Your guide to side hustle, sell, (sort of sleep), repeat
Running a one-woman business is never going to be easy. There are going to be sleepless nights and countless orders to prep, package and ship—especially when you’re going viral on TikTok.
But Rebecca Cole is proof that you really can do it all.
From months of research to hand-making products, it is all possible if you want it to be.
But it’s never a straightforward process.
After five failed side hustles and having a frightening personal experience, she finally found her passion with Fearless Keychains—personal safety keychains for women, helping them to reclaim a sense of independence and freedom.
If you need business inspiration, then look no further.
Here’s what we cover:
The heartbreaking reason behind Fearless Keychains
So Rebecca, tell me the backstory. How did Fearless Keychains come about?
So I used to be a dental nurse, I was working your normal nine-to-five job, and I was scrolling through TikTok, as most people do nowadays, and I discovered a product that was in America.
I really wanted one of these products that I found, but I soon came to find that they are illegal over here in the UK, and I wasn’t willing to take any kind of risks.
So I started to look to see if there was anything similar in the UK, something that somebody was already making, and I could not find anything, anywhere.
So I guess I saw a little gap in the market and it kind of just spiralled from there.
This was a personal safety product, right?
So tell me about what was going on in your life, in your friends’ lives, that made you feel like you wanted to have some sort of backup plan, personal safety, something to have in your pocket?
Was there an experience or just a vibe that was affecting you?
I feel like especially girls, from a really young age, we are taught to never walk alone or go out after dark, and that we should hold our keys in between our fingers.
So there’s always that nervousness about going out by yourself.
But I went out with my friends into London, and we had a little bit of an uncomfortable experience with some unwanted attention. It left us feeling a bit intimidated, which is what sparked me into looking for possible available products.
At that time, all I could find, that was legal, was a safety alarm. That’s the only thing that we are allowed to carry as a form of self-defence. But as I said, this American product came up on my ‘For You’ TikTok page, and I was like, “Wow, this is something that I would love.”
So I had to do my research and things from there.
But it’s just one of those things, you have that one experience, and then it leaves you looking over your shoulder or walking with your torch on your phone, and that’s just no way to live really, is it?
Adapting an American product to abide by UK laws
And so you got inspired by this American product, and then you started looking to create your own, that would be legal in the UK.
So tell me about that journey.
How tricky was it to actually, not just work out what you can carry, and stay within the rules, but also how on earth you would source those particular product to that spec?
Firstly, with the research, there are so many conflicting things in regard to self-defence.
There are some forums that state things like, you can carry a knife under certain inches, but you can’t use it for self-defence. You can only use it for opening boxes, cutting letters.
It was always a really grey area.
So I just stayed away from all of those kinds of things, and only went looking for the types of things that I knew I could rely on—things that were 100% legal and people were not going to get in any kind of trouble for.
So the research in itself took about six months.
In regard to sourcing my products, I source them from all over. The criminal identification spray that I sell, comes from the UK because it had to be a UK legal product.
But most of the products, I source from abroad, in bulk. But then some of the items I offer are handmade by myself, so it’s a little bit of everything.
What UK legal equipment is included on the keychain?
Tell me what’s on the keychain.
So if you go to your store, and you buy the classic Fearless Keychain, what’s on there, and what are the purposes of these different tools?
So firstly, you have a wristlet, which I make by hand. That is designed for you to keep all of the equipment in one place, so it’s easy to carry and also, it means you have different pieces of equipment all in one place, for different situations.
I would say the purpose of the products I provide, is that they will act as a criminal deterrent because they’re not self-defence products, as such.
The items I sell include, a criminal identification spray, which will mark an attacker in a bright red dye, staining their skin and clothes.
It also has a UV fluorescent dye which is not detectable by the naked eye, but it is visible under police equipment.
Lastly, it has a very foul odour in it. So that should act as a deterrent to the attacker, hopefully getting them to turn away from you, giving you vital seconds to run.
A safety alarm, which of course is pretty standard with safety and self-defence in the UK, which will alert people around you and shock an attacker, allowing you to run and find safety.
There is also a spring-loaded window breaker, which is a car safety tool.
It has a hidden blade inside which, again, is UK legal. It is designed to cut your seatbelt if you get into a car accident, as sometimes you can’t gain access to the buckle.
Or if you need to, let’s say, get a baby out of a car seat really quickly, you can slice off the harness. So that is provided on my keychains.
And also a little torch, which is USB rechargeable, so you never have to worry about batteries. I do include other little bits and bobs on the keychains like hand sanitiser and door openers, but that’s the safety aspect of the equipment that I can offer legally.
The sad reality of selling a product you hope no one ever has to use
And do you get feedback from your customers, I mean, are people using these things, and have you been able to save people from horrible experiences because they’ve had this in their pocket?
Yeah, so I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me.
This is something I try not to share on social media because it is such personal experience.
But I do have people reach out to me, asking for replacement sprays, where they’ve had to use their spray in an emergency.
Even though I don’t make the spray or manufacture the spray, I have a very close relationship with my supplier. So any feedback on that is great.
And from what I’ve heard from my customers, it’s really helped them in situations.
But it is something that’s really hard to hear.
I get a bit emotional and a bit sensitive about these things, and when I think about people actually having to use these products, it makes my heart hurt a little bit. But there has been situations where unfortunately people have had to use the equipment.
You want it to be a deterrent, you hope that they never end up in a situation where they actually have to use it, I totally understand.
You don’t need big bucks to start your business
So you said it was six months’ research, and then you buy a lot of the products in bulk.
Can you share with us how much did you have to invest in getting this business off the ground?
Could you start really small and then build slowly? Or did you need to put down a lot?
As I said, before I created Fearless Keychains, I was a dental nurse. So I was actually a trainee dental nurse, so I was on minimum wage, I wasn’t earning big bucks and I didn’t have loads of money to be investing in a business.
So it got to a point where I was really unhappy in my job, and it was starting to affect me mentally, you know when you get that feeling of, “I just don’t want to go to work,” and it gives you anxiety.
So I knew there was something that I needed to do, it wasn’t a life that I was happy with.
So I saved what I could. I do have a little one as well at home, so obviously like every penny counts. And I managed to scrape together £1,000. And that is how much I started Fearless with.
Now, I didn’t really know anyone, I didn’t have anyone to promote my product, I didn’t have anyone to promote my business.
So everything I have literally done by myself.
It’s definitely proof that if you put your mind to it, you don’t have to have all this money behind you, you don’t have to have all these people behind you.
It is harder, I’m not going to be the one to sit here and say, “Oh yeah, it’s going to work for everyone. And it’s going to be quick and easy,” but it’s definitely possible, 100%.
Because you even do all the design. So when I was looking through your shop, there’s all these amazing colours and really, they really pop, they’re so cute as well.
Aww, thank you.
Handmaking products to add a personal touch
So how did you teach yourself design? Did you already have a passion for art or something previously?
So I’ve always been quite creative person. Even the wristlets, I can actually get someone to make them, but I kind of just enjoy making them. I have always been quite creative and quite arty, in that sense.
But all of those patterns that you see there, they have only been about for about six or seven months.
Previous to that, I was buying designs that were already available with my wholesaler. Because when you are getting things customised, it’s more expensive because you have to buy it in bulk.
So I did have to save for a long time, but I knew that was something I wanted to do to make my product stand out. I wanted to have everything customised to something that I’ve chosen, so then nobody else would have it.
So that was something that I’ve just introduced to the business, which has worked really well.
And you’re still making all of them, right?
Yes and that’s something that I want to continue to do as well.
Even as Fearless grows, I still want to keep that. It gives that personal experience, do you know what I mean? Rather than me just buying everything already made, it gives that little touch.
You feel closer to your product and therefore your customers when you are actually physically involved.
Using TikTok to grow your business at a rapid rate
Can you share with me, how quickly this business has grown?
Because you’ve only been around for a year, but do you have any numbers? How many keychains you’ve sold or turnover, anything you can share to show the scale you’re at now?
So how the business grew, I was very fortunate because one of my videos blew up on TikTok and went viral.
I was very, very fortunate and that did boost my business.
So it sort of went from nothing to big quite quickly, which again, in itself, I was not prepared for. It’s quite a shock to the system. There are lots of ways you need to get around things, if you’ve got lots of people demanding your products.
But then it’s just little old you, working by yourself, and you want to make sure that you reach all these people.
That, in itself, is quite an obstacle to get over.
I’ve sold just over 4,000 in the year, so I’ve made just over 4,000.
But again, I feel like if this was something I was buying pre-made it probably could have been more. It’s due to how many I can make in the time that I’m given.
I reached my six-figure mark in December last year. So the business generated six figures in sales in December, so that would’ve been the eighth month. A lot of it is thanks to TikTok.
I didn’t really do any other advertising or anything because when I put my first video on TikTok, it generated interest and it kind of blew up from there. I didn’t really have time to advertise anywhere else, so everything has come from TikTok really.
What to put in TikTok videos to market your business—you don’t always need a product on hand
Can you break down for our listeners, I know this is audio, so it’s tricky, but what went in that video?
Why did it go viral? What was it that captured people’s imaginations?
I think I had a bit of an advantage because this product wasn’t available in the UK.
This wasn’t something that was selling here. And everybody, and I mean everybody, that was commenting on my videos was saying, “Oh, I’ve seen the one in America and I really wanted it, but it had pepper spray, it had a knife, it had a Taser,” and all of these things.
So everyone had seen them in America, and they were already searching.
Whereas I think I did have a bit of an advantage in that sense. But one of the things that I’ve always stuck by in business is selling something that people can’t get anywhere else.
And that doesn’t mean you have to invent a whole new product.
What it means is you take a product that already exists, but make it different, way, way, way different.
There are so many people out there that have different wants, different needs, different desires.
But if you see one business doing well, and you think, “Oh, I want to do that exact thing,” and then you start copying that business, you’re going to have a really hard time convincing their customers to shop with you.
They’ve already got a reputation, they’re already established.
But if you take what they’re selling and put your own spin on it, whether it’s the colour, the patterns, the product, you are then reaching a whole different target audience.
Then rather than trying to outdo somebody, you’re both succeeding.
Even now, there are more and more safety keychain companies coming up. But if you’re different from the rest, then everyone can succeed.
Now, that’s really great advice. And it’s a kind of easier route to market because you know there’s already demand out there.
So that’s really smart.
Just about that TikTok video. So did you just demonstrate what your product could do? Was that all it took?
Or did you need to do something that took a bit more thought or scripting?
Yeah, so initially, this was before I had any of the items, because I was sourcing them from abroad, and they obviously take a few weeks to arrive. So I set up a TikTok prior to my business officially opening or selling anything.
I was sharing facts about what I was trying to achieve with my business. So the story behind my business, what it was that I stood for, my work ethic, things like that, just getting my name out there and saying that this is what I want to do, and this is going to be launching soon.
I had about 1,000 followers before I sold one product. So the more you get your name out there and the more you get your business out there, the easier it will be, even prior to opening.
You don’t have to have the product to start marketing yourself, you can start by saying what it is you are doing, tell everyone and show them—if you can.
So I did have about 1,000 people already there at that point.
After that, I then did a video which was a demonstration of the keychain, the equipment, what it did. And that is what went viral.
How much time to dedicate to TikTok and how it differs from other social media platforms
Do you have to spend a lot of time on social media, on TikTok, in order to maintain momentum?
Does that take up a lot of your time now? Or is it just minimal?
Initially, when I first started, I focused on TikTok quite a lot.
I was posting two or three times a day and being very consistent with it. But as the business grew, that did get harder because I was having to focus my time on sales rather than making videos.
But like I said, I started the business by myself, so it was something that I had to grow.
I started off with six keychains, could you believe?
On 14 April last year, that was all I had to sell. That was my £1,000, and I had six keychains.
And they sold out within about 10 minutes. So I took that money, and then I could buy 20, I took that money, and it’d buy 50, and grew it from there.
So in the early stages, I did have more time to be posting on TikTok.
But when I started hitting 150 orders to make a week, it did become harder. But I feel like once you get your foot in the door on TikTok, your videos are constantly being reached.
This is why I love TikTok, because even now I’ve got videos from last year that people are still liking and interacting with. So it is still coming up on their recommended pages.
So I think if you utilise TikTok and are consistent with it, then it can really make your business grow.
TikTok is not like a lot of the other media platforms where when it’s gone, it’s gone, and people don’t tend to scroll back, or they won’t see it again. That’s really good to know.
16 hours on shipping labels and selling products you don’t have in stock— it’s all a learning process
Rebecca, have you made any mistakes along the way, anything?
Well, can you share one or two.
And so what was the mistake? What went wrong?
And then what did you learn from that?
So I had no business experience whatsoever. I feel like there were so many things that I was doing that were taking up so much of my time, and I didn’t even realise there were quicker ways of doing it.
Shipping, for example!
I remember when I first started, I got my first 100 orders, and I was buying one shipping label on PayPal at a time, and it took me 16 hours.
Then I figured out, on Royal Mail, I can do it all in one go and do a batch order in 10 minutes. I was like, “What is wrong with me?”
But lots of little things like that I had to learn. But there’s been times that I haven’t ordered a product but listed on my website as in stock.
So I sell these GPS safety alarms, which when they’re activated, they’ll send your location to your emergency contacts. I had one on my website that I didn’t have in stock at the time and somebody bought it.
I’m a very firm believer in trying not to let your mistakes affect the customer.
So do everything you can to try and figure it out before you approach your customer, and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m not going to lie, I messed up.”
You have to be honest.
But I actually bought one of the alarms on Amazon for four times what I usually pay, and I shipped it to my customer because I didn’t want to be like, “Oh, I’m really sorry, I didn’t have the alarm.”
So there are loads of little things like that. Some costly, some not.
But you are going to make mistakes, and you have to know that is okay. Especially if you’re someone like me that has no business experience, you’re not going to have a clue, I didn’t have a clue.
I figured everything out as I went along, I didn’t have anyone to go to for advice. You have to learn from these mistakes. But also know that it is okay to make them.
Don’t let your mistakes affect your customers
It’s interesting though, that you say you have no business experience.
But you clearly have very strong business instincts because your feelings about, “Right. I’m not going to say anything in a public forum that might reflect badly on my business, I’m going to always put the customer first. I’m not going to let them see when I’ve made a mistake.”
Those instincts are very strong, entrepreneurial.
So did you kind of hone that as you’ve gone along, or do you feel like you just had a good sense for these things?
One of my personality traits is that I am a people pleaser.
So if someone asks me to do something, I’ll do it.
I’m just one of those people, which isn’t always a good thing. But my ethics have always been quite strong in the sense that I will go above and beyond.
I feel like it does help in business because you’ve got two ways of going about it. You can go down the route of trying to rectify the mistake without affecting the customer, or you can just own up, which again, it’s okay to hold your hand up and say, “Oh, I made the mistake.”
And if I couldn’t have done anything about it the GPS alarm, then I would’ve gone with that option.
But I do try my absolute best to not let it affect the customer. It will always be a last resort.
Be your most authentic self
We hear a lot about authenticity, especially when it comes to how you speak to people on social media. You’ve got a definite voice.
When you read your website, you can hear your voice, you can see it in your socials.
Did you spend much time working out what that tone was going to be? Or is this just completely unfiltered Rebecca Cole?
It is completely unfiltered.
I’m not going to lie, when you have something, and I feel like when you find that passion, you’ll know it. Everyone is capable of this, but you need to find what it is that you are passionate about.
I’ve tried a lot of things, I’ve tried selling bath bombs and so many little side hustles, but they weren’t for me.
But that’s okay, you have to get out there, and you have to try these things. Otherwise, you’re not going to know.
But when you find that thing that you’re passionate about, there is nothing that can stop you. But it has to click, and you will know it when it does.
You just have to get your feet in the water, try little things, have a look, see what’s out there.
If you think, “Oh, I might like to try baking.” Try it. If you don’t like it, move on to the next thing.
Failure is okay. It’s how you deal with it and pick yourself back up afterwards.
Sometimes it takes five failed side hustles to find your passion
Tell me about some of these side hustles. Bath bombs, you say?
So what other things have you tried to sell over the years?
So I’ve tried baking. There are things that are harder to try, especially when it comes to food, as you have to consider food hygiene and things like that.
You probably do want to have your qualification or work towards your qualification in something that.
But I did want to think about making cakes and big birthday cakes because I am quite creative.
But there was a lot involved in it that wasn’t for me. It’s not the hard work that scares me. It was considering, do I really want to do this? Or do I want to put in this hard work if it’s not going to make me happy?
So that was a flop.
And then I tried wax melts. Again, wax melts is something that is really hard to get your name out there because there are so many established companies.
You’ve got big companies, such as Yankee Candle. So that, in itself, was quite hard. So that flopped.
Then I did bath bombs.
Again, there’s a lot behind it that you don’t know. You have to have cosmetic assessments, you have to have your recipe assessed and things like that.
So it’s not about being scared of the hard work, it’s about the hard work being the right thing for you.
If you really enjoy what you’re doing, then it won’t really feel like hard work.
When I look back on this business, I’m like, “How did I even do all this? How? There are things that I just don’t know how I did, but I just did it because I wanted to do it because it was what was passionate about.
So this is your first actual business, but how many experiments do you reckon that you did to get here?
So I would say I had a good five, but I didn’t sell anything ever, nothing.
I was not successful at all, they all flopped.
Helping customers regain their independence and freedom
Just finally, Rebecca, one more question, which is, can you tell me about the absolute number one highlight that you’ve experienced being a business owner?
What’s been the best moment for you so far?
This is going to sound so cliché.
So on my checkout page, there’s a little section where it says, ‘Leave me a note’. Sometimes, people will put in there, “Oh, can I have a pink safety alarm instead of a black one,” or whatever.
But every single day, at some point, there is an order that will come through with an essay on it that says about how much this product means to them.
I am telling you now, hand on heart, I cry still to this day, at every single one of those messages.
The fact people take the time to write about how much this product is going to give them back their independence and freedom. I actually feel like I’m going to cry now.
But it is so overwhelming because you just think of yourself as this nobody, just this one-person business.
But you are having such an impact on other people’s lives to the point that they can go out by themselves and live their life.
And that’s all down to you.
So still to this day, I feel like as cliché as it sounds, every day that, in itself, is my highlight.
Oh Rebecca, you are so far from a nobody, you’re an absolute dynamo.
And what an amazing person.
I actually think I’m going to cry.
You’re going to set me off, I can see you getting so emotional. But that is a beautiful highlight.
Thank you for being on this show. I’ve loved talking to you.
Inspired by this small business story?
Wherever you’re listening or watching, subscribe to Sound Advice on Apple iTunes here.
We are also on Spotify and anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Join our community to share your insights and stories on Twitter @SageUK using the hashtag #SoundAdvicePodcast, on Instagram @SageOfficial or in the comments below!
Want to know more about Fearless Keychains?
You can find Fearless Keychains on TikTok and Instagram.
And don’t forget to check out their website too!