Continuing our series on those one-of-a-kind lightbulb moments where businesses are born, this week we’re featuring Happy Days Publishing. Founded by Gillian Hesketh, the business produces creative resources for organisations that support people going through difficult times.
Gillian has always had a love of creative processes, and a yearning to become a writer. Her journey towards Happy Days Publishing began when she signed up for a degree and then a Masters degree in English language, literature and writing, alongside caring for her sons, her mother and volunteering too!
During her Masters degree, she studied how creative writing and drawing can help people that are going through traumatic times to access and understand their emotions. Gillian excelled in this area, and found it was something she was passionate about, so she threw herself into research.
A little while later, she was invited to a bereavement workshop to share some of her findings with practitioners working in the field. “From my research, I developed some carefully themed, softly coloured worksheets and activity pages to help young people write, draw and express their emotions.” Gillian explained. The practitioners were impressed with her work, and requested samples.
But it wasn’t until five years later that Gillian’s real Eureka Moment struck. During a voluntary editing post for a children’s hospice, the CEO of a carers’ support centre happened to see her bereavement worksheets. “She immediately commissioned me to write a worksheet programme for their team of support workers.” Gillian said. “This is when I realised my work could be used to really help people who may be experiencing difficulties in life.” Eureka!
Since Gillian’s lightbulb moment, Happy Days Publishing has gone from strength to strength. Her resources have grown into full programmes of activity pages that help people understand and cope with their feelings through drawing and writing. They cover topics like dementia, bullying, self-harm, motivation and many more.
But as with all start-ups, Gillian faced her fair share of teething problems: “When my work started to become more well-known, promotional costs began to increase. I needed help, but there was no money for staff.”
Gillian realised she needed to be more resourceful: “I turned my study into an office. I keep expenses low at all times. I attend fairs and low-key exhibitions to meet frontline workers who can see, touch and talk about the range of materials and take my product catalogue back to their care homes, hospitals and schools.”
A near catastrophe at the manufacturing stage helped Gillian learn the importance of being diligent: “I was so excited about the first print run that I didn’t edit the proof correctly and had to pay for a total reprint. But I explained the situation to the printers and they kindly offered to do it for 50% of the cost.” Disaster averted!
Gillian would advise any other would-be start-ups to keep the customer in mind at all times: “I found it highly important to really listen to my clients to ensure I provide a product that’s exactly what they want and above their expectations. Be professional, friendly and approachable – roll up your sleeves to get to the basis of client needs and requirements.”
What an incredible journey Gillian has been on. Despite the ups and downs, she’s managed to set-up a successful business that she’s passionate about (and that helps people going through difficult times too).
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