IdentiKids: Nadine Lewis

What tempted HR manager Nadine Lewis to start her own business?

Nadine Lewis of IdentiKids is the third of our Startup profiles, where we go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up.

We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Nadine Lewis Age: 33 Business: IdentiKids Type of business: Children’s ID and Medical Emergency Cards Start date: Company Formed August 2002. Launch Date 1 November 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?

Prior to and between children, I worked in Human Resources as an Advisor and then Manager. I returned to work following the birth of my first daughter 5 years ago, however, following the birth of my twins 2 ½ years ago, I decided it was not financially viable to return to work due to the cost of child care. I therefore set up a business as a Virtual Assistant and HR Consultant (Virtual Admin Solutions).

IdentiKids Limited was formed two years later.

Tell us about your business

The IdentiKids Children’s ID and Medical Emergency card attaches discretely to a child’s car seat to provide the emergency services with vital information on a child in the event of an accident.

The IdentiKids card carries the following information:

  • Emergency contact telephone numbers (up to 4 numbers)
  • Medical facts: relevant illnesses, disabilities, allergies and blood group
  • Brief Description and recent photo of the child

It also provides signed authorisation for emergency procedures.

  • The credit card style card is a discrete size and is held in a plastic wallet that sticks to the child’s car seat.
  • It comes with a prominent red sticker that can be stuck to a car window. This will alert Emergency services to the existence of the card.
  • To protect the child the card does not carry a home address.
  • The PVC card, which is printed using our special ID card printer is heat, shock and scratch resistant.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?

The idea for the cards came after a friend of mine had a non-serious accident. This must have played on my mind because at 2.00 am that night I came up with the basic concept for the cards and even registered the name there and then over the internet!

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?

My inspiration comes from the natural feeling of wanting to protect my children. It is a very frightening thought not to be able to “speak” for your children in any situation, particularly in a potentially life-threatening situation such as a serious car accident. This card addresses those natural anxieties of “not being there” that many parents experience from time to time.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?

Right now there isn’t a market for cards of this nature, it is a major challenge that my Company faces – to create an awareness of the cards and to show there is a “real” need for the information the cards hold to be available for rescue personnel. Statistics show in 2001 there were over 300,000 casualties on Britain’s Roads and almost 5,000 children were killed or seriously injured. (Source: National Statistics Office)

Nobody likes to think that this would happen to them, but it does and I am trying to take people out of their comfort zone and to just plan ahead a little – “just in case”.

I have to cater to the two sides of the business, creating a market for the cards with parents who will be purchasing them and creating awareness with those that will be using the information provided on the cards. Both sides are equally important.

I am therefore undertaking a massive “awareness campaign” by sending out information on the cards to every police, fire and ambulance station, key members of the NHS (and particularly those with responsibility for clinical governance) and also to MPs with relevant portfolios.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?

Register the domain name, followed by the company name.

I also bought a laminating machine the next day. However, after a few attempts at trying to get a “professional” looking and hardwearing card it became apparent that the laminator was not going to produce the quality product I envisaged.

I then invested heavily in a thermal PVC ID card printer.

What research did you do?

I had a look on the web to see if anyone else was doing a scheme of this nature and whether anyone in the UK supplied children’s ID cards. I sent out samples to a group of mum’s with young children and undertook ongoing market research with these people.

I also spent the summer approaching a large number of parents and showing them the cards whilst out on day trips with my children, I asked the other parents what they thought of the cards and whether they would use them, what their concerns would be, what they thought of the designs, etc.

I then changed the cards and amended the website content based on this feedback.

I also went had a conversation with the Station Officer at my local fire station to ask his opinion on the cards. This was his response following our initial meeting:

“I would envisage that the provision of the cards would assist the emergency services to readily identify casualties and ensure that any relevant medical information was made immediately available”.

What advice did you seek?

I didn’t really. I did all that when I opened Virtual Admin Solutions and didn’t find them to be terribly helpful (I was offered a book keeping course and put in touch with the Prince’s Trust).

What other help did you get?

The Prince’s Trust gave me a small loan to purchase a computer two years ago when I first set up Virtual Admin Solutions.

When I decided that I wanted to purchase the ID card printer, I asked the Prince’s Trust for a development loan, however, I was outside their age limits. They did put me in touch with Bolton Business Ventures and I managed to get a small loan from the Phoenix Fund (£3,000).

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?

Yes, the biggest barrier to people establishing their own business seems to be funding. There should be a far easier way to find out about and to access available funding. An example of this is that I found out quite by accident that I could apply for an e-commerce grant through my local Business Link and UK Online.

There doesn’t seem to be one place that explains what grants and funds are available and the application process in a language that “ordinary” people can understand.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.

I looked up business plans on the Internet and took the headings I liked from other businesses and utilised them in my plan!

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

My business plan focussed my thoughts and ideas. I have particularly found the financial side to be useful, as it has made me aware of how many cards I need to sell, how much it costs me to produce them, and most importantly – how to make my business more efficient. This was an area I had not really given much thought to before then.

How much did it cost to start the business?

About £10,000 all in which is far more than I originally envisaged.

How did you fund this?

I was awarded a small loan from the Phoenix Fund. I put all our savings into the business (and forfeited the car I was saving to buy); I have ploughed back all my earnings from Virtual Admin Solutions, and everything else I have put on credit card. I have also just applied for the e-commerce grant mentioned above and am waiting to hear whether that was successful.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?

I am using the income from Virtual Admin Solutions to fund the ongoing running costs as I am still working for my regular clients and putting every penny into my new business, as this is where I see my future. My husband is also supporting us financially until the business takes off.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?

Sort of – I have kept my borrowing to a minimum and have tried to absorb as much of the set up costs as possible.

Are you working from home or from premises?

I am working from home right now, as it helps keep my start up costs as low as possible although it is my intention to move to offices as soon as the business can afford it.

The hardest part of working from home is that friends and relatives pass my house and see my car on the path and knock on for a coffee – they would never do that if I worked in an office. I am getting quite skilled at politely telling them that I am working and that it is not convenient.

To overcome the “lack of professionalism” that seems to blight working from home, I have set up an 0845 number which gives my company a more corporate and national feel and have set up a P O Box number.

How many hours are you working at the moment?

How many hours are there in the week????

I honestly couldn’t tell you that as I tend to work most nights until the wee hours (rarely getting to bed before 1.30), however, I do work around my children’s day and try not to work when they are home (although I find it hard to drag myself away from the computer most of the time).

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?

I tend to work around my children being at school and nursery. I make any phone calls I need during the day when they are not around and answer and send e-mails, work on my website, send out press releases and so on, in the evenings.

I think it is very important to have a home life too. I never work on a Sunday, I try not to do more than an hour or so on a Saturday and I take time out to spend with my friends and family if I can during the day at least once a week.

I do not mind working in the evening and my body clock has adjusted to this.

What about staff, is it just you?

I do not employ staff although I have used the help of outside specialists where I do not have the skills myself, for example, I have had help with writing my press release and my parent’s leaflets and so on from Pat Moores (www.forparentsbyparents.com) who is experienced in the parent and child industry and has a corporate marketing background. I have also used a consultant (Jessica from HDI Media – www.hdimedia.com) to build my ordering process and e-commerce section on my website.

My husband is also very experienced in sales and has been teaching me all about POR, wholesale pricing, promotions and so on. I am hoping that he will join the business when we can afford to as he has very different set of skills to me, which compliment mine.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?

No – I was an HR Manager in my “past life” and so that side of things does not concern me at all.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

I have focussed on both on line and off line marketing. Online, I have built up a wide range of link exchanges with people in the parent and child industry and I have invested in a comprehensive submission programme.

I have also set up an online networking forum for those in the parent and child industry, as I believe that networking is an excellent way of making contacts and promoting your business.

Offline, I am having 10,000 information leaflets printed aimed at parents. These will be distributed to paediatric A&E departments, maternity hospitals, and schools via direct mail.

I am investing very heavily in the awareness programme mentioned before, and am having at least 2,000 posters printed for distribution with a letter to the emergency services, etc.

I am also in the process of submitting press releases and so on to relevant publications in the parent and child sector and also in women’s publications and portals.

In the New Year we will be hosting a competition on the site as well, although I am still in the process of planning this.

We are also investigating inclusion in baby catalogues as a means of gaining distribution.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?

Not sure about 12 months, but, in two years I am hoping that the ID cards will become an “everyday” fixture on children’s car seats. Much the same as the car stickers “Baby on Board”.

What are the main obstacles to growth?

People in this country do not like the term ID and particularly balk at the thought of children having ID cards due to the government’s recent inference of a national identity card scheme.

How do you plan to overcome these?

Education.

The cards are there to serve a purpose – to assist the emergency services in the event of an accident. That is the message that I consistently put across.

Tell us about your website.

The website (www.kids-id.co.uk) is incredibly important to the business. Without it, I would only be able to serve the regional area. Through the website I am attracting visitors from all over the world.

I designed the website and logos myself. The website has undergone a huge transition from my first attempts and will probably continue to evolve as time progresses. I thoroughly enjoy web design and very much treat the site as my “baby”. My main objective is to look professional whilst appealing to parents of young children. I hope that comes across in the site.

I wanted the website to reflect the child-friendly nature of the cards, however, I did want to show the stark contrast between the happy pictures of children at play to the awful reality of a car accident.

I want people to take a few minutes to just think about the unthinkable and to plan ahead … just in case.

I had someone design, build and integrate the ordering process and e-commerce and admin sections for me, as this was a skill that I really did not possess. I am delighted with the end result and the money was very well spent.

I am hoping to have an affiliate section added to the website shortly and to bring on board agents and other web site owners to assist with selling the cards. The affiliate section will enable me to track where orders and referrals have come from and enable me to pay commissions for this.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

My main ambition is for the cards to make a difference to a child in time of distress.

However, the other two factors matter as well! It is very important to enjoy what you do – after all you spend much of your waking life doing it … and without money, then you cannot carry on and the intrinsic values diminish.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?

The biggest obstacle is not having a credit record – I did not have this problem with Virtual Admin Solutions as I operated as a sole trader, however as a limited company, I have found it difficult to do business with people as everyone wants paying up front and I cannot get anyone at all to allow me to purchase goods on credit.

Also, the practicalities of running a limited company I find difficult, keep the records and knowing whether or not to register for VAT, etc. I guess that is where Business Link would come in to their own.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

Determination and a thick skin. You have to have the ability to take knocks, learn from them and move on very quickly.

I think you also need to be very focussed. Since setting up the business, I have been given a lot of very good ideas on areas in which I could expand. The hardest part for me is to stay focussed on launching the IdentiKids card scheme and not to worry about all the other directions the business could take

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

Research it, secure the funding, follow your dreams and most of all believe in yourself and your business – if you don’t then no one else will.

For more information on IdentiKids, visit www.kids-id.co.uk

If you’d like to feature as a Startup profile, email Matt Thomas at matthewt@crimsonpublishing.co.uk

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