FoundHer: Steph Douglas, Don't Buy Her Flowers
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
When I sat down to interview Steph Douglas, founder of Don't Buy Her Flowers, I pretty much intended to keep to asking about business advice and experience. But Steph isn't someone for a linear conversation, and I soon realised that everything about her business - the idea behind it, and how she combines promoting it with sharing her very honest brand of motherhood - is bound up in one fascinating package. I could honestly have chatted to Steph for hours; she's a genuine, refreshing and supportive woman, the likes of whom we could use more of in the media today. So instead of keeping it strictly business, I asked Steph if I could share her thoughts on a range of topics that resonate with us. Enjoy!
On starting Don't Buy Her Flowers...
After I had my first child in 2010, I realised that flowers are a really strange gift to get a new mum. People mean well and want to send you something lovely, but I just found I was overwhelmed when yet another bunch of flowers arrived. I didn't have enough vases and the thought of having to keep something else alive just stressed me out. It is not that I didn't love flowers, it's just that I thought there were better gifts to celebrate the moment. Then I was on maternity leave and other friends started to have babies, so I would always put a magazine and some chocolate in a Jiffy bag with a note saying 'its going to get easier' or 'you are doing really well' and their messages back were always full of gratitude. They were overwhelmed or thinking "What the hell am I doing?", and that note - showing someone was thinking of them and knew they might be having a hard time - made a massive difference. So at that point I started to think there was something in this, but I had no idea how powerful that expression of empathy was, or how it would translate to so many different occasions when people want to look after you or give you TLC.
People think I started the business during maternity leave, but I didn't. I had the idea after my first baby, but then I went back to work, and I then had another baby, and it was during my second maternity leave that I really thought it might be a business. Because of social media it's tempting to think you need to start a major enterprise on mat leave, but it was when I was back at work and in a routine that I really got the chance to work on it, starting a blog and then launching the business. I was beginning to think ahead, about two kids, working in London, school hours etc, and I thought - how is this going to work? So it was a combination of having the time to think about it on maternity leave, and the need to find something that I was passionate about that was going to work with motherhood that gave me the impetus to get started.
We have had a brilliant four years and we have grown month on month since launch. I think people underestimate the effort that it takes to grow a business, especially as a working mum. Many women kick off businesses while continuing to do everything they were doing before and that just won't work, its too all-consuming. I would say: set your goals and understand what you have to let go to find that time. If that means ignoring the housework, or hiring a cleaner if you can, and eating cereal for tea then so be it. Getting something off the ground takes a lot of work, but if it's successful it should get easier if you have the right people around you.
Also don't compare yourself to others or forget the successes that you have had. I saw a coach for a few sessions when I was starting out and they helped me realise that so often we are looking ahead at what we have yet to achieve, but actually, if you stop and look back at what you have already done then you will have a better mindset.
And finally, accept it's a long game. You probably won't be making lots of money, or even your old salary within the first few months/years. I quickly realised that I needed to set manageable goals that made sense for me because I was never going to be 'done' with work. So that could be setting on business growth over profit, or for us it's always having two weeks' holiday as a family. These things are important - and it's too much hard work to not feel some achievement and only be focused on what needs doing next.
On honest motherhood...
Lots of people will have seen the Solidaritea campaign Birds Eye ran a few years ago following a particularly nasty Daily Mail piece on myself and a few other influencers. It was just a crazy week (and really smart timing on the part of Birds Eye PR) but it does highlight the general view that as women we can't be successful, good mothers AND find it hard. I cook for my kids, I work hard to be around and make lots of effort for them, but yes we do have pizza on a Friday and yes I enjoy time without them too. It is a balance and lots of mothers are juggling far more than we did thirty years ago. It's not a race to the bottom as the Daily Mail suggested - it's just never that cut and dried, and we are all trying our best.
I have always been terrible at hiding how I'm feeling. I remember back in my first newborn days when I'd say 'I want to kill my husband', and it took some time to find other people agreeing openly that relationships and newborns are a hard combo. But when I did find others it was such a relief, to know that everyone else isn't breezing it. I realised that we need to talk more about parenthood and marriage, and the way we are all feeling overwhelmed. Some of the most successful blog posts I have written are the pieces where I share how I am really feeling about motherhood, or about my husband Doug. It's not about criticising him but an honesty about how hard relationships can be. When I'm calm and rational I can see that I contribute to the rows and overwhelm - especially in those early newborn months when you're tired and hormonal and doing something you've never done before. But the response told me that lots of us are going through the same and there is a solidarity in that.
On navigating 'insta' fame...
I'm aware that groups of people via Insta can seem really cliquey but the relationships I have are important to me and grew in an organic way. Most of us had connections from previous jobs or met via Mothers Meetings, and we were all kind of doing 'something' in that space at the same time - whether that was a blog or a business or building a following. We didn't have colleagues and spent a lot of time alone or with the kids, so we gravitated towards one another and really enjoyed sharing ideas and helping each other with feedback or intros. It can seem like it's a "doss" way of life but we actually all have to work really hard, and at the end of the day they are just a group of women who are making the most of opportunities that are coming their way. My main focus is the business, so I turn down anything that isn't going to support that, or competes with it. But, when I do get involved with paid work, like the recent campaign I just did for Very, then I know that this work will financially help support Don't Buy Her Flowers, and I am proud of that.
On what's next for Don't Buy Her Flowers...
We haven't gone after a big injection of cash, instead we are focused on growing the business incrementally, ploughing that growth back in the business and retaining the core idea of sending thoughtful gifts that matter. We've grown month on month since launch and the business is so much broader than New Mum gifts, which was the original plan. We are always expanding our range, for example, Fathers' Day is on the 16th of June and we've launched a new 'Create a Man Package' where you can select from over 40 products. And we have created a Father's Day Gift Guide
We are also growing in the corporate gifting world and I am really proud of things like our collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer. It is just one of the many times in peoples lives when people want to show support and TLC for someone, and we have worked to put together products that offer that TLC. We'll continue to stay true to that ethos and cater to those empathy-filled moments for our customers