Ally is a working mum of three young girls. She’s also the brains and hard work behind nudge-me, a free online gift finder and time-saving organiser designed to help busy women (and men). We asked Ally what inspired her to start her own business, and what advice she has for other ambitious mums.
What is nudge-me?
nudge-me is a unique, free diary reminder and intelligent gift recommendation service rolled into one. Think of it as your own personal, online PA. Joining is quick and easy, and membership is free.
How does it work?
Once you register with nudge-me.co.uk, you can store your friends and family’s birthdays and anniversaries in your own online calendar. Then all you need to do is tell us a little bit about them and what they enjoy, give us an idea of budget and we do the hard work of finding the best presents or experiences tailored to their interests, and suggest them to you via a timely ‘nudge’ a few weeks before the event.
We have over 40,000 different gift ideas on the site picked from over 50 trusted retailers, including John Lewis, notonthehighstreet.com and Lego. We also have a brilliant dedicated Christmas shopping section, packed full of ideas for the festive season.
How do you help busy working mums?
We’re all too aware that time is precious and there seems to be less and less of it readily available to us nowadays. Our aim is to help busy working mums claw back some valuable me-time. Making use of your own online calendar will help you become more organised, and most importantly you’ll never forget a loved one’s birthday, anniversary or special occasion again.
We want to help make your life easier for the bigger life events, like moving house, going back to school, getting ready for a baby, and preparing for Christmas, too. So we put our heads together and came up with ReadyLists – a library of downloadable essential checklists that help you get everything done without needing to think about it. (If you’re already starting to panic about Christmas, take a look at our Christmas ReadyList!)
What inspired you to start nudge-me?
My dad had his own small business, and I’d always harboured a desire to run my own company too. But it wasn’t until I was faced with the challenge of buying gifts for a growing family, that I had an idea that I thought would work. I tested the idea with friends and the feedback spurred me on to develop it into a business idea.
How did you go from having an idea to launching?
Initially I fleshed out my idea based on what I would like as a customer. I tested the concept with friends and researched the market, adding in features that I thought were unique and would make nudge-me stand out. The fundamental principle of nudge-me had to be that it could make a difference and save time for busy people. I then challenged myself by writing a business plan and found it was a good discipline to get my ideas and ‘pitch’ down on paper.
I then worked with some specialists (a creative agency, web developer, lawyer and accountant, all of whom were small companies or sole traders) to bring it to life. When I thought it was ready, I did a soft launch with friends, followed by a more official launch via social media, and editorial features in various publications.
What have been your successes so far?
Early successes for me when I was developing the idea were firstly that I was offered bank funding on the strength of my business plan, and secondly, being able to secure relationships with some well-known retailers and brands as gift merchants.
Since we launched, we’ve had some great mentions in the media (Hello! and Redonline were just two of many that picked us out for features). And we got some fantastic reactions to the idea from mums, dads and other family members at our first exhibition in October at The Babyshow. One lady told us she wished we come up with the idea 20 years ago as it would have got her out of a lot of trouble over that time!
What hasn’t gone as you expected, and how has it helped you make positive changes?
We launched the site with the main feature of date reminders but realised that customers really saw this as a secondary feature. So we changed the site around to make the Gift Finder the primary function. It felt like quite a big change at the time, but it was absolutely the right thing to do based on the feedback we were getting.
What’s your vision for the future?
I’d like to be able to make nudge-me my full time job and develop it further. Now we have the main features on the site (Gift Finder, date reminder and ReadyLists), I am sure there are other useful time saving tools we can add. As our user base grows, I am keen that nudge-me moves with their changing needs so it will be good to get their feedback. Success would be feedback that says people can’t do without us.
How do you balance your business with your family?
It’s definitely give and take and more about integration than balance. nudge-me is like my fourth baby, so I can get pretty immersed in it but I try to work on it in the evenings, around my day job and when my children are in bed and husband is in front of his laptop or watching TV.
My girls love to help out with nudge-me whenever they can, and actually I feel quite proud being not only a working mum role model for them, but also an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to other mums wanting to start a business?
Do it! Without question, if you’ve got an inner entrepreneur, a good idea and you are willing to invest some personal time (and inevitably money) you should give it a go.
I once sat down, whilst starting to flesh out the business plan, and wondered how I would feel in five years time if I hadn’t at least tried – and the feeling of being disappointed in myself for not trying was the final spur to push me on to finish that business plan. You can spend a long time regretting things.
What are your top five tips for ambitious business mums?
My top five tips for any mums who want to launch their own business are:
- Exploit the internet – Exploit the internet and other sources of information and advice to help you shape your idea. I found the Business Link resources particularly helpful initially and they ran free courses when I was setting up. On the flip side, if (like me) you have bought a few books on setting up your own business, know when to stop reading and get on and do!
- Enlist family and friends – Enlist family and friends early. Use them to test early ideas but make sure they have strict instructions to give honest and constructive feedback to help you.
- Use your network – Don’t underestimate your extended network. I found my site developer via a friend of a friend on Facebook, and an old work colleague acts as an informal mentor for me. Your friends and family may have some great contacts for you and your growing business.
- Spend wisely – As a small start-up you need to spend wisely. If you can, negotiate when buying supplies or services. Ask for a discount or maybe even a skills-trade – it could be the start of a much bigger partnership for you both!
- Make time – Make lifestyle and other changes to enable you to devote time to develop and launch your idea. For example if you work, can you negotiate a change of work pattern? If you have children, can you trade childcare with friends? Do you need to set-up a personal ‘entrepreneur’ savings pot?
You can find out more about nudge-me and sign up for free on their website.