Behind the Biz is my weekly interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey. Today’s interview is all about a creative lifestyle business based in Cambridge.
Today I’m delighted to be talking with Claire from Claireabellemakes.
Please tell us about your business.
I describe Claireabellemakes as a creative lifestyle brand because it encompasses my shop, blog, craft parties and freelance work as a stylist and contributor. The product side of my business offers scrabble inspired prints, cards and gifts and I also incorporate bicycle accessory designs.
Where did the inspiration for Claireabellemakes come from?
In terms of my products, I’m really inspired by Cambridge – especially for the bicycle designs. For my prints and stationery, I love the positive thinking movement. As a naturally positive person, those designs are really fun to create.
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
Claireabelle was a nickname my Dad gave me as a child and it just kind of stuck for the business. It kind of annoys me at times though as Claireabellemakes is a long name (tricky for some social media handles) and often people don’t get it quite right!
What did you do before starting Claireabellemakes?
A few years back I used to be a dancer. I soon realised it was difficult to make a living from it, so I got an office job to do alongside it. After a while I gave up the dancing and became a PA for scientists at Cambridge University. I really loved the job and it was a great contrast to creative work. Right before I started Claireabellemakes in 2012 I was studying for my masters in Arts Management at night school in London.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Not really, the business just evolved so much that thankfully it became an option! I loved the security a salaried job gave me, but it doesn’t beat being your own boss.
Please tell us more about your Cambridge Craft Parties.
I started my craft parties as a way to meet people who wanted to create in real life. I had lots of people online making my DIY projects from the blog and I really wanted to bring that to life somehow. The craft workshops are 2 hour sessions where attendees get to complete a project to take home at the end. I include lots of colourful decorations and a goody bag so it feels fun and like an experience they will remember. I usually hold them in independent venues in Cambridge because I love to support local businesses.
What types of people come to your parties?
Usually it’s women who have dabbled in a craft or two before and they are keen to try more. Everyone is welcome though regardless of gender and the age demographic is really broad. For one of the flower crown workshops I had a daughter, mother and grandmother all crafting together for a day out. They were fantastic and we still chat online a year or so later. It was really rewarding to see them have fun as a family and facilitating that through crafts was a lot of fun.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Mostly I struggle with the challenges that I can’t control. The top two would be time – (there’s never enough of it) and my health. I struggle with migraines which has no pattern or regularity so it can be really tricky to balance work with them. I’m learning to let go of guilt around not being productive and to plan contingency into my tasks so that I can catch up when I’m well. I feel like consistency is important for content creators and designers so I try to plan ahead to make sure I’m on track with that.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
That’s a tough question! I think sharing my designs on TV last year was pretty cool, but it was also so nerve wracking. I cringed so hard when I watched it! A yearly highlight for me is attending blogging conference Blogtacular. It’s a creative day out for me where I catch up with loads of friends and come home feeling really inspired.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Social media is super important for me – it’s where my audience hang out and engage with what I am doing. At the moment I’m loving YouTube as a place to share my stationery passions and I’ve just started making short promotional videos for each collection I release for my shop. It’s so much fun to edit. Instagram is a great visual tool for me to share new designs and behind the scenes in a curated way. I do love Instagram stories though, as I can be more spontaneous and laid back. Obviously sharing cat spam online is also a favourite thing for me on social 😉
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The number one piece of advice is to work really f***ing hard. Lots of people email me for advice about starting a business or blog and I always say that it doesn’t happen unless you put the work in. It’s not luck or chance – it’s hard graft that gets you to where you want to be. By hard work I don’t mean work all hours, but I mean you’ve got to put the effort in to learn and grow as much as you can. You definitely can’t be lazy. Set goals and big dreams and work out how to get there. I worked on my business for 4 years before I quit the PA role and it was tough. I sacrificed a social life and put the business first as much as I could. I feel successful because I am happy with what I do. It’s important to define your own success and what it means to you. Money in the bank is great but are you happy? It’s important to only do work that you really want to do. If your heart isn’t in it, it will become a chore. Stay authentic and true to your passions. It’s OK to say no if it doesn’t feel right.
Where do you hope to take Claireabellemakes and Cambridge Craft Parties in the year ahead?
Well 2016 was quite a big year for the business because I quit my day job. In 2017 I want to grow the product side of my business by releasing new designs, getting my work into shops and selling at markets that are new to me. I also want to make time to hang out with my creative pals a lot more. In fact, I’m planning another photo walk around Cambridge soon so watch this space!
Thank you so much to Claire for taking the time to be a part of Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed finding out all about her business journey and hope I get to attend a one of her craft parties. Claire’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is spot on. You really must be ready to work smart and hard once you decide to set up your own business. If your heart isn’t in it then you won’t get anywhere. I look forward to seeing Claireabellemakes grow throughout 2017.
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