This week on my Mums in Business series I’m delighted to be featuring Marianne who created Trotting Dog selling stylish stationary and gifts for dog lovers. Boy, did I enjoy reading all about her business and her brilliant tips for anyone who is also thinking about setting up their own business.
Marianne has made a huge success of selling her drawings on Etsy and Amazon, and is now branching out into more products for people with dogs. She has done just that by ignoring those inner voices of doubt that sometimes appear in our heads, and is constantly looking to learn new things, so that she stays one step ahead. Take a read of Marianne’s inspiring story below….
Tell me a little bit about you, your background and Trotting Dog?
My name is Marianne Cheung, I am the owner of Trotting Dog designs and 47 year old single mum to two teenage boys and two dogs living a coastal life on the Isle of Wight.
What were your drivers and motivations for setting up Trotting Dog?
In 2010 I set up my first online business after I lost my husband and became a single parent. My eldest son was seven and I had stepped out the workplace to stay at home as a full time mum when I had becom pregnant. Working away from home was a last resort as I still wanted to try and be a hands-on mum. The logical thing seemed to do was combine my hobby; dressmaking, with my passion, vintage clothes and start a small business. I created a collection of vintage dresses under my own label which I made to order and built a website to sell them online. It worked well and I was featured in the National Press and Country Living Magazine showcasing how a hobby can be transformed into a business. I also sold through Not on the High Street which expanded my customer base. But, my children we so little that the stress of sewing for hours at time in the spare room, combined with my busiest periods being Summer and Christmas right on the school holidays, compromised my role as a mum, and also my health and wellbeing, just too much.
So last year I changed direction and ran a successful campaign to crowdfund a children’s book I had written and illustrated. It was a personal ambition of mine which I very much wanted to fulfill, rather than take the ‘one day I’ll do it’ approach and it never happening. As the book featured my dog Spike, a Hungarian Vizsla, I had been sharing my story and drawings through his Instagram account with other dog owners. The illustrations became so popular I thought why not sell my designs as cards and gifts.
Using my previous start up experience I soft launched both Etsy and Amazon Handmade stores alongside an e-commerce website I built. All my work currently revolves around Vizsla’s and this is my niche. Trotting Dog has already been more successful than the dressmaking but without so much stress! In fact, not only do I sell my products around the world, I have recently launched my first dog running harness and leash in the UK and USA on Amazon!
How do you balance the business around family and childcare?
My children are now 12 and 15 and are much more independent which makes my working week at home much easier, which is seven days. Weekends are still working days for me, just shorter. Term time is still my most productive time and I plan campaigns and strategies well ahead to take this into account. As I only need a pen, paper and computer to create I can work from anywhere, even our beach hut when it’s warm enough! School holidays are still a time when I want to be hands-on so I set aside specific work hours each day. Social media is a key marketing tool and I can run everything from my phone giving me extra flexibility too. I also work in the evenings when the boys are in their rooms, which is normal for teenagers apparently! They both understand my business and are extremely supportive. I value their input and often ask their opinion on a design or photograph. The best part about having an online business and teenagers is that I have two social media experts and phone photographers in the house!
Since setting up the business what’s been your biggest success to date?
For me connecting with customers and dogs all around the world and seeing them share and wear my products! When people take the time to let me know how much they love their gift, or their dog enjoys running in my harness I literally do a little dance of joy with my dogs at home!
What’s your top tip for Mums who are thinking about setting up their own business?
I have two tips to share.
- Keep on learning and be ready to adapt. As an online business it’s vital that I keep up to date with digital trends and technology. I love social media and the way you can connect with people all over the globe, but I struggle with the technical side such as website building and SEO (search engine optimisation – I know, what?!) so I am constantly updating my skills and knowledge with online courses, blog features and industry articles.
- Ignore that inner voice. What I mean by this is we all have an inner voice of doubt. You could name it guilt, “I really ought to be doing the housework” or lack of confidence, “I’m just a mum not an entrepreneur”, perhaps insecurity “what if everyone thinks it’s rubbish”. Ignore it. You and your ideas are unique. Just because you don’t have the experience or skills today you can learn them for tomorrow, and it’s never too late to start.
Thank you so much Marianne for taking part in my series, it was lovely to interview you, and I wish you the best of luck in the future.
If you would like to be part of my Mums in Business then just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or have a nose at some of the other businesses I have featured in my series: Pavara, Little Story Telling Company, and Healthy Living London.