Hands up if you had a business idea that didn’t work? For the founders of How to I Do, Clare Totty and Rachael Northall, they did enough research early on to make sure they launched with a proposition that would really take off.
Meet Clare Totty and Rachael Northall
The founders of How to I Do – a wedding planning saviour! They hand-pick small, independent highly rated wedding suppliers to ensure that their customers only get the best on their special day.
1. Why did you start How to I Do and what were you doing before?
We started How to I Do because we both wanted to create a business rather than just talk about our ‘great business ideas’! We decided that there was a gap in the wedding market based on our own wedding planning experiences.
Having spent hours trawling the internet for wedding suppliers, we believed that a simple wedding planning website that brought the market together would be helpful and time-saving to those planning a bespoke wedding.
We also felt that the wedding industry was too focussed on the bride. As feminists we were adamant that our future husbands should be included and play their part! We equally felt that it was high time that there was a wedding website for everyone. From our research it appeared that there were websites for various cultures but no website that included all weddings. Conscious of the range of cultures and increasing number of same-sex marriages we decided to create HTID to offer an all-inclusive wedding planning website to couples in the North West. It’s our home and we are keen to support and showcase talented small businesses within it. Our short video sums us and our ethos up!
Before we started HTID we both had already-full lives. Rachael was the Mum to two small children (soon to be three!) and had a busy career as a barrister. Clare had a young dog and was involved in house moves as well as being a skilled sonographer working long hours. It should be noted that we have not abandoned our careers. We have just added a brand new business into the mix!
2. What were the biggest sources of inspiration and support when you were starting out?
For Rachael, her biggest source of inspiration was meeting the various self-made businesses that she came across whilst working as a barrister practising employment law. Rachael felt that she would love to build a business, and had the people skills to do so. Like with becoming a wife and mother Rachael felt that life is (hopefully) long and she could don a few more ‘hats’.
For Clare, she had already started an entrepreneurial journey with travel writing and blogging. As a proactive person she was keen to have another outlet for her creative energy. This has now all gone into How to I Do!
3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting the business?
We have learned to persevere! Never ones to give up we have nonetheless learned to adapt our strategies according to our market. At first we planned to have a reviews based website for wedding services. However we soon discovered that businesses were far less keen to get involved at the risk of a negative review, whereas they were keen to be listed on a boutique wedding planning website. We changed strategy and successfully created a website showcasing around 200 handpicked businesses within a matter of months.
4. What has been your proudest moment/biggest achievement so far?
We are most proud of the fact that we are number 1 on a Google search when typing in the commonplace words: how to I do. At first we were not found on a Google search (at all!). After efforts with our Pinterest and trying our hardest with search engine optimisation (largely based on advice from friends) we became number 1, above an Amazon title!
5. What piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out?
Start, and try not to look back!
We spent a number of months talking at the end of 2017 before we started creating our ‘personality’ through social media and then building the website. We were very fortunate as we came across the Google Digital Garage, a pop up in Manchester city centre that offered free courses about building a business. This provided excellent support and encouragement to go from a standing start to pitching the business before class colleagues and now-friends.
In July we were invited to speak at the opening of the Google Digital Garage in Edinburgh as an example of a successful startup. It takes confidence to get going, so really one has to just bite the bullet.
6. What piece of investment did you make in the business that was worth every penny?
Most of all we invested our valuable time: early mornings and late nights mainly!
Financially we also invested in a web developer who is actually a quadriplegic and lives in South Africa! He has been amazing and did much of the technical aspects of the website, teaching us along the way. We also paid for our logo using Freelancer. So far we have spent around £2000 between us. In our view it has been worthwhile – we have a fantastic website that is growing all the time, and as we grow our traffic we have plenty of ideas to monetise.
7. Which element of marketing has made the biggest impact on your business?
Without a doubt, social media. Instagram has been great at getting our message of inclusivity across in a simple, visual manner. Through Instagram we have also made users aware of our latest blogs that appear on the website around twice a week. In our blogs we feature quirky and interesting weddings. The blogs get shared on Facebook, Twitter and also from the website. This in turn leads to a growing following of couples and businesses who want to get involved. Pinterest has also been a fantastic way of getting noticed and used by engaged couples. On a last look we had over 50k unique monthly views. Not bad for a business that is only a few months old.
8. What do the next 12 months look like for you?
Over the next 12 months we plan to really grow our traffic. We plan to do this though broadcasting our message, such as last week on Ribble FM, through being written about in relevant publications, and through entering competitions and continuing our social media efforts. As we grow our traffic we plan to monetise the website with commissions from purchases/sales and advertising. Once we have proven and established the concept fully in the North West, we hope to grow the website to covering other areas of the UK too.
Have you mastered page 1 on Google like How to I Do? Tell us your startup story.