Being made redundant can be a difficult and traumatic time, but for former forensic scientist Alison Brodie it spurred her on to realise a long-held ambition.
Alison worked at Wetherby-based Forensic Science Service for 20 years, investigating a variety of crime. But when it closed in 2012, Alison used her redundancy money to retrain and set up on her own.
Although she’d always wanted to run her own business, she had to think hard to find the right idea. In the end, she used her own experiences of struggling to find decent skin products after taking part in outdoor pursuits such as running and cycling.
She set up Brodie Skin Care, offering a range of products created in her own lab, specifically designed for use after sport.
Alison said: “I have an active lifestyle – I enjoy running, swimming and cycling – but I was struggling with the effects exercise was having on my skin afterwards. So I set out to solve this problem and BSc was born.
“The push for setting up my own business was redundancy, it enabled me to do it, as I used the money to retrain, but I’d talked about it for years.”
Alison created her own laboratory at home after picking up equipment cheaply from an auction at her old workplace, and set about retraining.
“I found a great online training course in natural skincare and I researched the damaging effects of sport on your skin, such as heat and oxidative stress,” she said. “I’d send them designs and products to look at and they’d give me feedback. I fine tuned my products, until I hit upon a fantastic formulation.
“I feel it was serendipity that new natural products came onto the market at the time I needed them. I tested it on all my friends and family and it was clear it was a great product.”
“The inspiration for my Swim Moisturiser actually came from a young and enthusiastic physiotherapist, whom I met on a course. He did a lot of hydrotherapy in the swimming pool, and was suffering terribly with the chlorine. He asked if I could help his skin. So I created the swim formula specifically to counter the chlorine, and it’s now my bestseller!”
As with all new businesses, Alison made her share of mistakes and found some aspects difficult, but discovered things she didn’t know about herself.
She said: “The things people think would be hard I found easy. I loved designing the products, the packaging and getting them safety tested, all of which can be quite technical but for me that was easy. The hard part is the sales. It was totally new to me and something I had no experience of.
“Creating a product is one thing, but asking potential customers to buy it was difficult and not something I’d ever done before.
“I’m still not a salesperson, but I’m learning how to run a business and that means doing things out of your comfort zone.”
Alison contacted SREG, and was assigned a mentor.
“It’s really helped,” she said. “Working on your own can leave you quite isolated, and you can get stuck in your ways. So talking through things with someone is great and they came up with different ideas and looked at all the things I didn’t know, and put me in touch with other people who could help.
“He keeps in touch and I really appreciate having someone to talk to about the business.”
Alison also a launched a special edition cycling product to coincide with the Tour de France, presented in a box with red spots on a white background like the famous King of the Mountains jersey.
“It was actually my mentors idea. I thought it was a nice idea but perhaps a bit limited once the Grand Depart had finished, but he pointed out it’s an event that happens every year so I can still market it.”
Alison recently had support from famous entrepreneur and Dragons Den star Theo Paphitis via his weekly Twitter initiative, Small Business Sunday.
She also attended a seminar he organised for entrepreneurs.
“He came across really well, and seems very interested in helping new businesses,” she said. “He seems to get a buzz out of people doing well and loves to help people. It really hit home when he said “If you’re shy in business, go and get a job”.
“You have to be passionate about what you do, and although I’m not used to sales, he’s right, you can’t be shy in business.”
Alison’s quick tips for starting a business:
- You have to love what you do, be passionate about your business. If you don’t love it you’ll struggle to put the hours required into it. But if you do love it, it doesn’t feel like work at all.
- You need lots of patience and perseverance. It won’t be a success overnight.
- Talk to as many people as possible. Listen to their thoughts and be prepared to change. Other people’s opinions and advice can be invaluable.
- Not everything you do will work and not everyone will like your ideas. It’s good to learn from mistakes and not take things too personally.
- Most importantly have fun and enjoy any successes along the way.