Posted on February 24 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is Steph Douglas, founder of Don't Buy Her Flowers, a fantastic online shop which sells "Thoughtful gifts for new mums and anyone in need of some TLC." Steph is also the author of the Sisterhood blog and mummy to two - Buster and Mabel.
Newnham: What were you like growing up and what career path did you choose?
Douglas: Ha! Oh god I was an all-singing, all-dancing roller coaster! My mum used to say if you opened the fridge door I’d perform (because of the light, not the food, although I was also pretty chubby…) – I did dance and drama and singing. I was confident and very talkative. My school reports always mentioned the fact that I talked too much. I was the fourth of six kids so I guess I learned to make myself heard!
When I was at uni, I went to one careers talk on Government Communications and thought "That sounds good" – I applied for some work experience in the Bristol office and that led to my first job straight out of university. It wasn’t exactly a chosen career path, it was the first job I applied for, but it led to a career in brand and marketing that has been pretty useful for promoting a new business so it worked out!
Newnham: We love your blog and business ~ what led you to starting both?
Douglas: Thanks! It all started after I had Buster and received eight bunches of flowers. I just remember sitting on the sofa feeling pretty overwhelmed with love and fear and soreness and leaking and all the post-birth stuff that goes on, and from then on when a friend had a baby, I’d try to send them a few bits for them – some chocolate and a magazine – or leave food on their doorstep if they lived nearby, and mostly just tell them they were doing a great job and it’s OK to feel a bit crackers.
Their response was always really emotional and so grateful, and I just didn’t understand why the go-to gift for new mums was another thing to care for when there are so many other things that could help them or make them feel understood and loved. I did some research a while later as I couldn’t shake off this business idea and found 96% of new mums receive flowers, which confirmed it all for me.
I’d gone back to work part-time after both babies and I knew it wasn’t sustainable – running for trains as I was always late, being a manager but not knowing what was going on as I was out of the office for two days (I worked in advertising so things move pretty quickly) – but also I didn’t love my job anymore and if I was going to do this ridiculous juggling act with the kids and pay for someone else to look after them, I wanted to do something I felt passionate about.
I’d set myself a couple of manageable targets that weren’t quite as massive as ‘Start a Business’ and one was to start a blog – I wanted to see if I could do the web and social stuff but also see if people would engage with me, and if my thoughts about motherhood were shared with other people. The Sisterhood blog went really well and it gave me back some confidence, which I think takes a bit of a hammering when you have kids. My husband Doug saw how hard I was working and that I loved connecting with other women and encouraged me to quit my job to start the business. We launched Don’t Buy Her Flowers in November 2014.
Newnham: Don't Buy Me Flowers is such an awesome idea - how have you found the first couple of years of business and how is it running a business with two little ones?
Douglas: Pretty full on! It’s far harder than I ever thought – lots of us start a business in part for flexibility, but the reality is you may be able to pick the kids up from school, but you will work evenings and weekends and never switch off because whatever was in you that made you start your own business is also going to sit on your shoulder driving you to keep going.
The list of stuff to do will never clear because if you’re trying to grow a business, there is always something else to do. At the beginning, it’s also likely you’ll be doing everything – I now have help with admin and enquiries and two girls to pack, but for the first nine months I did everything – stock management, packing boxes, customer enquiries, PR so the biggest learning curve is to remember that this is my business and I am in control – I set the deadlines so if I’m feeling overwhelmed I need to stop and rethink what I’m focusing on. I’m still working on that…
We’re only 15 months in and I have to remind myself - or more often Doug reminds me - that we’ve come a long way baby. My kids were two and three when I started the business and I can’t get my head around doing it with a really little one – if you can do it great, but I think I would have lost the plot. It’s different for everyone and will depend on your circumstances, but it’s OK to have some time out after having babies!
Newnham: Motherhood and Sisterhood are big themes in what you do - what advice do you have for other mums who are looking to start a business? How do you take it from a dream to a reality?
Douglas: I’m not sure I’m qualified to dish out advice yet! OK, I found it helpful to write a business plan. The thought terrified me but if you find a template online all you have to do is start filling it out and it makes you think about things that you may not have worked through yet. For example, the financials have to add up.
You won’t make any money for a while, but you need to know the model of your business will eventually lead to some money in the coffers. Also have support around you – know your team. The ones that get what you’re trying to do as much as you do and will pick you up when you doubt yourself, which you will. As a mum, if you do the majority of ‘stuff’ at home, you’ll need to accept you can’t do everything you did before and run a business on top. You will drive yourself in to the ground otherwise.
Last thing, I spoke to two successful business owners (from Graze and COOK) just before I started and they both said the same: "Go for it. Just fucking do it. Plenty of people have an idea, but most won’t do anything with it."
Newnham: Who/what inspires you?
Douglas: Women. All of them. We are a generation that has a lot to deal with, we’re adjusting to this world where we have options; we can run businesses, or be stay at home mothers, or choose not to have kids, and we are pioneers. The traditional male/female roles are mostly still there in our parents generation and it’s a huge leap and massive adjustment for our relationships, but it’s happening and sometimes it feels like the world hasn’t caught up yet. I don’t care what you do – we’re all trying our damned best. And Deborah Meaden inspires me. I just love her. She knows her shit.
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give a younger Steph?
Douglas: When I was 14/15 and worried about my body and being fat and I wish I could go back and say ‘this is the BIGGEST waste of energy and time’. It took up a big space in my brain for far too long. Aside from that, I don’t think I’d change anything about choices I made – stupid boys I went out with or crap jobs. They’ve all led to what I do now and I’m pretty happy with my lot.