Our Businesswoman of the Month for June is the inimitable Cara Sayer, who got so fed up with hanging a blanket over her daughter’s pram that she invented what is now the UK’s no.1 best selling sun & snooze shades for prams.
Would you mind giving us a brief explanation of what your business is and when you launched it?
My company is called SnoozeShade and we manufacture the UK’s no.1 best selling range of sun and sleep shades for babies. I officially launched it at the beginning of 2010.
Why did you start this particular business?
I got fed up of hanging blankets, coats, muslins and other things over my baby’s pram, so that she could have a snooze or to protect her from the sun, only for them to fall off any time I went down a kerb or the wind picked up. I tried buying a sunshade but found them to be big, hard and bulky, not easy to carry around.
I thought there must be something out there – but when I searched on the internet, I couldn’t find anything better, so … (somewhat madly I sometimes think!) I decided to have a go at inventing something to solve the problem … and the SnoozeShade was born.
What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
Cash! Cashflow is critical.
Persistence. You need to keep going, even when it gets tough. Because there’ll be days when you feel great and days when you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning and it can be really hard to motivate yourself to keep going. Especially if you work on your own and, certainly in the early days of your business, chances are all the money is going out!
A healthy dose of realism. You need to be passionate about what you do and have an unshakeable belief in yourself and your business. But you do also need to listen to feedback, particularly negative feedback. If enough people are telling you what they don’t like about your product, you need to take that feedback on board and make sure you deliver something that people DO want.
What do you think it is about you that enabled you to turn an idea into a business?
I’ve always been a problem solver – if something’s broken, I’ll try and fix it. Also, I’m a do-er by nature so when I saw a problem I did what comes pretty naturally to me, I started thinking about ways to solve it.
Also I was very passionate about it. I was completely convinced that the world needed a SnoozeShade – and luckily I have been proved right.
If you were starting all over again tomorrow, what are the top 3 rules you would follow?
- Ask other people who’ve done it already! I went to a lot of trade shows and met people who were a few years ahead of me in terms of bringing products to market and I asked them lots of questions. Don’t be frightened to ask – people who have built a business from scratch are usually pretty decent people, so just tell them your idea and ask for ten minutes of their time … you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Don’t panic! It’s easy to think that you have to move really fast with your idea in case someone else beats you to it but, actually, in my experience that doesn’t happen. So just keep calm, take your time and don’t worry about what other people are doing.
- If I was starting again, I’d probably just go straight to someone like Amazon rather than trying to sell a new product through lots of independent retailers. Sadly, that is the way to get your product out to a mass market now.
What difficulties did you experience setting up your business and what has got you through the tough times ?
I experienced lots of difficulties – from the Icelandic volcano creating an ash cloud, just as I was trying to fly stock in from China and freight prices doubled … to the difficulties of being a full-time parent trying to get a business off the ground.
It was tough and I beat myself up too much, feeling guilty all the time. In fact in 2010 I had a complete breakdown and ended up on antidepressants for a while. Luckily my mum was around and actually moved in to look after me and my daughter for 3 months.
But also I’ve always been very sociable and have quite a close support network around me of close friends in business. We look out for each other. You really do need to build your own support structure – because you’ll need those people in your life when you’re having a crap day!
Looking back now, would you have done anything differently?
Not really. I muddled through as best I could. I made a lot of mistakes – but I learnt from them. Six years on, the business has really turned a corner and has started making a decent profit, but that takes time, experience and lots of mistakes!
Starting a business can be all-consuming. What are your tips for getting the right work/life balance?
I honestly don’t think there is a perfect work/life balance. If you are the one mainly responsible for bringing up your child or children, starting a business is tough. And finding the balance is really tough. There are days you need to spend time with your children and there are days you need to focus on your business.
If you have little ones, it is important to organise childcare cover or nursery provision so that you can put decent time aside to work on your business without interruption. I wish I had done that more in the early days and not felt so guilty all the time.
But my daughter is eight and a half now and she is super proud of me and respects the fact that I have built a business. She understands that sometimes I have to say “sorry darling, I can’t play, I’ve got to go and do some work”.
Do you have a mentor and when you need advice, who do you talk to?
I did get a free mentor in the early days, for about 6 months, through one of the government schemes, and that was quite helpful, but mainly I turn to my close friends in the business, as we all have different areas of expertise. I am also in a small number of Facebook groups for people in the same industry, which is really useful.
But to be honest, these days, I tend to mentor others more be mentored myself.
What are your plans for the future?
There are still lots of things to do with SnoozeShade. When I first started I honestly thought I was one-product pony as I couldn’t think of anything else. But listening to feedback about what people wanted, lead to me developing a whole range of different products.
I am also writing a book about the process from having an idea for a product right through to the reality of taking it to market and I want to create an online course to help other inventors.
I’d also like to do some more mentoring.
Do you have any specific tips for anyone wanting to start their own business?
Make sure your idea is a valid one, that is has legs and that there is a market for it.
Then make sure you’ve got enough cash to see your idea through.
And be prepared to listen to feedback.