Little Sandbox provides a social environment for children and adults to explore digital making, with access to equipment, resources, and ongoing support to strengthen their interest in technology. As socially-responsible as it is inspiring, the whole operation was set up by #FemaleFounder Helen Stephens. We spoke to Helen about how she came to found her own company, the keenest lessons she wants to share with other female founders and her go-to marketing tactics for her small business.
1. Why did you start your business? What spurred you on?
I’d always wanted to work for myself. Since I was young, my first ambition when I was 9 was to be an author and later as a teenager I wanted to own my own record company. I did a degree in Music Industry Management and worked in London for various record companies for a few years. But I found the music industry wasn’t as exciting as I’d imagined so I returned to Liverpool.
I’d been working for a charity for five years when I realised that, due to funding cuts, my job role was likely to become redundant. I decided to take the chance on starting my own business then. I set up a social enterprise to support the third sector with digital media, affordable websites and design services as well as running training programmes for women interested in digital careers and older people wanting to learn to use the internet. More recently we set up a kids tech club to teach young people about coding and electronics.
2. What are the unique challenges you have faced as a female founder?
Working in a tech role has been a challenge. The tech sector is still so male-dominated and I’ve experienced a sense of resistance from clients that assume I don’t really know what I’m doing. And with it being a not for profit, there’s a sense that people think it’s just a hobby – a nice thing to do – rather than an important service.
3. What were the steepest learning curves during your first year in business?
Finances. I was always good at maths, but everything to do with finance was a problem, from realistic budgets, being comfortable with my pricing – which I never stuck to because I felt cheeky when I gave the quote over and always knocked a bit off. Even now eight years later I still groan when someone asks me for a quote.
4. What is your favourite thing about founding your own company?
Being my own boss is wonderful. Being able to manage my time myself, not being restricted to working between 9 – 5. I get the work done in as long as it takes and that’s it.
Even now eight years later I still groan when someone asks me for a quote.
5. What is the best business advice you have been given by someone else?
Pay experts to do the stuff you’re not an expert at. All too often when starting a business we want to cut costs and try to wear all hats. Your time is better spent delivering the service you offer than trying to be your own accountant/web designer/marketing manager.
6. What business tools can’t you live without?
I use Clearbooks for my accounting and it takes care of all my invoicing and tracks overdue payments. I also use Asana for project management so the whole team can manage their own tasks.
7. When you’ve got a tough business decision to make what would be your first steps to solving the problem?
I talk it over with my board and team. For a long time, I was solely responsible for the business but I made some changes and brought in more directors to help share the responsibility.
Pay experts to do the stuff you’re not an expert at.
8. Who are your heroines and why? Give us two.
Emma Watson – I’m a massive nerd and obviously, Hermione was the best character in Harry Potter. I love that Emma is also a great role model for education and women in general too.
Jodie Whittaker – because she’s the first female to play the title role in Doctor Who – and this milestone feels like absolute proof that women can be anything they want to be.
9. What piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting your business now?
Don’t try to do it all yourself. Remember to take regular breaks.
10. What’s your go-to marketing tactic for your small business?
Follow our #FemaleFounders series
We’re super excited to share all of the Female Founders that are going to be facing out hot seat. Be sure to keep an eye on #FemaleFounders on Instagram and Twitter, and if you haven’t already, check out our last post with Easy as VAT.