What I Have Learned After 5 Years of Claireabellemakes

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.

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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…..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Outtakes from my 4th birthday blog post

People matter

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.

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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!

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Claireabellemakes 2016 Review

We all know that 2016 wasn’t the best for the world. At one point I had to stop watching the news because it genuinely upset me too much. I even considered whether writing a review/celebration of achievements post was insensitive and indulgent, but it is something I feel I need to do for my business and life as a moment of reflection. I guess what I am trying to say, is I write these posts as a diary for my business, rather than to shout about what I managed to get done.

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2016 was a year where change happened. My words for the year were Learn and Grow and I felt as though I really embraced them. I made things happen, I did things that scared me and I took financial risks.

So here’s 2016 in review for Claireabellemakes. Grab a cuppa and a biscuit, lots happened!

In January I started putting my words into practice and learnt how to use a saw, hammer, router and chisel at a Mackay’s woodworking class. I built a wonky birdhouse and carved a wooden spoon.

I also took some time out with family for a short break and began to make plans for quitting the day job.

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In February I planned my dream life at a kikki.K goals workshop, started working with Jenny Hyde on her new business venture and re-launched the Glitter Heart Pins in the month of love.

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March was a month of collaboration when I was featured in Caboodle Magazine and contributed to the Lucky Dip Club box. I also started working with We Make Collective as their social media manager and worked with Rustoleum and Thornton’s for the blog. CHOCOLATE AND BLOGGING = two favourite things!

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We also took a trip to Edinburgh – our first time in Scotland. We walked a ton, ate a deep fried Mars bar and soaked up the scenery and culture.

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In April, Claireabellemakes turned 4 and the Glitter Heart Pins were featured in Mollie Makes magazine. I worked with John Lewis, Neal’s Yard and Purl Alpaca for the blog and launched the Motivational Pencils.

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May was really exciting as I appeared on TV with Crafty Beggars! It was definitely a scary moment for me, but I’m glad I said yes as it helped me grow. I was thrilled to be featured in Handmade Magazine this month and also to attend a fantastic event at local business Catesby’s.

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June was a month where I didn’t take my foot off the pedal much. I launched a collaborative print collection with Kate and a print collection for Sew Crafty. I designed prints for the Blogtacular goody bag and attended for the second year (it was a blast!). I sold at the Cambridge Made market and took 3 days off to go glamping at the beach with G.

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In July I embraced the Cambridge summer and punted the river with some of my favourite creative pals. I took a photography workshop with Me and Orla and hosted some craft parties in Cambridge.

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In August I sold at the Craftacular summer market and attended the first ever Happiness Planner Event in London. I worked with George at Asda for the blog and pushed myself to pose for an outfit post which was totally out of my comfort zone.

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September was the month I quit my job as a PA! By far the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it was so freeing and I don’t miss it at all. It was a busy month attending the Handmade Fair, taking a brush lettering class and planning the Cambridge Creatives Photowalk with Jo. A fun and exciting month indeed!

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In October, I officially started working with Copper Boom Studio as In-house Creative lead. I style photoshoots for clients like me who run their own small businesses. The team are amazing and it’s so inspiring to be part of a start-up that nurtures our industry.

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November was a month for Christmas prep for the shop. I launched the new card collections and the Wheelie Festive Bikes. I attended Renegade market and got my head down in the studio. I also celebrated my birthday with a mini break to Bristol and Bath with G. We shopped handmade markets, ate lots and enjoyed the festive spirit. Once we returned, I sold at the Christmas Craftacular market and packed tons of orders.

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December went by in a flash with the busiest month ever for the Etsy store (passing 1000 sales and making the most income)! I sold at the Cambridge Etsy Made Local market and was featured on the Just A Card blog. One of my highlights of the year, was the final event of 2016. I ran a craft workshop for Disney UK in London. It was a scary moment (I don’t usually host workshops for children!) and an exhausting day, but I loved it. I hope it is a brand I can work with again. I shared a DIY for this Christmas decoration afterwards as it was inspired by our makes.

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PHEW. Writing all that down makes me realise why I ended the year with a few too many PJ days. I knew that 2016 had to be a year of hustle to really change my business life to work solely on creative projects.

My word for 2017 is balance. I mean work-life balance. I still have a lot to learn on this subject, so perhaps I’ll take my 2016 words forward too 😉

Thanks for sticking around to the end! What was your biggest achievement of 2016? I’d love to know!

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Just A Card Interview

It’s been full steam ahead here with Christmas orders and I’m looking forward to a break really soon. But today I wanted to check in and see how you all are and also share a little update on a few exciting things that have been happening.merry-and-bright-scrabble-christmas-card

Last week I was interviewed on the Just A Card blog which you can read in full here. This is my first interview since quitting my day job and working creatively full-time, so it was great to share some of my experience with a portfolio career. It definitely got me thinking about what I call myself now – creative entrepreneur?! just-a-card

For those of you that don’t know, the “JUST A CARD campaign aims to encourage people to buy from Designer/Makers and Independent Galleries and Shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small, even ‘just a card’ are so vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses.” It definitely means alot to me to have smaller sales too – they all add up!

Talking of cards, I was recently asked to go on Sky News to talk about Christmas Cards and whether they are still popular. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the last minute request, but was thrilled my cards had been noticed!

Here’s a little reminder of the last posting dates for any orders before Christmas in case you are still shopping or looking for cards. Get your shop on here!

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Tell me what’s new with you!

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All The Feelings (and some news)

This month has been quite overwhelming. I’ve felt so many things. I’ve been scared, excited, anxious, doubtful and much more. Making big decisions is never easy.

If you follow along on social media, you will have seen me share that I have quit my day job at the University of Cambridge to work on my creative career. When I first started there 5.5 years ago, I was still dancing (that’s another career change I’ve yet to share!) and I was also studying for my masters in London whilst working full-time. So I have always been someone with multiple things on the go at once.

Having a steady and well paid job enabled me to explore my passions. I started Claireabellemakes with this blog in April 2012. A hobby which has grown into much more than I originally envisaged. In doing so, I have been able to really find my passion and for the first time in my life I knew who I was and what I wanted. For so long and as I approached my 30s, I wondered if I would ever realise what I wanted to do. It bothered me, and I was always a little envious of G who has known since he was a child what his career would be (and he’s bloody good at it too).
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We all have the ‘big dream’. Something in the distance that would be great to achieve one day. Until last week, mine still felt like that, even though I had been taking clear steps to move towards it.  Nothing felt real until I actually handed in my notice and began to tell people about the change. It’s been pretty surreal and 100% scary. My anxiety levels have been high, but I needed to take a risk.

Many people are telling me that I will be able to achieve so much more now. That isn’t my goal. As much as being highly productive and working really f**king hard are big goals in running my business, some personal goals are now a priority. I want a better work life balance (one job instead of two!) and to take care of my health. I want to learn new things and be creatively challenged, whilst keeping self care a priority. I also want to make things just because.

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So, I am taking a big deep breath right now. You may have noticed that things are a bit slower here on the blog lately and it might be that while for a little longer. I hope you can bear with me whilst I plan for the change ahead. A friend recently text me to ask “Are you OK? You haven’t blogged for 10 days?”……it made me chuckle, but it also made me realise that my output has been so high for so long It’s OK to rest and to absorb what is happening. I don’t want to look back on this period and realise that I was overwhelmed with anything other than the anticipated feelings of a career change in my 30s.

So what can you expect in the future? From the beginning of October, I’ll be continuing to blog, release products for the shop and to work with my creative friends at We Make Collective, Homedit and Simple Stylish Makes. I’m also going to be styling shoots for Copper Boom Studio clients which I’m pretty excited for.

Thanks for always being here. I’m so grateful I finally get to do what I love. Don’t forget to give me a little vote for the Interior Blog Awards below if you have enjoyed my posts. GOTTA END ON THE SELF PROMO BEFORE I GET EMOSH!

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Claireabellemakes Has Been Nominated!

Wow there has been a lot happening here lately! Lots of clearing out in the studio, product development days and working on some new projects which I will reveal more about soon. I’ve also been trying really hard to get some balance back in my life with evenings and days off to work on my health. Besides my loved ones and friends, the constant in my life is always this blog. It’s a place for me to share my thoughts, passions and projects and somewhere to connect with you all.

I’m pretty proud of this space. It’s been quite the journey over 4 years but I still get excited when someone comments. I still feel nervous about publishing certain posts. I love that some of you have been here reading since day one and I love that new people are finding me here each day.
Amara Blog Awards 2016

It’s funny how an online journal can develop into something so important in ones life. I can’t imagine my life without blogging now. It led me to find my passion after I felt lost for so long.

So when I can tell you the blog has been nominated for an award I feel proud. And thankful that you guys appreciate this space enough to think it worthy of a nomination!

Voting for the Amara Interior Awards opened this week with Claireabellemakes included in the Best DIY and Crafts Blog category. Some of my best blogging friends are also nominated so do cast your votes for as many as you love to read!

Vote for Claireabellemakes here!

Thank you for all your support. And if you write a blog – leave your link in the comments below so I can check it out 🙂

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