I met Vicki because she got in touch with me via the Masters of Many site, after having seen an interview on someone else she knew. It’s always lovely that people get in touch to tell me their story, and Vicki was lovely to interview. She has a background in sales, but post having kids decide to launch her own business in teething jewellery, Bo&Bel, named after her two daughters.
She’s a great example of someone who has been driven to work flexibly to make parenthood work for her, but in the process, has struck upon an idea that she fully believes in, and truly loves what she does.
I hope you’re as inspired by her journey as I was.
Tell us about what you’re doing now and your journey to date…
I was in a job previously for 8 years. I’ve been with my husband Sam for 11 years and when we got married and decided to try for children, it didn’t happen straight away. We had IVF and I got pregnant with twins. I had quite a few problems during the pregnancy, and got signed off at 23 weeks, as I was huge. I always felt that I would want to go back to my job as a hospital sales rep, but as time went on, I realised that I wanted to stay at home with the girls. I thought about setting up my own business, although I didn’t really know what in, but I knew that I wanted the flexibility to work around the girls.
It came out of the blue, but I used to wear a lot of costume jewellery, and when the twins were teething, they used to pull and break lots of my necklaces. I decided to research into teething jewellery that mums could wear that would be safe for babies to teethe on. There were brands on the market, but I wanted to do it so I could put my own stamp on it. My idea was focused on the mum feeling stylish and getting a bit of herself back, rather than the baby teething.
I had all of the ideas and no brain power, because I’d been with the twins, and they take up so much of your time. I didn’t feel like I could give it my all. So, I did all of the background research and got the business ready to launch, and when they started school, I went home and started the business. It was a year in the planning.
So, that’s how it started. Since then, it’s grown. Initially, I was making necklaces and teething rings, and I quickly realised that I didn’t have time to make the quantities that I was selling. I decided to stick to the teething jewellery and focus on that.
I set up a website straight away, so it was online, but I also went to local playgroups and meet ups. When I felt more confident with the brand and myself, I started approaching retailers and getting the product into shops. My first stockist was a local shop called Greenwich Baby. From then on, I wanted to expand across the UK, so I started contacting boutique children’s shops, and as time went on, the shops started contacting me, which was brilliant.
Did you have in mind that you wanted to split your time in a certain way, or was it just flexibility you were seeking?
I knew it had to be flexible, as we don’t have parents locally or any extra support to help me work around the girls. Going back to my old job wouldn’t have given me that flexibility, as it involved several nights away a week, but equally I didn’t want to be a stay at home mum. I’m creative, and wanted to use my brain, and I had a lot of ideas I wanted to get out there.
Did you know other people who had started their own businesses?
My mum had started her own business when I was little. She had a shop where I grew up. Starting my own business was never a scary option, because I knew if I failed I could always go back to applying for a job, and at least I would have tried it. But I didn’t want it to fail!
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
I’ve been going for three years, and I’d say it took me about a year to feel like I’d made progress. The first year was all about marketing myself and the business, but also finding my little niche, and concentrating on the jewellery.
I had a logo when I started which was quite ‘mumsy’ and had stitching on because it was about the sewing side too, but it didn’t really represent the brand well. Once that was redesigned, I felt much more confident about the brand, and where it was going. I had new packaging to make it feel professional, and it meant that a mum would really feel like she’d been gifted something special. It took that year to get all of those details right.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
In the first year especially, you have highs, where retailers contact you, saying the product is amazing, but you also see competitors and question ‘what makes me different’? You have to tell yourself that you’re doing something different, and you want to stand out.
What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
It’s just me in the business, so I’m covering every role, and it’s been a big learning curve. In my old job, I used to do account management. With the business, I’ve had to learn to do things like creating a website, creating the packaging, and the look and feel of the brand.
Instagram has been great at providing a resource to ask other people how they’ve built their business, and people have been great at mentoring me and helping me along the way.
In the first year, it was so hard to manage my time. It was meant to be fitting in with my children’s lives and at points it felt like it was taking over. It took about a year to get into the flow of things and manage my workload. Once you get a system, it becomes easier to switch off at the end of the day and focus on the girls.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I get the fear as to whether it will work, am I doing the right thing, am I being a good mum…. I just have to sit back and speak to friends and realise that sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t always see what is going on.
Sometimes people I know look at the website, and say ‘wow, it looks like a proper brand!’. When people look at the website, and give you positivity back, you feel proud of what you’ve done, where you’ve come from and what you’ve achieved. You have to believe it’s worthwhile, and give yourself a kick up the bum and get over the fear. The adrenaline of fear makes you push yourself to do things that you wouldn’t necessarily do. I’ve learned to embrace it and use it in a positive way.
What or who do you find intimidating?
Networking can be intimidating, but you meet people who you see as really successful, and you find that they’re the same as you, with the same fears and meeting people like that can be really helpful. Organisations like Mothers Meetings are brilliant, as we all help to support each other.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
Walking down the street and seeing women wearing my jewellery! It’s really weird, but it’s so nice to see my product being used, and getting emails from Mums saying that it was the best birthday present their husband got them.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
I do find it hard to enjoy the moment. I went to a Mothers Meeting session on mindfulness, because I find it very hard to switch off. I do have to be more mindful of being in the movement, it’s easy to be focused on ideas and railroading through them, without appreciating things. The girls help to bring me down to earth though. If I’m having a bad day, they make you realise that business is important, but that I’m doing things for them, and they’re ultimately what matters.
Do you worry about working too much?
In the first year, it was definitely taking over my life, but now I feel like I’m much more in control. When I pick the girls up from school, it’s their time, and I’m focused on them.
How do you define success now?
For me, it’s about believing that I could do the business, and proving that I could do it to others as well. Feeling happy with the brand and feeling that I’ve made a difference. To have a product that I imagined, and then seeing it on the shelf of a shop, is success to me.
Where would you like it to get to?
I would love to get into bigger retailers. It’s that scary thing where you move to having factories and getting them manufactured. It’s a dream, and would be pushing the boundaries of my comfort zones and really put your faith into it.
I’m happy with it being independent boutiques, small shops and online, but long term I’d love it to be a bigger thing.
What’s the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
I’m much calmer because I can structure my day better. Previously, I was doing too much and working right until the moment I would pick up the girls. I feel calmer and in control of my work life now, which translates to being a calmer mum.
Does expanding worry you in that sense?
Yes. It would also take away the hand-made side, and I’d be managing the process and move away from the making. I love the creative side of making the jewellery, but if you want to grow, you have to step away from some parts of the process.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I look at broader fashion trends, and colours. Mostly, I think about what I would have wanted, about the shapes and colours that I would have wanted before I had kids. It’s about giving mums the choice of colours and designs that they would want.
What idea do you wish you’d come up with?
We went on holiday one summer, and my friend recommended a swim fin. My girls love being in the water. At first, they were a bit resistant but once they realised they could swim without arm bands, or someone holding them in the water, it was a game changer.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to be! I went along in life, just doing the subjects at school that I had interest in, but without any idea behind it. I went to university and did teacher training, but realised that I didn’t want to do that. I fell into my job as a sales rep, and I absolutely loved it.
I always knew that I was creative, having loved photography and crafts, but nothing really clicked until I did this, and it felt like I was meant to do it. I find it really therapeutic and I never get bored. It’s an absolute joy. To have your own business and love it every day is absolutely brilliant. When I started the business, I knew I wanted to focus on teething. I’d made necklaces for myself previously when I couldn’t find necklaces before for an outfit, I made my own. Making them for teething is very different because of the safety aspect, and everything you have to take into consideration.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
Don’t worry about money, just do what makes you happy. You only have one life, so don’t do something you don’t want to get up for in the morning, it’s such a waste. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with a few jobs along the way!
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Pay it forward. Do something for someone else, regardless of whether you’ll get something back, as it all comes around, and you should spread the kindness. Along my journey, people have mentored me and helped me and received nothing for it, and I’ll always try to do the same for others.