This week Martha Brook, the business that started life with just one printer in my bedroom, is nine! Almost a decade has passed since I paced into the big corporate building where I used to work with a much-deliberated resignation letter and a stomach filled with excitement and trepidation. I concluded that starting a stationery company was an excellent idea. In hindsight, with very little knowledge of stationery or starting a business (!), it was a bit insane. But, nine years down the line, here we are!
Curiously, when I look back over the nine years, when it runs through my mind like an old movie, it’s the small things and not the momentous milestones that jump out. So, I thought I would share with you nine little things that made a massive difference over nine years in business. Nine things I haven’t shared before that may seem tiny, but to me, the girl with the printer, were quietly monumental.
1. Words to set me on my way
The response was invariably mixed when I announced I was leaving my well-paid job to make and sell paper goods! For every relative or coworker who was horrified, there was luckily someone just as supportive. My manager’s manager at the time was a Senior Vice President of the company, someone who had championed me to becoming a Director at only 29. I was fearful she would be aghast, but instead, on my last day, she thrust a card into my hands. Inside it read, “go quietly in the direction of your dreams and live the life you imagined”. I kept that card on my wall for many years, and I still have it now. Words that have stayed with me and always will.
2. Family that lent a helping hand
Leaving a role where I managed a large number of people, and as an extrovert, suddenly running a business at home by myself was a huge culture shock. But, looking back, I am so grateful to all the kind people that lent a hand during mad moments, especially my Mum, my sister and Chris’s sister. During the first year, they all rocked up at our house with treats in tow and got stuck in with everything from packing to proofreading! One year in, I took them for dinner and still remember how proud I felt of all we had done in those first 12 months.
3. A kindhearted post office couple
Let’s chat post! Making beautiful stationery is one thing, but then you actually have to get it to people! Of course, we now have daily post and courier collections from our studios and some brilliant team members who manage the volume of parcels we send out. But, roll back to the start, and I used to cycle to the post office on my bike with orders hanging off the handles! I was lucky to discover a small post office not too far from me run by a kindly elderly couple called Mr and Mrs Patel. Every day when I breezed in with my arms full, they shut a counter and gave me a wink, then would process whatever I brought in. They did this every day without fail, no matter when I turned up.
4. An unexpected role model
Whatever your dream, it is invaluable to know that what you are setting out to do is not impossible. To know that someone has gone before you gives you a role model and something to aspire to. For me, that person was Cath Kidston, who I was lucky to meet at an event. Her story of setting up a small shop down the road from me in Holland Park to growing it to a global brand worth £250 million was nothing short of inspiring. I remember her saying, “when you are self-taught, you always worry you will be found out”. That has helped me ever since to know that even the most remarkable of entrepreneurs doubt themselves.
5. A small business community
Over the last nine years, so many generous business owners have shared their knowledge and insights with me. For example, Ali from milly and pip encouraged me to first get post collections, Michelle from Wink Design who helped in several ‘oh heck’ moments, and Claire from Little Cloud encouraged me to start Instagram (that was a great decision!). It is remarkable how a tiny bit of help can make a big difference when starting out.
6. A supportive partner in business and life
Two years in, the business started really taking off. My very tolerant husband Chris had endured boxes building up in every room of our house, and our kitchen and spare bedroom filled with employees. (There was that infamous time he ate a team member’s sandwich from our fridge, but that’s a story for another day!) Then, Valentine’s Day 2016 happened. We had one product take off, and it was beyond crazy. Although he had a day job, we tag-teamed, with him working in the evening and me in the early hours to get the orders out. I recently found this picture I took at 4:03am (when I vaguely remember getting up) of some notes he had left on my computer from the night before. Not a time I want to return to, but moments like that made it all worthwhile.
7. Charming customer messages
Never underestimate what a difference leaving some thoughtful feedback or sending a message can make to a frazzled business owner! Our whole ethos as a brand is to delight our customers, so there is nothing better than knowing we have done just that. Over the years, we have had some downright lovely Trustpilot reviews, Google reviews, direct messages on Instagram, emails and even letters! Here’s one I often come back to as a powerful reminder of why we do what we do…
“I realise that this is such a random email but I just wanted to let you know how amazing your products are. My husband bought your box of ten reasons that he loves me for our first year of marriage. As I bought him one of your cards previously. He passed away last year and I can say that when I look at the reasons he put they remind me of the happy times we had and the random sayings we would use. And that in years to come when I show our baby daughter she will know that bit more about her dad and our relationship.
Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have this. So thank you. You not only produce beautiful gifts but have helped to capture his feelings in a way nothing else has done.
Many thanks again, can’t wait to see what you produce next.“
8. A marvellous team who are more than a team
I cannot express enough how Martha Brook would not be where it is without the brilliant people that work here and have worked here. There are so many little moments we have shared, silly team traditions and office chats where we have laughed so much I could barely breathe. I could pick so many little things here, but I found this picture recently when my daughter Hermione was born of Michelle, Esther, Edlyl and Emma looking after her so I could get some work done, and it just about sums it up!
9. Your faith in our mission
I am grateful every day for the beyond brilliant Martha Brook community. Yes, that’s any of you reading this! We have cheerleaders around the world who I sometimes think are as passionate as I am about our mission! As we are on the brink of our second round of investment, I have been thinking back a lot to when we crowdfunded in 2020. Our biggest investor was a lady who had followed us for many years on Instagram. When her amount came in, I genuinely fell off my chair. I sent her a message to say, “are you sure”?!
She sent a message back that I return to regularly that said, “one of the things (my husband and I) are so impressed by is the way your stationery empowers women giving them something tangible to use to grow themselves. We have a daughter who is 8, and if something like your products help her on her way in life, then it is all worth it.”
So there you go, nine small but mighty things from the beginning until now. Looking back, it is surprising how impactful little acts of kindness can be, isn’t it?! And how I wish I could remember more of the small stuff!
I’d love to know what small things have made your biggest difference. Let me know in the comments!
P.S. If you feel the same, we have launched our new Personalised Gratitude Journal today. It is the perfect way to capture little things every day, which one day may turn out to be the big things.
I love that I was lucky to find you right at the start of your journey. I still have the beautiful Love Give Ink box my notecards came in after I had used them all. Those cards were taken 8,500 miles away to the Falklands so I could send special cards home. Bring in the services, letter writing still means so much. Nothing beats getting a letter in return and you don’t need a dodgy internet connection to send a letter or card. I still buy your products 9 years on as a treat and was excited about the Gratitude Journal which I have just ordered. Your Instagram is one of my favourite accounts and I’ve loved seeing your company grow into the wonderful one it is today. Also, just think how many more people now know how to spell ‘stationery’ correctly!
Thank you for your wonderful, creative mind.