Grace Sherriff, creative director of Norma & Dorothy
It’s difficult to plan in business. While you can structure your year around key dates, peaks and business priorities, sometimes life throws up those big events that necessitate a change in direction. One of life’s biggest and happiest events is set to change everything for business owners and couple Grace Sherriff and Paul Dickinson.
“We found out I was pregnant on Black Friday in November. That’s a key date in our trading calendar and right before the Christmas rush began,” creative director, Grace, says.
What is it like running a business with a baby on the way?
Grace and Paul own and run hand-crafted stationery business, Norma & Dorothy. While they’re used to sharing in other people’s happiness, crafting bespoke stationery for weddings and all manner of special occasions, it’s their own little bundle of joy they’re now celebrating, with Grace giving birth in July to their little girl, Avery Grace Dickinson.
And while a new life coming into the family throws up thousands of questions for every couple, Grace and managing director, Paul, have also been dealing with the very unique challenge of running their business too.
It’s no surprise that since the big news broke, they’ve been looking a little more critically at how they run their operation. As you would expect, the first five years of the business has seen them be extremely hands-on, putting in the hours around their peak trading periods and always being there to support their team.
Now it’s time to change things up and get a little more hands-off, letting their team of 11 take care of things in their absence. Grace said:
“Being pregnant has forced us to really reflect on the day-to-day running of the business. It’s made delegating tasks and procedures a top priority which, in turn, is proving really beneficial for our team’s development.”
As is the case for many businesses, when forced into looking critically at the day-to-day, there’s always a better and more efficient way to do things.
“We’ve had to be picky with what our goals for the year will be. We can’t ‘do it all’ like we normally do, so we’ve really had to streamline our big tasks. We’d normally develop ranges for all small gifting occasions, but this year we’re having to work smarter – regenerating existing items and designs to freshen them for our customers. This change in strategy is something we’ll do going forward.
“We’re usually a very reactive business, working on short lead times and generating ranges close to their launch dates. Because we know we’ll be taking time off this year, which is something we’re not used to, we’re having to plan ahead and make sure the business still flourishes when we’re not here.
"We’re confident the day-to-day running of the business will be in good hands with our fantastic team.”
While long-term strategy is definitely high on the agenda, the changes that pregnancy brings also brought daily challenges and disruption to Grace’s working routine.
“I remember feeling pretty nauseous using the laser cutting machines at Christmas in the early days whilst having morning sickness!", she says. "I ended up having to take the mornings off in December and work later into the night.”
And did she slow down from her demanding daily role as creative director as her due date approached?
“I wouldn’t say I ‘slowed down’ since becoming pregnant," Grace says. "If anything I’ve had to do more to compensate for the time off ahead, especially in terms of planning product launches for whilst we’re off. I’ve certainly had to work more efficiently to fit this in, which again seems like a great skill to have developed, which might not have happened pre-pregnancy.”
Have the couple prepared for a complete break from the day-to-day? Or are they just taking everything in their stride?
“The beauty of owning our own business is that we can be really flexible", Grace says. "As it’s our first baby we’re planning on taking each day as it comes and hopefully fitting in some work around the baby. We’re also not sure who will become the primary caregiver, or if it will be split 50/50. It may be that Paul takes the longer break once the baby arrives.”
With a business that has very defined peaks in line with key dates such as wedding season, Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day to name a few, have the couple been lucky and managed to plan the birth around a quiet time for the business?
“We’d usually be finalising our Christmas period, a huge part of our business, so we’ll have to get this done around the baby", Grace comments. "This is a really fun, rewarding part of our roles so shouldn’t feel too much like ‘work’.”
For the couple, it seems very much that life is their business and their business is their life. It feels like this passion will only get stronger with a new addition to their family.
“Running a business means there’s no boundary between personal and work life, which is something we love. The two are very intertwined. We’re sure this will continue for many years and hope it shows our new baby the real joy that work can bring to your life!”
And will the experience bring a little inspiration to the Norma & Dorothy product ranges?
“Once we’re back to work in the autumn we’ll certainly be developing a baby gifting range – we’ve seen that there’s a real lack of unique, high quality personalised gifting items in the baby market just from doing our own shopping," Grace enthuses. "We’ll be looking at ideas for celebrating both pregnancy and birth and hope that our own experience of this can add a real personal feel to the products.”
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