Victoria Ballard worked for a leading investment firm, Gartmore, in London, UK, for 10 years. Starting off as the sole designer for the graphic design department, she quickly moved up, becoming team leader over six designers and setting up the US graphic design department in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I remember it with such warmth.
Then things changed. I decided to leave when I felt I had taken my role as a far as I could, but also I was very aware that the fun had stopped! It was the new company rules and regulations took the fun away.
There were simple things we were no longer allowed to do, like entertaining clients, corporate gifts at Christmas or having an extended lunch occasionally on a Friday. It was fun things like this that got the best out of us and encouraged us workers to be dedicated to our jobs, work well together and have respect for the company we work for. It had a real family feel. I remember that working late was never a problem, I loved my job.
As this ‘tightening of the purse strings’ was a common theme for organizations in the nineties to adhere to, I knew that moving to a similar role in another company wouldn’t be what I was looking for. So I felt it was perfect timing for me to establish myself in a freelance graphic design role ahead of settling down and having children. I knew it would be something I could do eventually around my children’s schedules, giving me flexibility. Pretty much all went to plan, even the investment company continued to outsource their work to me for a couple of years!
Victoria’s a-ha moment:
However little did I know what was ahead of me … in 2002 I gave birth to my son Joseph. I thought I had given birth to a healthy baby but at 18 months old he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Unsure of how the future was going to develop for him, I created a reward chart to encourage Joseph to try standing and walking and to be nice to his little sister Thea who had just been born. I knew Joseph reacted well to praise and encouragement, but this visual chart provided us with a great comfort and became the focal point that we could both work from and see great results.
When other mothers saw it, they asked me to make one for them too. It gave me the inspiration to start a business designing reward charts for children, The Victoria Chart Company was born, and I have never looked back.
We are 10 years down the line in the UK (that’s where I am based most of the time). We have an award winning range of charts with our fun Kiddlies® characters that we sell online to parents and childcare providers. We are also commissioned by leading organizations to develop products to help them support the families in their care, supporting such sectors as military, health, divorce, education and crime prevention.
For the last 4 years, following great interest from US families, we have established ourselves as an LLC business in Florida. We were often approached by US families interested in our charts, but as you can imagine, shipping individual charts to customers from the UK is expensive and slow.
We initially tested our range of charts through Amazon.com, as we are familiar with their fulfillment service here in the UK. They continue to be our main outlet. We also worked with parenting experts to do the necessary changes and translations to our products.
We also used and give great thanks to the support of organizations like the UKTI who helped us research the US market and Export Action to register our US company, open bank accounts and provide all our office facilities.
I have a wonderful lady who works with us in Florida. The internet plays an enormous part in allowing me to manage our US arm – meetings over Skype, stock level management, working with printers and suppliers. All of which continues to allow me to be the best mom I can possibly be.
4 Takeaway’s for you to follow:
My advice to anyone wanting to turn their ideas in to a successful business is:
- Totally believe in your product or service
- Be prepared to live, sleep and breathe it
- Embrace all aspects of business (including the boring but important bits like managing your costs, or working out a marketing strategy)
- Don’t expect things to happen overnight