If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be to take that one thing you love and turn it into something you can earn a living from. I say to my children, whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s something you love as you’ve got to do it for a lot of years.
Really think about the things you love doing. If you can practice or get a taster of the things you really like then you can build the skills for it. That’s part and parcel of how I started the coffee business but it was later on in life.
My early working life
I didn’t go to college. I’ve got a cousin who is older than me and I looked up to her. She worked in a bank and she started at the bottom and worked her way up. I went through my GCSEs and I did okay but could have done better.
I got a place on an art course, but that summer I worked at the Pyramids Centre in Portsmouth. I worked as many hours as I could. Of course, college was due to start in September and I had a taste of earning money, so I said to my parents, ‘I don’t want to go to college’. I referred to my cousin and said, ‘I want to be just like her’, starting as an office junior and working my way up.
Starting at the bottom
I applied for a job at the County Court and that’s where I started. I was filing cards, making tea and coffee, looking for missing files and paperwork. Within three or four months, the computer side of things at the court wasn’t up and running. This was 1995. I was fresh out of school so I knew more about computers than most. I was asked to help implement the computer system with a couple of others. We got drafted around the south to help train other court staff on the system. I then got a promotion.
Starting from the bottom, you really build your knowledge. I would say watch other people. Don’t stand around twiddling your thumbs because you’re not being told to do something. It’s a good idea to find somebody and say can I sit with you and observe. Most people are willing to do that. Then you’re picking up snippets all the time.
Moving on up
Next, I was a court clerk. I got to know a lot of local lawyers in the area and I ended up becoming the PA for one of the senior partners in the law firm. That was in child law and was really interesting. From there I went to commercial law, where I gained a lot of knowledge that I still use now, it’s given me so much now so I wouldn’t change it. But looking back and knowing what I know now I probably would have tried to start my own business when I was younger.
I handed in my notice when I was around 26 and I thought ‘I just want to try something else’. I wanted to go and work in something that I enjoyed doing for fun. I love sport and exercise so I went to Fitness First and got a sales job there. I didn’t really last long! I wasn’t the sort of salesperson who wanted to be told you need ‘this many sales today’. I realised I did like sales, but on a more personal level than in a competitive commercial environment.
Becoming a mum and creating a business
When I was 28 I had my first child, and four more in close proximity so bringing the children up took over. I spent some time on a small cupcake business but it became a bit too much with the children so young, people wanted more and more things, I was making wedding cakes and the pressure of a young family and trying to put the hours into the detailed cakes was becoming difficult and I wasn’t able to give it the time it required.
It wasn’t until the youngest went off to school in 2016 that I thought now was the time to start my own business. I put loads of ideas on paper, some great some not so great. Although no idea is a rubbish idea!
I really liked coffee, although it wasn’t really until I got to my twenties that I really got a taste for it. It was actually when I worked in sales that I was drinking a lot of coffee. I thought at the time ‘I really like this but there’s more, and better coffee to be found’. It’s a bit like a fine wine, you have to go and educate yourself about different flavours.
I read books, looked online, and started research on different ways to brew coffee, loving the science behind it. I contacted a few coffee roasters and told them what I wanted to do, that I wanted to develop my own brand, single-origin coffees and unique blends. I met some lovely people along the way and they invited me to their roasteries, they mentored me and gave me the knowledge that I have today. You don’t ask, you don’t get – a motto that I would encourage anyone to have! Most people are willing to share their knowledge, especially if they’re at the top of their game. I learnt everything I needed to know and drank way too much coffee. That’s how that journey started.
A funny story of my first time at a roastery was trying a variety of espressos and not wanting to be rude, I drank them all. It wasn’t until my mentor said, “you do know you don’t have to drink them all”. That day I figured out 15 espressos was way too much caffeine for anyone!
Quirky Coffee Co
As well as selling direct to consumers, I provide wholesale to businesses. When you go to restaurants you often have a coffee at the end of your meal. And quite often I’ve been disappointed by that. I think there’s a huge opportunity for restaurants to provide a really good coffee at the end of the day as that is the final enjoyment that somebody leaves with.
I supply to businesses and offices. Sometimes a company comes to me explaining they have a special client and they want to give a gift or a hamper. They ask me to do some branding for them and I provide the coffee. It’s those other areas that I’m focusing on as well as providing to the coffee lover consumer. I do coffee subscriptions online too which means that my customers don’t have to remember to buy coffee, every month it is delivered directly to their door!
My ethos behind Quirky is that I don’t want to just be sat behind a computer and my customers not knowing who supplies them. I think it’s nice to know about the person behind the brand and I would always say that if you can give the personal touch to your business and to your customers it makes all the difference. People buy from people! With my business and corporate customers, I go and see them as regularly as I can to ensure their needs are being met and to see if there is anything else that I can provide. I’m not about cold hard sales, I like meeting people.
Everything is online, I haven’t got a shop front. Down the line, my current goal is to have a coffee bar where different kinds of coffee are available to try. It would have all of my coffees on offer where someone could come in and try, say, the Columbian, or Kenyan or Costa Rican. It’s not a coffee shop, it’s a coffee experience. I think that’s what we’re missing, that sort of environment where you can learn about coffee. That’s my goal.
An ‘average’ day
There’s no such thing as an average day. But it always starts with getting the kids up for breakfast and a good few cups of coffee. My general morning is dealing with orders. Then there’s usually a little break of somebody wanting something or needing to go somewhere. Certainly, this has been more challenging during the 2020 pandemic. I make a list of things that I need to achieve; still in the traditional method of notebook and pen! I really tried hard to do online list-making, but I just go back to my book, there is something therapeutic about actually crossing off of a list! What doesn’t get done on a given day remains on the list for the next day.
A great bit of advice I have had recently is if it is a job that takes less than two minutes, do it immediately! By this point of my day, I’m probably on another cup of coffee. Blogging is always on my list – my web team tell me that a website is never finished, there is always updating and new content to be added. If I can put aside even half an hour a day to write a few paragraphs I do as that’s progress.
This takes me to lunchtime and yet another mealtime for the kids. I’m lucky and the older ones do make lunch and all five of them work as a team. Having a large family, and the children being either 2020 homeschooling or school holidays the day can be a little ad hoc, you’ve got to slip things in when you can. Evenings are good for me as I am a bit of a night owl. I quite like that quiet time and get more done in two hours in an evening than I do all day sometimes.
Why I love working for myself
I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny. I’ve got a big family and I knew that working for someone, I just wouldn’t be able to give that dedication because my family will always come first. I didn’t feel I could give anyone or any business the commitment I would give to my own.
It’s also the flexibility. To have that big family flexibility is a necessity.
I always want my children to grow up knowing they can achieve whatever they want in their life. I want to give them a really good work ethos and that understanding of commitment to work towards your goals. I think it’s really important.
I didn’t go to college but as long as you do your best you can do whatever you want to do in life. I think that there’s a real balance of having that academic qualification on a bit of paper vs having good social skills, being polite, understanding and thoughtfulness. I think having those social skills and being thoughtful of others can get you somewhere more than always being top of the
I just think it’s really important to do something you love. Do something that you’re not going to get bored of as you’ve got to do it for a lot of years. Don’t ever to be afraid to ask for help, most people are always willing to help somebody else. I think most people in most industries are more than willing to help young people. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know if it was going to be a yes…
To find out more about the Quirky Coffee Co, visit: quirkycoffeeco.com