Jenny Blyth tells us about how her business led to her creating an incredibly supportive online community, why she steers clear of mindset podcasts, and why her boss encourages her to take daily naps.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and fibromyalgia, alongside chronic pain and chronic fatigue. EDS is a connective tissue disorder and impacts mainly the joints and my back, but also effects multiple organs within my body, including making my skin both easy to bruise and weirdly stretchy.
Having a chronic illness is considered a disability, but I very rarely think of myself as disabled: I consider myself differently abled instead. There are lots of things I can do, and other things that I simply do differently. It’s all a matter of perception.
I can’t do a standard 9-5 job, but I can work in a self-employed role as my boss (me!) positively encourages afternoon naps so that I can cope!
Tell us a little about your business.
I founded my business, Storm in a Teacup, in October 2014 after I realised I could no longer cope with the physical issues that come with working in an office.
We specialise in unique and quirky gifts that are affordable, but we also run an amazing online community which also provides advice and a safe place where people can chat. We have had strangers sending each other birthday presents, we’ve celebrated births and marriages, and we’ve commiserated with losses. It’s a very special place.
We also work hard to support our community. For example, we raised money for treats for the staff on our local Covid ward at the start of 2021, and we also sent heaps of goodies for the cats at Battersea. We’ve also raised funds for the Choose Love Afghanistan refugee campaign, which was so important to us, and this Christmas we’ve been raising money for FareShare.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
My physical health was starting to impact my day-to-day life in a way which was becoming intolerable: the daily commute was exhausting and the pain from sitting at a desk was awful. I was working in a hospital and spending my lunch breaks having physiotherapy.
Around the same time, I was sexually abused by my then-boyfriend, which also had an impact on my mental well-being.
This mix of issues encouraged me to take the step I needed to become self employed. I started my self-employment journey as a Phoenix Trader selling greetings cards. After a few years, I decided I wanted to venture out in to gifts and Storm was born!
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
Brexit and Covid have been the biggest challenges we have faced in our seven years of trading. The cost of shipping and the drop off in sales has really made this year difficult, but we persevere because we know our customers need us!
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses: what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
There is an assumption that to start a business you have to be fit and healthy, because how could you possibly cope otherwise? Wrong! I nap for about two hours every day and do most of my work curled up on the sofa with tea. When you start a business, you have to figure out what’s going to work for you. Physical labour would never work with my health conditions, but I can wrap orders and talk to customers from the comfort of my sofa.
Figure out your strengths and weaknesses and make your business work for you!
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
In 2007, I ran the London marathon: it’s a massive source of pride for me, and I still can’t believe that I did it. But I have to say, having worked on Storm for seven years, being picked as one of the #SmallBiz100 for 2021 is definitely my shining achievement!
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
That disability isn’t always visible! You can’t see my joints, or the dehydrated disc in my back. And you can’t see the bipolar disorder or schizophrenia in someone who is managing it well. Stop judging a book by its cover.
Who or what inspires you?
My best friend inspires me every day. She has had to overcome some of the most awful experiences and hurdles in her life, but every day she opens my eyes to the world.
I’m inspired by my wonderful admin, who is the most amazing mum and support to me.
My life is full of incredible women who I adore, but I’m also inspired by my dad, who at the age of 69 jumped into my aerial hammock and turned upside down with absolutely no fear!
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
I’m an avid reader but I stay clear of mindset/business books and podcasts. I often find that these types of books can cause you to question your own ability. My advice is turn to humans, find your inspiration in the things you love. You do you!