Business Owner of the Month: Lisa Forde
Hi Lisa! Great to meet you. You own two businesses, Dotty About Paper and Tree of Hearts. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Dotty about Paper and Tree of Hearts are both online companies that supply a beautiful range of stationery at affordable prices. Dotty about Paper focuses on invitations and accessories for all of life’s special occasions, from weddings to birthday parties, as well as personalised gifts.
Tree of Hearts specialises in wedding stationery. We have a wide variety of designs to suit every theme, and our matching collections let you coordinate your entire wedding, from invites to table plans. Our free sample and proofing services, combined with the options to personalise stationery colours and wording, create a stress-free shopping experience for busy brides.
What has been your greatest achievement, and biggest challenge to date?
Moving the businesses into a beautiful Grade II Listed building has been the greatest achievement so far. We’re in a charming location by the River Severn in the market town of Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Our 16th century building is full of history and personality, which has created fantastic marketing opportunities both locally and on social media.
One of my biggest challenges came when Google made changes to certain algorithms, which had a negative impact on our rankings. We had to act quickly and concentrate our efforts in reworking elements of the business to boost our rankings again. It was an important lesson in handling unexpected challenges.
Have you always had an interest in stationery and design?
Definitely. If you aren’t passionate about your product, setting up a business can be a struggle. It was my interest in stationery that inspired many of our unique selling points. During my own wedding planning, I felt like there wasn’t enough variety in stationery designs and palettes. That’s why Dotty about Paper and Tree of Hearts focus on providing options for customers with varying tastes and budgets.
You have two small children and a family. How do you manage the family life and work life balance? Any tips for our readers who run their own business, or who are looking to start?
I’ve learnt to stay flexible – knowing how to multitask certainly helps! To stay flexible, you need to be familiar with your arrangements and responsibilities. Try to keep a consistent routine so you can use your time productively, prioritising the jobs that will bring the greatest benefit to the company. Prepare back-up plans for when things don’t quite pan out. If you have to compromise on work to be there for your family, try and make up that time later, perhaps while the children busy with after-school activities.
Although I would emphasise the importance of flexibility, you need to know your limits, too. Learn to say ‘no’ in a polite way when the list of tasks becomes too stressful. This applies to your work and your home life. Don’t forget to take out the time to look after yourself and recharge, either.
You can also make your work role a positive factor in your children’s lives. Use the skills you gain running your business to become a role model for them. Your hard work and dedication sets a great example.
As a mum, and a business woman, what do you think the Government should be doing to be able to encourage more mums into freelancing or starting their own business?
I believe that there should be better support for mothers trying to start their own enterprise. Grants or partial funding could make a huge difference for first-time entrepreneurs. Childcare support, perhaps during the first year while the company is setting up, could encourage more mothers to take the leap into the business world.
As a smaller business, how do you use technology to develop your business and target and engage your customers? Is technology an important part of your life?
As an online company, technology is invaluable to us. We aim to make our websites as user-friendly as possible, so researching plug-ins and systems that could improve the customer’s experience is a priority. Search engine optimisation across your website also helps you reach out to new audiences.
Technology also helps us build our business strategies by providing us with statistics. We can monitor average sale prices, customer retention rates, and conversion rates, which gives us an edge when making big decisions.
We also utilise online marketing through adverts and social media. Building a strong online presence helps us to engage with our customers and develop our brand’s personality.
As a business leader, technology is key in helping me stay up-to-date with my busy schedule. Even relatively simple things like synchronising calendars across all my electronic devices makes an enormous difference!
You taught yourself coding, and initially designed your first website. This is an amazing achievement. What skills would you encourage young women to learn to help them in the fast pace world of retail and business?
My career experience, gained while working for corporate companies like Birmingham Airport and Thomson, gave me the groundwork to build on when starting my own company. I learnt about many of the major sectors, from customer service and HR to marketing and database management.
I would recommend learning a variety of skills to any young woman entering the business sector. Focus on technical information. Most businesses are built on technology these days, so the more you know about this field, the less you’ll have to outsource jobs.
You have extensive experience building a team. How does tech play a role in the recruitment process, and what lessons or challenges have you had to overcome to find the right team members?
Technology helps us to reach out to potential employees. We advertise on online sites and test the applicants’ use of hardware and software as part of the selection process. It’s vital that they have a solid knowledge of technology to fulfil their role.
We make use of digital tools to run behavioural tests, which help us get to know whether the person will fit in with our team. An applicant should fit the job, but fitting in with the core values of the business is just as important. Likewise, I want to ensure that we’re offering the right opportunities for them. Work trials help ensure everyone is satisfied with the arrangement.
Our favourite products are the business and inspirational personalised prints, targeted at kick ass women! What is your daily mantra, or how do you inspire/motivate yourself and your team?
When you run your own business, you must motivate yourself. This is reflected in my personal mantra – ‘believe in yourself, you can do it’. Focusing exclusively on your big goal can create stress. I break my long-term vision into smaller tasks, which are achievable and give you a boost of motivation as you complete them.
I share this viewpoint with my team to encourage them. We all know the destination, and we know everything we do is contributing to the end goal. On a personal level, I also try to provide motivation through a confident and positive attitude.
Looking back at your career, you started in travel and tourism. And now you run two event stationery companies. What influenced this transition and what gave you the confidence to make the jump?
I had always wanted to set up my own business. Getting married and choosing my own wedding stationery prompted me to choose the occasions industry. As I realised how lacking the choice of stationery was, I saw the opportunity to fill the gap in the market.
Around this time, the internet was starting to take off. New prospects for businesses were being created by this platform, making it an exciting time to launch your own company. With my concept in mind, I knew I had to take the risk and finally make the jump.
How do you navigate your career path?
As I mentioned, leading my own company had always been a goal for me. My first step towards the dream was a BA Honours degree in Business Management. From there, I worked in a variety of departments to gain practical experience. I also completed a Masters of Business Administration during this time. My husband, who is an accountant, could also help me develop financial skills. These elements gave me the knowledge I needed to start up the business.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know about yourself or the business?
We want to inspire women in the workplace to pursue their passions. Giving young women the opportunity, advice, and experience to break into the business industry themselves is a big part of both Tree of Hearts and Dotty about Paper’s identity.