Corporate slog, or home-spun enterprise with potential for growth? How many of us have faced that internal dilemma in recent years?
Here, Eloquently Her chats to Lisa Forde, founder of Dotty About Paper, to discover what helped her find her true calling.
Wake-up calls come in all shapes and sizes.
There’s the health related, the relationship upheavals, monetary fiascos – or even the more grandiose world events which impact the way we perceive our own lives.
For Lisa Forde, her ‘epiphany’ came not out of discontent or disaster, but as a result of granting herself some much needed ‘down time’ from the gravy-train of corporate ladder-climbing.
“I’ve always been incredibly conscientious and career focused. I’ve pushed myself in everything I’ve ever done, and wanted to give 110% to anything which bears my name,” says the 43-year-old Mum of two.
“As soon as I’d got my degree in business and travel management, I was straight into working for really significant travel brands – from airlines and airports, to holiday firms.
“My entire existence became about how I could reach the next step, take on more responsibility, advance myself at every level and demonstrate my worth to any company I was with.”
The relentless pursuit and effort clearly bore fruit.
For well over a decade, Lisa leapt from one role to another, covering posts in chartering, commercial buying, marketing, HR, customer service – you name it, she pretty much turned her hand to it….and excelled.
In fact, in retrospect, she was probably unwittingly laying down some pretty impressive foundations on which to build her own enterprise and have knowledge of a plethora of business arenas.
“Yes, I guess I created a pretty good grounding for running my own company,” she reflects, laughing.
“After all, how many courses would you have to go on to learn from scratch about everything from marketing to staffing, to customer retention? There was clearly some good learning in those early years, which have served me well today.”
And today, as it transpires, the picture is certainly a very impressive one.
Based in Shropshire, and with a tea, of 10 – including her 74-year-old Mum – Lisa is the infectiously optimistic and cheery founder of Dotty About Paper.
It’s the kind of brand which any stationery-obsessed fanatic could spend hours, days and weeks lusting over.
Every week, more and more beautifully individual designs of cards, papers, invitations, prints, and even bunting, emerge on Lisa’s hugely popular website.
Not bad then, for an idea which was born on a whim on a train journey, and had its earliest beginnings at her kitchen table in Bridgnorth.
“The catalyst was my husband and I taking time away from the daily grind of our career pursuits, to do some travelling,” Lisa explains.
“We had a fabulous time, saw a lot, shared lots of thoughts about our hopes and dreams, and increasingly I realised that I just couldn’t ‘slip back’ into the corporate environment.
“I’d been on a real hamster-wheel by that point for a number of years. All the travel firms I was working for were in the South, and I knew I no longer wanted the commute, or to be away from my original roots in Shropshire.
“I became convinced I needed to find a business I could kickstart myself with very little outlay, and that I could really enjoy building.”
That lightbulb moment came, 14 years ago, when on a train journey, still mulling over potential business avenues, Lisa hit on the idea of putting her creative passions into bespoke card design.
Whilst not a particularly strong designer in her own right at the time, she knew she had an eye for detail, recognised that cards and stationery were very much ‘on trend’ and had the conviction to believe she could successfully make an online business work.
“I certainly didn’t let the grass grow beneath my feet once I’d had the idea,” Lisa continues.
“I chatted it over with my husband, hatched the plan, officially left the world of travel, and set up from home making a few designs of cards.
“What began with a market stall in Shropshire, soon grew into selling via Amazon and Ebay, and then to having a bespoke online shop.
“Our biggest leap was when I knew that we were seeing enough interest that we could no longer simply be a ‘by hand’ approach, and that we would have to start printing as a means of keeping up with demands and remaining competitive.
“That scaling approach was critical and ensured we could be commercially successful, rather than remaining a kitchen-table outfit.”
Talking of commerciality, it’s at this point that the extremely level-headed and astute businesswoman is at pains to point out what she feels has set her apart from other similarly ‘craft’ focused enterprises.
“I knew from the outset that this was going to be a ‘business’,” she says emphatically.
“While the idea of that business is based on something which is very much a craft, and is something which people enjoy as a hobby, there’s no way I saw this as a hobby with the scope to sell.
“It was always about commerciality, the right positioning, and knowing where ‘scale’ would be achievable.
“Sadly, I think a lot of the time when people set up an enterprise in the craft arena, they’re doing it in a way which is born out of their own personal hobby and passion.
“I’d never made cards as a hobby, and I had a hunger for making a success of a business brand.
“I think that, coupled with my inherent stubborn nature, gave me the right early ingredients to make the business a success.”
That dogged pursuit and perseverance has seen Dotty About Paper develop a huge following over the last decade in particular.
Such has been the appetite for her offering that the brand now has a ‘trade’ offering which supplies a number of the UK’s leading retailers and garden centres.
The evolution has also including a ‘wedding focused’ specialism, with a sub-brand known as Tree of Hearts.
It’s no wonder Lisa’s empire caught the attention of Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday (a twitter concept where the entrepreneur applauds exceptional UK businesses achieving great things).
With such growth, brand triumph, and ever-developing product conceptions, how has she made it all possible to also juggle home-life and the requirements of a nine and five-year-old who very much still want their ‘Mummy’ to be a full-time parent.
“It’s about time-management and an unfaltering recognition of what’s important to you,” she says, laughing.
“In many respects, I think the way I’ve set the business up means that I see so much more of my children than I would have done if I was still chasing up the corporate ladder and always commuting.
“Yes, there are times when the children know I’m involved in work things and need to be focused on that, but I’m equally very passionate about having time out with them and being ‘fully present’ as a Mum.
“That attitude is born out in the way I run the business too. There’s very much a family ethos – I love that my Mum is still involved a few days a week in helping with things like despatch and research – and my staff all know that I want them to feel they have the right balance with work and home life.”
So, for someone with such incredible drive and ambition, surely there’s more to come for the emporium of stationery?
“Absolutely,” says Lisa without hesitation.
“Our vision is to become the UK’s favourite stationery supplier.
“We have some exceptionally exciting ideas for the next five years, and I’m determined to make those come to life.”
**For more information about Lisa’s products, go to www.dottyaboutpaper.co.uk
**For a limited time only, Dotty About Paper is offering an exclusive discount to Eloquently Her readers.
You can get your discount by entering the code ELOQUENTLY10 at the checkout.
Offer runs until the end of August.