When Hazel Cushion gave birth to triplets in the late 1990s she wondered how there would ever be room for anything else in her life. Back then she’d never have imagined that her babies would become the impetus for her to launch a successful publishing business from her bedroom.
Hazel started Accent Press in 2003 when Julia, Felicity and Richard were just five-years-old. With husband Bob working abroad, Hazel was effectively a single mother who needed to do something for herself, that was family-friendly and that would bring in some cash. So, after completing her MA in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen, she decided to become a publisher. “As part of the course I learnt how to put a book together, and I was hooked,” Hazel explains. “I’d never set up a company before, so I asked the Welsh Assembly for business advice and applied for a £5,000 business loan.”
Hazel decided big names sell so she began by asking well-known authors to donate stories for a book to raise cash for breast cancer – and raise awareness of her new company. The plan worked like a dream and best selling romantic novelist Katie Fford was among those who agreed to donate stories. Next Hazel rang WHSmith and said she had a book coming out to support breast cancer called Sexy Shorts for Christmas and they immediately put it in their top 300. “That was very, very unusual,” Hazel recalls. “I just happened to get the right person on the right day and that was how it all started.”
13 years on and Accent Press is an award-winning independent publisher which employs ten staff and turns over more than £1m. Earlier this year Hazel also opened a vibrant new bookshop, café and wine bar in the heart of Cardiff Bay’s creative quarter. Now Hazel is keen to inspire other mums to find the courage and confidence to go it alone. ~ Rachel
1. How are you doing what you love?
My work involves making people’s dreams come true by publishing their books – that has to be the best part of my job. I also love the variety – from meeting new people, marketing, creating covers etc. Every day is different and there are always new things to discover and learn.
2. What’s your background? Talk us through your journey to the point of setting up Accent Press…
My previous career involved managing shops on cruise ships, running a charity in Dubai, working in recruitment and having a wine business in the South of France. It was all very varied but it helped me develop a wide range of skills which have been very useful in setting up Accent Press. I think if we harvest our history we can usually find a wealth of experiences that help build our businesses.
3. What was motivating you?
I have always had lots of energy and love learning new things. Initially I was motivated by money – I needed a business I could work around my children but I quickly became addicted to overcoming the challenges and discovering I loved running my own business. It was the freedom to be innovative and try new things unfettered by corporate policy etc. I made loads of mistakes but I view each one as a learning opportunity, not a failure.
4. Once you had your idea, how did you bring it to life? What were the very first steps you took?
I started the company in my front bedroom but quickly rented a tiny office in an industrial unit and hired my first staff member. This was key to our rapid growth – she was a very bright young lady and came up with lots of good ideas. She learned quickly how to handle the production side of the business and freed me up to sell and network. I joined the Independent Publishers Guild and found this an amazing help and resource.
5. When you started your business your triplets were still young and your husband was working abroad. How did you find the time?
Certainly in the early days it was always a juggling act but that is why my first employee was so important. She could man the office while I took the kids to school and then collected them in the afternoon. I would then spend time with them, cook tea and we’d have time together before they went to bed. They did have a very early bedtime however! Once they were asleep I would work for several hours.
6. How did running a business from home enable you to better juggle the responsibilities of being a mum and the demands of work?
When we outgrew the tiny office we then bought a house that was big enough for the family and the business. Working from home had some great benefits – if the kids were ill we were already home etc but it also made it very hard to switch off. I would work all day, every day and then go back in the evening after supper. There wasn’t much worklife balance but the benefit was that the kids saw just how much effort went into building the business. They have really learned from that and all seem to be focused about achieving their own personal goals.
Doing what she loves: Hazel at work
7. As the saying goes: ‘Nothing worth having comes easy’. What sacrifices have you had to make in order to grow such a successful business? And how do you feel about these now, looking back?
I sacrificed a social life for many years and that did get quite lonely. I’m now enjoying being able to step away slightly, follow my own interests and meet new friends. Money was always tight too as we constantly reinvested in the business but you reap what you sow and that pressure has now eased.
8. Your kids are all grown up now. What do they think about what you do and what valuable lessons have they learnt from your work/work ethic?
I think the kids have learned a great deal from seeing me run the business. They all have a good work ethic but probably, the most important lesson is seeing me pick myself up after something has gone wrong. It’s shown them that making mistakes or something failing shouldn’t be seen as a disaster but as a learning opportunity. That has given them a level of confidence that it took me half a lifetime to develop.
9. Why do you think so many women lose themselves a little bit when they become a mum? What’s your advice to them?
I used to deeply resent being referred to as ‘the triplets’ mother’! We do get defined by our kids and it is easy to lose your identity. One tip I used was to write down key skills and career achievements from my pre-baby days. It was a useful reminder some days and became something I enjoyed adding new things to as the business grew.
10. Describe your life now. Talk us through a typical day…
This year my life has changed dramatically as I’ve started two new businesses. The first is a self-publishing division of Accent Press called Octavo Book Publishing & Marketing Services. The other is Octavo, a book shop, café and wine bar in a beautiful old Georgian pub in Cardiff Bay. The area is home to upmarket residents and office workers and it’s a real creative hub. There was a real gap in the market for a book café so I seized the opportunity. Octavo is a wonderful place to promote and sell Accent authors and also, through running writing workshops and book groups, a place to attract new customers to our Octavo publishing services.
My day involves overseeing all three companies but I will usually start my day at the café. It’s a great place for meetings and we also have a lot of events there. I love checking the book sales and ordering in new titles and stock for the shop. Then I’ll head up to our main offices where I employ twenty staff. These include managers, editors, designers and sales and marketing. We’ll have meeting about new titles, cover designs etc and I’ll also be working on other aspects of the business. I then usually go back to the café for the last hour or two before it shuts at 7pm.
Hazel with a prize hamper after Octavo won Bookshop of the Month
11. What passion projects are you currently working on?
There’s the possibility of a TV series using a similar format to The Great British Bake Off but for writers. The ultimate prize will be a publishing deal – I’m hoping that comes off as I think it would really appeal to both readers and writers.
12. What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk?
The key is that it must hook the reader in very quickly. I have the attention span of a tea bag so am a great test for this. If I don’t read beyond page three then I’m afraid it’s rejected.
13. What have been your biggest highlights in the last year or two?
I think growing the company so I now have a structured management team. I have been able to step away slightly and let them move the company forward. For so many years I was the one trying to make it all happen that it is great to see how they work together, their commitment and pride in the business. Not only have my kids grown up but my business has too!
After winning Best Small Business at the Merthyr Tydfil Business Awards, Wales, UK (Hazel in centre)
14. What’s your ultimate dream?
I love helping other women and would like to develop a business network to empower entrepreneurs. I like talking about my journey and the fact that you can run a business without MBA’s or formal training. In fact, I’m the proud owner of an ungraded Maths O’level and I am dyslexic – these are things that have helped me learn to overcome challenges and I’d like to help others to do that too.
15. What advice would you give mums who want to do what they love but aren’t sure what that means to them in their life, or how to go about it?
Just do it. This isn’t a practice run at life and you never get that hour, day or week back. Do your research, asks lots of questions, write a business plan but ultimately – just do it!
For more information about Hazel visit the Accent Press website. You can also check out ‘How to Be a Million Pound Mum’ Hazel’s inspirational business audiobook series aimed at mothers who dream of running their own business HERE.