I am a passionate supporter of Mum Businesses. They are popping up everywhere and buying from them supports families all over the world to pay for the things they need from Ballet classes to hot meals. The other gorgeous thing about supporting these small businesses is that you get something unique that can not be found on the high-street which allows you to express your own style. One brand I love the vibrancy and fun of is My Other Life, so I reached out to founder Lucy Parley to see what running her own business means to her.
Hi Lucy, welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! We love that you have created your own mum business and created a fantastic range of slogan T-shirts and sweatshirts that other mums can really relate to.
Can you tell us what made you take the plunge to launch your own website?
I‘d been playing with ideas for a new project for years, really. I always knew I wanted to create my own business at some point, but wasn’t quite sure what it would be. Having worked in both the magazine world as a copywriter and sub editor, and also dabbled in personal styling, it seems natural now that I came up with a business idea that combined words and fashion. Once I’d secured that idea in my head, it just wouldn’t go, although I wanted to find the right time to throw myself into it. But as we all know, especially as mothers, there’s never really the perfect time as there are always distractions and other responsibilities. Plus is there ever a time when you’re NOT knackered?
It was when a friend told me in no uncertain terms over a cuppa one morning to ‘Just f*cking do it’ that I realised I needed to get it out there and stop faffing, so I did. It was hard, as the mum guilt took over – I had two kids under eight and a part time job and my son had just been diagnosed with ADHD. I had a lot to get my head around, and was worried I’d be stretching myself too thinly, but I needed something for me, something I loved. I wanted a creative outlet and almost to prove I had it in me. So I guess it was my friend Hayley (as well as my husband becoming increasingly frustrated with my professional procrastination) who made me take the plunge!
Was it a big investment to set up to do your own printing?
Initially I wanted to build the brand and get my first slogans out there, so I started off using a print on demand service. This meant that other than the designing and marketing and creating of my shop, all the admin, etc, I wasn’t actually involved firsthand with the production process. This freed up more time, but I started to feel like I wanted to be more hand-on with the creation of my product, as well as the packaging. I suppose it was a combination of both the control freak and the creative in me that decided I needed to bring this in-house.
So I invested in a heat press and a cutting machine, for printing out my slogans in vinyl. It was around £200 for the heat press and about the same for the Cricut craft cutter. Then there are the tools for the cutter and the cutting mat, and of course the blank tees and sweatshirts from my supplier, and all the rolls of vinyl – and I get through a lot! But there are so many costs involved, it’s hard to balance, and you want to get your RRP correct for your customer, while making sure you cover all of these things and manage to make a profit.
I also decided from day one that I wanted my products to be organic and fair wear – which I think are important considerations for my target customer these days. However, this does make the product more expensive. I also have always given a charity donation with every sale, so this needs to be factored in. Creating products by hand rather than using print on demand printing also takes a lot more labour time for me, of course, and I’ve found it very difficult working out my own labour costs and how to price myself in!
There are all the backend costs too – the subscription to Shopify to set up my webshop; the subscription to Canva, where I design a lot of my slogans initially and also create marketing content; the fees Shopify charges per sale; the VAT and delivery charges added on to your stock; stationery costs for mailbags and flyers; PayPal fees; the costs for setting up a business bank account. Once I sat down and created a spreadsheet of everything I spend on in a month, I could really see just how many expenses there are, so I need to take it seriously!
Your slogan T-shirts are so spot-on for a mummy audience how do you decide which ones to use, do you test them first?
Aw, thank you, that’s lovely to hear. Well, being a mum myself, I started off with slogans that seemed relevant to me and made me either nod my head in recognition or just smile. I wanted slogans that fitted in with mum life but also just with women generally and sounded like the things we’d say to each other or laugh at on a text message. I mocked up a few and shared them among some mum friends, and the ones they loved I put on the shop.
Now of course, it’s a total occupational hazard that people are suggesting slogans to me all the time! And actually my brain is a constant whirr of potential designs and words, so there’s always new slogan ideas in the mixer. I also need to consider how many words, how it would fit across the chest and whether it is consistent with my brand, tone of voice and what my audience would like.
How important is networking when you are a mum boss?
It’s huge, especially when you’re an online business rather than a bricks and mortar shop. You need to constantly market yourself and get your ideas and products out there, and collaborate and engage with people. Nobody will see you unless you wave yourself in their faces, as you can’t just hope they’ll accidentally stumble upon your shop online.
Networking has been great for me when it comes to being able to share advice, tools and resources with other startups on a similar journey to me. Otherwise I’d be Googling everything and taking an age working out how to do things over YouTube. But it’s not just gaining knowledge and useful contacts, as the biggest win I get from networking is reassurance, feedback and support. I’m in a whatsapp group with an incredible bunch of mums in business, and we really lift each other up and give each other honest critical feedback and advice. We’re our biggest fans and shoutiest cheerleaders.
It can be hard when you’re trying to launch and build your own business around the madness of motherhood, but surrounding yourself with a supportive tribe that just Gets It is something I couldn’t recommend highly enough.
What does it mean to you to run your own business?
Great question. I have days when I think, ‘God, if I could just focus on one thing at a time, life would be so much easier. Maybe I’d be a better mum/wife/human if I just gave all this up and found a more straightforward job.’ But on the days when I think this, I then ask myself how I would feel if someone took my business away from me and I couldn’t work on it anymore, and that’s just not going to happen. I can’t imagine not doing this now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no picnic. It’s exhausting and relentless and there aren’t enough hours in the day and I’m not earning what I would be in a ‘real’ job.
While being your own boss means no one tells you what to do and you can work flexibly, it also means you have no clear working hours, no end to your working day unless you’re extremely disciplined, no one to be accountable to but yourself and only you can prioritise what you need to be focusing on each day. I have found this incredibly hard, as my head is full of EVERYTHING I need to do at once, and picking what needs to be done first is tough!
But when I’m busy designing slogans, or totally in the zone getting stuck into the printing of them and pressing them onto the tees, I’m in my element. I love being able to add personal touches and a handwritten card in every package, and when my customers send me photos of themselves wearing things I’ve made for them, it’s such a buzz. Being able to make a small donation to my chosen charity, ADHD Surrey UK, also feels really great.
I spend far too much time concentrating on what’s hard and what I still need to do (it’s kind of my default mode – I’m working on it…), but I need to take some time every day to look at what I’ve achieved and say to myself, ‘You’re running your own business here. You’ve set it up and you’re doing it. You’re not just thinking about it anymore, this is happening. You’re making spreadsheets, you’re going through your margins, you’re designing and creating, you’re marketing, you’re networking – you’re actually running your own business! You bloody go, girl.’
What would be your dream for My Other Life?
Ooh. That’s a big one, as my ideas factory is constantly churning. I think I’d love to have a wholesale outlet and see My Other Life products being sold by another platform or boutique one day as well as on my online shop. And it would be great to see a celebrity in one of my designs – not just anyone, but another mum who is relatable to my audience and really relevant to the brand, like Susie Jervill or Fearne Cotton. My plan is to also include more children’s tees on the shop, as well as gifts such as mugs, tote bags. prints and greetings cards.
Eventually the aim is to build a garden studio so that I can move my stock and equipment into it. At some stage it would be nice to be selling so many products that I’d need to buy a couple more heat presses and get some part-time staff to help with the pressing! The goal is for this to be my sole income eventually. Lots to do before that becomes a reality though.
Can you give any advice to other mums who want to set up their own small businesses?
Firstly, surround yourself with people in a similar boat who you can share the highs and lows with as well as business and marketing advice – and for them to keep you accountable and inspired.
Secondly, don’t run away from the boring numbers bit. I’m way more of a creative, get scared of spreadsheets and find doing my accounts both dull and overwhelming. It’s just not how my brain works. But it’s a necessary evil – and sometimes it’s nice to tot up how much you’ve made that month (even if you then have to take out all your expenses!). If it’s not your forte, rope in someone who’s better at it than you, or use an app that does expenses and things for you, like Quick Books. I’m going to be looking into this myself – and I’m lucky enough to have a husband (and kind, VERY patient friends) who understand spreadsheets!
On the subject of numbers, don’t forget your wage! I think many women in business find the concept of paying themselves a struggle, and neglect to pay themselves for a while. I just assumed no small business pays themselves for at least a year, but after talking recently to some experts in start-ups, I’ve realised I should have been factoring in what I need/want to earn from day one, so I’d like to sit down and look at the figures to work this out, and find out what i need to do to make enough to be able to pay myself a wage.
Aside from the boring (but crucial) numbers bit – carve out some headspace. It’s way too easy to spend every waking minute working on your business, as you’re interrupted so often by mum stuff that when you’re not doing mum stuff you feel like you should be (or want to be) working on your business. But guess what? If you go down, you can’t give a handover to your colleague and get them to pick up the slack for you if you’re a one-woman band. Also, there’s no point telling yourself you’ll take a break when X is done, as then there’ll be Y and Z to do and it’s never-ending. Now, this is advice to myself as well as any other mums in business, because I am RIDICULOUSLY crap at giving myself down-time. But if I don’t exercise or sleep well or have a little break in between mumming and working, I’m a shouty, sweary, emotional mess self-medicating with Cadbury’s and Cab Sauv. Look after yourself.