Small Business 3: Design Doctor

For my third interview with women running their own small businesses, I am talking to Hannah Gibson, who  – like me – did one of Michelle Rose’s marketing courses (look back to the post two weeks ago to see more).

We met at one of the monthly meetings for Michelle’s marketing course ‘graduates’ and I was able to find out the origin of her interesting business name.


What is the name of your business? Design Doctor

When did it start?   January 2015

Why did you decide to start a business?

When I was a scientist I was passionate about that. It was my ‘baby’, but when I had my own babies my focus shifted. My parents and my sister are all self-employed; I had that entrepreneurship in me. I use some of the same skills, for example project management and problem-solving.

What jobs had you done before?

I had a background in scientific research (I have a PhD in molecular biology).

Tell me a bit about the business…

The name ‘Design Doctor’ resonates with me still, I love design and I love creativity. The business offers fully managed and maintained affordable websites, and also Wix support, re-design and SEO support. I offer website training. I develop content for people who build their own website. I do webinars which would benefit anyone wanting an online presence. That’s the design side. The Doctor is because I have a PhD. I enjoy training and helping people who wouldn’t get online otherwise. So ‘doctor’ talks about offering help and solutions. Sometimes this involves editing content to improve it.

What things have been difficult for you in setting up/running your business?

The hardest thing has been managing people’s expectations.

What would you say to someone in the early stages of setting up a business?

Do a business plan. It doesn’t need to be a word for word document, but you need to see that the figures line up.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?

Flexibility is the obvious one, but for me it’s the fact of not having any constraints on myself. There are no limits to what I can achieve.


A train to train with The Guardian

Last week saw me travel to London to attend a simply brilliant training event run by The Guardian Small Business network, which I joined a few months ago. The focus was on preparing to export, and the event was sponsored by UPS which encouraged us all to think about distribution to other countries. One part of the programme involved a panel discussion with views from business experts with experience in ventures from skincare to mouldable, self-hardening glue:DSC_0188 (2)

The way to get a cheap train ticket to attend a day-long event in London is to go the afternoon before and return on the ‘red eye’ the evening (night!) of the event, getting in to Durham at 2.45 a.m. The event was free – with wonderful food provided, I may add, so the cost of my training was the £34 train fare and £65 for a hostel near Liverpool Street station.

After many hours, days, weeks, months working alone from home, it was so good to have the opportunity to meet lots of people who are carrying out their businesses from home offices or from shared studio space. There are plenty of us: across the 28 countries of the European Union, there are 21.6 million SMEs (Small and Medium-sized enterprises), but it’s easy to forget that when you are in the smallest category of all (one employee) and you work at home!

The day was packed with highlights: a keynote speaking was the inimitable Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who long after his ‘Changing Rooms’ appearances is continuing to work successfully as a designer, notably in the Far East. He was informative, witty and oh, so stylish. Here he is, speaking, against a background of photos of his lingerie collection for China:DSC_0194 (2)His studied flamboyance came across immediately with his opening slide:DSC_0192 (2)On a more serious note, he gave much encouragement for us to export our essential British-ness and excellence in design (without too much British self-deprecation).

We were treated to a presentation by Bob Forkan, who with his brother founded the Gandys brand of flip-flops (now extending to other items for travel). This is a young company, which has grown in tandem with a charitable venture (Orphans for Orphans) to build a home for orphans in Sri Lanka – the place where Bob and his three siblings were themselves orphaned when their parents died in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Moving – and impressive.DSC_0195 (2) Other innovative new products were profiled by their CEOs, like Laurence Kemball-Cook, inventor of the amazing Pavegen Systems, where electrical energy is generated by footsteps on panels in the ground and Matt Johnson the co-founder of Bare Conductive – a substance which can extruded like glue from a tube but which becomes electrically conductive once it hardens.  Wow!

It will take some days to sift through all the notes and start to act on some of the suggestions that were made and to follow up all the links that were given, but I sense that the energy released from that day will last a long time.