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From employee to entrepreneur

"Entrepreneur" is a word Sharon Trotter usually associates with people such as Anita Roddick and Richard Branson. When she was asked to write on the subject for NiP, she found it hard to see what this had to do
with her ...

Sharon Trotter
RM BSc
Midwife
Mother and Baby Consultant
TIPS Ltd

As we entered the new millennium, I was mother to four children, including a new baby, a toddler and two teenagers. My husband also worked constant shifts. Going back to work meant juggling another set of shifts and sorting out childcare headaches – a prospect I found hard to contemplate. As a breastfeeding mother I was also reluctant to be separated from my baby for more than a few hours at a time, which new 12-hour shift patterns would necessitate.

Sadly, we lost our first son to cot death, which I now believe was a misdiagnosis. In the following years, this made me sceptical as a midwife and mother regarding a lot of babycare advice given to new parents. In addition, my training had taught me to question everything and research the evidence behind any particular claim. Unfortunately, new and inexperienced parents may take information reported in the media at face value.

I had recently started to attend Women into Business events with a view to boost my confidence before returning to work. These networking sessions were held locally in association with Business Gateway Scotland. I was welcomed with open arms, treated with respect and actively encouraged to step out of my comfort zone. This was refreshing. I soon realised that to be successful you have to stick to what you know and, more importantly, what you believe in. For me, this was breastfeeding, baby skincare, and above all promoting evidence-based advice for parents and professionals. The enthusiastic support, freely given in an atmosphere of equality and openness, has greatly contributed to my success.

My work on neonatal skincare and cordcare had been published in peer-reviewed journals.1-3 This encouraged me to complete a BSc in Advanced Studies in Midwifery at Paisley University. Thankfully, I was able to use the skills I had gained writing these articles for my academic assignments, which also reinforced the importance of referencing.

My new-found skills in research and writing led naturally to the subsequent completion of my book Breastfeeding: the essential guide.4 I have to admit, the journey to publication was infinitely more complex than I could have anticipated and my world was suddenly complicated by terms such as ISBN, CIP, Copyright, AAA, EPOS, MTA, ebook, rights and royalties. I will not explain these, except to say that the literary guidebook From Pitch to Publication and the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook became my constant companions.5,6

This period also heralded a steep learning curve. I did not envisage the convoluted path that would precede the publication of my first title, not only as its author but also as its publisher. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone considering self-publication, it would be never to lose sight of your original belief in yourself and your book. This will help you deal with the inevitable ups and downs. I always believed that my book was worthy of publication and when publishers or agents turned me down, I moved on with renewed determination.

When I finally held a copy of Breastfeeding: the essential guide in my hand, with my name on the cover, memories of the hard work melted away and all I could feel was great pride. Within a month my book climbed the ratings on Amazon.co.uk and was listed in the top ten breastfeeding titles, of which there are many hundreds at any given time. I am thrilled to report that this is still the case four years on, and sales continue to be buoyant. A second edition is on the cards.

As many of you will know, my other passion is baby skincare. This, too, has taken me on an amazing journey, which culminated in a change of policy within my own NHS organisation. This policy was the first of its kind in the UK, introducing a water-only skincare regime during the neonatal period. It is hoped this will reduce the number of chronic skin conditions that may necessitate a dermatology referral.

The principles of this new approach are outlined in Babycare: back to basics™, a leaflet recognised by the inaugural Nursing in Practice (NiP) Dermatology Award.7 I will be speaking about this at the next NiP Event in Glasgow on 17 March 2009. My presentation will chart the journey to implementation, outline the recent alignment with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines and describe my aim to standardise practice throughout the UK and beyond.

TIPS Ltd, the company I founded to publish my first book, is now a thriving business. My website attracts visitors from all over the world. The TIPS Awards Scheme was launched in 2007. As part of this scheme, parents test carefully selected products for babies, toddlers and their parents. This allows me to indulge my love of evidence-based research by providing independent reviews on a variety of products. All parent testers (over 550 have registered so far) take part on a strictly voluntary basis. This makes the TIPS Award Scheme the most impartial testing programme in the baby and toddler market sector.

I find it increasingly difficult to schedule shifts at my local maternity unit, although I remain a member of the midwifery bank. Nonetheless, my skills as a midwife are called upon daily as I practise independently. There will always be a demand for good quality independent advice – this is a service that I am proud to provide.

It was never my intention to become a businesswoman and I am still not sure whether I can be described as an entrepreneur, but I do love my work. Moreover I remain determined to empower parents to make informed choices. Practising as I do can be a lonely experience, but the spin-offs provide ample compensation. One such highlight is meeting like-minded individuals who spur me on to explore new areas of study. Who knows where these might lead …?

References
1. Trotter S. Skincare for the newborn: exploring the potential harm of manufactured products. RCM Midwives 2002;5(11):376–8.
2. Trotter S. Management of the umbilical cord - a guide to best care. RCM Midwives 2003;6(7):308–11.
3. Trotter S. Care of the newborn: proposed new guidelines. British Journal of Midwifery 2004;12(3):152–7.
4. Trotter S. Breastfeeding: the essential guide. Scotland: TIPS Ltd; 2004.
5. Blake C. From Pitch to Publication: Everything you need to know to get your novel published. London: Macmillan; 1999.
6. A & C Black Ltd. Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2003. London: A & C Black Ltd; 2003.
7. Trotter S. Babycare – back to basics™ (version 5). Scotland: TIPS Ltd; 2008.

Resource
Scottishbusinesswomen.com
W: www.scottishbusinesswomen.com