Back on the right track 

In 1998, Ann-Maree Morrison was fighting for her life after being hit by a train while on holiday in Australia – but that didn't stop her from starting a successful company turning over £300,000. SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to her about her journey.

Mum of three Ann-Maree Morrison was struck by a heavy load while on holiday in Australia and ended up in intensive care with a smashed sternum, fighting for her life and separated from her family, including her newborn son, who had to return to Scotland.

It was touch and go yet Ann-Maree finally pulled through – but only after she’d re-evaluated her life from her hospital bed and made a solemn vow to change it forever.

As soon as she was strong enough to walk again, she decided to give up her stressful accountancy job and faxed her boss from the hospital to hand in her resignation.

As she struggled to regain her health, Ann-Maree started researching potential home business opportunities and soon saw a gap in the UK market for labels and personalised products when her son returned home one day with a missing shoe. She launched Labels4Kids in 2004 with £20,000 in savings.

How did you get started?

It had been a long road back to health after my accident and I was frustrated, wondering what could I do from home. I noticed that my son would come home from school with one shoe on, lunchboxes would get mixed up. At the time there weren’t any really interesting options for labels on the market so I decided to go for it. I did some research and invested £15,000 in high-tech printing equipment small enough to go on a desktop.

I didn’t know anything about trading online, so decided to investigate. I got a web developer to help me out and sorted out a website. I thought naively that everyone would just be able to find me, but of course that didn’t happen; we were low on the search engines and needed to do something to be more visible.

So how did you market it?

I decided to initally approach schools to try and spread the word of mouth. However, it turned out to be a hard sell. People at schools are too busy and want to leave such concerns to the PTA.  Eventually though, and after a lot of hard work, we got schools in the South interested. We also did a lot of print advertising and after that the word of mouth got going. I also did a lot of courses about web optimisation and online procedures.

What were your big challenges?

Doing it all by myself was so hard. I was in charge of everything, the marketing, accounting, packaging, printing, it’s a big job. While I was on my own for the first couple of years I did manage to get temps from a university to help me through the summer. Every year I would have to train someone new which was a pain, but with some help we’ve managed to grow to a position of having three permanent staff members plus myself, with my husband as a silent director.

What’s next for you?

We’re planning a new website which should be live by February. I felt like we’d hit a plateau and needed to invest to get to the next stage; we’ve done well but we’re trying to grow now. We’ve also got franchise consultants working with us and we’re trying to franchise internationally. We’re aiming for two franchises a year in the next two years. I’m conscious of the importance of getting the right franchisee but if you do a lot more people will in turn get interested in it.

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