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Getting Started: Your Business And Invention Questions Answered

Missed our Q&A with SnoozeShade’s Cara Sayer? Find her advice on how to get started and move forward with your idea here

We all have them. That spark of a wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-this-existed idea – especially when it comes to motherhood and things to make life with your baby easier.

That’s why, as part of our Working Mums Club, we asked SnoozeShade inventor Cara Sayer to take part in a Q&A on how to get started as a parent entrepreneur. Missed it? Here’s what she had to say.

And click here for part two on how to manage when you’re up and running.

Q: I'm a stay at home mum but have thought of an invention. What should I do to get it out there?

Cara:  Firstly you have to create the product in some way, then get feedback – that's vital. Be brave enough to take it to a show and ask people for their thoughts as you need to take some of it on-board – I made a massive design change to my product after my first trade show!

It also helps you see what the buzz points are for packaging and sales messages, for example, if someone keeps asking 'does it protect baby from the sun?' then we probably need to mention prominently that it does.

Q: I sent off my idea to a company and they replied asking me to send them lots of money. Is this necessary?

Cara: Sadly there are a lot of companies out there that exploit inventors. Some are genuine and they are expensive but they often merely pull together all the elements that you will have to do by yourself in one place and then charge a premium.

Others are just rip off merchants – I get letters from the States asking me if I want them to see if my product has potential!

Q: I’m trying to set up a cake making business in my local area and was wondering if you had any advice on promoting and accounts for a sole trader.

Cara: I hate accounts and in the early days I got my mum to keep a track of it all for me! See if you have any friends who like doing accounts or bookkeeping – perhaps they’ll swap you cakes for bookkeeping. It pays to be meticulous from the word go. Keep a spreadsheet with all your costs in from the outset and try to plan out what you'll spend.

A basic website is easy to set up even if you're not very technical

Definitely promote through Facebook – you can create a page that has a local listing and also invite all your friends to support you. Pinterest and Instagram are also great for pretty things like cakes. People tend to see images and re-pin them, which can help spread the word for you online.

Also set up a website, even if you don't take online orders (which you should do if you can). It gives people a place to see what you're doing and a basic website is easy to set up even if you're not very technical.

Q: Is there anything to help mums to start up a business?

Cara: There is no real hub as such but the British Library near Euston has a great business centre that can be a good place to start off. They do workshops where they give advice on all sorts of things like inventing a product etc.

The advice is free but remember you will need to pay for some advice at some point.

Q: How difficult do you find it running your own business and being a parent?

Cara: It's very difficult particularly when your child is little – life is a bit easier now that Holly is at school and my husband does more to help.

And of course we all feel guilty anyway that we're not doing the best we can so it makes it worse. I have learned just not to beat myself up over it and be the best mum I can be.

Day to day I try to start work at the same time and if I have a lot to do I get prepared to work in the evening.

One of the things I wish I'd done more of was invest in childcare for Holly, as I ended up trying to look after her and work whereas I think it's just as useful to spend on a day’s childcare as an advert, as it gives you think time which is really hard to get as a parent.

Q: Where can mums get funding?

Cara: Sadly there’s no specific mums funding and it's much harder to find any funding opportunities at all.

It's worth looking at entering business competitions as sometimes they can offer cash prizes

It's worth looking at entering business competitions as sometimes they can offer cash prizes or prizes that can help you get your business off the ground. Keep an eye on websites like Enterprise Nation, which are aimed at start ups.

Think about doing skill swaps, too. So if you're good at design but you have a friend who's good at accounts, can you swap skills to help each other's business and save you money?

There are also a lot of new websites, which enable something called crowd funding – Kickstarter is one of them. What you do is post up your business idea and then ask people to invest in your business – in return they get something.

So, for example if you've invented a new product and you need funding to get it up and running to make the product, you put a pitch together for that and then the first 50 people who put in £20 each get one of your new products.

Make sure you claim working and child tax credits if you and a partner earn under £50k, then you'll be entitled to some help and that could help with living costs while you start off.

Q: How do I get a product made, from prototype to final?

Cara: It depends on the type of product, then also on how much you're going to sell it for, so that means your production cost will need to be adjusted. My products retail from £17.99, which means China was the only way I could make them as you have to take into account VAT of 20%. The retailer's margin is usually about 50% and a distributor normally about 30%, and then you have to make something too plus pay for it to be made.

The best thing to do is to try and draw what you want to create and ask around for anyone who makes something similar where they manufacture. There is a British fabric manufacturing industry but it tends to be expensive – so look at Turkey as they have a strong fabric industry.

You need to make a prototype yourself (however bad it looks) just so you can work out what it needs to look like and then once you have that, it’s easier to speak to someone about making it to professional standards.

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