Dominique Woolf, the founder of Woolf’s Kitchen, opens up juggling motherhood and her business venture during the pandemic
The super mum has opened up about how she manages running her start-up full-time and taking care of her three young children at home
“I'm doing my best to work around it, and try to remember how lucky we are during this difficult time! After the kids go to bed, I work most nights until midnight,” Dominique tells me. “There is an element of accepting that things aren't perfect, that the house is going to be a mess and that the kids might watch a bit of extra TV so I can send some emails.” Before her business venture, the mum-of-three spent over 10 years working sales and left her field behind to pursue a career in music. She spent the next few years touring the UK as a singer and songwriter – and even performed at Glastonbury, which she marked as the highlight of her music career. It was not until she started a family that she decided to leave the stage and become a self-made entrepreneur.
“I started life in sales and recruitment and did that for a good 10 years,” Dominique said. “I then left full-time work to focus on singing and song writing, whilst working freelance as a market research analyst at the same time. I performed all over London both solo and with a couple of electronic bands, as well as playing Glastonbury, which was a highlight. I wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, have had various cuts, and also performed on several dance tracks amongst other things. Eventually, I fell out of love with music and decided to start a family.”
“I had three children in quick succession, they're only 16 months apart, and was a stay-at-home parent,” she added. “When my youngest was 18 months I felt it was time to restart my career, but as I didn't have anything to fall back on, I had to do some real soul-searching as to what that would be. I knew I couldn't go back to an office job, and that I needed something that would fit around my lifestyle and my children. I realised I wanted to start my own business, something that I could be passionate about and that would give me a purpose.”
Being a foodie at heart, Dominique decided to venture into the food industry and had the idea of incorporating her ethnic roots into her culinary creation. as what I wanted to do,” Dominique said. “I have always been a passionate foodie and loved experimenting in the kitchen. My Thai auntie used to make these wonderful sauces - one of which was a tamarind sauce. I'd never had anything like it and became really excited about the prospect of bringing it to market. That was the starting point.”
Founded in September 2019, Woolf’s Kitchen sells a range of versatile and spicy sauces inspired by Dominique’s Thai roots. The sauces come in three delightful flavours, including Hot + Sour, Jalapeno + Lime and Tamarind Ketchup. Dominique has also extended her products to include selections of seasoned nuts. Dominique faced several hurdles launching her brand during the pandemic – and even more so as a mum-of-three. However, she was able to utilise online platforms create a way to get her brand out there using social media and local Facebook groups to gain. She also used Amazon as a platform to sell her products, which she said was crucial in the growth of her business.
“I managed to get the business up and running fairly quickly but there were some initial hurdles regarding how to make the product myself,” Dominique said. “I ended up finding a manufacturer within a short space of time which bypassed those issues. I was all set for launch on April 1st but lockdown happened which obviously delayed things. The key issues with lockdown and COVID have been things like lack of footfall in the retailers I sell to, and how to be visible as a new brand. Sampling would usually be a key activity, along with other in-person marketing events, but those have been out of the question. Customers are also shopping differently; they are not spending time browsing in a shop and therefore are not looking at new brands as much. In addition, some clients are hesitant about taking on extra stock and new brands, so you have to work harder and be more proactive in this environment.”
“Selling my products directly to consumers online, and needing to reach a wider audience has definitely been an area of focus as well,” she added. “Being available through Amazon has been crucial for our growth and has put the products in front of a new and bigger audience. I have offered my clients point of sale flyers with serving suggestions. Some of my shops are also delis where they sell takeaway food, and I have given free bottles of sauce for them to offer alongside, as a way of encouraging sampling. I've used social media where I can to drive people to the shops - particularly through my local Facebook groups. Regarding the direct-to-consumer side, I went on an Amazon Bootcamp through Enterprise Nation which gave me the tools to get started. Amazon is such a crucial platform for businesses and my sauces now have the Prime badge which is already resulting in increased sales and access to consumers that would never have otherwise found my products.”
In addition to launching her business during the pandemic, Dominique cares for her three children aged 3, 5 and 6 who are currently staying at home with her during the lockdown. The lack of childcare services and schooling has left Dominique having to juggle her business and motherhood – but she finds a way to work around her kids’ schedules, often working until midnight to get the job done.
“For me, the lack of childcare and schooling during lockdown has been a massive issue,” Dominique said. “I'm still trying to dip into work every day, but I can't make sales calls and be proactive with new business in the way I would like to - something I find very frustrating. My kids are 3, 5, and 6 so they demand a lot of attention! It's hectic having everyone at home 24/7 so it's a very challenging time. “I'm doing my best to work around it, and try and remember how lucky we are! After the kids go to bed, I work most nights until midnight. There is an element of accepting that things aren't perfect, that the house is going to be a mess and that the kids might watch a bit of extra TV so I can send some emails. Even when I'm flat out with the kids, I try and do something every day to help move the dial with the business. I'm also trying to revel in the small wins! Having a business and purpose is something that keeps me going. My husband is able to take over with the kids at the weekend which gives me a few extra work hours, which really helps. I also try and make time for exercise in the morning if I can, as it really sets you up for the day.”
In a few words of advice to other small businesses struggling during the pandemic, Dominique said: “Keep focused and positive. If you have kids, then the reality is, it's going to be a challenge - so try and find me-time or headspace when you can. And from a pure business point of view, it's about being proactive and thinking laterally where you need to. Clients are still buying, so there are definitely opportunities. You just need to know where to look. Having a strong network is key. I run a networking group for entrepreneurial women which has been a fantastic support and am also part of a food-preneur group. It really helps to be able to bounce ideas and frustrations with others in a similar position.”