"The Guinea Pig Generation" with Steph Douglas

CEO of Don't Buy Her Flowers Steph Douglas on motherhood, inequality and building a business

Show notes:

I’m delighted that my guest for this first episode is Steph Douglas, founder of gifting business, Don’t Buy Her Flowers. Steph started her business after receiving a whopping eight, well meant bouquets following the birth of her first baby and realising what a terrible gift flowers are for new mums. She has successfully grown her business over the past nine years, alongside raising her three young children

Don’t Buy Her Flowers has grown from Steph packing boxes in her spare room to having an incredible team and a warehouse. Our conversation covers everything from the challenges of running a business through the pandemic, juggling a business and a young family, and managing maternity leave when you are a business owner. We also talk about how women are still the ones that carry most of the mental load of running a home, we’ve both experienced unhelpful comments from other people when we mention our husbands taking on jobs such as cooking and shopping, and Steph has some wise words of advice about how we all need to be questioning traditional gender roles.

Don’t Buy Her Flowers is continuing to expand and is now offering gifting services for businesses offering an alternative to terrible and uninspiring corporate gifting. They are the company I personally use for team gifting for my agency and I highly recommend them. If you want to use them for your growing business you can find out more here: https://www.dontbuyherflowers.com/corporate-gifting/

Bump to business owner links:

Website: www.bumptobusinessowner.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bumptobusinessowner/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolinepooley/

About Steph:

Steph Douglas founded Don’t Buy Her Flowers in 2014, leaving a role in brand and marketing, to offer a more personal and thoughtful gift initially for new mums; the idea came from receiving eight well-meant bouquets after having her first baby, that Steph saw were ‘another thing to care for when you’re doing more caring than you’ve ever done in your life’. The company now offers gift boxes for all occasions as well as for men and children and B2B. DBHF have partnerships with Stand Up To Cancer, Home-Start UK and Baby Loss Charity Teddy’s Wish.

Steph also writes and talks honestly about motherhood, relationships, business and juggling in this ‘rush hour’ of life many of us seem to be in. She started the Don’t Buy Her Flowers podcast last year with guests including Jessie Ware, Annie MacManus and Kate Lawler

Steph’s Links:

Website: https://dontbuyherflowers.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dontbuyherflowers/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dontbuyherflowers



Hello and welcome to Bump to Business Owner, thank you so much for tuning in today. This podcast is inspired by my mission to find out why more and more mums are leaving the employment world for the entrepreneur life. I’ll be talking to some of the people I believe to be the most inspiring women in business about their journey building their businesses alongside motherhood. I’ll be also sharing some of my own experiences of juggling my award winning virtual assistant agency Upsource, while raising my two young children. Right now they are two and four, and trust me, it can be chaos.


Caroline Marshall: I’m your host, Caroline Marshall. And today I am so pleased to welcome the fantastic Steph Douglas, who is founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers and a Mommy, a business she almost started ten years ago now after receiving a whopping eight well-meant bouquets following the birth of her first baby and realizing what a terrible gift flowers are for new mums. Don’t buy her flowers gifts allow customers to assert thoughtfulness and a human connection, often at a time it’s needed and they can’t be there in person. Steph regularly writes and speaks about starting and running a business and motherhood and often a combination of both. She is passionate about equality at home and the massive implications the lack of it has on everyone, not just women. Hi, Steph. Thank you so much for coming. .


Steph Douglas: Thanks for having me.


Caroline Marshall: I think you must be the person I’ve got on the podcast who’s got the longest running business so far.


Steph Douglas: Oh, there you go. Yeah. So it’ll be nine years in November.


Caroline Marshall: That must feel like a lot. Like coming up to next year. Just feel like such a milestone for you getting.


Steph Douglas: Yeah I think when you’re running a business some of the milestones you kind of don’t almost notice or you don’t really go Oh right that’s that’s impressive. Or that’s like, well, you know, you don’t pause to congratulate yourself do you? And actually, yeah, recently talking to lots of people about investment and stuff and they’re like, wow, you managed to keep it going for that long. That’s impressive. So that’s quite interesting that often businesses don’t last that long. Yeah, I.


Caroline Marshall: Think it’s, yeah, five years or if they’re going five years, that’s really good.


Steph Douglas: Yeah.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah. Right. That I love hearing about how, you know, obviously with this podcast how mums who started their business, the career path that led to it. So tell us a little bit about your life and career before Don’t Buy Her Flowers.


Steph Douglas: I always wanted to work. I didn’t travel. I didn’t have like a gap year or anything like that. I’ve kind of went straight from A-levels, Uni and straight into a job, which I’d started doing in my third year at uni. I started doing a bit of press office work. It was basically clipping bits of paper for a government communications agency and I just wanted to be independent. And the money, I think even when I was 15, I had three jobs, so I’d be cleaning, stacking shelves, working as a waitress. I was doing all at the same time. And actually one of my team is a really good friend of mine and she used to do those jobs with me, so we both grafted. Um, but yeah, my, my first I did history at uni and then my first work was in PR and communications. And then I kind of evolved to sort of integrated communications and marketing. So took the PR bit, but also looking at working across lots of agencies, like pulling them all together and trying to get them to work into one coherent campaign. That’s kind of what my passion was, really. So the PR, the ads, the website, the employee engagement, like having everything pulled together so that it’s working as one. Um, so I did that in government communications and I did that for EDF Energy and I worked at the Health Service. So lots of kind of big corporates ish kind of jobs, really love that.


Caroline Marshall: And I think it shows your work ethic, like being 15 and juggling like three jobs. And obviously school kind of was setting yourself up for your future, basically.


Steph Douglas: Yeah, yeah. Without realizing it. But it really, it was just it was just to earn money so that we could go out on a Friday and the Saturday night because that’s what we used to do. So Right, right.


Caroline Marshall: We’ve all been there. Um, so you came up with the idea after your first baby, it sounds like. When did you actually start the business and how did you actually, like, go about starting like finding how you were going to get this idea into fruition?


Steph Douglas: Yeah. So the idea was so 2010, my first baby was born. Um, and, and it was a total the whole thing was a complete shock to me, how hard it was, how overwhelming it was, how different I felt. Um, I’ve kind of felt like I lost myself for a while, which I think is really normal. And most women do. Um, and so, yeah, and just how hard it was and then all these flowers arriving and I was just like, This just doesn’t make sense. I just had never given it a thought until that point. When I’m sitting on the sofa, everything just felt really overwhelming and sore and angry at my husband and all this stuff going on. And then, yeah, bouquets kept arriving. So that was in 2010. And then it I was like lots of people, I suppose, when I was having babies and all my friends are getting married and having babies, a lot of them at the same time. So it was kind of we’re all in that same boat, but I think we were one of the first of our London mates. So then I would be put something together for them and it would just be like, send something in a jiffy bag or leave a lasagna on the doorstep. And just was a bit more thoughtful. But their response was so disproportionate for what the effort that was going in or the cost of what I was spending too, how grateful they were or the emotion that they, you know, their messages were full of emotion of like, oh, this is the first thing that was actually about me.


Steph Douglas: I’m finding this really hard because also I would include a note. That says, you know, it’s going to be okay. You’re doing really well, like encouragement that I suppose I recognize that I needed. And I got I had a couple of friends who really I remember like one, um, messaging me. I was still in the hospital. Buster was born four weeks early. My husband had just finished cancer treatment, so that was just another thing to kind of add into that loop. I was added to the overwhelm, I guess, but she sent me a message saying, just just in case you’re finding like the breast feeding a bit tricky like it is. And I found it really hard and give yourself time and just that kind of encouragement and people relating to you rather than just going, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to you, which it is. And you can’t, you know that and you’re feeling that. But at the same time you might be feeling really overwhelmed. So that was that was kind of the core of the idea that thoughtfulness, that that reaching out to someone when they might be feeling all of the emotions that we know that they feel. And then I had I went back to I had a year off, off, off on maternity leave, went back to work, pretty much pregnant. So then I worked another nine months and then was off having a second baby, which was my daughter Mabel.


Steph Douglas: And and just in that whole time it was just people having babies and me also starting because I’m a talker. I would talk to say to my NCT group, Is anyone else feeling like really angry or is anyone else feeling all these different things? So I think the idea for Don’t Buy Her Flowers was there and then the circumstances kind of were were right that I could see that there was something in this. And then I went back to work after Mabel and I started writing a blog, which was like a stepping stone because I’d never thought I was entrepreneurial. I never wanted particularly to have my own business. And I was working three days a week, which in theory is a good balance. Managing to stay in my job. I don’t think there was probably a particularly high level of job satisfaction and just I think it’s hopefully changed a bit now, but like the comments of, Oh, you’re a part timer and you’re, you know, you’re overlooked for lots of things. Um, even though I knew I was smart and hard working, um, but yeah, it’s a funny period that I think when you, when you first go back and one that most businesses aren’t very good at recognizing, I know you’re better at that than many that that kind of new starters people leaving all that stuff people are hopefully getting better at it.


Caroline Marshall: But yeah, I still think there’s a way to go. It’s kind of yeah, yeah. It’s down to businesses to be like that. And yeah, if they’re not, if they’re more money focused or something like that, they’re not going to be. You know.


Steph Douglas: When I went back after Mabel, I actually like crossed my boss at the time on the stairs and he didn’t really say anything, was like, Hi. And that was kind of it. And he maybe he wasn’t quite there, but there wasn’t like a hey guy’s, Steph’s back and not as in I wanted a fanfare, but in the same way that I would when we had someone come back to Don’t Buy Her Flowers who’d been on maternity, we sent her a package. We’d made a fuss of her. When she came back, we made sure her desk was tidy, like just acknowledge it. Make sure everyone knows that person’s coming back and think. If you’re in a big company, it’s really easy for people not to, but it would be really easy for them to make that transition just a bit better by acknowledging that, Oh yeah, you’ve not been here for a year, let’s see what, oh, six months or whatever. So actually when I started the business, which was about nine months after or eight months after I started the blog, and that went really well and gave me that confidence, I think, and that and that knowledge that right.


Steph Douglas: There’s loads of people who found this like I did, which means the idea of the business works, you know, that people would appreciate something a bit more thoughtful because at the beginning we were just gifts for new mums. So I started it. So the kids were three and four. Yeah. Oh no, three thick of it. Two and three, two and three. But the eldest was about two and four, so pretty much two and four. Um yeah. So yeah, in the thick of it. So I don’t really know. But then I wasn’t, I wasn’t packing thousands of boxes. It was, it was in my house. I could pack around like it was hard work, but it was also quite exciting. So yeah. You’re passionate about it. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I could work. I could. You can flex it. I think it’s quite easy to forget that you can flex it around. You know, your family and sports days and all that stuff. When you have your own business, which is a benefit, it just it’s just how you keep that balance as it gets bigger. I think that’s quite a challenge.


Caroline Marshall: Oh definitely. And definitely because I’m talking about balance as you get bigger. I love that you brought in your brother in law and an old school friend to work on your business with you. Like, did that feel risky at all? Bringing in people you knew to like support you, grow the business or just make complete sense?


Steph Douglas: It felt quite natural. So my brother in law built the website, so he was involved for the first 6 or 7 years until we needed to build a new platform and it was too big for one person to kind of manage. But he did a brilliant job. Um, and then my brother we brought in to run the warehouse. So two years around the business from my house for two years and then we moved it into a warehouse in Gloucestershire and, and he took over kind of operations. So. And then, yeah, two of my best mates. So one is head of customer services and the other manages the warehouse and does accounts and stuff. So yeah, you have to know what the personalities involved are and whether they’re going to be okay with you being the boss. But also, are you going to be okay with them? Like you’ve got to have had some of those slightly awkward conversations and it takes a little while to get used to. But when it’s difficult, like when Covid happened and suddenly we were inundated and it was a case of, right, we’re going to have to work really, really hard. Um, and everyone’s feeling really uncertain and all the stuff that was going on, they were amazing. And, and that was when I was really, I mean, I always knew that they were the right team, but that was when I was like, Right, these guys are in it with me. And now business is hard. Like retail is hard at the moment. And so having people who are in it and, you know, want to make it work is really key, really key.


Caroline Marshall: Speaking of Covid, because obviously you had an established business by the time Covid hit and then three kids at home. How were you in a fulfillment center at this? Well, your revenue increased by 600%, is that right?


Steph Douglas: Yeah. Yeah.


Caroline Marshall: How do you manage that?


Steph Douglas: Well, yeah, it was hairy. It was, but it. But it was. It was such a weird time because it’s it was obviously like, personally for everyone involved, you’re all going, What the hell is this? Like, you know, Oh, you can’t go out, you can’t leave your house, but you can you can go out for one hour. You can’t meet anyone, or you can meet them on a bench, but you’ve got to sit like almost remembering those rules. It’s like, oh my God, that was bizarre. Like and and also awful like lots of people were having a really tough time. Lots of businesses didn’t survive. It depended very much on. We were so fortunate that we’d moved to a new warehouse just before. So we had a massive space that we were like, Oh, we’ll grow into this thinking. We had a bit of time and and we were established. We didn’t have to suddenly go online, which there were lots of businesses that had to kind of suddenly build that. But that volume alongside trying to manage everyone’s what everyone was going through personally and keep them safe and space them out and work in a know. No one knew what they were supposed to be doing in a pandemic, Like how do you manage that? So it was it was really intense and we learnt a lot. But we were lucky because we were also really busy. So that kind of helped massively when, when you’re, when that’s happening, Um, and now kind of everyone’s like, Well, we could do those numbers with our eyes shut so that bring it on. So now, now we’ve got like it’s a different challenge.


Steph Douglas: But I think, yeah, that, I think having people who were in it with me really helped because it was emotional. Like sometimes you go into work and just cry. All of us, everyone did at some point because you missed your parents or, I don’t know, like you’re struggling with the home schooling, which was, you know, horrific. So there was lots going on for everybody. And I think part of my job as the leader of that team was to to recognize that and and give people the space to go, oh, God, this is awful. Or one of my team, she’s a single mum. She was trying to juggle customer services and she’s one of my best mates as well. And we had to at one point say to Look, this is too much for you to to juggle this. And it was a really emotional conversation because she wanted to do it. I think there was some relief afterwards when it was like, look, we’re still going to pay you. We’ll find other stuff for you to do, but you can’t manage this like, you know, customers calling up and people quite fraught at times because it was that period. Period. Yeah, you can’t do that and have your two children at home. Like that’s not fair for you. And it’s and it doesn’t really work for the business either. But actually, genuinely it was more about you can’t do this and we can find a way to fix it Like we had other people that could do it and it was fine. But it was it was tough.


Caroline Marshall: Such tough conversations, but really a credit to what you’re building and the culture you’re building that you recognize that and wanted to, you know, have that awkward conversation. But it was everyone was better for it.


Steph Douglas: Yeah. And she has said since. She sent me a gorgeous card, just like it was. Right? It was the right decision. Um. She’s doing it now. She’s. She never. She never went away. But it was just a shift in what people were doing to make it work because some people were flexible and some people wanted to come in. I mean, the majority of people wanted to escape home and come in, and we could. So, you know, we were lucky that we were some business that could stay running.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And post Covid has this time contributed to taking your business down a path of B2B gifting? I’ve spoken a bit about Upsource, actually, my business, the virtual agency, it uses you guys for our team gifts and maternity gifts and onboarding gifts. So have you, um, has that that time contributed to you kind of going down this route of businesses like mine, using it for using Don’t buy her flowers?


Steph Douglas: Yeah. We saw a massive increase in B2B, especially at Christmas time. Well, the first it would have been 2020 and 2021. So people couldn’t have parties and then they thought they could have parties and the party got cancelled. And so it was I mean, we were having to turn away business, which is something that you never want to do as you’d know, like we’ll make it work. But it was so busy and, and, and like really big brands who were coming for gifts and they wanted something more thoughtful. They wanted something put together. They didn’t want to just send the usual hampers. They wanted to put in a combination that might be food and drink things, but it would also be kind of relaxing products or something that was more a bit more thoughtful, the kind of hybrid working model. And and also I think people are having to really think about retention and engaging employees and customers as well. That’s not going away. So that’s a massive opportunity for the business. And we’re having some lots of really exciting conversations going on for kind of with big and small that we get 1 in 20 of our orders through the website is a B2B order, so that could be someone buying for someone on the team whose birthday is.


Steph Douglas: Or it could be, yeah, like it’s a real mix or it’s big companies that come up because they obviously it’s in the address, you can see where they’re from. So that gives us this constant pipeline of potential B2B customers, which is awesome. And to be honest, prior to Covid, that was happening on a smaller scale, but we weren’t really doing anything. We were like, Oh great, because we saw ourselves as very much a B2C business and it’s like, Oh, that’s lovely that that’s kind of happening. Whereas now you go, Oh, that’s another whole market that is, that is also really dull, Like a lot of corporate gifting is terrible. And it’s not, it’s not sustainable. And it’s like big brands, not, not like we work with lots of small and medium sized businesses. So you also kind of economically it’s kind of more positive, like there’s lots of stuff going on.


Caroline Marshall: Laugh. Thanks. Think about the gifts my husband get who works for a massive company and like a massive gin glass with the company logo on, I’m like, Are we really going to use that?


Steph Douglas: Yeah, it goes to the back of your cupboard with same as the hamper, like the food and drink hampers that have stuff that’s like a really random flavour or it feels like a filler, you know, you’re like pickles.


Caroline Marshall: Pickles.


Steph Douglas: Yeah. Nobody wants. So we’ve just, we’ve got food and drink hampers for Christmas 23 that we’ve worked on, but we’ve got a Cotswolds one because that’s where we’re based and we’ve, and we’ve basically got in loads of samples and loads of like products from independent businesses and have made sure that everything tastes really good and looks really good. And we’re like, Yeah, because you want to give it to somebody and everything gets used. I don’t want something sitting on the shelf like a year later, and then they just chuck it in the bin. So that’s what we kind of want to do slightly differently, I think.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah, it makes complete sense with virtual teams, virtual working, but trying to still get that thoughtfulness across. Like you said, you can’t just have that chit chat to the side with someone and learn that they like this flavour cake or something like that. It takes a real effort. We actually ask now the team to tick things about what they liked. We know who doesn’t drink alcohol and things like that, but that’s.


Steph Douglas: Great because some businesses have that. Like sometimes we’ll have an order and it’s like 300 packages, but they know there’s ten vegans, there’s three gluten free and they know that information, whereas others will just go, We can’t possibly know all of this information, so make them all the same. And it’s really interesting. And it doesn’t mean that they they just they don’t have that information. And I guess the ones who do have really gone to think about it.


Caroline Marshall: So I’m the same. I just like don’t want them just to get something and they’re like, oh, here’s my can of gin sat on the side because they don’t drink gin. I’m saying that I don’t drink gin. Yeah. I was also wanted to mention because I saw something about how you support small businesses now move from packing orders in their home to going to outsourcing their fulfillment. How does this look? Because this looks like a fantastic initiative.


Steph Douglas: Yeah. So we started doing it kind of accidentally, which I think is probably how lots of things happen, isn’t it? But we were talking to somebody who has a. Business. She sends out packages to do with dogs and dog behavior. And she was doing it herself from her parents garage. And it was like, we could do that. You know, we could help you with that. But also when you start having conversations with people who’ve been doing it in their spare room, it’s two things, I think. One, you realize the kind of efficiencies that we’ve learned over the last nine years that we can help people with and whether that’s like packaging efficiencies or costs or just doing things in a slightly better, smoother way, hopefully we can help advise which they’re looking for. Um, but also the time that somebody is taking, if it’s their business, the time that they’re spending and I know this from my own experience that I used to pack all the boxes and then I had people come in and pack it, but it was in my house. So I still would then on a Saturday, if some orders had come in, I didn’t have anyone booked to pack. I’d still be packing. I was never off that. But you cannot grow your business if you’re in that kind of level of detail. Not really. You’re going to get to a point. There’s only so many hours in the day and if you go right, if you’re paying someone 11, £12 an hour to pack boxes, that is what are you worth an hour, I think is the is the kind of question it’s probably very similar to your business, to be honest, where it’s like if people are spending all their time organizing things that you can do and then they can focus on growth or sales or like all those other bits or new ideas like and that’s what what we’re working with.


Steph Douglas: And we’ve got a couple of clients and we’ve got a few in the pipeline as well who we’re talking to. But it is really interesting because the some of them will say, well, I’ll keep this bit of it because, you know, I want to quality check it or something like that. And you’re like, you can or we can do that for you. And actually that will properly. I think it’s a nervousness that I totally understand because I had it like I was like, Well, no one else is going to be able to do this. And I was lucky in a way, because we we retained it within the business like we do our own fulfillment. So we’re managing that whole process. So I wasn’t giving it up as such, but it still was a big deal when it left my house and I wasn’t involved in the day to day. But I think, yeah, that’s it’s quite an exciting element that we’ve kind of grown. And also it makes sense to us. Like financially, it makes sense to keep the team busy. We’ve got the space, we know what we’re doing. So it’s a really good way to kind of create an additional revenue stream for us.


Caroline Marshall: That phrase what you’re saying about, well, I’ll give them this, but I’ll just keep this bit and it’s those just bits that kind of really hinder you from growing because it’s still the mental load is still there of like, yeah, I’ll just ensure this is like tweaked perfectly or this email draft is perfect and it really stops you from achieving that. I mean, I could preach about this all day long running an outsourcing business, but yeah, yeah, yeah.


Steph Douglas: It’s interesting, isn’t it, That and you can see and I think part of your job as well as mine is to kind of then coach people through that a bit to reassure them because they’re not. I totally get it. But the idea is what we can do that and I think it helps that we do that for our own business, like the quality and the accuracy and all that stuff. I don’t buy her Flowers is really key and the customer service. So we will be able to do. It’s the same people who’ll be doing it for for your business. So you kind of go, Yeah, we can, we can do that and you can then focus on growing it.


Caroline Marshall: Exactly. And you definitely have done that over the past almost nine years now. So you started this when you had you’ve got three children, right? Do you mind me asking, how did it look? I’m really interested in maternity leave for business owners and how that looked for them since I took maternity leave six months after I launched Appsource. So I was a lot earlier on in my journey. So how did that look for you with your and how did it differ make things differ for your third child.


Steph Douglas: So so we were three years in when I had Frank and I. I think if it had been my first I don’t know how, I don’t know what would have happened, but because it was my third, I already knew I needed to do it differently to the first two, which was to get some help. And weirdly, I was in a car park and I was quite heavily pregnant and the other two were running about and this random, totally random lady who, if I could track her down, I really would. But she was like, Oh, she said, How are you going to how are you going to do? How are you going to cope with the next one? And I was like, Oh, I thought, you know, But she wasn’t being she just was like, just just my one word of advice or my one bit of advice is don’t try and do everything. Don’t, don’t just get help. Get help. Outsource what you can and get help. Because three is a lot or any new baby’s a lot. And it was really interesting because I was like, Oh, okay, well, I’d heard of doulas and I was like, Oh, maybe. And I didn’t. I didn’t want to do a for birth or anything. I want. I was like, could I don’t have my parents aren’t local, Doug’s parents aren’t locals, they haven’t got family around. We haven’t got that kind of. Can you come over? I need someone to hold the baby help. And so, yeah, I found this doula called Sofia, who is now a really good friend of mine, and she’s got kids and they babysit for us.


Steph Douglas: And that’s just one of the most gorgeous people you’d ever. And she came over to the house and I must have been about 7 or 8 months pregnant. And I was like, I think I want someone from about seven weeks. I was like, the first few weeks it was Christmas and or I was going to have the baby in November and then it would be Christmas. I was like, After that, I think that’s when I’m going to feel really feel it because I’ve done it twice. So I kind of remember that six week and, and yeah, and she used to come two afternoons a week and, and it changed everything. Like it massively helped. But in terms of the business also I think I just had that mindset of I have to look after myself in this period. So I put some stuff in place. So as well as Sophia, I had hired a social media manager, which I’d been doing it all myself. And when I was pregnant, I was like, I am not going to be able to do that if I’m if I want to stay sane, I’m not going to be able to to do that. And so we had a social media manager who literally she’s just well, she’s still working with us kind of as a consultant, but she’s just switching over after six years later since she started when I was pregnant. And I think that’s a key bit, if you can, to think about rather than just thinking, I’ll just keep going and I’ll just pile it in.


Steph Douglas: It’s like, what could you outsource? What could you give out to someone else? Because actually I shouldn’t have been doing the social media myself anyway, really. Like, I know it’s another cost, but it was like, well, actually she looked at it and went, Right, this is what I think you need to do from a strategic point of view, which was better than what I was doing, which was just a broadcast. I was just like, Oh, we’ve got a new package, Oh, here’s me doing something. And she looked at it really differently, which we needed. Um, so yeah, I think but I mean, it’s still a juggle. And also actually it was the only one that I sorted in nursery place when I was still pregnant and I didn’t for the other two, I kind of, I could take my time, but I had, I think it was two days a week from when he was seven months, which was young. I didn’t have that with the others. I had a whole year off with the others. Um, but I knew I had to. I couldn’t just completely neglect the business, but I also knew that I couldn’t just work and look after him at the same time. I felt like I needed that clear marker that those two days I could properly do it and the rest of the time I then had him.


Caroline Marshall: That’s that’s very true. It’s very similar to mine. I was going to put him in two days a week from nine months, and then my husband was like, you like he was like, You need to start this from August because I can tell you you need that clarity. And and did.


Steph Douglas: You feel massive relief when you had those two days?


Caroline Marshall: Yeah, when I had those two days because they’re in the same place at the time. So we had two full days and they were both in the same nursery. And it was because otherwise I was juggling like using bubble wrap the babysitting one. Otherwise it was just kind of like, yeah, like maybe what you use your doula for a bit, but it kind of just sneaking two hours off and I’d not, wouldn’t be far so I could go back and feed him, you know, if needed. And it was, it was relief because it was like two whole days a week. Yeah. Which, which.


Steph Douglas: You could do a hell of a lot in two days. When you’re juggling and you’ve got kids at home, you suddenly go, oh yeah, I could do. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And then I think and we crept up till he was doing four days a week and I always, he always had a day, I always had my Mondays until he went to school because I felt guilty because the other two had only ever done three days. Oh no. My Mabel did four days at the end. But yeah, so it was like, Oh, I feel bad to make it too different to what they.


Caroline Marshall: Would would do. The set. Wednesdays is my Mummy day. Yeah. Could you, um, you do that and it’s, it’s really interesting what you said you needed to take time for you. Like it’s so true because you can’t just pretend your business is going to carry on just fine after a third child, You know? You know how they can just rock your world when they arrive. You don’t know what that child’s going to be like till they come. Yeah.


Steph Douglas: Oh, and are you going to get any sleep? And if you’re not getting any sleep, how are you going to manage it? I think And and the operationally I was it was a good thing because so we’d moved the business in like October 2016 and Frank was born a year later. So it meant that I’d I still was quite involved in the day to day, like the operational stuff. I’d be checking stock or I’d have a look. They didn’t need me to, but it was quite hard to just let that go. But actually having a baby meant that it was like, Right, this is happening without me. And and sometimes it feels really unnatural. But also, if you’ve hired the right people, you’ve got to trust that they are going to be able to do it. And if you’re always hovering, I guess you’re not giving them that autonomy to get on and do it themselves. So by the time I kind of came back, I suppose, I mean, I was still always available, but when I probably came back, they definitely didn’t need me operationally and they all come back quicker than me and and it’s better than how I would do it now. You know, if I go down, I don’t I might help with shifting stock around and stuff. But if someone wants me to boxes, I’m like, Oh God, I don’t know how to do it because it’s all gift wrap and the ribbon and everything else and I don’t feel very good at it anymore.


Caroline Marshall: That’s good. You know where your strengths lie. But it’s so true. It’s having that that confidence we touched on that confidence to let go because I’ve definitely had those moments. I’ve got a manager who helps me with the team and I’m like, Oh God, they all like her more than me. They’re all going, Oh, she’s like more involved and knows more about them than me. And it’s like, Well, that was the intention. Caroline Yeah, yeah.


Steph Douglas: That’s great. I know. It’s a funny one, isn’t it? And yeah, you have to check in and go, Is any of this ego? Is this because I want to feel like I know this or I’m involved in this or.


Caroline Marshall: Yes, ego. Exactly that. That’s the not the first time I’ve actually mentioned ego today. Sometimes you’ve got to be like, Yeah, is that my ego? And what’s best for everyone and the business kind of thing. And reality is, yeah, you’ve got to step away from some stuff if you’ve got the right people in.


Steph Douglas: Yeah, exactly.


Caroline Marshall: Um, some feedback or like research I did for this podcast. Like mums wanted to hear about real mums who don’t have like, you know, a team of staff at home as in nannies and everything and how they actually do it and um, how, like what their normal week looks like kind of thing. Do you. What is your normal week look like?


Steph Douglas: Mean Quite chaotic. I’ve just dropped one off this morning. She’s gone on a five day residential, so I’m like, I’m down to two two kids for five days, which feels really weird. Um, it is quite chaotic. We both work full time. Um, there’s three kids. They’ve got all the usual clubs and everything else. We, we use wraparound care at school quite a bit, which again, you kind of, you do that thing where you go, Oh, is this okay? But actually, like at Frank’s age, he’s, he loves it. He’s quite happy to spend time with his mates. They feed them tea as well, like, you know. So then you’re not having to fit that in? Not every day. But on the days that he’s doing that. Um, and then I found with Buster when he got to year six, he’s now in year seven. He didn’t want to go to the after school clubs and everything anymore, but then he could come home and be here and we were here, so that was fine. You know, he could hang out and do his homework or whatever, but I think not at the beginning. I really worried about that. It was like, but I didn’t go to school. I just went to school from 9 to 3. How is this going to work? But nine till three is a really short day to fit your work into. And so and that was do I mean, Frank is Italian, for God’s sake.


Steph Douglas: They do clubs after school and activities and all that stuff and like, okay, if that’s what it takes for us to have this balance so that hopefully I’m not working all weekend or when, when I pick him up, I’m, it’s me that’s picking up like we don’t have nannies. It’s Doug or I you know, every time because sometimes there’ll be a bit of, oh, I don’t want to do that. And I’m like, But how many of your mates have got grandparents or nanny or someone else picking them up and like, you want us there? And this is kind of the the balance that we’ve we’re trying to create. And I have a cleaner, um, who, when she’s like, if she’s away or whatever, I’m completely screwed. And house is a total wreck. And I think sometimes that’s another one that people are embarrassed to say or shy away from saying that they’ve got or wants. I think I had someone saying, Oh, get you, you know, you’re not a woman of the people. You’ve got a cleaner. It’s like honestly, again, it comes down to what what, what value of your time, of what can you fit into your week. I could just add more, but I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Or if I did have the kids here and I was cleaning all day Saturday, like, how is that going to work? Yeah. Um.


Caroline Marshall: And comments like that are really unhelpful. They’re saying that’s the wrong person. You’re not there who’s got people waiting on you. You’ve just got.


Steph Douglas: No.


Caroline Marshall: You’re providing work to someone else for a job. You don’t have time. Yeah.


Steph Douglas: And I’m paying for it. It’s not like someone. I’m just, like, tied to the kitchen. Yeah. And I think. I think. I mean, I wrote about the rush hour, so I had a piece on in Grazia and. Oh, God, like, people are still sharing it now. And. And it’s like a week and a half later and the bit that I shared, the quote that I shared was about saying that we’re like a guinea pig generation where and the more I think about this, the more I think it’s really true that we are trying to we’re working more women are working in some capacity, whatever that is, or they’re adding other things in like they’re caring for somebody or, you know, whatever that is. But we’re also still trying to uphold the what the systems that we grew up in and, and the systems aren’t really any better. So often it’s still the mum who’s on the WhatsApp group and gets the call that it’s swimming day or gets the message that it’s spelling day or it’s cake sale and I know more men are involved in like Doug and I are working really hard to make that more balanced. But I think we have it in our heads that a lot of this stuff should be us. So we do it and then we feel completely knackered and broken and we can’t work out why.


Steph Douglas: And so when you get someone making a comment like that, it’s just so unhelpful, especially when it’s other women because you’re like, okay, if you’ve got a different set up to this, great. And I think that’s the key bit that there’s a lot more individuality probably now based on what you earn, based on if you’ve got family nearby who help out or you don’t have family or what jobs you both do and what you both earn. And there’s all these other factors that come in where it may be used to be that men, the man generally earned and the woman didn’t or she didn’t earn very much. And they were really set roles and we’ve completely thrown them up in the air, but we’re still kind of still trying to do them. So it’s it’s just really complicated, I think, for lots of people. And the response just tells me that if I’m saying that and someone’s offended by that, well, they’re probably in the minority and that’s great if someone thinks they’ve got it. Good, great. Carry on. Like don’t don’t want other people to feel bad. But I think we’re a lot of women. We’re just really, really tired.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Be tired. We can all agree with that. And thanks to the rapper, because I can relate to the wraparound care thing as well. I’m try to only at the minute put my eldest in about once a week in wraparound care, but this week because I’m going away and so I’m trying to pack in work into three days and things team reviews going on doing he’s in three days this week. And I was like, Oh gosh, he’s in three days this week. And my husband is like, He enjoys it. Yeah. And if he.


Steph Douglas: Doesn’t, then that’s a different conversation, isn’t it? But I think again, it was my friends who’ve got I’ve got a group of friends back in Gloucestershire who had kids before me and they’ve all so they’re really helpful for going, Oh, what’s this about? And when when Buster was starting school and I was saying, I think what I’m going to do in the first term, I’m just going to do one day like wraparound care and then I’ll wait until day, you know, the second term and then maybe I’ll have morning to this. And they were like, Steph, don’t you don’t need to overcomplicate. Go in and do what you need. That’s going to work for him and it’s going to work for you from the beginning and see how that goes. And actually it just means the kids, that’s all they’ve known. So they’re fine with it. Yeah. And we’re there. I’m always there. I’m always picking them up. I’m always there at drop off. I’m there when we forget wellies for welly walk and I’m running them back in like it’s not like they’re neglected. Yeah. So yeah.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah. And you think you know and that’s the luxury of having a business in that sense is that you can be there because I think some of us might be carrying from previous generations. My mum was a single mum who was a nurse and wasn’t there a lot of time and was fine, but it’s still the same time. It’s like it’s, it’s nice to be able to see, you know, for me I’m a little bit like, Oh well, at least I can be there, maybe kind of thing.


Steph Douglas: I think as they get older as well, then it’s a different kind. Like I’ve noticing with Buster and Mabel, they need my time, so it doesn’t mean I need to be here all the time, but it means that at some point in the week or I don’t know, Mabel needs a shopping trip where she wants it to be just me and her. Or Buster wants something and we go like, equally. He wants to go to Westfield, him and his mates. I took them and I take them for lunch. And like they want, they need time. And that’s when stuff comes out. Like you can’t sit them down and go, How is your day in the way that. Well, you can’t with most kids I suppose, but I don’t know. Things come out as you’re walking around and as you’re when you’re not expecting it. And I know that they need that from me. So that has to be a factor in whatever I’m doing. Now.


Caroline Marshall: That’s a really good helpful for me to see future years and how they’re going to be, because I know it’s a good conversation to have because I know we’ve agreed. I think I’ve heard on one of your podcasts you were talking about the term How do you do it? And it was like how people at one point there was a real push back on it. I felt because like, we weren’t asking your husband how he does it, but then you were saying, if we’re going to talk about the maternal load, the the women’s the mental load that we take on, then it’s a good question to have is how are we managing kind of thing kind of relates to your article you’re talking about.


Steph Douglas: Yeah. And I think by all means ask men. But what you’re probably find is that they’re not juggling as much and if they are the ones that are brilliant because and they’re finding it hard, probably because it is hard because they’re trying to have a better balance. Like Doug really has changed. Like since we first had children and it’s taken well, ours is 12, so it’s taken quite a while to get to that. But in terms of like what we’re juggling and who’s on the whatsapps and all that stuff, we are sharing that more equally and that makes his life harder. So yeah, ask, ask men. But I think if you if the argument is that we shouldn’t be asking women that, it’s like you’re completely missing the point that they are still doing the majority. And it’s not just like us saying that all the research and fair play Eve Rodsky, who wrote Fair Play is a good one to follow, which is all about the mental load and how you divide it in your house. But they all the research basically says that fund this fundamental shift in women working has happened, but it hasn’t seen the same fundamental shift in how we run the home. So it’s not just me moaning about it.


Caroline Marshall: No, no. I went to a talk recently. They’ll talk about how well we’ve got to create this space for men in the home kind of thing because my husband actually does all the cooking and I’ve had talking of unhelpful comments, had unhelpful comments in the past, like someone called me a spoilt wife once and wow, Pre-kids It was like, what do you do when he cooks? And I was like, Well, I might be working or working out or something.


Steph Douglas: Sit back and smoke a cigar. Like what? Yeah. Wait, my slippers.


Caroline Marshall: I’m tidying up the mess he’s made because obviously he’s had to learn how to be a tidier cook, but was like, Actually I was really smart because we know, like with the roles in the home, cooking is his kind of thing, you know, that’s one of the things we’ve got nailed or I’ve got nailed. He might disagree at some point, but no, but.


Steph Douglas: It’s like Doug does the food shop and. Sometimes he does it really badly and was moaning about it and someone was like, Well, you should be grateful he’s doing it. It’s like, why? Why should I be grateful that a man who is, what, 42, 43 and is smart is capable of doing an online food shop like we both should be. But whether he bothers to look in the cupboards and check everything’s you know and actually think about the week ahead and how many meals do we need and is it a packed lunch day, all that stuff. It’s like that’s the mental load that that I don’t want to carry on my own. Why? Why should I? So and and he again, I think some of the people I’ve had on the podcast and some of the conversations we’ve had, he’s learnt loads from as well. We both have. And, and it’s not always like it’s not always a case of a man’s at fault and a woman is just hard done by. It’s like you also step into that role or they step into that traditional role and you can’t help it always. But it’s almost like recognising it and being able to finding the right conversation, the right words, to be able to have the conversation, which I think that’s where people who are talking about it and educating about it comes in really handy because otherwise and for years it was just me going, I’m doing everything. And he’s like going, Well, I don’t feel like you are. And then you just get nowhere. Yeah, Yeah. So it needs to be something that you kind of both educate yourselves on, I think.


Caroline Marshall: No, no, that’s a really good, good advice as well. And no, thank you, Steph. I’ve really, really enjoyed our chat because I know we clearly agree on a lot of things and it’s inspiring to talk to someone who’s been running their business for so long and around three children. Is there anything you can share about what’s next for you? And don’t buy her flowers.


Steph Douglas: Yeah, we’re we’re looking at raising investment at the moment, which we’ve never done. So we’ve always funded ourselves. So it’s exciting. It’s it’s a whole other language. So I’m learning a lot all the time. And we’ve got lots of kind of conversations going on about what next, Lots of big B2B customers who are looking for kind of a bigger, more regular gifting with like customer retention or employee engagement stuff. So yeah, so lots going on. And I think anyone in retail at the moment, it’s just really tough. Like it’s a really tough environment. So it’s, it’s navigating that I think is, is this year. I think that’s what lots of people will be doing and I’m sure you follow loads of independent businesses on social media and you just see them folding at the moment like every week they’ll be. And it’s ones that you’re like, they’ve been around for ages or they raised money last year, like what’s happened? So yeah, it’s a great business.


Caroline Marshall: Yeah, yeah. You know, and that’s it. And or they’ve been aspiring for other businesses as well. Yeah. Yeah.


Steph Douglas: So it is, yeah. And it also just off the back of Covid and just everything, it’s like it’s no, there’s no predictability to business it feels like at the moment and that makes it quite hard. But I know like from talking to our customers and our retention rate for customers and all that stuff, it’s really positive. And people like you, like coming to us for gifting and there’s such a scale of different types of business that we’re working with that you’re kind of like, right, There’s still something in this. We’re not we’re not done yet.


Caroline Marshall: No, definitely not. No. Oh, no. Well, thank you for sharing. I really look forward to hearing more. Perhaps, um, I’m really interested in fundraising and women fundraising. So perhaps another conversation to have another time once you’re through the rounds and things. So but thank you so much, Steph. Where can people find you and don’t buy her flowers.


Steph Douglas: Um, so Instagram Steph underscore don’t buy her flowers and and all the don’t buy flowers across everything is where I am amazing.


Caroline Marshall: Well thank you so much for joining me it’s been a pleasure.


Steph Douglas: Thank you.


Caroline Marshall: Thank you.



You have been listening to Bump to Business Owner, the podcast for mums running businesses, aspiring to run businesses, or simply supporters of mums who go on this crazy business journey. I’m your host Caroline Marshall and I run a virtual assistant agency called Upsource. I started it in lockdown 2020, I’ve seen it through maternity leave and it is growing alongside my two growing boys. Thank you so much, please connect me at Bump to Business Owner, my name is Caroline Marshall.


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