Disciplined routines, progress not perfection and a firm belief in and passion for what they do has enabled these two entrepreneurs to carve out early success.
When two old friends were chatting over coffee one morning last year, the first seeds of a business idea were planted. Sarah Campbell had just gone down to two mornings a week in her role as an academic publisher and Emily Bright had not yet returned to work after having her youngest daughter, not yet 2.
Starting with a small trial of 30 subscribers back in September 2017, Sarah and Emily founded Parrot Street. Their mission: To inspire kids to love reading.
Parrot Street is a book club aimed at 5-11 year-olds. For a monthly subscription, they send out a ‘letterbox-friendly’ pack which includes a book to keep, book-club questions and an activity pack with games, puzzles and craft projects relating to the story.
The pair have been able to use their business as a vehicle to give back and support a cause they passionately believe in by partnering up with a literacy charity.
Emily and Sarah launched Parrot Street officially in January this year and have already been chosen as one of Theo Paphitis’ (of Dragon’s Den fame) #SBS winners on Twitter and more recently, one of Jacqueline Gold’s #WOW winners as well.
The Homeworker: What did you do before starting Parrot Street and did you find it hard to give that up or make the change?
Emily: I did not return to work after having my first daughter, so for me the biggest adjustment has been trying to balance the demands of the new business with still looking after my three children full time. My youngest isn’t yet 2, so I have to be very disciplined in working while she naps in the afternoon. The thing that I have probably found hardest is being realistic about what time I have and how much I can do while I’ve still got the kids at home.
Sarah: I have worked in publishing for the last 15 years and still work two days a week in my ‘day job’. I’m lucky to have an employer who has supported my decision to change direction in order to spend more time with my children, but the challenge is definitely in trying to balance my various roles all at one time and being realistic about the time I have available to work on our new business.
What were your main concerns and fears?
From the beginning we have been confident that we have a great idea that resonates with fellow parents and have had very positive feedback from our early subscribers. Our biggest concern is ensuring that we get our message out there effectively so people know what we’re doing.
Did it help doing it with a friend to overcome any fears or was it logistically useful to have an extra pair of hands?
Absolutely. It’s great that we have each other for support and to divide out the seemingly endless list of tasks. We have different skills and approaches but think that we work together pretty well. When it comes to being the public face of our brand it’s also hugely reassuring to be able to go out there as a pair!
How do you separate your working and social relationship?
We’re not only business partners but old friends and our two families are extremely close. We try to keep a structure to our business relationship by meeting at least once a week and are always exchanging messages and emails. We also try to be quite disciplined about not talking shop when we meet up socially!
What do you love most about your business, Parrot Street?
Receiving feedback from happy customers is a highlight. When you hear that you’ve enthused a child about a book that they might not otherwise have tried it’s really heartening. We’ve also heard about families where reading their Parrot Street book has become a precious nightly ritual and this goes to the heart of what we set out to do – inspire kids to love reading and encourage families to spend quality time reading together.
When do you find time to do your work?
Emily: During the week I have about 1-2 hours per day when my toddler is napping during which I can work. I’m very strict with myself about that time and don’t do anything else until she wakes up. I also then work in the evenings once the children are in bed but find that I’m much less productive.
Sarah: Both my boys are at school now, and I have three days a week when I’m not doing my day job, so I try and do as much as I can in those hours, but inevitably it creeps into the evenings and weekends as well, as any small business owner will no doubt experience (I’m writing this at 6.15 on a Sunday evening!).
The hardest thing has been managing my own expectations of what I can achieve in the limited time I have. When I put my mind to something, I like to keep going until I’ve achieved my goals, so I’m having to learn how to be a little kinder to myself.
What are the most challenging aspects of working from home?
It can be difficult to switch off, as anyone who works from home will tell you. We have to be very disciplined with ourselves, especially when the kids get home from school. After all, being around for them immediately before and after school was one of the main reasons we wanted to start our own business and work from home in the first place.
What are your favourite things about being a homeworker?
For us it’s all about the flexibility. From the outset we’ve been focused on building a business which will allow us to work in a way that suits our families. Being able to pick our children up from school and be there for them when they’re doing homework or after school activities is really important.
Do you have a designated space at home to do your work – where is that?
Emily: Unfortunately not, though I’m hoping to convert the area under my stairs into a tiny office space. I work on a laptop in our kitchen or on the sofa in the evenings.
Sarah: I’m fortunate to have a small home office, which I love, although at the moment I’m mostly working from my kitchen table as we have a puppy who isn’t allowed upstairs yet!
What is your daily/morning routine to get started for work?
Emily: I always start by checking my diary and to do list so I can prioritise what I need to do and hopefully get the most important things done before my work time is up.
Sarah: Same here. I check my inbox and answer anything that can be dealt with quickly, then make sure I’ve got a list of priorities for the day ahead.
Do you have a strict schedule for work or is each day different?
Emily: I’m strict about working while my daughter naps but how long she stays asleep for can vary hugely, which makes it hard to plan.
Sarah: I work part-time as an academic publisher, so my routine is slightly different each day of the week. It also depends where we are in the monthly cycle of our subscription business – some weeks are much busier than others!
One of the first things we did was write a detailed project plan for the first twelve months. It has helped us prioritise at times when the sheer scale of what we are trying to do has felt overwhelming.
What have you discovered about yourself since setting up a business?
Emily: Setting up the business has actually helped me to rediscover skills I’d forgotten I have. I used to work in B2B conference production, and before that TV documentaries, so I’d collected a wide variety of business skills along the way and it’s great to be putting them to good use again.
Sarah: Having spent 15 years on a particular career path and in quite a niche sector, I’ve learnt that in fact I have a lot more transferable skills than I realised.
What was the best advice you’ve been given?
Another mum we met, who started her own business a few years ago, advised us not to try and make our product 100% perfect at launch, since we were going to learn so much from trialling it in the marketplace and it was bound to evolve, especially in the early months. This is so true and has saved us a lot of angst and valuable resources.
Which social media channels do you find most useful for your business?
We are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and we’re starting to get a feel for how each one is useful if different ways as we grow our business. We were delighted to be selected by Theo Paphitis as one of his #SBS winners on Twitter and have found that being part of that community of small businesses, both on Twitter and Facebook, is extremely useful.
Is there any advice you would give someone considering working from home or launching their own business?
Have a plan! One of the first things we did was write quite a detailed project plan for the first twelve months, and we’re so glad we did. It has helped us prioritise at times when the sheer scale of what we are trying to do has felt overwhelming. And since there are two of us it has also helped us ensure an even division of labour.
What are your future plans or aspirations for Parrot Street?
It’s still early days for Parrot Street, so this year we are focused on building brand awareness – simply getting the message out there about who we are, what we do and why we think reading for pleasure is so important.
What is your favourite read?
Emily: I’m not really one to reread books – there are too many books on my ‘to be read’ pile for that! However, I have returned to I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith numerous times. I love the eccentric characters and particularly the narrator.
Sarah: It’s very difficult to choose just one, but if I had to I would say Little Women – that’s a book I’ve read and reread many times.
What is your favourite book to read with your children?
That’s an extremely hard question to answer.
Emily: Whenever I’ve read a Roald Dahl book to my children they’ve been completely captivated – he was such a wonderful author. Our current favourite is George’s Marvellous Medicine but we’ve also read The Twits and The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me numerous time.
Sarah: Our family favourite is The Hundred and One Dalmatians – we’re rereading it again now for about the fifth time!
Have you discovered any great or relatively unknown authors since starting Parrot Street?
Absolutely. Part of what makes what we do special is that we work closely with publishers to identify great books that are, for whatever reason, flying under the radar. As part of our pre-launch trial we sent subscribers The Incredible Dadventure by Dave Lowe which was a real hit. We’ve also loved Granny Samurai, The Monkey King and I by John Chambers, The Matilda Effect by Ellie Irving and The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell.
How have your own children responded to your work and do they like getting lots of new books themselves?
One of the most touching things has been how supportive our children are of the business. They are often making us signs and posters to use when we go to fairs and seem genuinely proud of what we’re doing. They are also delighted that they have insider knowledge of what future books are going to be – though we’ve had to make it clear that the information is top secret!
How did you become involved with Beanstalk and was it always an aim to give to charity?
The whole idea for Parrot Street Book Club started from our belief in the transformative power of reading. We are evangelical about the value of reading for pleasure and from the outset have been keen to do something to support increased literacy more widely. We did some research into potential charity partners but quickly discovered that Beanstalk was a perfect fit. Our children attend a school where Beanstalk volunteers are making a real difference every week and it felt right to support them. In the future, we would love for our business to be able to do more in this direction.
Find out more about Parrot Street here.