MSc Speech and Language Therapy student Rosie Waspe juggles dissertation writing with placements, voluntary work, performing arts teaching and the coordination of a student poetry group, alongside the running of her start-up business writing bespoke poetry on request.

How it started...

I initially started my higher education journey with an undergraduate degree in French. I spent some time living in Canada, France and then Uganda. Upon returning to the UK, I spent five years teaching in a primary school. The school was a speech hub, allowing me to witness first-hand the transformative impact speech and language therapy can have for children with additional needs. It was here that I started to reconsider my career options and, subsequently, spent 14 months planning my return to learning.

I have always been a poet. Friends and family have become accustomed to receiving birthday and celebration cards that include a personalised poem letting them know how much they mean to me. My mantra has always been: ‘who doesn’t need a poem telling someone how fabulous and loved they are?!’

During the pandemic, writing poems helped me to reach out to loved ones. Towards the end of 2020, my brother offered to design and build me a website to explore the opportunity of turning my creative outlet into a business. Within a week of the website going live I had received my first request, via organic internet search. From this first order, momentum was generated purely through word-of-mouth recommendations, and I haven’t looked back.

How it's going...

My business is low risk. I have no overheads, I can work on the move, I don’t need to worry about storage, or having to deal with suppliers. However, I have discovered some barriers along the way when it comes to market reach. For example, I can’t be listed on ecommerce websites (such as Etsy or Not on the High Street) because I don’t have a finished product to show as an example, as every request is unique and personal to the customer.

Earlier this year I attended one of the Dragon’s Den pitching events hosted by Essex Startups and was awarded £250. I initially felt rather guilty as my outgoings are so low, however I put it to good use purchasing a SumUp machine and covering the fee for a stand at a local craft event.

I have since received 1:1 mentoring from Essex Startups, who have helped to me think about ways I raise the profile of my business without incurring huge costs. The team helped me to come up with creative ideas for my Instagram account and enhance word-of-mouth recommendations. They have also helped me to think more broadly about the ways I can raise my profile and maximise on opportunities that present themselves. I regularly ‘gift’ poems to charitable causes, which has resulted in the inclusion in newsletters and social media campaigns. I was recently invited onto a BBC Radio Essex to discuss poetry, which was really exciting.

Since starting my Master’s, I have established the Poetic Legacies group with the Students’ Union. This has facilitated the coming together of like-minded students to create and publish poems with a sense of purpose. This term we have partnered with a local hospice, allowing us to share our work with staff, patients, and their families. I firmly believe in the power of poetry as means to deliver joy and love in most difficult circumstances, and as a group we have found this project hugely rewarding.

Ultimately, I love what I do. It is a privilege to write for people and contribute to a meaningful moment in their lives. Providing a quality service is central to my values and a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I have never said no to a request, but I would if I felt that I couldn’t do it justice.

What’s next…

This is always going to be my side hustle. I am realistic about demand and am content with the way my small business has evolved and is currently functioning. I don’t want to employ other people because the service I provide is so personal, growing organically from my passion. Even if the paid-for requests stop coming in, I will continue to write poems for my nearest and dearest to celebrate and mark milestones in their lives, because poem-writing isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.

For now, my focus is on the completion of my Master’s degree and fulfilling poem requests as they come in. I feel very lucky to find writing poems easy, it has always come so naturally to me. I am usually able to return a bespoke poem within 24 hours, however I have been known to fulfil last-minute requests within a couple of hours!

My ultimate goal is to practice speech and language therapy within an end-of-life care setting. Having researched the impact Motor Neurone Disease on communication for my dissertation, as well as connecting with hospice patients as part of the Poetic Legacies group, I understand the importance of communication for the terminally ill as a way to help maintain a sense of identity and dignity.

Charitable work is extremely important to me, and I will continue to seek projects and groups that I can contribute my time and creativity to. I recently read about an amazing project in Dundee called The Lonely Funeral, where a poet and celebrant have come together to honour those who pass away without anyone to attend their funeral. I would love the opportunity to participate in such a project closer to home, piecing together small fragments of a little-known life to acknowledge and celebrate someone who doesn’t have anyone else.

Words of wisdom...

Acknowledge imposter syndrome and punch it in the face!

Educate yourself on the legalities of launching a business. If it means spending four hours on the phone to HMRC, recognise that this is an investment that could save you time and money further down the line.

Time management is key. Replace ‘I don’t have time’ with ‘I don’t want to’ and you’ll soon discover where your priorities lie.

If you’re going to pay for marketing, be very clear what you want to achieve (i.e. sales, raising your profile) so that you can measure success and evaluate the return on your investment. And don’t use an advertising service that you don’t believe in or wouldn’t personally use, because the association of seeing your messaging on a specific platform is a direct reflection of your values.

If you’re going to use social media, choose one platform and commit to it. Being creative and targeted is more effective in the longer term, rather than a ‘spray and pray’ approach.

And finally, there are so many free resources out there so make use of them. I found a super helpful small business marketing expert on Instagram (@thegirlsmeanbiz) and have made use of the advice that account owner Claire shares. I have also received direct support from her after reaching out and asking for guidance. People are willing to help and share their wisdom, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Find out more

If you have a potential business idea, or are interested in developing your business skills, find out more about the training, events and support Essex Startups offers to current students and recent graduates.

evolve Accelerator Programme 2023

Applications for the evolve Accelerator Programme 2023 are now open. So, if you're an Essex entrepreneur looking to turn your side-hustle into a career, or have started a business but need help getting things off the ground, we’re looking for the 15 most ambitious and innovative ventures to work with.