It is not uncommon for people up and down the country to worry about how they are going to get their washing dry, but not many of us have turned those concerns into a successful business.
But that’s what Sarah Turner did with Little Beau Sheep, a business selling a range of handmade laundry and body care products, most notably its wooly tumble drier balls.
The idea for the products came when Sarah and her family ? her husband and two small children ? moved into a small flat while they were having major work done on their house. As all parents know, small kids mean lots of washing, and with no outside drying space that meant Sarah was forced to turn to the tumble dryer.
However, she felt guilty about just how unfriendly to the environment having the tumble dryer on all the time was, and so tried sticking plastic drier balls in with the washing to help speed up the process. These balls sit in with your washing to boost the air circulating around the clothes, helping to dry them more quickly.
But as they made a huge amount of noise, Sarah decided to try making her own drier balls...out of wool.
Starting from the kitchen table
Sarah had previously worked in marketing for HSBC, but says that she wanted to move away from such a time-consuming job once the children arrived, which led to the launch of Little Beau Sheep.
She says the initial outlay on the business was low, as her love for crafting meant she already had a stash of wool and felting needles to hand. She started from her kitchen table, selling the products she made through craft website Etsy.
Sarah says that she would highly recommend Etsy as a useful outlet for other aspiring entrepreneurs with handmade products as it is “an amazing and cost-effective platform to test the market demand, with low investment”.
Combining the Etsy store with farming shows and school fairs, word about Little Beau Sheep began to spread. Sarah says that in these early days any money made was invested back into the business in order to purchase more stock and supplies to help deal with the interest.
She also looked to increase the different types of product on offer ? as well as drier balls, she moved into laundry and body care products, from felted soap to linen spray, and all with a woolly theme.
Running a business with small kids in tow
Sarah notes there was “no great fanfare” when she first launched, though “my friends were all really supportive and keen to try out the felted soaps and laundry balls for themselves to see if this really worked”.
Attempting to get a new business off the ground with small children around is far from easy either.
As Sarah points out: “You can’t keep conventional working hours. You make the most of any nap times. I also had to make the regular trips to the Post Office fun by promising a trip to the library or a baby-chino in return.”
Exhibiting at shows was a useful way to spread the word about Little Beau Sheep according to Sarah, as “people can touch, feel and smell the products for themselves, which is really important for a product like mine”.
Tapping into social media has also been useful, with the firm quickly attracting a “small flock of followers” who would suggest different breeds of sheep for Sarah to use in her designs.
That social media presence also led to collaborations, such as a team-up with the local Crowkeld Rare Breed Smallholding
which saw the firm release some wool from its Hebridean sheep just for some limited edition products to mark Wool Week last October.
Turning to the crowd
Social media helped with funding too, with Little Beau Sheep turning to crowdfunding last year in order to raise money to pay for a redesign of its packaging to cut out the plastic.
Through the Crowdfunder website, the business raised Sh250,164 over a 14-day period.
Sarah says that crowdfunding was “very effective to both generate the funds to cover it and raise awareness for the sheep and the brand”.
While Little Beau Sheep came from humble beginnings, it’s clearly caught the imagination, with Sarah confirming that this year it is on track for six-figure sales revenues, while she is now earning more working for herself than in her old job.
She suggests that other would-be entrepreneurs keen to start their own businesses should not “wait for perfection”, arguing “it’s best to start small and test your idea before investing significant time and money into it. It doesn’t need to be fancy to start with, but it’s better to start something than do nothing while you wait for it to be perfect.”
She also notes that having some personality, and allowing customers to buy into what you are doing, will win their loyalty too.
“People buy from people they know, like and trust and they also love being part of the journey, so share it with them and get their feedback too to help shape your business.”
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