By Emily turned 10 last month. I have been so fortunate to have been surrounded by the most amazing community of creatives over the last ten years who without I don’t think I'd have made it so far. Its in sharing the ups and downs that you build resilience and the determination to keep going. So I asked some wonderfully inspiring women who run their own businesses to tell their story of how they got to where they are and to share some advice for anyone hoping to do the same.
Laura North Stylist
I met Laura years ago at my very first GNCCF in Manchester, she and her sister stopped by my stand and immediately we were chatting as though I had known her for years. Between lockdowns last year she created the most stunning photos of my jewellery. Every tiny detail was considered with such artistry, it was mesmerising to see and the outcome was stunning. Her interior styling is simply beautiful, I could gaze at the images all day- endlessly inspired.
I’ve been artfully curating the play of objects, furniture, accessories, colours, shapes and textures in front of a camera lens for over ten years - an alchemy otherwise known as styling. I actually started my life as a jeweller, studying Metalwork and Jewellery at Sheffield but it slowly dawned on me amongst those 3 wonderful years that the storytelling and the visual display of my work interested me just that bit more than perfecting my soldering technique.
After meandering my way through interior design, exhibition design and visual merchandising, I discovered my calling - a combination of everything I’d worked in: photographic styling.
I treat each shot as a painter would, looking at how the eye moves around an image, ensuring there is a visual rhythm and balance, contrasting textures, harmonising form and pattern.
Colour is probably what I’m known best for as a stylist - the way colours can vibrate and ping off each other can genuinely make me emotional. And my very loud laugh is fairly well known too - which given that I love what I do, happens a lot.
Bek Lee Designs
Bek and I became friends years ago and cherished a shared love for all things creative, she made jewellery and I collected it. When my husband and I travelled we stayed with her in Melbourne as she had moved home and it is there that she taught me how to solder. Bek is so incredibly, quietly and gracefully talented, everything she puts her hand to is beautiful and inspired.
Hi, I’m Bek, the creator behind Bek Lee Designs. I'm based in Emerald, a small town in the picturesque hills just outside of Melbourne. I’m a mama to 2 gorgeous boys, illustrator, jeweller, primary art teacher and craft enthusiast.
Creativity has always come naturally to me, my childhood was full of drawing and crafting moments. So it’s no surprise that I wanted to do something creative as a career. Running a creative business on the other hand has been a lot harder and has often meant running a side business as I focus on my other passion, teaching (I only recently had the opportunity to do both as an art teacher). This has had it blessings and it struggles. Firstly, it has allowed me to take the business side of things slowly. It has also meant I’ve been able to change my focus when I’ve needed to without too much difficulty. I started off with a large focus on designing jewellery, however when children came I found it difficult to find the time and space I need. So I shift my focus to illustration, in particular digital which has meant I could pick up my art at any spare moment without messy supplies and no set up and down. Running my business on the side has meant that I’ve had to be really careful not to compare where I am, with the journey of other creative businesses. Small still can means successful if you are creating what you love.
I do Handmade
I met Becky when we first moved to London, she was planning her wedding at the time and I was in awe - she had literally thought of everything to the finest, most intricate and beautiful detail. Her business is such a reflection of her, innately creative, thoughtful and heaps of fun.
I’m Becky and I run I Do Handmade together with my mum Wendy. We’ve been on a mission to give busy lives a dose of calm by encouraging creativity. We offer a range of craft kits all designed to help people switch off from the world.
I began running I Do Handmade in 2013 following my own wedding. Me and my mum have always been creative souls and we made a lot of the decor ourselves. A few people asked if we would make decorations for their weddings. So we begun building and designing props and decorating weddings at the weekends whilst both working full time in other jobs.
Fast forward to 2019 and redundancy from my corporate role changed everything. I turned away from the only salary earning world I knew and put my all into running I Do Handmade.
Admittedly, I really struggled to make the decision, I knew I would need to expand our services and launch new products to make it financially viable. I worried that there was no space for my little business, that other companies offered far better services, why would anyone want to buy from me, what if it doesn’t work, where do I start?
So much of me wanted to give up before I had even tried. But I knew deep down most of my worries were fear based rather than fact based. So, I unsubscribed from all corporate job email alerts and just started. I made a list of things I needed to do and just begun with one thing, taking one step at a time.
After a turbulent couple of years, we now have created a range of craft kits that encourage others to get creative at home, run creative workshops to make things in person and still decorate the odd wedding when Covid’s not around! If you would like to find out more or check out the full range visit www.idohandmade.co.uk
Top tips for anyone interested in running their own business
1 - Just do something. I wasted time waiting for things to be ready. Turns out I don’t think anything’s ever 100% ready. Just do one task and amend afterwards. Whether it’s setting up a website, creating an Instagram account, purchasing a domain. Make one step and the next step will become easier.
2 - Surround yourself with people smarter than you. This journey has been made much easier with the help of business coaches, juicy podcasts, and inspiring authors helping to pave the way.
3 - Don’t be put off by businesses killing it on social media, they are also winging it. They’ve just been winging it for a bit longer so are better wingers! We are only bombarded with their highlights, we don’t know their story, the trials or tears they’ve had to get to where they are.
4 - Things take time. No matter how many ‘make your business wonderful’ podcasts I listen to, overnight success is not a viable business strategy! Good things take a loooong time. Keep going, be patient and don’t give up!
Rachel did some modelling for me a few years ago. It was so lovely to work with her and to find out about her art work and growing business.
I began painting at school it was my escape from the world! I knew that it was what I wanted to do and pursue from an early age but making it happen with the way the world is is hard when having to pay the bills and work on top of trying to keep the painting and business going but I couldn’t live without creating new things it makes me feel the most alive when I am moulding something together with my own hands or painting something and working through trial and error it is the most rewarding feeling once it is finished.
Moving to Falmouth to study my Fine Art BA(Hons) was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I managed to explore new things and really develop my painting skills. I’m now just about to begin my Fine art Masters degree. If I could encourage anyone it would be to go for it and try new things , whilst having a balance of coming back to your original love and passion.
I love the process of etching and block printing too, it becomes almost like a meditation. I am currently painting commissions and have began to delve into ceramics too.
I create work from either the escapism to the natural world or other times it seems to reflect my own life, when I paint loved ones for example it makes me think of these moments and memories that I have shared with them and it strengthens my connection to them much more deeply than before.
Alexandra and I both exhibited at the Craft in Focus shows several years ago, we were showing in different halls but I would stop by her stand enroute to the cafe to marvel at her exquisite sparkling designs.
I finished a Jewellery and Silversmithing degree in 2008 and have been making when I can since. It took time to buy the tools and materials I need to set up a business. After working for different jewellers and in galleries I decided to develop my own business in 2013. I now sell my work through contemporary craft shows across the country where I meet very talented makers and feel part of a craft community. It is a satisfying and enjoyable feeling in hand making an item which someone else likes and treasurers, you want to give them the best so the jewellery can be passed down through generations.
Rachel in the Dales Pottery
I met Rachel through Instagram- not something I ever thought Id say, being a social media introvert but our conversation and subsequent friendship came at exactly the right time in the midst of the first lockdown in 2020. Her Instagram feed is gorgeous and makes me want to move to Yorkshire! And her work is stunning - we have a growing collection of her work on our shelves, two mugs are particularly treasured by my wee boys.
In the month of September, six years ago, I made the decision to launch my own pottery business. I never thought I would actually do something so brave! But with a great deal of faith and encouragement from my husband, some research and preparations, and LOTS of prayer... I did it!
Before setting out, I received a solid piece of advice from another local potter: Find something that you love, that you can make your own, and do it WELL. And I would pass that on to anyone seeking to start up their own creative business. I thought over my passions and how any of them might be worked into pottery, or developed by it, and a few came to mind... the environment, agriculture, the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. How could I weave these into pottery?
One major hurdle in my pottery business journey was glazing. I had had plenty of opportunities to throw, but little opportunity to learn the art of glazing. I liked the idea of doing something unique and natural with glaze instead of buying it premade, and had come across wood ash glaze in the past. Surely, if wood could be used as a glaze, then other natural foraged materials could too?? I went to Google, as you do, and began researching natural glazes. I am not a mathematician or a chemist, and the percentages and equations for glaze-making filled me with fear and dread! But in my search I came across a book on natural glaze making by Miranda Forrest, and it was so wonderfully accessible. Miranda writes of her journey of experimenting with the flora of the Outer Hebrides, where she lives, and is full of encouragement to try your own experiments with what you have plenty of. She wrote about glaze-making like one would write about baking (I can bake!)... A ladle of this to two of that... Add water until it's about single cream consistency... MY kind of language. And so my own natural glaze journey began. I hope one day I get the opportunity to thank her.
A fairly recent addition to my pottery-making came through the onset of Covid. In the early days of 'stay at home' life, I turned to clay for something fun to do with the girls. We began picking flowers and leaves from our blooming garden and from our once-a-day walks to press into the clay... And I began to see what a stunning effect they had in the clay! A new stage in my work, and one beautifully reflective of the seasons and the landscape of the Dales had begun. Bloom in adversity.
On top of my interiors wish list is an Abigail Bury cushion. I even have a post card with her beautiful artwork that has moved with me to my various workshops and is now pride of place on my notice board. One day!
A lifelong appreciation of textiles led me to explore and develop many needlework skills, both by machine and by hand, just for my own pleasure really. But when my children had grown up and left home I wondered what to do with myself, and I felt that I needed a push to propel me out of a bit of a rut that I had got myself into. So at the age of 42 I enrolled to do a 3 year BA (Hons) Textile Design degree course at Hereford College of Arts. The course really helped me to focus and to inform my choices moving forwards, and on completion I felt ready and excited to set up my own business and get my fabrics out there!
I jumped in head first and decided to wholesale my products (mostly cushions) at Top Draw, a large trade fair. Top drawer is a great place to get exposure and have networking opportunities. This led to some really good sales and products in magazines, which was a real bonus. I have since stopped wholesaling as it pushed my prices up higher than I wanted them to be, so now I mainly just sell direct to the customer via my website and fairs.
I must admit my marketing skills are not really what they should be, and I feel little enthusiasm for their improvement, but with time I feel like things have naturally fallen into place, and I enjoy doing fairs and find that people often take details and then really do contact me after, even years after the event, and now I sell far more fabric by the metre which is very pleasing.....I love to see what the customer has done with the fabric, whether it be curtains, blinds or upholstery.
I am so proud to have got where I have today, and enjoy and marvel at every sale I make!
Hannah is another maker that I have never actually met in person, it is through Instagram that I discovered her beautiful and thoughtful artwork inspired by the natural world, each piece looks as though it is truly alive, her cards have become my go to purchase, particularly the butterflies. It has been so exciting to work with her this year to create bespoke packaging for my latest collection, the result was even lovelier than I’d imagined.
I first started my business 10 years ago, although it took several years for it to work out what it wanted to be. I rather rashly quit my job and moved back home to the Scottish Borders without much of a plan and definitely without a clue how to actually make a living from drawing. I tried lots of different things, gradually learnt about my customers and myself, and slowly built a small greetings card and stationery publishing company. I draw the world around me, with a particular love of recording the changing seasons, and I use those drawings to create my product range. I then sell those products to shops across the UK and beyond as well as in my online shops. I've learnt that it is ok to be a tortoise - slow and steady is good. Listening to yourself and going at a pace you feel good about is really important. And you don't have to take all the advice you are given. People love giving advice, especially old white men, but you know your business best. Trust your gut, keep hold of your values, celebrate every tiny milestone. Also, be wary of thinking that if you aren't overworked and totally frazzled you're somehow failing. It is a myth.
Erica Jane Walters
Erica loves not far from my wee cottage in the hills, her beautiful house is called the Wilderness which inspired her equally as beautiful work. I could ask her questions all day about her business and get lost in the story of her magical creations.
Running a creative business has been such an adventure for me over the past twenty years and I count being able to evolve or even side step from one discipline to another the key to its success. Writing and illustrating children’s books has been the core of my creativity for the main part with sewing and creating 3D characters and stories always in the background. Nowadays however it is Wilderstitch - my crafting kits, heirloom doll and chateau sewing retreats business that is at the forefront of my working day. My world is full of forgotten princesses, mischievous mice and secret adventures through hidden doorways, whether in a story book or stitched from antique lace and buttons, it is my genuine love of the world I create that gets me into my studio every day.
How Fine Designs
Sally was my year 7 form and art teacher. School is not always an easy place, for me at times that was an understatement. My art teachers - Sally included, were my saving grace. It was during my art lessons that I felt most free to be myself, to explore what I loved, where I felt most encouraged and could dream of being the person I wanted to be and living the life I longed for. Not only was she an amazing teacher, she is now an influential jewellery designer.
I design and make jewellery from Harrogate in Yorkshire using sustainably sourced silver, gold and gemstones 🌿💍🌿 I work with coaches to create memorable client gifts ✨💖✨
I began making jewellery as a creative hobby when my children were small and continued jewellery making part time. My main job was an art teacher and jewellery was my side hustle. I went full time in my business during the pandemic.
Running a Jewellery business there’s always more to do, so the best advice I have is to try not to do everything at once. Focus on one thing at a time and be prepared to outsource things that you need help with. Getting help from mentors and coaches has been the best investment I’ve made in my business. When I started out I tried to do everything myself I was on a tight budget but more recently I realised that it’s much slower when you’re doing that. Having the support of others and making the investment means that you’re accountable and it gives you more confidence.
I also help creative businesses promote their products using Pinterest 📌 I run a Facebook group called Pinterest for Creatives where I share hints and tips for more balance for makers https://www.facebook.com/groups/pinterestforcreativesgroup/