Kerrine Bryan, chartered electrical engineer and co-founder of Butterfly Books, has a passion for inspiring the young and introducing them to the career options available to them. In 2014 she was listed as one of the UK’s top 35 women in business under the age of 35. In this article Kerrine will share key stages of her journey to create Butterfly Books including what inspired her and her brother, Jason, to start writing children’s picture books, the challenges of getting the business off the ground, building the team and their aspirations for the future.
Companies are increasingly worried about the UK’s skills gap. A CBI survey of businesses employing a total of 1.5m people found that 58 per cent were not confident they would have enough highly skilled staff available for their future needs. So it is concerning that some companies are missing out on the skills available in 50% of the population, due to gender bias within certain industries. Therefore it is important that these issues are tackled for the benefit of the UK economy.
Jason and I chose ‘Butterfly Books’ as our company name as the butterfly is a symbol of transformation and, through our picture books, we hope to transform the way youngsters perceive different careers. In addition, The ‘Butterfly Effect’ refers to the theory that a minute localised change in a complex system can have a big impact elsewhere. This matches exactly our aspirations for Butterfly Books. By raising awareness of careers from a young age we aim to address the national skills gap problems as well as reduce gender bias in all careers.
How it started
Throughout my career as an electrical engineer I have been passionate about sharing my knowledge of engineering and the career opportunities available with young people. The reason for this passion is that I fell into engineering by chance and had no idea what it was until I was 17. Before that, I never imagined engineering was something I would or could do. Yet it’s a career I have thoroughly enjoyed!
After years of mentoring and giving talks to young people at schools and universities, I decided to start something that might help make a bigger change. In 2015 I co-founded Butterfly Books with my brother, Jason, creating and publishing career themed children’s picture books.
Having a young daughter, Jason was also concerned that children were not exposed to the full range of opportunities available to them early enough in life and hoped that the books would not only educate, but also inspire them.
With my technical background and Jason’s creative input we have since published three titles:
- My Mummy is an Engineer
- My Mummy is a Plumber
- My Mummy is a Scientist
Our objective is to raise children’s awareness of the full range of career options available to them. We don’t want them to miss out on a career ideally suited for them just because they don’t have the information they need or recognise it’s a job they could do.
Setting up the Business
We decided to set up as a publisher rather than submitting the book ideas to large traditional publishers to give us complete control over the content and illustrations. We work closely with professional industry representatives who review technical and creative content to ensure that the correct message is given in all our books. This requires close coordination between the industry representatives, the illustrator, the editor and the authors.
As it’s a start-up with a small team, we have to get involved in all aspects of running the business including writing, coordinating work with the illustrator and editor, production, sales and distribution, marketing and accounts.
Our illustrator, Marissa Peguinho, is great! She really gains an understanding of the careers before creating her illustrations. After completing ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ she was quite clued up on household plumbing!
Apart from our editor, Corey Brotherson, we were all new to the publishing world and it’s been a steep learning curve, through events, conferences, courses and networking!
The team are always looking for inspiration and ideas for new books. Creatively, we achieve this by speaking with children and educators to identify what would help to get the message across in a fun and effective way. We also find out what the market needs by speaking with representatives from a variety of organisations and industries to identify careers and professions that need addressing.
The Big Challenge
The biggest challenge for any self-publisher or independent publisher is sales and marketing. This requires the greatest effort, as it’s very difficult to get books into the mainstream market without the backing of a large traditional publisher. However, we are passionate about our picture books and the transformation they can inspire in young people so we are willing to put in the extra effort!
The books have been well received by our customers as they open children’s minds to the broad range of career options available to them when they are older. Also they can be a fun way for parents to explain to their children what they do at work! In addition ‘My Mummy is an Engineer’ won the 2016 Bronze Wishing Shelf Book award and was a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards. ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Rubery Book Award.
What excites us most when we visit schools with our books is seeing the immediate impact it has on children’s views and perceptions of certain careers. The original idea of the books stems from my experience as an engineer, and just like engineering, the highlight of our picture books is seeing our work and ideas come to life in order to solve a real life problem.
Jason and I plan to grow the business and continue to publish books based on other careers that need addressing. This will include “My Daddy is …” titles too as young boys would also benefit from seeing alternative career options available to them!