Game Changing Story – A Year of Dates

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I met Kate around a year ago now at a Guilty Mothers Club event where she was just starting out with her idea of doing something new. So much has changed since then, what a great story about taking a risk on starting a business.

Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Kate, 36 years young, wife to John for 4 years and mum to Phoebe, almost 2. We live in Bolton. I trained as a graphic designer and have worked as a designer, then an Account Manager in design agencies for many years.

Together John and I enjoy dance music (more listening to it at home these days than clubbing all night), going out for dinner (again, not so much these days) and travelling (sigh)!

I work part time in a design agency in Bolton as an Account Manager.

When or what was your Game Change?

My game change happened last summer, we’d agreed that I wasn’t going to return to my job in Manchester city centre as the commute would be too much with nursery and John travelling a lot for work. I was reaching the end of my maternity and wondering what would happen next. For Christmas 2014 John bought me a date jar, each week I opened an envelope and we had to do what the card said. I looked forward to Monday mornings to open the envelope and it meant we made time to spend together in the evenings, instead of sitting staring at the TV, or working!! I was telling a mum friend about it as we went for a walk one day, and she said what many people before had: “I wish I had thought of that!” or “I wish I had time to do that”, and I did have the time. A Year of Dates was born.

What went on along the way?

John agreed it was ‘worth a shot’, and using our savings account I set about sourcing envelopes, jars and writing date ideas. Many are ‘borrowed’ from the original jar, but we’d have cards that said ‘Kate cooks a candlelit dinner for John’ – and I assume vice versa, but it’s yet to appear (?) – instead we introduced a dice; even number you cook etc.

Once I had a mock up I attended a Guilty Mothers Club session and shared my idea with strangers! That was scary, but the idea was really well received. I spent the afternoon enquiring about craft fairs, makers markets etc looking for a place to sell the jars. I designed a logo and John helped me set up a simple website with online ordering and I started spreading the word on social media.

I had wanted to try blogging so he’d set me up with the domain name already – I wasn’t a natural blogger so it made sense to convert this to the business site.

We realised that glass jars weren’t easy to post so I sourced gift boxes as an alternative, then we got them printed with the logo. Now we were committed! I had enough stock to make 100 sets.

A friend I met at another Mum’s meet up (Gemma @Mancmamas) shared a post from Not on the High Street with me in August, it was to go and pitch your idea to them, it was happening in Manchester, in September! I booked a slot.

The pitch wasn’t as scary as everyone made out (‘oooh is it like Dragons Den?’) and they loved the boxes, there and then I was signed up! Suddenly things had changed! I set up my store, with help from an account manager, at the end of Sept and received my first order a few days later. Then they kept rolling in… I recently hit the amazing milestone of my 1000th order on the date boxes, just on NOTHS!

My first Valentines day was fun! I wasn’t prepared at all as I agreed to go in the NOTHS promotion, in one day I got 76 orders, the weeks total was 250 – more than I’d sold in the previous 4 months combined! I’d just started a new job so it was an intense period of time, NOTHS were very supportive, there were late nights and some tears (mine!) but we did it and I felt really proud

The injection of cash then allowed me to invest in new products and Thirty Things To Do When You Are 30 / Forty Things To Do When You Are 40 were launched. These work in a similar way but don’t revolve around dates, the activities can be done with family, friends or alone – they’re to inspire new experiences.

In June I also launched A Year of Play, a collaboration with PlayHOORAY (Claire is a mum with education as her background who has a fab company selling PlayPrompts, ideas for activities with toddlers to help development and learning.) We ’met’ on social media and both immediately thought it’d be good to do something together. These 52 cards are designed to create family memories and help parents fill those long summer holidays, or just a weekend.

Let’s talk money – what went on financially?

The initial investment used up a lot of our savings, I’d say approx. £1,500 to get it set up but there was always more costs needed! We introduced the idea of colour coded sets for parents, this used a different amount of envelopes as I’d bought equal amounts of each colour, so we needed more quicker than I realised.

Thanks to Valentines day we were able to repay our savings and have a good base in the ‘business account’. I’ve got used to (just about) managing stock levels and keeping on top of the ordering.

As I am working 3 days a week I am not ‘borrowing’ any money from the business – I guess you could call it wages.

How about the ‘balance’ question – how do you as a family hold it all together?

Phoebe started nursery 3 days a week in September which is when I started focusing on the idea and getting stock made up – it’s a labour intensive job as each set has 52 cards and envelopes to be stuffed and sealed. For 3 days a week I’d sort and process orders then at 2.45 rush out with my boxes and drop them at the collection point before rushing to nursery for 3pm pick up. It worked, I still had time with Phoebe and time to do what I needed. I also managed to put a wash on, and sometimes prepare dinner in advance.

John is brilliant, he helps where he can and puts up with the fact we don’t go on dates – we just read the cards as we put them in envelopes. Family have been a massive help too, when things get busy my in-laws would come over in an evening and stuff envelopes. My mum has a supply of cards at her house and we collect them and drop off regularly.

On a Friday – my day off with Phoebe – I can normally find someone to babysit for a couple of hours if I need to catch up, but I try to keep this day for fun mummy daughter things.

Since Christmas when I started working as well we have had to get a new routine. Phoebe is now in nursery 4 full days – the fourth day I have for the business. I also try to take some time for myself with a yoga class or swim.

We made the best investment ever– a cleaner.

We thought things would go quiet after Valentines but the orders have kept on coming, which is great, but as soon as Phoebe goes to bed the work starts.

How has motherhood changed you?

My free time is more likely to be spent in a soft play area than a pub.

It has made me more patient and made me accept that plans have to change when a little person doesn’t sleep when you think they will, or is poorly. I’m more adaptable now and I worry less about having every hour of my day planned.

I love spending time with Phoebe and have to be very conscious not to be on my phone while she’s there – it’s something we’re all guilty of and I admit I’m addicted to my phone. I leave it on the table or in the other room while we’re playing. I also make sure we do fun things on the days I’m not working, then I can drop her off with someone guilt free while I catch up.

What’s the best thing about what you are doing now?

I’m doing it for our family. It’s our business (it still seems really weird to say I run a business) and the money we eventually make will allow us to go on holiday. We’re currently buying a house and I’ve been told that holidays are out if I ever want a new kitchen… maybe this can help me get that sunshine break in the future.

My new employer is a friend who knows all about the business, she is really supportive and has attended events with me when I’ve presented the business. She is also a mum so understands the trials of nursery and poorly babies. I am really grateful for the flexibility I have, the closeness to home (5 min drive), and the enjoy being around adults, in an office, drinking hot tea – and having a guaranteed income.

If you could change one thing for your fellow mothers what would it be?

Having the confidence – and resources – to give your idea a go. There are so many great support networks out there to tap into and so many options. I’ve met loads of great Mamas who are trying to make work work for them and their families, I have a whole new social circle of people who get what I’m doing and why. Even if you don’t know what you want to do use them, talk to other people, who knows what might come of it.

What are you most proud of?

Phoebe, she is bright, happy and very inquisitive. She settled into nursery with no fuss and has never cried when I drop her off. That has made the whole process much easier. Every day she amazes me with a new word or a cheeky expression, she loves books and will sit with you and read for ages shouting at animals or objects with confidence. She is amazing.

What do you wish you’d known at the start?

That I’d be worried about having too many orders! When I look back at December, when I was at home 3 days a week and was worrying over 3 orders a day, I got 25 today…

Have you done any re-training or other development?

No, NOTHS do offer programmes and courses to help you develop, I want to make the most of these.

I stood up at the Mum’s group Manc Mamas and presented my business, while I’ve done this in a work setting I’ve never done it for myself. This was a huge confidence boost for me.

What’s the one thing anyone considering Game Changing should know or do?

It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it.

Where or how can we get in touch or find out more?,,

Instagram: @ayear

THANK YOU so much Kate x

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