Good morning! Today's Friday Finds is a paper engineer and designer Emma McLaughlin of PaperBuzz; we first 'met' on line during a branding course a couple of years ago and discovered we were both Notonthehighstreet sellers.
© Emma McLaughlin
When did you start your business and why? Tell us your story of how “Paperbuzz” came to be!
After a childhood spent making weird and wonderful things out of cardboard and sellotape, I made my first proper cards for my own wedding twelve years ago. I spent the next few years making wedding stationery for friends and family and so it seemed a natural progression to turn my hobby into a business. I started out with fairly traditional wedding stationery, but I realised that if I was going to stand out then I needed to do something a bit different. I spent a long time trying out different ideas and considering the direction in which to take my cards. I like ‘clever’ things, things that are unexpected and interesting, so I started to play around with pop-up type cards. I trialled lots of different cards, but the ones that really seemed to be a hit were the popping ones that I now sell. I sold them as wedding invitations and save the date cards initially, but after having my youngest daughter (now 2) I decided to concentrate more on the greetings card side of things rather than wedding stationery.
Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn?
Things have definitely been a slow burn. My business has developed organically, and over the last year or so I feel like I am gradually managing to shape my business into something that I can be proud of.
© Emma McLaughlin
Do you do your business part time or full time?
My business is part time as I have two young children (aged 2 and 5) who demand quite a bit of my attention. I also teach part time as well, so I’m always busy!
Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why?
I would like to grow my business so that as my children get older this becomes my full time job.
Where do you sell your work?
I sell my popping cards on notonthehighstreet.com which is a great website to be part of and a brilliant way to get my cards seen by thousands of customers.
Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is?
I like selling online on notonthehighstreet.com because it allows me to focus more of my time on making a quality hand made product and developing new lines, whilst knowing that there is an excellent marketing team working hard to bring customers to the site. I used to have my own website, but underestimated the amount of time and effort it took to maintain and promote it. In the future I hope to get it up and running again as the girls get older and I (hopefully) have more time.
© Emma McLaughlin
Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them?
My hen party dares card was featured in the Scottish Wedding Directory magazine last October, in a section called ‘SWD likes’. They contacted me through social media asking for photos as they had already spotted the dares card and wanted to include it in the issue. Obviously I was delighted! A few years ago I was approached at a wedding show about sending in some photos / samples of my wedding stationery to a wedding magazine. They featured me a couple of times over that year. I know that I’ve been lucky so far, but I will need to start approaching them myself in the future.
Who do you think your typical customer is?
I think my typical customer is someone who is prepared to spend some time and effort looking for the perfect card to send to someone special. They don’t want to send a run of the mill card, they want something personalised, unique and well made. In the past I have sold cards that weren’t personalised, but discovered that almost everyone wanted to personalise them so they are all personalised now. That makes sense – it just makes a card even more special and helps to show that you really care. The fact that the card looks so innocent until it is opened and then the recipient gets a little surprise when the cubes pop out means that again it is more than just a ‘normal’ card. Many customers deliver the card by hand just so that they can watch the recipient’s reaction when they open it! Sometimes I get contacted by customers through social media with ideas of new ways to use my popping cards. Often these ideas get turned into new products. I just love that customers are excited enough by my cards to create their own uses for them.
Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy coming up with new ways for people to use my popping cards, or coming up with twists which help to make them even more exciting. There are just so many possibilities! I’ve now got a birthday card with a matching game inside, dares cards for hen parties, birthdays and wedding receptions, conversation cubes to get your guests chatting at a wedding, trios of birthday / Mother’s Day surprise announcement cards, as well as cards for all the usual card giving occasions. All are based on a basic popping card, but designed for a different purpose. I’ve got so many ideas in notebooks and in my head – it’s just finding the time to prototype and develop them into actual products that is the hard part.
© Emma McLaughlin
Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?
I guess that ideally I would have liked to have started up with a clearer idea of what I wanted to do. Saying that, I’m happy with how things have progressed over the years. Every decision I’ve made has seemed right at the time and that’s good enough for me. If I had started out with the pressure of having to make lots of money straight away I would have had to have approached things very differently. I suppose that I had the luxury of being able to evolve over time.
Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?
Definitely instinctive. I do have some general long term and short term goals, but mostly, it’s just to keep developing my product range as much as I can. As I make all of my products myself, when I get an idea I’m able to run with it quite quickly. Depending on customer feedback I’m then able to change and adapt ideas as and when needed.
Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you?
I don’t employ anyone at the minute although I do have some very lovely friends and family who are always willing to help out when required (in return for tea and cake).
Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing?
I work from home and often have my 2 year old daughter competing for my attention. Most of my work is done at a desk in the living room, and I’ve got a little walk-in cupboard for storage. Ideally I would like to have my own studio. It may not be possible at the moment, but it’s something to aspire to.
© Emma McLaughlin
Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?
My husband is really good for bouncing ideas off and friends and family often have useful suggestions too. I find that putting things out on social media can be a good way of gauging reaction to ideas. notonthehighstreet.com offers lots of great advice for helping to advance your business and they run e-courses and live Q & A sessions throughout the year.
What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise?
The morning usually consists of doing the school run and then going home via the post office to post the previous day’s orders. My 2 year old enjoys helping to post the orders so sometimes it can take a while! Now that she’s getting older (and is starting to understand that any bits of cardboard are ‘Mam’s, no touch’) I’m often able to make cards through the day. Occasionally I manage to upload new products or develop new ideas too, although usually I leave things like that until the weekend when I can get some time to myself without the children. After doing the school run again in the afternoon and posting any orders that have been made that day, it’s a whirlwind of dinner, homework, bath-time and bedtime routines. After the girls are in bed I usually spend several hours making more orders.
Anything else you want to add…
I would like to think that in a few years time I will be doing this full time in my own little studio. I guess I will just have to wait and see.
I’m also on Facebook –https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paperbuzz/167341863300647
and Twitter – www.twitter.com/PaperbuzzUK
Thank you so much Emma - it's clear you have a real passion for what you do and pleasing your customer base with a high quality product.