Starting a business isn’t child’s play, as anyone who’s been through the experience will tell you. For Amanda Waring, owner of the innovative Mama Jewels, it’s apparently been exciting and exhausting in equal measure. Born of Amanda’s own experiences in raising her two little ones, the small business is now on track since its unique, child-friendly offerings took off.
Mama Jewels celebrates "gorgeous motherhood" with a string of specially-designed and manufactured gifts and jewellery for mums-to-be and new mums, including breastfeeding necklaces and bracelets, teething necklaces, and nursing necklaces. Amanda’s small business idea came from attending baby groups. She realised just how many mothers stop wearing jewellery with the arrival of an infant because of the tendency for little grabbing hands to dismantle dangling necklaces and break bracelets with ease.
This was a watershed moment for Amanda.
She struck upon the notion of jewellery that’s babyproof, but can also be washed, sterilised, is utterly non-toxic -- for when baby inevitably wants a taste of your trinket -- and could be practical, too (e.g., a helpful distraction for babies during breastfeeding, taking attention away from mum’s hair.) Not wanting to compromise on appearance, however, Amanda was adamant the pieces must still look great, believing mums shouldn’t have to sacrifice their sense of style, plus happy mummies make for happy babies.
The seed was sown in late 2009, and over the coming months it grew from initial idea to life-changing reality.
“My background was in quantity surveying,” says Amanda. “Making jewellery had been a hobby for me, but when I had my first son I realised just how easily it got broken. I’d also been made redundant twice in the same year, and the second time was the spur to do the jewellery idea properly. Creating my own job security was a real incentive, but it was also a way of fulfilling my creative side.”
The small business launched officially in April 2010, two years after the idea had first crystallised. During the years she had created jewellery as a side job, Amanda had simply taken her wares to craft fairs and people’s parties, but now, as a new business, new considerations became apparent.
“I’d never done marketing, PR, or accounting before,” she admits. “The hardest thing was cash flow. When I first started the company, I had opportunities to go to shows which I thought would be worthwhile but, actually, they may not have been -- they were expensive! I didn’t draw a salary for the first nine months, so it was stressful, but it is loads better now, and I earn a small salary. We came away with a bit more debt than I’d have wished for, but I think you have to speculate to accumulate.”
Mama Jewels now employs two staff to help construct the jewellery at its boutique in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, near Nottingham. That was a significant step, but it was another change that really helped things move forward for the fledgling business.
“Initially, I had a homemade website, and we were struggling along,” recalls Amanda. “But getting a professional website really made the difference. It cost about £4,000, with photography on top of that, but that was the turning point -- we’ve not looked back since then.” The new website was enabled thanks to a government grant, one of two awards that Amanda has secured to date.
“I went to Business Link to find about grants,” she says. “They gave me a Business Advisor, and I got in just before they stopped that service. He helped me with the application process within the cut-off dates, and was very helpful in moving the business in the right direction -- I was extremely fortunate in that respect.” The outcome was two government grant successes.
One, for approximately £1,000, was a Capital Equipment Grant through the local council, the main criteria for which was to be a small business in the local catchment area. Amanda used this government money to help purchase mannequins, display cabinets for exhibitions, a label printer, laptop, and storage boxes (this was a 50/50 match funding award, so further business funding for these assets came from her own business resources.)
“It was great, but I did have to wait 30-60 days for the money to be reimbursed, which was a bit tricky,” Amanda states.
The second financial assistance strand Mama Jewels secured was for £3,000 in the form of a Business Development Grant, direct from Business Link. This investment was used for the game changing website.
“The grant was critical to us getting the site,” Amanda asserts. “I wouldn’t have had that money kicking around otherwise.”
The experience has evidently been positive, for various reasons. “It’s been really worthwhile for me,” admits Amanda. “I put in a lot of hard work, but why should you get funding if you won’t put in the time? The effort in itself is an advantage, because thinking through a business plan is valuable -- even if it then sits in a folder after that!”
The source of Amanda’s financial assistance also provides her with advice for fellow fund-seekers: “I would recommend contacting your local council to start with,” she suggests.
“They’ll always have something, even if it’s just someone to talk to. An impartial advisor is a great thing -- someone to go to with your daft ideas, because you’re so emotionally involved with them that you wake up in the night and think they’ll make you loads of money! Having a person to bounce those ideas off, to give you a reality check, is essential.”
Amanda’s refreshingly honest in her account of entrepreneurial experiences -- it’s not all glamour and gargantuan cheques! But, with several celebrity fans now in tow and the company regularly up for awards, Mama Jewels is already proving something of a gem for a multitude of grateful mums across the country.
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