This Story is from Ruth of The Little Black & White Book Project, who explains how she harnessed the goodwill generated by an initial crowdfunding ‘flop’ into kickstarting a business that saw her win Female Start Up of the Year 2018…
Tell me a little about you & your family, what your business is, and the inspiration behind getting started…
Hi, I’m Ruth and I create black and white animal themed books and flash cards for babies and toddlers. I live in Bristol with my husband and my 2 year old son.
When I was pregnant back in 2016, I learned about the benefits of black and white images for new born development. I was really underwhelmed with the selection of books on the market and there seemed to be a gap for some high quality content of this kind. So, as a graphic designer, I decided I could create my own illustrations based on my passion for wildlife and conservation and the idea for The Little Black & White Book Project grew from there.
How did you make the leap from idea on paper to reality with your business idea?
To be honest, it all happened in a bit of a blur! I initially created a few books using an automated website for ourselves and a few friends who had babies at the same time as us. Their feedback was incredible, and it pushed me to want to take the idea further. In the sleep deprived first few months of being a new parent I somehow decided it was a good idea to launch a new business.
My son was never a sleeper so I spent hours with him in a sling, attached to me. Living in the steamy heat of Singapore at the time, the only thing I could feasibly do most of the time was to work on my laptop at the dining table, as it was too hot by midday to walk around with him. But this meant I had a good distraction to the backache and white noise and an outlet that felt like I had something just for me. I found the transition to motherhood pretty tough so being able to lose myself for a few hours a day in setting up the business made a huge difference to my mindset.
We were lucky that we had some savings that I could use to do the first couple of print runs. After a failed Kickstarter campaign (but some amazing support and feedback) my husband and I naively decided to jump in and order a print run of the first 3 books and 1 set of flash cards I had designed.
How did you get your first sale or client?
As I mentioned I originally tried to raise the money for the first print run via the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. This was a massive flop in terms of cash, but I did get a lot of support and brilliant feedback. Within a day of the campaign ending, I scrambled a website together on Square space and started taking pre-orders. Miraculously many of the people who had backed me on Kickstarter started placing orders on my website – a huge leap of faith considering it would be at least 6 months before they received any products in return for their money.
This drove me forward to get the stock in quickly and reassured me that there was indeed a demand for my content. Whilst finalising all of the artwork for the books I pushed ahead with social media and building the brand (something I had experience in with my 14 years in design and advertising)
Within a month of shipping out my first set of orders and breathing a huge sigh of relief that everyone was happy with the items, I managed to join Not On The Highstreet. Having this as a ‘stamp of approval’ really boosted my morale and sales on the run up to my first Christmas.
What ‘lucky breaks’ or helping hands have you had along the way that have really boosted your progress?
I feel I have been incredibly lucky, especially looking back on a bumper year in 2018. However it’s not really luck…I worked incredibly hard and pushed myself eons out of my comfort zone in order to achieve the success I have seen so far. 2018 was my ‘year of yes’ where I tried everything I could to build my confidence (which was rock bottom) as well as my profile as an entrepreneur.
By turning up, saying yes, being dependable and putting my hand up (a lot!) it meant I met some really interesting people who became invested in me. I always try to give as much as I can and by showing up with a positive attitude it has attracted some amazing support and people who have shared wonderful opportunities with me.
I have also spent time finding the support groups that work for me, the people I gel with who are like-minded and I enjoy spending time with. These are both online and offline and I’ve met some great friends through networking and business meet ups. I’ve found if you have common ground and people like you/you like them then there’s much more chance of getting that help when you need it most.
What do you LOVE about your business and working for yourself?
I feel so lucky to have found a creative outlet that encapsulates so many of my passion points – animals, sustainability, parenting, books and profit sharing. I love visual storytelling and brand building so being able to do that for my own business which I care so much about is so wonderful.
The business isn’t growing as fast as I would like but then I don’t get to work on it as much as I would like either. But that’s because it gives me the flexibility to work around family life, which we all know is a huge juggle, and right now this is what works for our family. I like being able to down tools and be there for my little boy and my husband when needed. When Teddy is poorly, I like that I don’t have a boss to answer to, I can pretty much just stop and be there for him. That’s fairly rare these days unless you work for yourself, and even then there’s still the pressure of being ‘always on’. I like that I am building the business around our lifestyle (which means I still have to freelance for extra cash) but long term I hope that means it works as hard for us as I do for it.
I also love that there are no rules, not really. As long as you tick the legal boxes everything else is free rein! There’s no hard and fast rule book that says you have to build a business in a certain way, so I like that I am learning as I go and finding out how I would like our future to look.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve had to do since setting up on your own?
Mmm…the scariest? I find it all a bit terrifying to be honest! I am an natural introvert so having to actually talk to people – a LOT – whom I don’t know, and even worse I have to sell to, that’s one of my biggest hurdles. I have to work on that continually otherwise it is very easy to end up back at square one with the shakes.
Probably the pinnacle of scary was in 2018, standing on stage at the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs and having to do a 3 minute pitch to the entire audience. Considering 6 months previously I was hiding in the toilets at Social Media Week sobbing because I felt like I had just made a complete fool of myself when trying to talk about my business to a prospective shop, and feeling like a massive failure…I still can’t quite believe I got up on that stage. And I still can’t quite believe that it saw me win Female Start Up of the Year 2018 on that day! Yikes!
Who is your support network that you simply couldn’t manage without?
My family and friends are totally awesome. My husband is my biggest support, always there for the pep-talks, the common sense talks and the ‘woo-hoo, I did it!’ talks. He’s the one that tells me not to worry, that I’m doing great and that I need to be patient and grow at a steady rate.
My parents have always been brilliant and supporting me in whatever I do so I guess growing up I have always had a bit of a ‘give it a go’ attitude. And they are your typical proud parents who will tell anyone who’ll listen 😉
My friends spending their hard earned cash with The Little Black & White Book Project is probably one of the biggest endorsements I could have too, and not out of sympathy but because I am now their go-to new baby gift provider!
I am really lucky that I have met a couple of people through my business journey who kindly mentor me. This is invaluable and their wealth of knowledge is a huge bonus to me.
The networks I mentioned earlier have been a huge support to me too and I definitely wouldn’t have got this far without them. I love that they all give me something different, from business advice to feeling like I am not alone, to inspiring stories to simply a safe space to rant or moan. I’ve also found that they are amazing places to be able to share success which is an important part of working for oneself. When you work alone each day having supportive people who give you a virtual pat on the back when you share a win is a lovely feeling.
What exciting plans do you have for your business over the next 6-12 months that you’d like to share?
Oh so many plans, always with the plans! It’s just getting chance to action them all and take my time that I struggle with.
This year, one of my biggest plans will be taking The Little Black & White Book Project to Top Drawer trade show in September. It’s a curated gift ware show and will be my first ever trade show, eek! I am keeping everything crossed that it helps get the business out there and in front of buyers from all over the country, big high street shops as well as hundreds of wonderful independents.
I also hope to keep working on expanding my range gradually to make sure I can appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This is the bit I love the most but I have to be strict with myself and figure out all of the business nitty gritty before I get too carried away.
Need help getting started?
I’m Lucy Green, a Business Coach, and I support women who are starting or growing independent, creative business ideas into real-life ventures. I offer complimentary 30-minute consultation calls – book in now to see how coaching could help you get your ideas kick-started: