Your child needs their lunchtime nap. You need to go out. You settle for taking the buggy and draping over a blanket or towel in the hope that they'll sleep. Predictably, it falls off and your child wakes up. You swear you'll stay at home next time.
Sound familiar? While most of us want to scream in such situations, Cara Sayer smiled. She had spotted a business opportunity. "I wanted something that would create a little cocoon that cut out visual stimuli and distractions, and would stay safely on the pram. I couldn't find anything on the market, so I created SnoozeShade, the UK's first blackout blind for prams and pushchairs," she says.
Despite Sayer having no experience in retail or manufacture, she has developed a product which Prima Baby & Pregnancy magazine called "the sleeping on-the-go solution that mums and babies have been waiting for" and that a Which? tester said helped their baby to sleep twice as long as normal in the buggy.
Sayer is one of a growing number of parents who have set up a business involving a child-focused product or service which they felt was missing for them. The credit crunch isn't putting them off. Far from it – a new survey of 1,800 mothers by Workingmums.co.uk found 63 per cent have considered setting up their own business or franchise. Little wonder when you consider many parent-inspired businesses, including Sayer's, have soared in recent months. "I get new retailers approaching me most weeks and it is selling well," she says.
Alison Pinto launched her business Menus4Mums on the back of the economic crisis. "I decided to make a virtue out of the recession by stressing the savings to be made by using menu plans instead of going out on a supermarket dash, especially as I base my meals around quality bargains at the supermarket," says Pinto, whose online service helps busy parents to get organised in the kitchen.
But before you rush off to create your prototype, be patient. Emma Nash is not unusual in taking two years to research, tweak, test and trial her natural baby spa treatment, Tiddley Pom. "I started Tiddley Pom in November 2007 when my daughter was three months old as a direct result of her skin problems," she says. With some expertise in natural ingredients, but not in retail, she admits it was a steep learning curve to reach her launch in Harrods last Christmas. "But things are going well, with many new retailers coming on board. We are now looking to export the brand into China and Scandinavia."
Her advice is summed up in three words: understand your market. "Is there a genuine need for your product?" asks Jane Hopkins, the founder of mumsclub.co.uk, an online business club for mums. "Don't just ask friends and family. Those close to you won't want to upset you. You need constructive criticism to get the product or service right, otherwise you could waste a fortune before you've even started."
Look at the bigger picture, adds Hopkins. "As parents, we identify so many potential products that would help our busy lives, but often what we see as the next best thing isn't. It may be a great idea, but how much will it cost to bring it to market? Can you afford the production and marketing costs? How much will you have to sell a single product for to cover its costs? How much do you think people would pay in comparison to the benefit it will bring? It all sounds obvious, but so often people aren't realistic."
To help with these and other questions, a business adviser and/or mentor – as well as doing online research – can be invaluable, says Lucy Jewson, whose business Frugi makes organic clothes for babies, kids and mums. "I had the idea for my business of organic clothes for babies who wear old-fashioned nappies, and who therefore have bulkier bums, in 2003 when my first son, Tom, was three months. I knew nothing about fashion, clothing or manufacturing. I wasn't really au fait with purchases and ledgers and cash flows either, so I sought advice from the West Cornwall Enterprise Trust. I had a great adviser there who helped me by providing cash flow templates, so I could start working up a business plan for Frugi. I did research via the internet too, to find out if other mums were having the same problems about finding clothes for bulky bums, and chatted in a lot of forums about it."
Sourcing a manufacturer was not easy. "I contacted pretty much every organic cotton clothing manufacturer on the planet and most didn't want to know about a start-up. But eventually I found a lovely one in India, who worked with me and taught me what I needed to know."
After you've established the nuts and bolts of your business, it's not too late to get support, says Suzanne Stokes, director of the Tumtum brand, which includes innovative ranges of children's cutlery and tableware. "At first, we weren't really aware of how much help was out there for small businesses, and literally ran the business on our gut instinct and savings. After a year or so, however, we realised there was a lot of help, including Businesslink, UKTI [UK Trade and Investment] and MAS [Manufacturing Advisory Service], who helped us with advice and secured funding for us. We managed to obtain a grant of £18,426, which enabled us to tool many of the new products and develop the range to a point where it could achieve some impact at point of sale."
A business plan will help you achieve such funding, says Kim Farrell, corporate finance partner at Essex-based CBHC LLP. "Think of your business plan as an ongoing process – it's a blueprint for your company's success and should be regularly reviewed and updated. When the time comes to raise finance, you will find lenders take a positive view of your planning history. Many people worry about raising finance – they think it could threaten their family's security if the business fails, but this doesn't have to be the case. At some point, funding will be necessary for growth."
Alternatively, you can consider a franchise. Jo Tolley used the WaterBabies franchise to set up her business at the start of the recession. "It is nice having the knowledge and experience of others within the franchise network to fall back on," she says.
While parent-inspired businesses can fit neatly round the children, giving you an ideal work-life balance, never assume this to be the case, says Business Link adviser Benjamin Smart. "In the early days, a new business can take up a huge amount of time, and even later you may find it a more pressurised juggling act than if you were in paid employment."
Shazia Mustafa knows this all too well. While on maternity leave with her first child, she often wished she had somewhere to work for a few hours while someone watched her baby nearby. Together with her husband, she has since launched Third Door, which provides flexible office space with on-site childcare operated on a pay-as-you-go basis. But Mustafa says: "It is difficult as we are working from when we get up, checking emails in between getting ready and the children ready. We arrive at Third Door at 8am, close up at 6pm, get home, have dinner, get the children to bed, and then are working from when they are asleep until midnight or later."
For others, running the business with friends eases the load. Ilovebreadandjam.com – which makes dresses for little girls – is run by friends Sofia Dyson and Lisa Swerling. "I love doing this with my best friend," says Dyson. "It's also great that I can work from home."
'I love being my own boss and being able to work around a young family'
Keira O'Mara founded Mamascarf in 2008
"When my son, now three, was a baby, I was always trying to cover up when feeding in public, but found that nothing was effective. I wanted something that wouldn't overheat my baby, that would allow me to see him but still cover me, couldn't be pulled off, looked stylish and also stopped my arm from aching. Eventually, I started to think about designing something myself. That's how Mamascarf came about.
I didn't have any business background and had to learn as I went along. But I got advice from other mums in business,, used the internet to research, and wasn't afraid to ask for help. I used the Business Link website and resources such as mumsclub.
Once I'd designed the breastfeeding scarf, I carried out market research (speaking to mums at baby groups), tested it, sourced fabric and manufacturers, had my name trademarked, designed packaging and got a website set up. There have been many challenges, not least having a limited budget. I was also unfortunate enough to be the victim of intellectual property theft several times, with my design being copied and one company even trading as Mamascarf.
Luckily my name is covered by a trademark and my design is protected, and the copies were eventually removed from sale, but it was still very stressful.
Twenty months later, though, Mamascarf is sold in 60 independent retailers and will be stocked by Tesco from the end of the summer.
I love being my own boss and being able to work around a young family. Also it is extremely motivating as you know your company will benefit from the results of your hard work. The downside is you are never really off duty."
'I raised as much capital as I could'
Last year, Linzi Cracknell founded Happy Holly Daisy
"When my eldest daughter was younger, she loved having a drink in the car, and I would have to rummage around, find her cup and pass it back to her. I started to think there must be another way, and came up with the idea of a practical drinking cup that promotes safer driving.
I gained the knowledge I needed by getting in front of every influential person I was recommended to, from solicitors and patent attorneys to designers. After getting feedback from other mums, I realised I had the potential to make this more than just a great idea and my confidence grew.
My sister put me in touch with a local business enterprise hub. I also had help with the brand and artwork from my brother-in-law. My accountant put me in touch with my investor.
The My All Grow'd Up Cup came to life after I met the manufacturer. He put me in touch with a concept designer to realise my ideas. After that, the manufacturer worked out prices for the item to be made and shipped. I found a legal and patent team to run alongside and got my company brand designed. I also raised as much capital as I could.
Happy HollyDaisy Ltd started in 2009, and was launched ready to sell My All Grow'd Up Cup in June 2010. By the end of August, we will have sold more than 1,000 units.
I have had to employ a nanny, but I work from home so the kids get to see me and I'm there to cook their meals (meetings permitting), so they get the best of both worlds."Reuse content