In 2011 Julie Hawkins was a 35 year old single mum to be. She was living on an income of around £250 a week having separated from her former partner and life was a financial struggle. Starting a business seemed impossible.
Yet Julie had had a brainwave around a product – a pillow which helped her during her pregnancy when she just couldn’t get comfortable while sleeping or resting. She’d tried to find something to help her yet found nothing really worked.
All of the products on the market were traditional pregnancy cushions that are like a very large pillow that help you to lay on your side
Frustrated, Julie thought about – and then designed and created her own product to enable her to lay prone full-term pregnancy. She took this with her to her midwife and other professionals to help her and to see what they thought.
To her surprise she found her ‘prototype’ created for her own comfort, really impressed every professional who saw it. Julie felt she was duty bound to share it for the benefit of others to use.
However it came back to the issue of money and responsibility – she was by this time single, with a newborn baby, adverse credit due to divorce and house reposession and very little income. How could she ever bring her pillow – now called the KIH Bed Pregnancy Cushion to market?
Starting a business is about determination and patience
The answer was – determination and patience along with careful use of what money was available.
“Instead of filling up the fridge with delicious food I would spend £30 on a piece of material and instead of clothes, I would spend £60 on a CAD drawing. Sky TV, nail bars, hairdressers and take-outs were not an option. Every penny went to creating the market ready product.”
Julie spent two years, scraping pennies to health and safety test, patent and produce a British Standards product ready for market. She couldn’t find an investor and banks would not lend her money, so capital through any ‘normal’ route was a non-starter.
However her mum mentioned an organisation called Frederick’s Foundation. This organisation is a charity who lends to so-called (in Julie’s words) ‘undesirables’ and she pitched her extensive business plan along with her certified market ready product to a panel of eight people and was successful. She was given a loan of £8,000 to buy her initial stock and some advertisements aimed at pregnant women.
Sadly this money was wasted as Julie came to realise over the next two years her ‘market’ was actually professional practitioners, who would go on to use the product for their pregnant clients year after year.
“This meant I needed to market my product to a different audience – without any budget. So I networked to raise awareness and used social media as affordable PR. I’m still repaying the initial loan but I’m so passionate about the opportunity that they gave me, I will continue to support the charity with financial donations after my loan is cleared in full.”
Julie recently exhibited at the NEC in Birmingham and sold more units in one month as a result than she sold in the previous year.
Starting a business as a single mum
She has always argued that the worst thing about starting a business as a single mum with little money is the lack of exposure. If she could have exhibited at the NEC in the first couple of years she would have escaped years of struggle, and could have further supported the UK economy.
“If I had let fear of failure stop me I would never have gone without and gone to such great lengths to bring my product to market. I knew pregnant women like me were desperate for this level of comfort and I had to just keep going and trust the greater purpose.”
Julie has since won awards for her business and in 2018 set up the Single Mums Business Network to help other women who are working hard behind the scenes not to live in poverty. She is determined to raise awareness of the stigma, misconceptions as well as helping these women gain much needed exposure, to save them from either having to sacrifice time with their children, or turn to the humiliating lifestyle of benefits.
About the author:
Julie Hawkins is the founder of KIH Bed Pregnancy Cushion and the Single Mums Business Network. Her company is six years old and information can be found here – http://www.kihproducts.co.uk