On Friday, Martha Brook is eight! Yes, it’s eight years since I quit my corporate job and decided it was an excellent idea to start a stationery business (spoiler; it was a lot harder than I had imagined!). I’m super proud that Martha Brook began from small beginnings; just me in my house with one printer and some big ideas. A hell of a lot has happened since then. So, we thought it would be fun to reminisce on 8 years of running a stationery business! Read on for my 8 highlights…
1. Taking on my first employees
Martha Brook started just me! As anyone who has ever run a business solo will tell you, it is insanely hard work. As well as designing and making the products, I was doing the finance, the marketing, operations and, well, everything. I worked silly hours and muddled my way through working out what was selling and how to improve things as I went, and probably not doing anything very well at all.
My first ever ‘helper’ was my lovely sister Lucy, then my Mum, and then eventually I found a brilliant local girl called Catherine who came a few hours a week freelance and was a game-changer. She gave my days some structure, and I realised how much more I could do with her looking after some tasks. So, in the autumn of 2014, I made the massive decision to recruit a full-time employee. That employee became two, and Isobel and Lee officially joined my team. I still fondly remember that Christmas and how amazing it felt working with people who cared about delighting customers as much as me. I can honestly say the Martha Brook team continue to be a highlight for me, but here are the first recruits!
2. Winning some awards early on
Over the years running a stationery business, Martha Brook has been lucky enough to win several awards, but the ones I wanted to pick out here are the ones we won in 2016 because it was so unexpected and such a big confidence booster in a year I went on to make some big decisions! It was our local Hounslow Business Awards and not only did they award us ‘Best New Business’ and ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, but we also won the overall award of ‘Business of the Year’! You can see how surprised and delighted I am below!
3. Mr B joining the business
In 2016 things were starting to take off. I was still working crazy long hours, we’d hit 6 figures turnover in my house, and I wondered where things were going. My husband Chris and I decided to chat things through. We both realised how much we cared about Martha Brook, he was as excited about our mission as much me, and we decided to go ALL IN! He officially joined Martha Brook as our Head of Operations to take part of the business off me. It felt like such a big moment, and it still does.
4. Moving into our first studio
One of Mr B’s missions was to help me to get the business out of our house. At this point, we lived with boxes literally everywhere: in the hallway, the sitting room, the kitchen, every bedroom. It felt like running a stationery business had taken over our lives! So we went studio hunting and found our first studio here in Brentford, West London. This was one of my biggest highlights; it really felt like things just got serious!
5. The first Stationery Social
Our community is a huge part of what makes Martha Brook who we are. We absolutely love bringing people together both virtually and in real life. In 2018 we started an annual ‘Stationery Social‘ – an epic day event filled with creative workshops, talks, networking and, of course, stationery! Meeting the lovely people who buy and use our products is always a massive highlight for me, and nothing beats our Stationery Social!
6. Launching our Stationery Advent Calendar
Ah yes, this had to be in here, didn’t it?! It was hard to pick between the year we launched our 24 Days of Stationery Advent Calendar (in 2018) or last year when it made an appearance on This Morning! However, I settled for the launch because absolutely nothing is better than the feeling of launching a product that genuinely captures peoples’ imaginations and inspires people like the advent calendar has done.
7. The time I visited Downing Street
There have been some very surreal moments in the last 8 years of running a stationery business, and this is up there! In 2018 I joined a group of small business owners to visit No 10 Downing Street to speak with the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor. Going inside was exactly how you might imagine; once through security, it felt like a smart London townhouse with lots of wooden panelling, high ceilings and traditional furniture. It was brilliant to share some thoughts on business needs ahead of the budget and genuinely feel listened to.
8. Our successful crowdfunding campaign
I started Martha Brook on a shoestring budget and am very proud of that, but we decided it was time to take things up a gear and go through our first fundraise to generate some cash! When we launched our crowdfunding campaign, I had absolutely no idea how it would be received, so it was incredible to be fully funded in less than two days! I couldn’t believe how many people believed in what we are doing, and after working so hard on our campaign, it was a very emotional moment.
So, there you go! It has actually been surprisingly hard picking just 8 highlights from 8 years of running a stationery business! I wonder if you have been following Martha Brook for a while, whether you remember the ones I have chosen? I’d love to know in the comments and any extra highlights from you!
Thank you so much for however long you have been on this crazy journey with us. We really couldn’t do it without you. Here’s to many more years of Martha Brook!