‘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

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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.’

• beard­sand­daisies.co.uk

‘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.’

• wool­cou­ture­com­pany.com

‘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.’

• sur­reyspice.com

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

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