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.


Small business 1

After the Festival of Quilts posts recently, this one marks a change of direction.

At the start of the year (January 2017), I had made two resolutions and I have kept them pinned up on a noticeboard in our house, so I am reminded of them all the time.


I have heard the process of setting up your own small business described as being like stepping off a cliff and learning to fly on the way down. That resonates with me.  There are so many things you don’t know – or you know them, but you need to be doing them much better!

I am working away at improving my photography. Here’s a recent photo session in which I was taking photos of garments made up using some of the fabrics I design.  (The fabric here is ‘New Hairdo’.)  I’m learning to make sure there is a white background and plenty of natural light, and I now know to use a tripod every time and to set the timer for a delay of a few seconds, so the photo is as sharp as it could be.

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Trying to get a really good photo of a quilt with a seaside theme (‘Happy Holidays’ – pattern forthcoming) involved getting into some awkward positions on a pedestrian bridge on a blowy day in Torquay, but I was happy with the finished photo.

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To actively engage with the second of my two issues, I enrolled on a marketing course with a company rejoicing under the name of ‘Custard and Bear’, owned by Michelle Rose. I heard Michelle speak about marketing at a business course I did at New College Durham last year (I have been working on filling in the gaps in my knowledge for some time…) and she mentioned in her talk that she runs short courses of four sessions with three to four participants, and she remarked that she mostly works with women.  The course was excellent, and if you live in the North-East of England and are running your own business, I recommend that you seek her out.

I am interested in women entrepreneurs, who I think often have a different approach to their business and frequently have different challenges in their work, as compared to their male counterparts. So I thought it would be interesting to ask several of the women I have been meeting recently, who all run their own small business, a series of questions about their story. This week I am beginning with Michelle.


What is the name of your business?    Custard and Bear (it came from my two sons’ nicknames!)

When did it start?   October 2011

Why did you decide to start a business?    It was my second business. I had been self-employed before and loved it. Then I had a ‘proper job’ and I got made redundant. I then had my two boys and decided to set up a business so I could work around them.

What jobs had you done before? I have always been a marketing person. I promoted caravans. I worked for Gateshead council – for example, I looked after film crews who came to work at the Angel of the North. At the age of 23 I set up a mobile gift business.

Tell me a bit about the business!   I help women who have their own small businesses get started with their marketing, so that they fall in love with marketing and do it! I am a mentor, I run a ‘Marketing for Mummies’ course and offer a follow-up ‘Marketing for Mummies’ monthly course. I have started working on a range of easy-to-use online resources for marketing. I have a book called ‘Facebook 30’ available on Amazon. I love getting out and speaking to groups of business owners to talk to them about doing marketing in a practical and fun way, for example I give easy-peasy marketing tips. I talk a lot to ‘mumpreneurs’ who are generally overwhelmed by life and business so that the marketing gets neglected.

What things have been difficult for you in setting up/running your business?   Not long after setting up my business I had another baby.   I had three children: 3 ,2 and a baby. Juggling life and business has been demanding. It has taken time to find my niche.

What would you say to someone in the early stages of setting up a business?   Create five marketing habits and stick to them.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?  Obviously it’s been good to work around the kids, but really it’s the people I work with – the amazing people this business has brought in to my life.