Category Archives: online business

Voyage Fairtrade

Sam Birtwistle is a young entrepreneur from South Devon.  His business, Voyage Fairtrade, sells fair trade and ethical goods, handmade by artisans from all over the world.

What is Voyage Fairtrade?

Voyage Fairtrade sells a wide range of Fairtrade and ethically handmade goods – from ornaments to practical home items.  The huge selection of goods come from all four corners of the globe, not just from the stereotypical Fairtrade countries you may think of, helping as many local economies and artisans as possible.  This means that if you buy from Voyage you are not just buying a beautiful, practical item for you, a loved one or your home, you are helping alleviate poverty and helping countries develop: it is a win-win situation.

What are your plans for the future of Voyage Fairtrade?

I am expanding our range of products so they will be 100% unique and buying from more countries.  With the name Voyage I wish to be involved in different countries, cultures and societies.

What was your inspiration to start your own business?

I have had a number of inspirations, but my biggest was when I was 16.  I was working in my first job, in a shop at a holiday park; the park wasn’t performing very well and I thought ‘I would like to buy the business off the manager and show him how to run it properly!’

What has been your biggest hurdle so far?

My biggest hurdle so far has been marketing and getting my name out there, especially social media: I know that’s important!

What is the best thing about running your own business?

You are your own boss and it is your own life, you can do pretty much anything.  You can even have that extra hour of sleep if you need it!

What advantages and disadvantages do you think you have as a young entrepreneur?

I think my biggest strength is my motivation and determination; I haven’t made a success of this yet, but will force myself to make something out of it.  My biggest weakness is I should be a bit more organised, as that can make a world of difference!

What advice would you give to young people considering self employment?

Anyone with a good idea, drive and a strong work ethic can start a business, you don’t even need qualifications!  I have epilepsy and sometimes I have to stop work and sleep it off.  I have other disabilities too, as my balance and coordination is quite bad so it takes me longer to perform tasks for example typing on a keyboard, which isn’t that great if you want to start a business!  So if I can start a company then I’m sure you can too!

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A while ago, I was given the opportunity to go on a photoshoot for Pip’s Garden.  Pip’s Garden sell high quality, personalised gifts – bedding, towels, dressing gowns, and children’s clothing.  The photoshoot was held at the Fisherton Farm in North Devon.  Fisherton Farm has three beautifully restored caravans, and you can hire out the whole beautiful secluded meadow for a Glamping weekend with up to twelve people.  It was the perfect setting for a photoshoot with a difference.  Photographer Simon Gilbert, from Gilbert and Evans, was able to turn what was in fact a drizzly, dark, cold evening into a beautiful set of sunny photographs.  This was amazing to see first hand, looking at the photos you would have no idea that it was so cold!!  Pip actually commented on the day, “this is why the models always look cold in their sunny bikini shots”.  Carmen Croxall from The Very Vintage Hire Company provided some props for the shoot, and modelled in it too.  It was really interesting to see just how much work goes into getting one perfect photograph, and it highlighted for me just how hard wedding photography must be!


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Time for a holiday?

As our regular readers (and anyone who has met me, ever) will know, I got married last month.  We decided not to go on our honeymoon straight away, but to wait for a few weeks and bask in the glow of being newlyweds for a bit first.  Those few weeks are now up and we’re off to Portugal this week!  We haven’t braved leaving the country (to be honest, we’ve barely left the county!) yet as a family, and this will be our first flight with the boys.  (In my case, that is three boys, an 18 month old, a nearly 4 year old, and my 34 year old new husband who is not a good flier!  If you have ANY tips for looking after the three of them they would be much appreciated!)

Pre-motherhood I was the kind of girl who would book flights and a hostel online and that would be it, so booking a family friendly holiday was a bit of a mystery to me and I knew I needed to get a Travel Agent involved.  I went into one travel agents who were really rude to me, and this left me feeling really disheartened about finding a suitable holiday.  Then a friend recommended that I get in touch with Helen from Travel Counsellors.  I did, and I’m so pleased that I found her!  She came to our home when it was convenient for us, and spent time listening to all of our needs/wants from the holiday, and then went away and came back to us with what she’d found.

She invested a lot of time in finding a holiday that was perfect for us, that met our honeymoon needs as well as providing facilities for the children.  I’ll let you know how successful she was in a couple of weeks!!

You can read our interview with Helen here and find her on Facebook too.


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I got married!

This weekend I married my super-Steve.  The last year of wedding planning, working, running my own business, training and volunteering as a breastfeeding peer supporter, and of course bringing up my two boys, has been busy to say the least – but it’s all been worth it and we had a great day.  I haven’t got the work-wedding-life balance right all the time, but I have managed to get through the busiest year of my life with a smile on my face – and that’s my main aim in life!  I keep telling myself that things will calm down post-wedding, but I’m sure I’ll be working on my next project soon!

The key to keeping on top of everything for me is LISTS.  My lists are the bane of Steve’s life, there are hundreds of lists all over our house and he hates every last one!  But without them I don’t think I’d be able to keep my head straight.  For me the act of writing out the list is the main thing, once it’s on paper, I can stop repeating it over and over in my head!  But crossing things off once they’re done is a real pleasure too.  I might even be known to put things on my list that I’ve already done, just so I can cross them off straight away!  (But don’t tell Steve that!)

Speaking of lists, over on the Opportunity Plus South West blog, I have written a list of all the great suppliers we used for our wedding.  If you are planning any kind of event, check out some of these great small companies (and let them know where you heard about them!).


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Direct Sales: Pampered Chef

Direct Sales is an excellent way to get into self employment with the backing of a larger brand behind you.  Many Mums choose to do Direct Sales either as their sole work, or alongside part or full time employment, as it offers such flexibility.  Pampered Chef is an example of a Direct Sales company.  Consultants come to your home (or workplace, school, youth club, day centre, etc) and do a cooking show where they showcase their products whilst creating lovely nibbles for your guests.

Caroline Cannon is Mum to Jack, 3, and became a Pampered Chef consultant in October 2011.  She also works part time in Customer Services.

Pampered chef is an American company that was founded in 1980. It offers high quality kitchenware and tools and is sold through the party plan (like Tupperware, Ann Summers).  It offers hosts amazing incentives for having a party; consultants (like myself) are incentivised and rewarded for selling the goods and people that buy the products are investing in amazing superior kitchenware that will not leave anyone disappointed.

I was recruited at a Pampered Chef party hosted by a friend. It’s not something I would ever have dreamed of doing but I love it. I love the flexibility, meeting new people, my new cooking skills and newly acquired confidence.

When my director (who was the consultant at the party I attended) talked about extra money and ‘how £50 was a lot of money you could earn instead of watching the TV instead of an evening’ I realised this was a real opportunity I should grab.

It instantly appealed to me and I haven’t looked back since. It’s an excellent way of meeting new people and will give you a confidence you probably never knew you had!

There are monthly meetings and these introduce to you all the other consultants in the area and there is always a cooking show. It’s a great way to see how others might do a cooking show and everyone is always very friendly.  My experience in going to these meetings is finding out about everyone else and their story about getting into Pampered chef. There are many who used it as a stepping stone to get back into work after having children. And this is massively successful. Having children seems to lower women’s confidence and it can take a while to build this back up. I can honestly say that the women I meet now are so confident and love what they do.

How much you want to work is entirely up to you. You can choose to pursue it as career, and indeed a very successful one at that.  Or you could do what I do and hold one or two parties a month.

I am more than happy to talk to anyone about Pampered Chef, and if you want to discuss anything please don’t hesitate to call me on 07810 501385 or you can email at

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Hola Bebe

Emma Jones and her partner decided to leave their jobs and take some time out to travel.  After ten months travelling, they found out that they would be having a baby!  Returning home with no jobs, nowhere to live, and their savings spent on travelling was a struggle (to say the least!), but they have both stuck to their guns and not returned to their previous jobs, which they didn’t enjoy.

Emma is training to be a Personal Trainer and will finish her qualification in May.  In the meantime, she runs Mummy Active Buggy Fitness classes and Hola Bebe Spanish classes for young children and their parents.

Emma is half Columbian and was brought up bilingual.  She believes that introducing children to other languages from an early age will help them develop into a well rounded individual who has respect for other cultures.  It will also make it a lot easier for them to learn other languages fluently when they are older.  As most primary schools now teach some form of modern foreign languages, Hola Bebe could give children a real advantage at school.

We have just attended a three week trial of Emma’s Hola Bebe classes and thought they were fantastic for both my nearly 4 year old, and my 18 month old.  As well as being a fun and interesting class, it gives a great introduction to the language for both Mum and baby,  Emma will be starting a ten week course in Exeter in April, but can also run group sessions in your home.  Get in touch with her to find out more.

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Babies About Town

Babies About Town is the “brain baby” of Emma and Kathryn. We had always wanted to develop an independent business and maternity leave provided us with the perfect opportunity; especially when we both had little girls just days apart. Set up in September 2012, Babies About Town is still very much in its infancy but is growing fast. The inspiration for the concept came from the desire to get out and about with our little girls but there were no resources that seemed to be able to tell us what we could do. From personal searching we found a wealth of great small businesses offering baby activities and services with a personal touch. We also met some wonderful and interesting people.

Our business – Babies about Town aims to provide parents with babies access to information about local services, shops and activities in and around Warwickshire. Warwickshire is a beautiful and vibrant county, with good schools and transport networks it is easy to understand why so many people choose to bring up their families here. Finding out where to go as a parent with limited free time, which shops cater for little ones and the range of activities on offer can be difficult. Babies About Town works to provide all of this information in one place.

With a popular blog, sharing our experiences of being a new parent, and a website which lists the places to shop, things to do and places to eat with a new baby we hope we have filled the gap! It is free for businesses to list their company with Babies About Town and we offer paid for advertising opportunities as well, which offers a cost effective marketing tool for small, local businesses. Each month we select one Warwickshire business to work with as our brand of the month; we are always on the lookout for something unique which we want to share. Babies About Town have a strong online profile so come and find us on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about what is on in and around Warwickshire.

We are currently in the process of organising our first baby show, which will be a fun and interactive afternoon where parents can come and meet the people who provide brilliant baby products and services in the local area. There will be an opportunity to sign up to classes and get more information about what is on. This will be the first of many baby shows, and whilst it will be a great day for parents it will also provide a platform for the many small independent businesses in the local area that provide fantastic services for parents. Especially in the current climate the Babies About Town philosophy is all about supporting local independent businesses and championing those who work hard to provide unique and quality goods and services.

Babies About Town is at the start of an exciting journey and there are exciting and busy times ahead. We are looking forward to providing a fantastic set of services that benefits new parents and independent local businesses. For anyone reading this and thinking of starting a up a business the best piece of advice we were given was that “If you don’t work towards your own dream, you will only end up employed pursuing someone else’s.”

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Why I started my own business

There are so many reasons why I decided to start my own business, some more sensible than others!

  • I got hooked on using slings, but couldn’t understand why they were so expensive (though since starting my own business this has become clearer!)
  • I wanted to use ring slings and tried about 5 styles that I didn’t get on with, so I designed my own and wanted to share my design with others
  • I discovered Meme – a new fabric shop in Exeter – and needed an excuse to buy lots of their beautiful fabrics!
  • Friends kept trying out my Kozy Carrier and going and buying their own, so I saw that there was a market for them to be sold locally
  • I didn’t want to have to work a third day in my office job, but needed to boost my hours at work so that I qualified for Tax Credits
  • After I was made redundant and couldn’t apply for jobs due to being pregnant, I wanted something to apply myself to, to boost my confidence and self esteem
  • I wanted to create a flexible job role for myself that would work around my family
  • It’s nice to have a bit of extra money!
  • My partner wanted to try his hand at web design so I wanted a project to give him!

What made you take the plunge and start your own business?

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EccoBots Reusable Nappies

We all know the environmental and economic benefits of using real nappies, and more and more Mums are choosing real nappies (full or part time) for their children.  In Devon, the Real Nappy Project provides free trial kits for Mums who want to give real nappies a go without committing to buying a kit that they might not end up using.  I did the trial when my boys were born and was instantly drawn to EccoBots nappies, partly because they are really pretty and brightly coloured, but mainly because they are made locally.  This is how Caroline started up EccoBots.

Eccobots nappies

“I have always since childhood loved making and creating, always drawing designs of clothes that I would like to one day make, and when my first daughter Alesha, was small, I embarked on many courses, from dressmaking and sewing to crystal healing and colour therapy, which spanned several years.  I was able to enjoy my time as a new mother, whilst gaining new knowledge and skills to help me progress in the direction I wanted to flow in the future.  I practised as a Crystal Healer for several years and teaching Introductory workshops for the Institute of Crystal and Gem Therapists, and also began creating unique crystal pendants (which I still create to this day, as they are also a real passion of mine).

One of Caroline's crystals

I enjoyed making an array of clothing for myself, and nothing felt more wonderful than wearing something that I had made, and receiving a compliment, it did and still does fill my heart with so much joy and gratitude.

When my second child, Eva, was born, she suffered with eczema and I found that cotton nappies rubbed and were not suitable for her sensitive skin….so a little research began into alternative fabrics.  Bamboo was the most appealing for its sustainability and anti-bacterial properties…not to mention its beautiful softness.

I decided to make Eva some nappies, which was real fun, to see her in a nappy that I had created was the best buzz ever.  I then got hooked…..and after friends trialing the nappies and receiving positive feedback, I set up EccoBots.   I also became a volunteer with the Devon Real Nappy Project, run by Devon County Council, taking re-usable nappy kits to families in and around Exeter so that they were able to try a variety of cloth nappies before they buy (and my nappies were able to be in the kits).  This was invaluable to me as my business began to establish itself, as I was able to gain even more feedback regarding my EccoBots nappies.

eccobots 077

As the business began to grow I found I had less and less time to deliver kits and collect them, and Jen Harris of Exeter Babies, and Arabella Greatorex of The Natural Nursery, were also volunteering with the DRNP, taking around trial kits and holding numerous events, and Nappachinos in and around Exeter which they are amazing at…..if you are not familiar with the DRNP do check out their site, and also Jen and Arabella’s websites for information regarding events that they are holding (they both work very hard and are so very enthusiastic when it comes to cloth and all things re-usable and baby).

Eccobots nappies

I am so grateful to the support of DRNP and both Jen and Arabella and the other nappy advisors in Devon who have supported my business and who still have EccoBots nappies and accesories in their trial kits.  It has really helped with getting them out there to new mums and dads who maybe were not aware of a cloth nappy business based here in Devon 🙂

As EccoBots evolved into a small business, new ideas and creations were added, like the blankets and re-usable cleansing pads.  Once Eva began school I was then able to really start to throw myself into my little business and make more items and play with my creativity.

I feel very blessed and inspired by both of my daughters.  It is because of them that I have kept learning and evolving and enjoy being my own boss.  I am able to work around them, whilst they are at school and then taking time out when their school holidays arrive.  I still maintain a small amount of work whilst they are off, but I try to keep it to a minimum so that we are able to enjoy the holidays together having fun times.

I am able to juggle being a Mum and running my own business…….How?……I have wonderful support from my family and friends.  My partner Rich is wonderful and helps out in many ways and is very supportive and positive.  I also have hobbies, loving yoga and tai chi to relax and calm, and gardening……I love my garden and it provides so much food throughout the year for me and my family.

If things start to get stressy, I will take time out and go and spend time planting seeds, weeding, tinkering, and my hands in the Earth makes me feel so much more grounded and centred, or  I take a walk along the beach or through the fields with our dog, Coco.

My advice to other mums……Keep working at your ideas….creativity seems to flow even more freely once our children are born, (read this post for more on that!) it ignites a special something and it allows us to get creative and who knows where it may lead 🙂  Don’t give up and when things get too much (which they do from time to time….this is EccoBots’ 5th year and I still have times where it all feels a little too full on), take some time out and allow yourself to breathe, this is a time for you to grow your little business and make it how you want it on your terms, so that it fits around you and your precious family.

I hope EccoBots continues to grow at a steady pace, helping to create less landfill and caring about our environment for our children and theirs.  There is such a positive feeling each time a nappy is made….I still hold them up and smile at their cuteness.  Every time I finish a nappy, a blanket, wrap, cleansing pads etc I can’t help but feel happy and proud…I love all of what I make so much and hope that this shines through into their fibres 🙂

Five years on, it keeps me busy and creativity continues to flow, I have recently started creating items of clothing for women and a few items for children, I love working with colours and some one off pieces, along with my very unique pendants (which I have been creating for over a decade), I love self-expression and enjoy people’s responses to all of my creations.  Check out Caroline Quartz on Facebook and my Etsy shop.

So yes, I am super busy, but it for the most part flows really nicely, with support from loved ones, family and friends.”

You may also be interested to read Arabella’s recent guest post about using different techniques to get your products out there without needing to open a shop.


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Seashore Ceramics

Half term is here!  If you’re looking for an activity to do and live in the South Devon area, why not check out Seashore Ceramics in Shaldon this half term.  They are running pottery painting sessions today, tomorrow, and on Friday 22nd February at the Methodist Hall in Shaldon from 11am to 5pm.  Pop in for a cup of tea whilst your child does some painting – the perfect half term activity!

Seashore Ceramics opened a pottery painting workshop in Teignmouth in 2011.  Unfortunately, like so many shops, they had to make the difficult decision to close the shop after around 18 months.  They closed the shop in September 2012, and are now running “pop up” pottery painting sessions in schools and other groups.  They have also started making and painting their own ceramic items to sell at craft fairs and through their Etsy Shop.  Read their full story here.

The main thing I have learnt from being self employed is adapt, adapt, adapt! It’s very hard to do so when a business, especially a shop, becomes your ‘baby’, but I feel really positive about the opportunities the future holds for our business.

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