This is one of those blog posts that I have been thinking about for some time. Like all the thoughts in my head needed time to organise themselves before I could write them down. In a couple of weeks I am celebrating 5 years for Claireabellemakes which seems pretty surreal to say. I wanted to share with you what I have learnt in those 5 years, but also what I have learnt in the last 6 months since I quit my job. That has been the biggest learning curve.
Card available in the shop
Running a business is a self discovery tool. Not only do you learn about profit and loss, marketing and product development, you learn about yourself in so many ways. I never really knew who I was or what I wanted to do as a career until I started Claireabellemakes when I was 28. I guess I was a late bloomer in that sense.
There are so many things to talk about, to share, to reflect on. I get lots of emails asking me about my business journey, but it’s often hard to reply because it has been just that – A JOURNEY. So much evolving and learning that it’s hard to put into words sometimes. Today I’m going to share some of the ridiculous moments and some of the realities. I’m going to be embarrassed and I’m going to be proud. This post is really a bit self indulgent as it’s about me….but as this blog is also a journal of my business life I figured it’s OK to record these moments! (And sorry in advance Mum, there are a couple of swears, because I feel really passionate about some of this stuff). Grab a cuppa, it’s a long one…..
It’s all or nothing
When people ask me ‘how did you get to where you are?’ the general gist of my response is ‘by working really hard’. I consider myself a life long learner and actually really love learning new things. If you want to know about something, the answers wont just magically appear – you’ve got to research and put the time in. I just don’t believe in half arsing things. Now I know this about myself, I know where my limits are and what kind of effort I want to put into each product or project. And yes, those limits are going to be different for every person and maybe different depending on the project. Your working style might differ to your competitors and that’s OK. You’ve got to find your own boundaries and stick to them. I’ve had a couple of challenging working experiences in 2017 that have taught me about my own boundaries and working style and it’s been so valuable. I’ve grown as a girl boss, but also as a person. I’ve learned that I like structure and forward planning and that I want to believe in everything I am working on.
Remember it’s a journey
Everyone starts somewhere. I used to take TERRIBLE photos. I didn’t know what I was doing. I actually thought that this product shot was OK to put online and now when I look back, I cringe SO hard. But y’know what? I keep it to remind myself how far I have come. I’ve learnt about lighting and product styling and sticking to brand values. You can’t learn everything at the beginning, so it’s important to remember that evolution and development is part of being a business owner. Maybe something you did 5 years ago was shit, but what did you learn from it? How has that project or product made you better at what you do? Look back as well as forward because it will remind you of the progress you have made.
Let go and it will help you grow
You have probably heard the quote ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. Maybe it’s something that comes with age or growing as an individual, but I can’t tell you how good it feels to let go of comparisons. It’s a tough place to get to because there are so many people doing awesome things, but I’m now able to see those people as inspirational and motivational. Competition is healthy, it keeps us pushing forwarding and aiming higher, but only if we see it in a positive way and begin to focus on us.
I’m not going to lie and say I don’t look at successful creatives and think ‘how has she managed to do that’ and ‘why haven’t I been able to get there yet’ because sometimes I still get those feelings. These are the times that I remind myself that everyone’s journey is different and what one person defines as success is completely different to another.
I once had a chat to a creative friend where we talked about the creative community and feeling part of the ‘cool crowd’. I thought of this analogy that there was a really good party happening – the music was great, there were tons of balloons and some amazing food on the BBQ. At the beginning you’re down the street and you can hear the music and it sounds pretty fun. A little further down the line you’re actually peering over the fence and looking in at all the fun. Before you know it you’ve got an invite and having a great time. And eventually you’re the party organiser with the guest list and you’re ordering the cake. But there are bigger parties to throw and there’s always louder music to play. That’s not to say it’s about popularity or being ‘cool’, but that there is always going to be someone ahead of you and always someone looking up to you. It’s a party journey and everyone is at a different point in the celebrations.
Maybe you’re not a party person. Maybe it doesn’t feel right to dance. Y’know what? That’s absolutely OK. You can walk away and go and put your slippers on and get under a blanket to watch Netflix. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I walked away from some projects that didn’t feel right for me this year and I feel better for it. Create your own party. A blanket party is a pretty good one in my opinion.
Know your worth
You hear the advice ‘you should never work for free’ a lot and I think it’s a topic that needs a separate blog post in itself. Knowing your worth is pretty powerful and it comes back to boundaries again, but also defining what value is to you. Is your motivation to run a business to make money, or to do what you love? Maybe it’s both or maybe it’s for a completely different reason.
I recently learnt what I was willing to do for a client when they asked for more work for no more money. I had to assess what the value was for that project and whether it fitted with my boundaries. I stood my ground and eventually had to cut my losses and move away from it. For that job, money was my priority and I wasn’t able to get what I felt I deserved for my time. I’m sure that client will find someone who is willing to work for less. This same situation has happened with really big clients (I wont name names) and maybe I have lost out from an exposure point of view, but I think integrity and worth is a very important part of what I do.
I guess it’s about confidence, not arrogance. A fine line that I hope my creative friends would ever pull me up on if I crossed it!
Authenticity is so important
People will see through bullshit. In this industry we live our business and sometimes personal lives online. It’s all too easy to curate our Instagram feeds and to show how we want people to perceive us. I am a big advocate for keeping it real. Yes, I share my tidy studio online because it looks nice and it’s hardly ever like that, but I also share the crap behind the scenes from time to time. I sometimes post pictures of my face when I have a terrible migraine and look awful, because that’s my life. Sharing a bit about the people behind the business can be powerful and relatable. Learning where the line sits is key though! Oversharing can be just as damaging to a brand.
Recently, I’ve learnt that some people I knew online aren’t who I expected them to be when I have seen them talk in person. On the flip side, I’ve met people who are exactly like their online brand. It’s definitely a more satisfying outcome to experience that, so I’m always conscious of keeping the balance when I post online.
Outtakes from my 4th birthday blog post
The community is so important to what we do. I’m generally quite an outgoing person, so I know it’s not always an easy part of business for introverts and shy people. I’ve learnt that reaching out to people who inspire you is scary, but rewarding. I know that people talk. I value face to face interactions so much and have booked my 3rd Blogtacular ticket for that very reason.
It’s so important to connect. It’s like that La La Land song ‘Someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know’. You might be sitting next to the editor of your favourite magazine at an event and not even realise. Or maybe you realised a friend of yours knows someone you admire and could perhaps introduce you. Never underestimate the value of people. They can help carve your path and guide you in the right direction. This is why I’m planning on using a business mentor this year.
And people can give you a lift. The creative friends I’ve made have played a huge part in me feeling confident about what I do. Two of my creative besties even read this blog post for me before I hit publish and they give me courage every single day to keep being me. They cheer for me when things go right and they listen when I am struggling to find my way.
Sure, I have so many more things to add to this list about the things I have discovered. I’m still learning and growing and I always will be. Maybe in 5 more years I will have a completely different perspective on running a business. Maybe I will be creating a different kind of party. One where I mess about with balloons just for fun.
OH AND GUESS WHAT? I’ll be doing just that on 23 April for our Spring photo walk in Cambridge. Bikes, Balloons and Besties. Come join us!