Baba Box CEO Sarah Walsh on branding, motivation and using your skills

For many women, their career doesn't progress in a straight line - they switch, combine and mould a career that fits and sometimes, create a new one themselves.
Sarah Walsh had a high ranking marketing job in London until moving back to Ireland in 2015 to start a family. On maternity leave, she came up with the idea for Baba Box, a business specialising in unique new mum gifts and gender neutral baby gifts featuring a mix of luxury items from some of the best independent Irish brands.

On this week's Love Your Work, we chat about branding, motivation and making your skills stretch.

What was your favourite subject in school?
Business Studies was my favourite subject, I had a really enthusiastic teacher which I think helped. I used to find all the stories about how big brands started really interesting. I remember reading loads of branding books at the time, probably not surprising that I went on to study Business at University!

What was your first job, and what other jobs have you had since?
My first ever job was in a baby and kids' clothes shop when I was 16. I worked there for summer holidays and weekends for two years. Which I suppose means I've now kinda come full circle, selling baby goods again! Professionally I have spent most of the last decade working in London as a marketing consultant on brands such as Virgin Atlantic, Hendrick's Gin and Sony. I returned to Ireland in 2015 to start a family and launched Baba Box two years ago whilst on maternity leave.

What does your daily routine look like?
I have a toddler who's a serious early riser so we are always up for breakfast by 630am. We usually hang out for a couple of hours before getting ready for the day. My mum helps with childcare two days a week so on those days I drop him off and begin work about 10am. I work from home so I usually start with a coffee and then work through the orders for dispatch that day. Over lunch I then plan out my to-do list for the rest of the afternoon. It varies depending on the week, some days it'll be product photography, meeting suppliers, sourcing new products or working on marketing. My son comes home at tea-time and my husband takes over to do bed-time so I usually continue working until dinner. After dinner we'll sometimes watch a bit of Netflix and I try to read a bit before bed to unwind. I'm very precious about my sleep and I'm usually in bed by latest 10pm.

Days when I don't have childcare is spent hanging out with my son. I do emails at nap time and then work in the evenings when he is gone to bed. I really love having the flexibility to be able to work around family life.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
My favourite part of my job is seeing the gift notes that people include with their gift boxes. It's a special but sometimes lonely time being at home as a new mum and often the notes are so thoughtful and caring and it's clear they want to send something special to someone they love. Giving new mums a little lift was one of the main drivers behind starting the business and it always makes me feel very lucky that customers have chosen Baba Box to be part of that.

What’s your least favourite part?
Without a shadow of doubt it is the accounting side of the business. It's always the last thing I come round to on my to-do list. It always gets done but grudgingly.

What are the key skills you need to make it in your industry?
I think anyone who is running a small business, particularly from home, needs a bottomless supply of self motivation and determination to succeed. If you are a one-woman business, time management is also key, there are only so many hours in the day and usually an endless amount of things to be done. Being aware of what you don't know and what you are not particularly good at can be really valuable. In those areas it might make more sense to hire someone specialised than to learn how to do something yourself from scratch.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned for success in your career?
Working hard and going the extra mile for clients and customers has always stood me well. Historically I haven't been brilliant at networking but as a small business owner I've realised that networks become a very important part of your business eco-system and crucial for success.

Any regrets?

One thing I regret is not making more use of the resources that are available to small businesses when I first launched. There are loads of supports available from the Local Enterprise Office and I just didn't prioritise it at the time. I could definitely have done with some of the mentoring support particularly in my first year.

What do you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
Don't sell yourself short, your skills are far more flexible than you think.

What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
Try to get a diverse amount of useful experience early in your career. Keep going, have confidence in yourself and your abilities and believe that you'll get to where you want to be in the end.

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