When did you set up your business and why?
I set up my business in 2009 following the birth of our first child.
Our son was born with a complex medical condition, so I knew I would have to be self-employed to juggle the demands of hospital appointments, admissions, etc.
The first few years were hard and I was his full-time carer. But as he grew and gained independence, so did I, and so did my businesses.
As a carer you can work 15 hours (now 18.5) a week, so I built my business very, very slowly over a number of years.
It was hard leaving a full-time career that I loved in a busy design agency that I had worked in before he was born, but now I can proudly say 14 years on that I have a successful business I created from scratch and I would never have done this if life had not sent us the curve ball it did!
Can you explain your process?
I try my best to be creative every day. During the pandemic, I started a hashtag #duckbluedailydrawing and I tried to do a design a day or as many as I could during that time.
I gained so much from this: new customers and followers, as well as an extensive portfolio of new designs.
This work is the basis of my card collections that can be seen on my website and in the cards I sell to shops up and down the country.
I only use watercolour and pen to do my designs and I use a beautiful Italian paper both for my original artwork which I sell and in my cards I produce.
I pride myself on being as green as possible. I only produce to order and I use solar power to print, as well as biodegradable packaging.
I also try to not add text to my cards so that they can be framed after; hence my tagline is “Cards you want to keep...”
What is your best-seller?
Oh let me think, I have so many, but probably my elephant with balloons image. It's a firm favourite as a card and print. It is so cute and the colours are very unisex, so it’s popular as a new baby gift or card for any new baby.
Depending on the time of year, I have card collections that fly out the door. My card collections are six packs of cards on a theme.
So in spring, the daffodil collection is always popular, then coming into summer it moves to the bee or bike collection - but all year round my birthday, sympathy and baby collections are firm favourites.
What is it about your business that brings you joy?
I used to do a lot of commissions; especially as a new business, you are trying to please everyone as you are so grateful for the business.
I found this made customers happy, but I was never drawing what I wanted to draw. I always have ideas racing through my head, but I never got time to draw them.
I have learned over time what people want and what they like, so I took the decision a few years ago to stop commissions (or limit them to generic designs I could use on cards) and it makes me so happy now to draw things I want to draw.
Seeing a new collection develop and then seeing it be a hit on my website or in shops gives me great joy.
What are your hopes for 2023?
So far, 2023 has been incredible. I started the year at Showcase 2023 in the RDS. It is a big trade event and this year I exhibited in the design and crafts council area. This was a huge step for me and I got so many new and great contacts from being there.
In June, I got selected to have a stand at Bord Bia Bloom in the Phoenix Park. I had never done an event of this size - five days with over 100,000 footfall.
When I applied, I thought to myself, “I will never get this....” but I did. It gave me such a boost, as I had cocooned all through COVID due to having a high-risk person in our home and this really was a baptism of fire to get back out there and meet customers, etc.
I adored the experience. I really hope to be selected again next year.
Being a card business - despite it being summer - I am presently planning my Christmas range and showcase 2024. You have to be a season ahead. So, I am looking forward to launching my Christmas range and some new products in the months ahead.
What advice would you give to another start-up business?
Do every single course your local enterprise office (LEO) does, from start your own business, to social media, to mentoring and building business courses.
The Kildare LEO helped me so much to build my brand and it was only from meeting other entrepreneurs and talking with their mentors and looking at the nitty gritty of my business that I got the confidence to move forward, expand and create a brand I am so proud of.
Also take your time and make sure it is something you love to do. It took me 12 years to build my business to the point of having an e-commerce website.
It grew organically, with a bit of luck along the way. I was only able to expand my business when my son was older and stronger and medicines improved, but I never gave up the dream that I could make it work.