‘Our redundancies sparked great start-ups’
There’s nothing more daunting than being handed your P45. But, as these women prove, it can turn out to be the opportunity to become an entrepreneur
Meet three women who turned their job losses into opportunities to try something new
‘There’s something emotional about arranging flowers’
Jo Lambell, 37, lives in Ingatestone, Essex, with her partner, Luke. She runs online florist Beards & Daisies.
‘Looking at the photo my mum sent me, I felt so disappointed. I’d ordered her birthday flowers online the day before, but they arrived looking wilted, battered and nothing like the image on the website. “I could do better than this,” I thought. And, just like that, my business was born.
I’ve always loved flowers, and feel happiest when my home is filled with them. I once signed up to do an evening floristry course, but had to pull out due to work pressures. My job as a regional business manager for a retailer was busy and stressful, particularly after the company went through some major changes, so it actually came as a relief when I was made redundant in May 2015. I wanted to seize this opportunity to do something different.
Doing some research confirmed that there was a gap in the market for an online florist that sold unusual but affordable flowers, packaged beautifully.
In September 2015, I began a oneyear diploma in floristry at a horticultural college in Enfield, north London. It cost £2,300, which I paid for with my redundancy money. The diploma was three days a week, so I could also do unpaid work experience with a local wedding florist. It was strange being the girl who swept the floor after having a high-flying corporate career, but the placement was valuable preparation for running my own business.
I invested around £10,000 of my redundancy pay-off into employing a design agency to create my branding, getting a photographer to take professional photos of arrangements done by a qualified florist and having a website designed.
I spent time perfecting the packaging for my flowers, trialling different types to find one that was durable, but luxurious. I’d post flowers to friends and family, and ask for their feedback.
In February 2016, my website went live, just in time for Valentine’s Day. I was still training, but I didn’t want to miss this big event in the floristry calendar. I paid for newspaper advertising to market the site, and used social media.
At first, I offered “letterbox flowers”, which I selected from a supplier I’d found in New Covent Garden Market, London. They were packaged beautifully and posted next-day delivery. The box would fit through a letterbox, so there was no need for a customer to be at home when they arrived, and they could make their own arrangement.
But within six months, once I’d finished my training and felt confident in my skills, I expanded to selling hand-tied bouquets, too. A courier service collects and dispatches all my flowers and, provided I receive an order by 3pm, it can be delivered the next day. Prices range from £25-£35, and my turnover is £120,000 a year.
I now work from a rented unit on a local farm, which has a workshop, a cool room for storing flowers and a photography space. My partner, Luke, is relieved as, before I moved here in August 2016, our home was permanently filled with flowers!
Like all florists, my hectic times are Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas, but the rest of the year is busy with other events, too.
There’s something very emotional about arranging a beautiful bunch of flowers, knowing they’re going to be received by a new mum or someone celebrating a milestone birthday. I feel grateful that being made redundant gave me the opportunity to have this incredibly satisfying career.’
‘Being made redundant gave me the opportunity to have this career’
‘Craft helped me to relax – now I’ve turned it into a career’
Claire Gelder, 44, lives in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, with her partner and her two children, aged 20 and 18. She’s the founder of Wool Couture Company.
‘When I took voluntary redundancy from my job as an NHS director in 2015, some people wondered what on earth I was doing. Although making the decision was scary, I felt the time was right.
A crafting business was an obvious choice for me. I first picked up a crochet hook when I was seven and, since then, have always turned to crafts as a way of relieving stress. I’ve suffered from anxiety-related depression throughout my life, but always found it therapeutic to create something from scratch.
A few months after leaving my job, I decided to set up an Etsy shop. It was a risk-free way of getting started, as I didn’t have to pay anything up front. I used materials I already had and Etsy would take a 3.5% commission from any sales. I began by selling chunky scarves knitted from merino wool, and I was thrilled when the first one sold within a few days.
Spurred on, I expanded my range to include cushion covers and pet beds, all knitted to patterns I created myself. I approached Notonthehighstreet.com and, after sending them samples of my products, they approved me as a seller, taking 20% from each sale.
Although the business was doing well, customers were increasingly getting in touch to ask about my patterns. This gave me the idea to create ready-made DIY kits, containing a pattern plus the wool and knitting needles or crochet hooks needed to make it themselves.
I invested some of my profits into buying the equipment to make giant wooden knitting needles, hooks and weaving looms myself. I source my wool from
South America and South Africa, and then get it dyed locally. To my delight, the DIY kits were a hit with existing customers.
Last summer, I was stunned to receive a call from a buyer at John Lewis, who wanted to stock my DIY kits online and in their flagship London store. They’d found my Etsy shop and loved my products. To have the backing of a household name was surreal, but wonderful!
As a result, I moved the business from my home to dedicated premises in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, where I have 2,000sq ft for production, plus storage and a packing room. I also launched my own website, where I could make sales without a third party taking a commission. A DIY scarf kit to make one of my scarves costs £20, and a ready-knitted blanket starts from £65.
My turnover is now around £400,000 a year, with 40% of my orders coming from the US and Canada, and the rest from the UK. I have six employees involved in creating and packaging items, but I’m still very hands-on, too.
It’s hard to believe all this has happened since I sold my very first scarf. It’s given me a huge confidence boost, and made me ambitious to grow the business even more. Leaving the stability of a full-time job was scary, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.’
‘My hobby became a foodie business’
Mandira Moitra-sarkar, 46, lives in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, Samin, and their daughter Mahera, 15.
‘The smell of fragrant spices fills the air as I stir a huge pot of ingredients. There’s nowhere I’d rather be. It’s a world away from my old career as a management consultant, dealing with endless paperwork!
When I moved to the UK from India in my twenties, I craved the dishes I’d grown up eating. Learning to cook using recipes from my mum and grandmother evolved into a real passion for food. Cooking was my way to unwind after a busy day, and I got so much pleasure from hosting friends and family.
Then, in 2015, I was made redundant. After 17 years in the same role, I panicked. My redundancy pay-off was enough to keep me going for only five months. My husband was incredibly supportive, but we needed a second salary to help pay bills.
I began to apply for similar roles but when a friend asked if I’d give her and some others a cookery lesson, I was happy to help. Passing on my knowledge gave me such a buzz that I wondered if I could turn this into a business.
To keep start-up costs low, I hosted cooking classes and supper clubs at my home. I spent £750 on Indian thalis – metal serving platters – and ingredients, and got the word out via Facebook. After my kitchen passed an inspection from the local council, I was ready to go.
With help from my family, I came up with the name Surrey Spice. I charged £35 for a cookery lesson or to attend a supper club, held in my living room. They were so popular that I also began to host supper clubs at local bars, feeding up to 40 people at a time. It was amazing to see so many people tucking into my food.
By late 2016, I wanted to expand, so I created a range of nine frozen ready meals. I sourced packaging from an online supplier, worked with a local designer to create a logo, and got approval from Trading Standards. I contacted farm shops in my area and now my range, including Goan chicken and lemon rice, is stocked in 10 of them.
I now dedicate two days a week to cooking, packaging meals and delivering them to shops and have also launched an online delivery service, shipping to anywhere in the UK. Two casual members of staff help me prep and cook for events, plus my daughter and her friends serve and clear dishes for pocket money.
Earlier this year, I invested £6,000 having a small kitchen installed in my garden. It was a lot of money out of my £55,000 a year turnover, but it’s been worth it to have my own space to work in, and it means I can keep growing my business.
It’s hard to believe that just two years ago I was made redundant.
Now I’m my own boss, and I’m making a living doing what I love.’
Jo found a gap in the market for an online florist – and now business is blooming!
Claire’s chunky knitting needles are a huge hit
Mandira’s ready meals are extremely popular