know we need to use to increase our website traffic, but don’t know where to start to improve it!  These useful tips should help you get your website coming up on Google searches and getting more visitors to your website.

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is essentially how you get to the top spots when people search for what you offer on the internet. A website can look amazing, it can have the best deals in the world, it can provide invaluable advice, but the people searching for these things need to be able to find it.

So, what can you do to ensure your site turns up higher on the search engines?

Here are some easy steps:

1. Think like a customer. Ask yourself what your ideal customer would type when they’re looking for what you offer. Don’t call a website ‘The Amazing Emporium’ if what you actually sell is ironmongery!

2. Check what people are actually searching for. Check the Google Keyword Tool for how many people use certain search terms. (No-one searches for ‘The Amazing Emporium’, but over 22000 people searched for ‘Ironmongers’.) If you have a well recognised brand, use it, but otherwise concentrate on informing people of what you do.

3. To do this, your website needs to reflect what you do accurately. The title of each page needs to be descriptive. Calling your home page ‘Home’ doesn’t help anyone, nor does calling inside pages ‘page 2’ or similar. Let’s say you call your site ‘Architectural Ironmongery from Dorothy Jenkins Torquay’. This gets the people searching for your company name if they know it, what you do and, especially when combined with a region, you should start to turn up on Google for a good combination of searches which are relevant to your customers.

4. Aside from the title, you also have Heading tags. These are like headlines and sub-headlines in newspapers and can be used to further describe what you offer. Your H1 tag is the most important, so maybe ‘South Devon’s Premiere Architectural Ironmongers’. An H2 tag, or sub- headline could be ‘Door handles, knobs and letterboxes from Dorothy Jenkins’. You’ve now just expanded your search terms!

5. You will also need what is known as ‘body’ text to describe exactly what you sell. Ideally this will be around 300 words or so, accurately explaining what products you sell and what services you offer. Don’t try to stuff this with keywords, but do at least mention the things that you expect people to search for in this text. Keep it natural, try to engage with customers. Remember the marketing formula of AIDA – gain Attention, grab Interest, encourage a Decision and then suggest an Action they can take.

6. People love pictures. Unfortunately search engines don’t! So, include pictures for the people but, for the search engines, you have to make sure that the code they read is also descriptive. Instead of having ‘website picture 2.jpg’ call it ‘Quality brass door handles and Ironmongery’. You also get the chance to give it an alternative text tag, or ‘alt-tag’, which is the text that shows up when you hover your mouse over the picture. This can be a touch longer than the title but, again, should be descriptive and include likely search terms, like ‘Brass door furniture from Dorothy Jenkins – Torquay’.

7. Once your site is set up, make sure that you can use it. You should be able to get to every page on the site with no more than two clicks from the homepage. Interlink pages that are relevant to each other ‘So now you’ve seen our hinges, why not also look at our <locks and escutcheons> page!’

8. If you are happy with your site, go live! Submit your site to Google, as well as ‘pinning’ yourselves on Google maps. Also submit to Bing, as many companies have this as their default search engine. Finally, find an appropriate category in Dmoz to submit yourselves to, preferably within a region you cover, as their human editors may decide you’re being overambitious with your new site!

9. Tell everyone, especially those online. Ask them to share your homepage address on Facebook and Twitter. Search engines love to see a website which is engaged with its users and online social media links are their way of scoring your site for this.

10. Finally, start to create backlinks from other sites to yours. This could be by listing your site on the website of your trade body, or by developing links with other companies, whose services complement your own. For example, Dorothy Jenkins may decide to exchange links with a local door carpentry company and a fitting service. However, these links must be relevant – don’t be tempted to swap links with a site which is completely unrelated to yours. Many people will try to sell you links but this should be avoided: often search engines will penalise your site for trying to buy your way to the top. If you want to spend money – give it directly to one of the search engines, through a scheme such as Google Adwords, but read their guidelines first – a badly designed advert could be costly and ineffective.

Once you’ve done all of this, you should be well on your way to turning up in searches that your customers use. Aim for page one, as it is rare that people look beyond this, unless it is for something incredibly specific.

There is one thing you should continue to do – blog. Google loves a website which is updated regularly and a weekly or monthly blog will show that you are constantly refreshing your site. It also gives you a chance to showcase new products, introduce new staff, or talk authoritatively on a subject your company has expertise in. Publicise this regularly through your company Facebook page and Twitter feed. If your blog is interesting, funny, or of genuine interest, people will share the link to it, or even ask you to write for their websites on your specialist subject which may provide a link back to your own. And so the whole thing evolves!

Enjoy. Don’t get obsessed (that’s our job!). Write good content and offer a good service. Everything else will fall into place in time.

Website advice from the


My Dog Wants

21 Jan

Last summer I picked up my appointment list for the day and was surprised to see that one of my customer’s business ideas was making dog biscuits.  Not the most obvious business idea I’m sure you’ll agree!  I was intrigued to meet Alison and find out more about her idea.  When we met, she was in the middle of health and safety and labelling procedures with Trading Standards.  It was a long, complicated process and she kept coming up against brick walls, but she kept at it and her determination paid off.  She has now set up as a sole trader, and her biscuits are popular with dogs and owners alike.

My Dog Wants is a small, portable, all-natural dog snack for dog owners who are on the go and need to take a snack out with them for their pets, without the hassle of having to keep opened packets of food in their pockets.

I got started after we rescued a minature yorkie to join our three year old yorkie.  We found that she needed to have some teeth taken out, alongside several other health issues.  As the weeks went on, the few teeth she had got infected and so after only having her for six weeks she had to have the rest out too.  The race was on to find something she could eat that wouldn’t do damage to her already damaged gums.  I’m a trained chef, so I started to play around with biscuit recipes as I had spent a lot of money trying many other biscuits which my dogs would refuse, or couldn’t eat as they were too hard or too big.   My dogs loved the biscuits I made, and my friends’ dogs did too.

Towards the end of 2011, I was told that I would be made redundant at the end of March 2012.  I started to look for work but couldn’t find what I wanted, and all the time I had this it the back of my mind that if at the end of five months if I didn’t have a job, I would start my own business.

The biggest hurdle to date has been dealing with Trading Standards.  I needed to make sure that I was compliant with everything – labelling, food content, evironmental health etc.  At one point it looked like I wouldn’t be able to meet the requirments on a small scale.  I was devastated and walked away from the business for two weeks.  I spoke to friends, family and Opportunity Plus South West, and they all encouraged me to stick with it and not give up.  So I emailed Trading Standards and waited for a reply, which I got one day before I was due to go on holiday.  She told me I had been given some wrong information and I could carry on.  What a relief – I had a great holiday!

After returning, I talked at length with my husband as I needed him on board.  Next thing was finishing off my logo and getting the printing sorted.  That was expensive, and along with getting my insurances sorted, all I seemed to be doing was pay, pay, pay – but you have to spend money to make money and you have to believe in yourself as well as what you are making or selling.

Now the biscuits are ready, and I have them in three local shops and they are selling quite well.  I have also put posters in my home windows so when people walk past they read them.  Over Christmas I had people phone for some and I have delivered them locally or I’ve posted them.  I have decided to go steady and not run before I can walk.  I have also signed up for some local food and drink fayres, one being our food and drink fayre here in Moretonhampstead in March 2013 and also the Chagford show.  Anywhere that I can get my product seen.

My advice to anyone considering starting their own business would be: if you have an idea run with it!  Get as much help and feedback as you possibly can.  Luckily I have found a local business lady who is also helping me as a mentor when I need it and I’ve had great support from Sue and Chloe at OPSW and they’ve put me through to other departments to help with all sorts of aspects of running my own business.

Decide what market you want to get into and get feedback from your customers.  Starting my own business has been the best thing ever, even though I’m already having some sleepless nights as I’m always planning and thinking of new ideas.  It’s not easy and I don’t expect to get any real return for at least three years, but I can be patient – good things come to those who wait.  It won’t always go right, but you have to persevere and learn from your mistakes – they will happen and you have to adapt, as I am still doing – it always go perfectly first time.  (See our story about Seashore Ceramics for a great example of a business having to adapt.)

You never know, one day you may see my two little dogs’ biscuits in your local supermarket!  Both of my beautiful yorkies are doing extremely well and enjoying the attention they get from being on the biscuit label and trying recipes and the finished product.

For more information, email Alison:

Trading Standards offer free business start up advice and can help you to meet all relevant legislation for your business idea – they can check your website meets regulations, check your toys are safe, check that your labelling says everything it needs to.  Get in touch with them early on in your business start up process – it’s much easier to do things right from the start than to go back and change them later.

What has been your biggest hurdle so far?  How did it feel to overcome it?  What did you learn in the process?

Business profile: Gosling

8 Oct

Today brings the start of the third annual International Babywearing Week, so today’s business profile is about my own business, Gosling.  I started the business in August 2010 after trying out several baby slings and finally finding a combination that I thought was suitable for anyone, worked from baby to toddler, and was reasonably priced.  I want to be there to show parents how to get the most from a sling from the start.  The business has grown over time and I now also teach Mums to make their own slings, they learn a new skill and make something pretty and practical that helps make life easier with a baby.  Gosling is a micro-business that I love running as it has been a real confidence boost for me.  Whilst on maternity leave, it was great to have something aside from childcare to focus on and to challenge me.

I am hosting a sling walk on Friday 12th October 2012, meeting at 10.30am at Teignmouth Pier.  Please feel free to come along if you’d like to try out a sling with your baby!  (Pregnant ladies and pushchairs welcome too!)



This is the full story of how I got to this point:

After having my first child, Oscar – now three, I returned to my job as an Employment Coach, helping disabled people into work, for two days a week.  Unfortunately with my employer, two days amounted to 15 hours and meant I didn’t quite qualify for Tax Credits.  So I decided to take my newly discovered love of babywearing (or carrying your baby in a sling) and try and start a little business – Gosling – to top up my hours to 16.  My business started off with me making simple ring slings for friends, and I was quite happy plodding along making a couple of slings a week on top of my other job and looking after Oscar.

Then I got pregnant again, and then all of a sudden we found out that our office was going to be closing down and I would be made redundant!  This actually timed pretty well for me as I still qualified for Statutory Maternity Pay, and it meant I could start my maternity leave early and really relax and enjoy the last few weeks of pregnancy.  I was really glad to have Gosling though.  Although it was never going to make me huge amounts of money, I still had an answer when people asked me what I did, and I had something other than children to put my energy into.  I was also very aware of how hard it would be to find a job on a part time basis when I had small children, let alone one that was rewarding, well paid, interesting, and varied.

I got in touch with Opportunity Plus South West, and explained my situation, and that I wanted to look at turning Gosling into a bigger business.  Opportunity Plus South West helped me obtain funding from Unltd to run sling making classes, and they are more successful than I could ever have hoped for!  It is incredible seeing these Mums who have never sewn, and have never even thought about using a sling – after an hour or two with me they’ve made their own beautiful, unique sling that they’re immensly proud of, and they’re carrying their baby round, kissing and cuddling and chatting away with them.  I’ve also trained as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and a Babywearing Peer Supporter.  My main aim was to help Mums to enjoy those early weeks, to remind them that there is more to life than milk, poo, and sleep!

Best of all, I have now started working at Opportunity Plus South West as well, so I have the security of a regular, predictable income and a job I love, alongside running Gosling.

Direct Sales: Pampered Chef

1 Oct

Pampered Chef is another example of a Direct Sales company.  Consultants come to your home (or workplace, school, youth club, day centre, etc) and do a cooking show where they showcase their products whilst creating lovely nibbles for your guests.

Caroline Cannon is Mum to Jack, 3, and became a Pampered Chef consultant in October 2011.  She also works part time in Customer Services.

Pampered chef is an American company that was founded in 1980. It offers high quality kitchenware and tools and is sold through the party plan (like Tupperware, Ann Summers).  It offers hosts amazing incentives for having a party; consultants (like myself) are incentivised and rewarded for selling the goods and people that buy the products are investing in amazing superior kitchenware that will not leave anyone disappointed.

I was recruited at a Pampered Chef party hosted by a friend. It’s not something I would ever have dreamed of doing but I love it. I love the flexibility, meeting new people, my new cooking skills and newly acquired confidence.

When my director (who was the consultant at the party I attended) talked about extra money and ‘how £50 was a lot of money you could earn instead of watching the TV instead of an evening’ I realised this was a real opportunity I should grab.

It instantly appealed to me and I haven’t looked back since. It’s an excellent way of meeting new people and will give you a confidence you probably never knew you had!

There are monthly meetings and these introduce to you all the other consultants in the area and there is always a cooking show. It’s a great way to see how others might do a cooking show and everyone is always very friendly.  My experience in going to these meetings is finding out about everyone else and their story about getting into Pampered chef. There are many who used it as a stepping stone to get back into work after having children. And this is massively successful. Having children seems to lower women’s confidence and it can take a while to build this back up. I can honestly say that the women I meet now are so confident and love what they do.

How much you want to work is entirely up to you. You can choose to pursue it as career, and indeed a very successful one at that.  Or you could do what I do and hold one or two parties a month.

I am more than happy to talk to anyone about Pampered Chef, and if you want to discuss anything please don’t hesitate to call me on 07810 501385 or you can email at

Direct Sales: Usborne Books

24 Sep

Direct Sales is a great way to start out in self employment, especially for Mums.  It is completely flexible and all the hard work is done for you – your customers generally already know and love the brand and its products, you just have to go out and sell them!  There are so many companies now offering these positions (Pampered Chef, Neal’s Yard Organics, Craft Superstore, Avon, Kleeneze, Usborne Books, Body Shop to name a few), you are bound to find one that sells products that you are passionate about and can enjoy selling.  You can set your own hours and targets, you might do three parties a week, or one a month – it’s down to you.

This is Anita’s story.  She is a Mum of two who also works part time.

Usborne at home is the award-winning direct sales division of Usborne publishing. I started working as an Usborne organiser in Exeter a few months ago. The job revolves around selling children’s books from home and hosting book parties (for yourself and others). I am a mum of 2 and already work part time but I needed to find a way to boost my income. Direct sales was a good option as it has very flexible hours. You can even take your kids along with you when you are hosting book parties so this saves on childcare. I love their children’s books and also meeting other people so the work is enjoyable. It doesn’t always feel like work because parties can take the form of coffee mornings, playdates or even an evening with wine and nibbles! And my kids have benefited from lots of free books. The easy bit: no experience is necessary, just enthusiasm. There are no minimum sales targets so you can work as little or as much as you like. It is not difficult to make sales because you have access to Usborne’s full range of great titles. You earn at least £1 for every £4 of books you sell. The party host, which can be yourself, also earns lots of free books (initially 20% of total sales plus a book of the month). If you progress to team leader then you also get generous bonuses based on the sales of your team members. You can even get your own Usborne website and break into online sales. The hard bit: you will need to network enthusiastically in order to book lots of parties and qualify for the best bonuses. Your only outlay is £38 for the starter pack – this contains great sample books and all the stationary you need to start selling. This is actually a bit of a bonus because the books RRP at £150! Usborne will refund this if you sell well. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for people trying to get back into employment, especially parents with young children.

If you would like to find out more about joining my team, would like to host a party, or would like to come along to one of my parties to see what it’s all about then please call Anita on 07863165724 or email

Adapting to Change: Seashore Ceramics

24 Sep

A couple of years ago I was wondering what to get for a good friend’s baby’s christening and first birthday.  She was having a tea party, so I decided that I should paint her a personalised teapot.  Moments after deciding this I walked past a closed shop, with a notice in the window “Pottery Painting Studio opening soon”.  Fate was on my side that day!  The lovely Seashore Ceramics opened a couple of weeks later.  Unfortunately they have had to come to the difficult decision to close the shop now, so this is a story all about adapting to change.

On leaving university, I went straight into a career in publishing and marketing, working for companies such as Reader’s Digest in London. However, the industry is going through a huge time of change at the moment, with an increasing amount of restructures, buy-outs and redundancies happening. On moving back to Devon both me and my husband had taken office jobs but really felt like it was time to make a change and become our own bosses.

I had always joked to friends that one day I would set up a pottery painting cafe because I’d enjoyed doing it on friends hen parties so much, and I decided to make that dream a reality. We searched for a suitable location and decided on Teignmouth as having a busy tourist trade and not being too far a drive from our home, plus not being too close to any similar businesses. We found a retail premises which we did up from scratch – I was pregnant at the time and stripping wallpaper up a high ladder with morning sickness was an interesting experience! We also got training in how to glaze and fire the pottery from our suppliers and spent many evenings running profit and loss forecasts, working out who was best to buy our stock from, and developing our website and branding. It was so much fun putting all the knowledge I had learnt in my previous time in marketing into my own business!

The shop opened in April 2011, to a warm reception from the lovely Teignmouth locals. We quickly discovered that the business was more dependent on the school holidays than we had hoped, but gradually things built to a lovely busy summer season. We worked hard to build a local customer base by doing events at local school fetes, preschools etc and our regular customers soon became friends too – one of my favourite parts of the business! However the winter season was extremely quiet in Teignmouth and we did begin to wonder if it was the best location for us, so decided to stay one more summer and then re-assess our plans. Our baby daughter also arrived in the winter and the reality of running a shop-based business soon hit home – amazing in some respects, that we could bring her in with us every day and she has met so many lovely people, but also very hard work in others (for example trying to get a teething baby to nap in a busy shop!)

Summer 2012 was still nice and busy but we really found ourselves affected by the weather, and another business which had opened up in Teignmouth also offering pottery painting. As petrol costs went up and up the cost of commuting from Bovey Tracey to Teignmouth every day also became a major factor. So with a heavy heart we decided not to renew the lease in September.

However, the story doesn’t end there! Over the last year or so we have begun the makings of a mobile business with the sessions we have been doing in schools, preschools and for Brownies, Guides, etc, so we will be continuing build that over the next few months. One of the best things about having the shop has been that we have both discovered a love for making our own ceramic artwork and will be selling this at craft fairs on a regular basis in future. I also discovered a slightly geekier interest in bookkeeping and am hoping to do a course in this as soon as childcare for my daughter allows. We have kept our kiln and pottery stock so will be running ‘pop-up’ sessions in local village halls in the school holidays, and will be keeping our ear to the ground to hopefully find a great new location for next summer, hopefully nearer to where we live.

The main thing I have learnt from being self employed is adapt, adapt, adapt! It’s very hard to do so when a business, especially a shop, becomes your ‘baby’, but I feel really positive about the opportunities the future holds for our business. If anyone is interested in booking us for a mobile session, please contact us on 0776 474 4569,, or through our facebook page: