CHANGING LANES AFTER 50: how to handle a mid-life career switch

CHANGING LANES AFTER 50: how to handle a mid-life career switch

Alex Doy is a formidable human being.

Having been raised on a farm in Lincolnshire, UK, Alex is no stranger to hard work. This woman’s got grit – tons of it. From the age of nine she was a logistics manager with a checklist a mile long. By the time she hit 16, she was independently forging her way in the world, working various jobs locally and abroad. At age 39 she bought a franchise business. Eight and a half years later she sold it at a profit and purchased a buy-to-let property. For the next three years, to pay the bills, Alex happily took on a smorgasbord of regular part-time jobs.

And now?

Now, at age 52, Alex has changed lanes again. And she’s relishing every minute.

Corporate look

Alex, what persuaded you to purchase a franchise business, and why did you give it up?

I’ve always worked in the service industry in some capacity: from waitressing and bartending to event coordination and management. So when the opportunity arose in 2009 for me to buy my own franchise – the UK’s no. 1 dog-sitting service – I dove in.

My ‘business owner’ journey was fantastic; there were many points I loved about the franchise and I was very successful with it. But it also had some negatives. It nearly killed me.

When I got to the stage where I was completely burnt out, I realised I needed to get out. And also, I was aware of where the business was at that time: it was running at an excellent capacity and it was in a very profitable state. And businesses don’t always remain profitable for any length of time. So I felt it was the right time to sell – and I successfully sold it in 2017.

The moment I stepped away from the dog-care franchise, I made the decision to never again put myself in that position – where it nearly kills you. A lot of that was based on the 24/7 communication that customers now expect in the 21st century.

Good point. So you re-evaluated your life?

Yes. Once I realised that for my mental state I needed to change careers, I vowed not to get caught in that rut again.

What was the result of your life re-evaluation?

I realised I wanted a job without the full responsibility I’d had with my own business. Also, I knew, after driving 22,000 miles a year – as much as I love driving – I was happier to be in a job where I could cycle to work; I get a great deal out of it.

Like a lot of people, I have bills to pay and I solely rely on myself. But although I could have taken on a regular nine-to-five job in Nottingham city and earned good money, I still wanted to be able to step back a bit and not rush straight into something like that. I didn’t want a full-on, fulltime career straight after selling the business. So I decided to mix many roles to make up my working week.

Magically, I was able to create enough hours through different roles. Variety is key! Also, by having several roles, you’re not placing all your eggs in one basket. And in the current climate, that’s very important.

All of the roles were fulfilling in the short term. My main source of income came from being a part-time delivery driver for a local supermarket – a set contracted period of three shifts per week. But the rest of the week was made up of roles I could say yes or no to (an important feature when you’re used to being responsible for yourself), e.g.: working at outdoor catering events, doing weddings, driving cars through a local auction house, event management relief…

Ally grins

Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

These were all small contracts (a set amount of hours per day or week) where I was providing a service, but it was not my sole responsibility. I was just a part of the team support, and that was important to me. When I left each job at the end of the day, I didn’t give it another thought. For my mental state and peace of mind, this was the break I needed from life. And I pursued this path for three years.

An Empty Head When You Go To Bed.

During those three years you weren’t pursuing your passion, though, right? So what did you do in your time off that made you happy? For example, you woke up every morning and thought: I can’t wait to… today?

Well, because my mind wasn’t so challenged and overly busy as it had been when I was running a business, for a while I just really enjoyed having an empty head. And an empty head when you go to bed is all you’ll ever need.

The role at the supermarket was a means to an end, satisfying enough; it ticked enough boxes. So although, yes, driving for the supermarket wasn’t a massive passion, I got a great deal of satisfaction from what it gave me in life: money to pay my bills, an empty head, time to enjoy various outlets, like running, yoga, kayaking… and the ability to be present.

Throughout the time I had the dog-care business, I was never present in the moment. On holiday, out for dinner with friends, etc. – the phone would be going. There would be a request from a customer and my mind would be elsewhere. And now that I’ve been able to step back from that, I can see it in other people, when they’re doing it with their businesses, and I know I don’t ever want to be in that state again. So the gift from selling the business, and doing a job I wasn’t passionate about for a while, was getting my mental state back to where it should be.

Fit and fab

Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash

Absolutely. You finally got to live, to be there. That’s so important. We don’t have to keep striving non-stop and be motivated to do, do, do. We’re human beings, after all, not human doings.

Exactly! So, whenever life is not perfect, a certain richness – a quality of life – can always be found in other areas, in other ways of living. And I certainly have gained that. When I read a book now, I enjoy every moment. Whereas, before, my mind would be so filled, I can’t say I absolutely enjoyed the book.

I can’t recommend this enough – this taking time out. Anyone who is feeling burnt out and needs a break can spend at least two or three years enjoying this existence, as long as their ends meet financially…

Until the next challenge enters their mind. Which is what happened to me after three years. The drive came again: to want to do something, but not jump into the same sort of business.

That’s vital, isn’t it? Knowing what you don’t want out of life. There are so many people who haven’t a clue what they want to do – but perhaps a good place to start is: make a list of things you absolutely don’t want to do, or results you don’t want.

Correct. So many feel that the moment they finish one project they must rush on to another, or they’re not valued or successful in some way.

All I can say from experience is: taking time out, two or three years even, and making ends meet with a role that suits you, but also where you can find yourself again, is priceless.

Sage advice. Care to share any more?

It’s important to know: it’s not all about money. And there’s no rush. It will come to you. Because you’re creating the mind space to be able to look out at what’s around you and what’s working.

Well, it certainly worked for you. Tell us how your latest venture came about.

My latest venture, and hopefully my last, came about from trying to replicate some of the good things about the dog-sitting business; aspects I really enjoyed, like driving to different places, being out and about, meeting people, and being responsible for my own work. Also, the freedom the business at times could give you was another vital benefit. But I knew I definitely didn’t want to do something as emotional as the pet-care business.

There was also another important driving force: I lost my dog, Ruby, last year. And I knew that unless I changed my working environment, my goal of getting another dog would not be achievable.

Sometimes people get to junctions in their life where they realise they need to make a change in order to achieve something later in life. I was at that junction. I knew that eventually I couldn’t continue working for someone else, because generally when you’re working for somebody, or a company, you’re restricted in many ways. I knew I couldn’t take a dog to work with me. But if I became self-employed again, I could control my day-to-day routine. And if you want a dog, that’s important.

So I became an inventory clerk for letting agents and property owners.

Zumbalicious
Zumbalicious

That’s quite a change. Where did this idea come from? I get the feeling you didn’t just wake up one morning and think, Ah! I’ll be an inventory clerk!

I’ve always been interested in property, but I knew I didn’t want to become an estate agent, taking on full responsibility for the big picture – because that would put me in the same situation I was in when running my previous business. So I took a good, hard look at other roles in property.

At the same time, I made a list of my skills and strengths, as well as my likes and dislikes. For example: I enjoy working alone and managing my own time and processes; and one of my biggest strengths is logistics.

When did you discover this strength?

In my childhood: I used to go to gymkhanas with my ponies. My mum was a great mother, but she was so busy with my siblings that she would turn up just in time to jump into the car to drive my pony and myself to the competitions. So if I wanted to be on time, I had to do all the necessary work beforehand.

From the age of nine it was my responsibility to get the pony ready, and the equipment packed in the car… I had to make sure I’d packed all the tack – because if you’d just driven twenty miles to a field and you hadn’t got the saddle loaded, your day was over. Consequently, I’ve always had a checklist-type mind that naturally goes through the entire process of what I need.

What other personal strength of yours would you consider essential for an inventory clerk?

An eye for detail. And I’m fortunate: attention to detail comes naturally to me. The second time I spotted this strength was when I was in hospitality. While working in a restaurant, I could spot a salt or pepper pot missing off a table in the furthest corner of the room.

These things pop up in your life that make you realise your strengths. However, at an interview, when people ask me what my weaknesses are, I will also answer: Attention to detail. Because I believe in excellence – but I know it can get on some people’s nerves.

But it’s necessary, right? That’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. Attention to detail is what sets you apart from another inventory clerk who would, for example, forget to note the number of carbon monoxide alarms on their report.

Exactly. And I’m not saying I’m perfect, obviously. But my attention to detail is not forced – it’s easy; it comes naturally to me. I think if you don’t have attention to detail and you want a role that needs it, it would be difficult and forced. And your enjoyment in that respect would be dimmed.

So I took my strengths – logistics, driving, working alone, attention to detail – and my keen interest in property, and put them together. And out came the role: inventory clerk. It just made sense. An inventory clerk is only responsible for a section of property; a fraction of the property-letting process. Which is exactly what I was looking for.

The Key: Do Your Research.

Once you’d decided to become an inventory clerk, what were your next steps?

The first thing that came into my head was: do I need a qualification to do this? And how easy is it to achieve? Whenever you’re changing or starting a career, you need to do it to the right level or your business won’t be successful.

After discovering that there is no ‘Inventory Clerk’ qualification, I thought: well, anyone can do it; you just need to have the knowledge. So I had to find out how to go about learning all there is to know.

While researching a lot of different courses, I took into consideration the way I retain knowledge. (You know how you learn best, so this is one thing to look for: the manner in which the courses are being taught.) At my age, I’m only able to retain a certain amount of information at one time, so I needed a course that provided all the necessary information but also offered ongoing support as things came up.

I think anyone changing career, especially later in life, mustn’t just assume they can go off and do a weekend course and it’ll all come together; there will always be ongoing questions with anything you do.

Once I’d decided which course to do, I then had to purchase the necessary tools: software, the system I would need to use, etc. For guidance on this, I spoke with the course provider, as well as others in the industry.

The Key: do your research. Before I parted with any money, I was put in touch with several people who were already doing inventory work, and I picked their brains. Also, as I’d decided I wanted to be an independent clerk, I had to ring round a few property agents to ask if they ever used or would use independent clerks, or if they had their own in-house team. I needed to get an idea of how much work there was, or if they could ever be swayed into using an independent clerk.

How did you get your first client?

By accident! Before I even had a website, or had properly set myself up. All I had was the name: ADR Inventories.

I’d previously rented out a property through a local estate agent, so I took a chance and asked him if I could possibly get access to some empty properties he may have – just to practise my inventory work. And even though my property is no longer with him, he graciously gave me the opportunity to go and do an inventory report.

Unfortunately, I had an extremely limited time in which to do the report, as the tenant would be moving in rather quickly. In normal circumstances, I would have been very nervous. But as I wasn’t expecting the agent to even look at the report (he already had an inventory clerk he used regularly), I simply went in and did the job to the best of my ability.

I totally expected to keep the report to myself, so when the agent asked for it – and then decided to use it as the sole, official inventory report on that property! – I was elated.

That’s an incredible testimony to your attention to detail, as well as your conscientiousness. And also, a fabulous example of rising to the challenge. Unless you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and change direction, even slightly, you’re not going to discover your full potential, right?

Right!

Any last nuggets of advice you’d like to share with anyone who hasn’t known from a young age what they want to do – or anyone who hasn’t yet achieved their goals – or for those not content with their career choices?

I would say: first of all, don’t be negative about any of that. Accept that there will be many turns in the road – but they don’t need to be disasters or negatives in your life. You just continually need to do whatever makes you happy.

Re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. And as you get older and your wishes change, be prepared to sit and evaluate and decide to change course.

They may not be dramatic changes but just things you can do without, and things you want in life. Those are what you pursue.

And know that this is a positive thing. So instead of sitting in a negative job, thinking, I’m too old; or worrying about other people’s opinions or approval or disapproval… know that you have lots of other choices.

Take strengths and weaknesses out of every role, and think about what you’ve learned along the way. None of this is negative.

I think it’s important to note that mine was a very mild-mannered change. I didn’t go from being a street sweeper to a brain surgeon. I don’t find what I’ve done to be amazing. It’s more a case of being prepared to reflect – and I’m at a stage in life where I’m ready to reflect on, and accept, what I like and don’t like.

What I’ve done isn’t earth-shattering. I’m just continually searching for what gives me that empty head before bed. That’s all I’m ever trying to achieve.

Alex, thank you so much for your time. I’m looking forward to coming back in a year’s time to see how ADR Inventories has grown, and to find out if you’re still enjoying life and being present – or if it’s time to take another break and start a new venture.

I hope not! This role is taking me into my dotage.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Look after your mental state; take time out.

Pursue your passion, follow your heart.

An empty head when you go to bed is all you ever need. 🙂 

You’re a human BEING, not a human ‘doing’. Be present. Stop. Breathe. Live!

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT MONTH on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

A 53-year-old man who’s only just begun to pursue his Big Dream.

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

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SICK & TIRED? LOST YOUR MOJO? WE’VE GOT JUST THE TONIC!

SICK & TIRED? LOST YOUR MOJO? WE’VE GOT JUST THE TONIC!

‘You’ll never lift weights again,’ the weathered nurse said matter-of-factly. ‘You might manage a light grocery bag, but…’

‘Not even a lightweight dumbbell?’ Jo’s lower lip trembled. She swallowed back the lump in her throat as the nurse smiled kindly.

‘Depends on if you want to fully recover.’

‘But…’ Jo took in a deep, shaky breath. The stringent smell of hospital disinfectant assaulted her, turning her stomach. She exhaled, focused on keeping the nausea and tears at bay. ‘I’ve trained in the gym since I was a teenager. I’m a personal trainer now!’

‘I’m sorry.’ The nurse nodded, pressed her lips together, and consulted her notes. ‘Now…’ Her eyes returned to her 33-year-old patient. ‘This surgery will hopefully remove the breast cancer. I know you’ve been through a gruelling six months with the chemo. But it was worth it: the lump’s as small as a pea now. So we’re hoping…’

Jo heard nothing more. Her mind was consumed with the sound of her dreams crashing around her like gigantic waves in a storm-tossed sea…

Fast-forward four years. Today, miraculously, Jo of Tojo Fitness is lifting heavier than ever before and is aiming to compete in a bodybuilding competition by the end of this year!

Motivation

In 2018, Jo’s body had been in a menopausal state with severe muscle atrophy. She had a long road ahead of her, but she was willing to take it slowly to avoid any permanent damage to her left breast and arm.

Whilst back in training, Jo’s confidence began to grow again and she felt passionate about helping others who were on the same path. In her words: ‘The show isn’t over until the fat lady sings, and right now I can’t see any fat lady. And she definitely isn’t welcome on my shift!’ 

Jo’s clientele grew quickly, and consisted of those on a similar path as the one she was on, as well as people with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and M.S. Jo beamed as she stated, ‘It was fantastic to see so many people not taking no for an answer!’

 

Tom & Jo Griffiths are Tojo Fitness: a UK-based holistic health-and-fitness couple who are deeply passionate about equipping everyone to live a long and happy life physically, mentally and spiritually.

They offer a variety of services, including online programming for one’s fitness journey, bespoke meal plans and accountability, 1-2-1 personal training, sports massage, and meditation lessons. And they cater to absolutely everyone: from the super-fit and healthy to those with medical conditions.

post chemotherapy

Jo, Tom, is this something you’ve always felt passionate about? 

Yes! We both began a long-term relationship with health and fitness in our early teens. Even before starting Tojo Fitness we were both extremely involved in the gym and enjoyed a healthy holistic lifestyle. So for us it was a no-brainer to turn this into our livelihood. This is something we live, eat and breathe; it has become a way of life.

 

How did Tojo Fitness come about? 

Jo had been a qualified personal trainer for almost a decade when, in 2017, she discovered she had breast cancer. For some of this journey it was a little touch and go, and we knew that if Jo came out the other side, life wasn’t going to be the same again — it was going to be better!
In 2019 our circumstances changed dramatically. Out of this season of change, Tojo Fitness was birthed. Jo took the leap of faith in July 2019 to start up the business, and Tom joined her shortly thereafter.

We knew we had to live out the passions within us; still, this change was a huge leap of faith — and we’re still enjoying the ride!

 

What’s it like, working together as husband & wife? 

We love working together. Tojo Fitness only works because there is To-Jo (Tom & Jo). We each have different strengths, and we complement each other well.

 

Were your start-up costs affordable? 

Gosh, our start-up costs were hefty! We’d budgeted a certain amount each month towards the set-up costs. And then throughout lockdown, with the gyms being unavailable, we had to invest in our own equipment in order to train clients in the park.

Was your age a hurdle in any way? 

Within the fitness world, we’ve discovered that our experience and ages work in our favour. (Tom is 52; Jo: 38.)

 

How scary was the plunge into self-employment? 

Becoming business owners was a steep learning curve: a life-changing experience. Combine this with relocating (in 2019 we moved to Thanet, leaving our clients behind and having to start all over again) — and the start of COVID… Scary is not the word.

The March 2020 lockdown was one of the most daunting moments for us: it was sink or swim. 

You can do it
You can do it

Was your age a hurdle in any way? 

Within the fitness world, we’ve discovered that our experience and ages work in our favour. (Tom is 52; Jo: 38.)

 

How scary was the plunge into self-employment? 

Becoming business owners was a steep learning curve: a life-changing experience. Combine this with relocating (in 2019 we moved to Thanet, leaving our clients behind and having to start all over again) — and the start of COVID… Scary is not the word.

The March 2020 lockdown was one of the most daunting moments for us: it was sink or swim. 

online training

How challenging was the transition from ’employee’ to ‘Boss’? 

Tom took to it like a duck to water. Jo, not so much. She’d been used to being an employee, so was not used to being her own boss and making her own rules. This took time to get used to, but now she wouldn’t change it for the world. Being self-employed works for us: we love the freedom; we get to decide what appointments to make and when — an incredible feeling!

 

How did COVID-19 affect your business? 

The pandemic had a beneficial effect on our business. Many people wanted to do something positive for their health, and we took our existing clients online. And due to chiropractors and osteopaths being shut, we saw a huge uptake in people with back pain getting the attention they needed by way of flexibility and specific stretching to alleviate the pain. Online was our playground! Our YouTube channel also started to take off.

Where & how do you promote your business? 

We promote our business via Instagram, Facebook and our local gym (War Machines Gym in Ramsgate.) And our existing clients do the selling for us by word of mouth to their friends and family.

 

Any highlights that stick out in your minds? 

We experience regular highlights: when our clients start transforming their body, mind and spirit. We usually begin with clients when they feel at their lowest; it’s such a privilege to see them start to fly and feel that life is for living, not just surviving.

Another highlight for us — and it was a miracle — was how word started to spread and Tojo Fitness began to grow. We trusted the seed in the ground. This didn’t take away the concern as to where our next client was going to come from; but worry doesn’t get us anywhere. We believe you just need to keep sowing the seed of your business, and the fruit will come.

bodybuilding
bodybuilding

Where & how do you promote your business? 

We promote our business via Instagram, Facebook and our local gym (War Machines Gym in Ramsgate.) And our existing clients do the selling for us by word of mouth to their friends and family.

 

Any highlights that stick out in your minds? 

We experience regular highlights: when our clients start transforming their body, mind and spirit. We usually begin with clients when they feel at their lowest; it’s such a privilege to see them start to fly and feel that life is for living, not just surviving.

Another highlight for us — and it was a miracle — was how word started to spread and Tojo Fitness began to grow. We trusted the seed in the ground. This didn’t take away the concern as to where our next client was going to come from; but worry doesn’t get us anywhere. We believe you just need to keep sowing the seed of your business, and the fruit will come.

fitness fiends

We Only Have Good Days!

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running? 

A major aha moment for us was the birth of Zoom. We could take training online! Our business grew more and more online, training clients 1-2-1 via Zoom, than we ever saw on the gym floor. We’d found a niche and this is still a niche to this day. We are extremely thankful for this turning point and continue to try and stay ahead of the game to ensure our ongoing income.

We also realised that qualifying as sports massage therapists would be a natural upsell for us; it certainly has enhanced our business model.

 

What setbacks or disappointments have you experienced? 

Sometimes clients move away, or, for various reasons, are unable to carry on. This is always tough for us on an emotional level. We build relationships with our clients and always find it hard when they are unable to continue. However, we accept that people come and go: this is the way of the seasons of life. 

Who has been your greatest support? 

Our family has been a fantastic support — our cheerleaders — especially pertaining to our online presence. The biggest support we’ve both had is each other.

 

Who inspires you? 

Tom’s greatest motivator and inspiration is the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, for his dedication to the sport of bodybuilding but also as a person. Jo’s biggest inspiration is Dana Lynn Bailey, for her business model, physique, and dedication to the sport of bodybuilding, as well as for her character. Jo lives by one of Dana’s favourite mottos: ‘We only have good days’.

 

Best advice you’ve been given? 

Find your niche. It may look different to everyone else’s — that’s why it’s a niche.

 

Any nuggets of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Allow your dream to become a part of you. If you do this, your dream will start to play itself out, starting from inside you. It will give you the passion, drive and staying power when starting your own business. There may be times you need to find your grit, but stick with it. Live simply, to take the pressure off, and enjoy the ride!

Our life and our business are quite integrated: we live and love what we do. However, there are times when the business can become quite admin heavy, which can be a squeeze to fit in around 1-2-1 clients. Diarising time is key, as is ensuring we stick to those diarised tasks, treating them as important as a business meeting.

Also: be prepared to work extremely hard in the beginning. We knew that times would be tough in the first few months as we built up our client base, so we took our outgoings back to the bare minimum — which at times meant beans on toast. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to build your business!

War Machines

Live Simply and Enjoy The Ride!

War Machines

Live Simply and Enjoy The Ride!

Who has been your greatest support? 

Our family has been a fantastic support — our cheerleaders — especially pertaining to our online presence. The biggest support we’ve both had is each other.

 

Who inspires you? 

Tom’s greatest motivator and inspiration is the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, for his dedication to the sport of bodybuilding but also as a person. Jo’s biggest inspiration is Dana Lynn Bailey, for her business model, physique, and dedication to the sport of bodybuilding, as well as for her character. Jo lives by one of Dana’s favourite mottos: ‘We only have good days’.

 

Best advice you’ve been given? 

Find your niche. It may look different to everyone else’s — that’s why it’s a niche.

 

Any nuggets of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Allow your dream to become a part of you. If you do this, your dream will start to play itself out, starting from inside you. It will give you the passion, drive and staying power when starting your own business. There may be times you need to find your grit, but stick with it. Live simply, to take the pressure off, and enjoy the ride!

Our life and our business are quite integrated: we live and love what we do. However, there are times when the business can become quite admin heavy, which can be a squeeze to fit in around 1-2-1 clients. Diarising time is key, as is ensuring we stick to those diarised tasks, treating them as important as a business meeting.

Also: be prepared to work extremely hard in the beginning. We knew that times would be tough in the first few months as we built up our client base, so we took our outgoings back to the bare minimum — which at times meant beans on toast. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to build your business!

Dancer pose

What would you have done differently? 

We would’ve researched building an online presence earlier into our business.

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Our biggest paradigm shift has been the concept of self-employment: realising that we are our own boss and we now answer only to ourselves. This was one of the hairy-scary moments, but also wonderfully exciting at the same time!

A gigantic learning curve for Tom was having to master coding, so he could build our website. He worked for hours on end, learning and creating, until the finished product was of a standard he was happy with.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those struggling with similar aspects? 

Concentrate on a couple of things at a time; don’t try to do too much, or you’ll spread yourself too thinly. And don’t try to conquer all of your to-do list in one go.

 

What are your future plans? 

We would like to break into the American market with online programming. We also have plans to compete in a bodybuilding show, which will give us a way in to prepping other competitors through their own shows.

 

Sounds like a fabulous plan! I wish you both all the very best in all of your endeavours. You truly are a Power Couple.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those struggling with similar aspects? 

Concentrate on a couple of things at a time; don’t try to do too much, or you’ll spread yourself too thinly. And don’t try to conquer all of your to-do list in one go.

 

What are your future plans? 

We would like to break into the American market with online programming. We also have plans to compete in a bodybuilding show, which will give us a way in to prepping other competitors through their own shows.

 

Sounds like a fabulous plan! I wish you both all the very best in all of your endeavours. You truly are a Power Couple.

READERS! For a chance to win 3 months of online programming plus a meal plan, just do the following 3 things by midnight on 4 February 2022:  (1) FOLLOW Tojo Fitness on Instagram & Facebook; (2) show some love & SHARE this blog post; and  (3) either TAG Tojo Fitness (or Tom/Jo) in your exercise/meditation pics – or COMMENT on the blog post with the tagline: ‘Get your mojo with Tojo’.

 

By the way, I’d love to hear your views: What does ‘spirituality’ mean to you? And what about ‘meditation’? And ‘wholeness’? Add your comments below.

 

Tom & Jo Griffiths are both accredited, qualified level 4 Personal Trainers, as well as low back pain specialists, nutritionists with the Royal Society of Public Health, and level 3 sports masseurs. Their list of additional qualifications includes Pre- and Post-Natal Exercise and Nutrition.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

NO ONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MY LIFE BUT ME.

WORK YOUR PASSION. FOLLOW YOUR BLISS. 

KEEP SOWING THE SEED OF YOUR BUSINESS, AND THE FRUIT WILL COME.

FIND YOUR NICHE. IT MAY LOOK DIFFERENT TO EVERYONE ELSE’S — THAT’S WHY IT’S A NICHE.

LIVE SIMPLY. LOVE MUCH. LAUGH LOTS.

 

FYI…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT WEEK on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

A Rocket Scientist (yes, really!) turned movie producer who’s on a mission to make a difference in the world of breast cancer.

Inspiration. Motivation. Hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

Arathi Rajagopalan

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

Arathi Rajagopalan

 

Arathi, let’s dive right in. What makes HoK special? 

Every person has a unique story to tell. At House of Kalart, we bring out the spirit of each story and showcase it through our products and services. Avant-garde jewellery inspired by arts & crafts around the world for the quintessentially free-spirited woman with a zest for life.

We aim to provide a holistic fashion experience for the bold and dramatic women all around the world.

 

Were your start-up costs affordable? 

HoK is a bootstrapped business. I took a bit from my savings, and my mother (my business partner) invested a bit. I may not be able to scale up fast, because of limited funds, however we have been growing gradually and I am happy with it.

 

Was your age, gender, or lack of a university degree a hurdle in any way? 

No, none of these have ever been a hurdle. I have mostly been able to do what I have wanted to do.

 

fairy on moon
multicolour earrings

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

multicolour earrings

When did you officially start your business? 

HoK was established in Chennai, India, in September 2017, and we started selling from February 2018.

 

Is your mother a ‘silent partner’? 

My mother is actually the numbers woman, and I handle the rest.

The brand name, Kalart, is a combination of both our names: Kala and Arathi (aka Art). Our names also mean ‘art’, which is what our products are all about.

 

Is House of Kalart your fulltime occupation? 

Yes. However, I do freelance as a costume designer for movies — but only for a friend who is a director. We recently worked on our first commercial feature film, which is scheduled for a 2022 release.

 

handpainted
cubic zirconia earrings

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

cubic zirconia earrings

How scary was the plunge into working for yourself? 

It was actually pretty exciting. Like most creative people, I hate to follow a routine; the best part of working in my entrepreneurial venture is that every day is different. One day it’s all about designing, sourcing, and so on, while other days are all about handling accounts and other administrative work. Some days are all about planning marketing, social media, my calendar, events and networking. I absolutely don’t miss the monotony of corporate life.

 

Who has been your greatest support? 

My family has been pretty supportive and my networking group has also been a boon.

glitzy ring
mermaid pendant

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

mermaid pendant

Would you have done anything differently, in hindsight? 

Every step of my journey has been a learning curve, and I continue to learn every day. That makes me a better business owner and a better person. I would not want to change anything. One thing I would definitely like to improve on, however, is my tendency to procrastinate.

delicate earrings
pink green yellow

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

pink green yellow

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt? 

At first, my sales were drastically affected — in fact, they went down to zero — as HoK wasn’t online when COVID hit. But I was able to manage with my styling projects. During that time, I also took the opportunity to upskill myself and make time to network and build relationships.

The pandemic motivated me to finally take the brand online. I’d always wanted to reach out to global audiences, and at last I was able to do so.

 

Where do you promote your business? 

The brand is now predominantly an e-commerce business. We mainly sell through the HoK website and are available on a few online marketplaces, like Afday, Lbb, and Amazon. We used to actively participate at art fairs before the pandemic, but these have come to a halt for now.

red and gold earrings
white earrings

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

white earrings

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running? 

There are so many! A recent one comes to mind: I was struggling to categorise the products to fit my varied client profiles. Then I met a lady, in a networking group, who offered a free thirty-minute customer persona identification call. That literally switched a light on in my head. I had so much clarity and was able to add new ranges and categorise the brand to fit all my clients’ needs.

And then there was a client of mine who told me she loved art so much, she wished she could wear paintings. I told her I could help her with that; I could paint something for her on jewellery. She said she liked sunsets, so I painted an abstract sunset on a pair of statement earrings. And when I gave the earrings to her, the joy she expressed was beyond words. That day I knew: I was doing something right; I am making a difference to some of my clients.

seagreen necklace
green blue butterfly

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

green blue butterfly

With your vision and determination, Arathi, I am confident you will make it happen!

Tell me, what is the best advice you’ve been given? 

The best advice I’ve ever received is: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst response will be a no, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And it works! The help that comes your way when you ask is unbelievable.

 

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

First of all, see your business as an extension of your identity. Second: everything can be learned gradually and you don’t have to do it all at once, or alone. Ask for help. Third: Never compare your beginning with the grown businesses of your peers. And most important of all: Always believe in yourself.

dangling xs
BBF pairing

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

BBF pairing

GOOD TO KNOW: HoK ships worldwide. If you find their express shipping option a bit pricey, why not order your Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day gifts — or future birthday gifts for your BFF or special person in your life — now? Then you can afford to wait a bit longer for your package to arrive — and save some cash at the same time.

FYI: There’s a handy currency converter on the HoK site.

If you have any questions, you can contact Arathi at contact@houseofkalart.com

 

You can also follow HoK on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

House of Kalart logo

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

WORK YOUR PASSION

BE BOLDLY YOU

UPSKILL YOURSELF

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

GET YOUR IDEAS AND PRODUCTS VALIDATED

ASK FOR HELP. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

SEE YOUR BUSINESS AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR IDENTITY

NEVER COMPARE YOUR BEGINNING WITH THE GROWN BUSINESS OF YOUR PEERS

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP . . .

Next week: Motherhood motivated this talented artist to quit her comfortable job and go it alone. Was it a good idea? Just one look at her Christmas collection will give you the answer.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS . . . AUTHENTOLOGY

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS . . . AUTHENTOLOGY

Meet Melanie Hatjigiannakis, CEO of Authentology AB.

Taking on the Herculean responsibility of creating a start-up and driving it toward success was not an easy decision. But Melanie, a highly experienced business mentor, has never shied away from a challenge.

To find out just how demanding her journey has been, keep reading.

And Discover…

12 PERFECT GIFTS* for every budget.

Plus a 15% discount!

*WARNING: You’ll want them all for yourself.  I know I do. #ChristmasWishlist

 

Meet Melanie Hatjigiannakis, CEO of Authentology AB.

Taking on the Herculean responsibility of creating a start-up and driving it toward success was not an easy decision. But Melanie, a highly experienced business mentor, has never shied away from a challenge.

To find out just how demanding her journey has been, keep reading.

And Discover…

12 PERFECT GIFTS* for every budget.

Plus a 15% discount!

*WARNING: You’ll want them all for yourself.  I know I do. #ChristmasWishlist

 

 

 

In Melanie’s words, this is the story of Authentology:

 

‘In an age of mass-production and commercialisation, Authentology is a destination for the creative worldly women who long for fashion accessories, stationery, and homeware that aren’t found on the shelves of stores everywhere.

Every collection is the creation of a new world for the woman of today who is chic, self reliant and unapologetically herself.

We like to call it defiant elegance with the right amount of effortless cool…

 

 

The Authentology Story continued…

‘Born 2020 in Sweden, our brand encourages self-discovery, the honoring of who you are and who you aspire to be.

Our mission has always been to source pieces that allow you to express yourself in your own authentic way through your wardrobe and home at an affordable price.

Every item is sourced with care, an eye for detail, and a passion for old-world craftmanship, ensuring that any treasure you find at Authentology is unique, just like you.

We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity that we use to source our products, to help inspire conscious consumerism through sustainable fashion.

We want our customers to feel at peace about their impact on the planet and the people who crafted the items you purchase from us.’

 

The Authentology Story continued…

‘Born 2020 in Sweden, our brand encourages self-discovery, the honoring of who you are and who you aspire to be.

Our mission has always been to source pieces that allow you to express yourself in your own authentic way through your wardrobe and home at an affordable price.

Every item is sourced with care, an eye for detail, and a passion for old-world craftmanship, ensuring that any treasure you find at Authentology is unique, just like you.

We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity that we use to source our products, to help inspire conscious consumerism through sustainable fashion.

We want our customers to feel at peace about their impact on the planet and the people who crafted the items you purchase from us.’

With an introduction like that, I feel like saying anything more would be superfluous. However, let’s delve a little deeper, into the heart of Authentology.

Mel, when did Authentology actually ‘go live’?

Born 2020 in Sweden, we went live in July 2021.

 

Do you run the company alone or do you have help?

As the CEO I manage the daily running of the business together with a small number of outside consultants.

 

What made you decide to take on the daunting role of CEO of a start-up?

Does desperation count? Because that’s the honest truth. (Thank you, COVID.)

 

(We’ll come back to that…) How scary was the plunge?

Heart-stopping but exhilarating.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

Did you need qualifications of any kind?

25+ years of senior management experience running companies and advising other companies has been a blessing.

 

Was your age, gender, or any other aspect a hurdle in any way?

Being a woman in male-dominated sectors has always been an issue. It is incredibly challenging for a woman to climb the corporate ladder. But if you want it badly enough you learn to find a way. Never give up. Never surrender!

(Something tells me Ms Hatjigiannakis would’ve given Churchill a run for his money.) 

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And: find a mentor — it will change your life. But the best advice I’ve ever received, which I use in my private life as well, is this: ‘If you are in a relationship, be it work or private, and you are not getting 51% out of it, then walk away.’ It may sound harsh, but it has stood me in good stead up to now.

Did you need qualifications of any kind?

25+ years of senior management experience running companies and advising other companies has been a blessing.

 

Was your age, gender, or any other aspect a hurdle in any way?

Being a woman in male-dominated sectors has always been an issue. It is incredibly challenging for a woman to climb the corporate ladder. But if you want it badly enough you learn to find a way. Never give up. Never surrender!

(Something tells me Ms Hatjigiannakis would’ve given Churchill a run for his money.) 

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And: find a mentor — it will change your life. But the best advice I’ve ever received, which I use in my private life as well, is this: ‘If you are in a relationship, be it work or private, and you are not getting 51% out of it, then walk away.’ It may sound harsh, but it has stood me in good stead up to now.

Can you tell us a little about your career history?

I went from being a CEO of a South African trade/regulatory association responsible for a R3.5 billion per annum sector (vacation ownership — property) to starting a management consultancy business in the UK. Once COVID hit, I ran out of work and so I decided to take up the offer of running an ecommerce start-up in Sweden, namely Authentology.

I have always been eager to try new things, and this is evident in my career history. I’ve always worked, since graduating from High School at the age of 17, and my first job was in finance. I also tend to be drawn to very male-dominated sectors, for some inexplicable reason. I went from Finance (Banking) to Insurance, followed by forays into Alcohol, Hospitality/Tourism and Management Consulting… and now here I am in ecommerce.

I love working and, yes, it does define me, seeing as I have spent such a large proportion of my life working and traveling. Most of the knowledge I have acquired has been through work. I can honestly say I have had the privilege of collaborating with some extremely talented individuals from around the world.

My work has also made me more culturally tolerant and emotionally intelligent, as I have been fortunate enough to live and work in some fantastic countries, such as South Africa, the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden, the USA, Malaysia, and Australia, to mention a few.

How did COVID-19 affect Authentology?

The business started during COVID. As the pandemic pushed people to shop online, starting an ecommerce business was a good fit.

Where do you promote the business? How important is word of mouth?

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Word of mouth is worth gold, but a social media influencer’s referral is worth diamonds. Regrettably, getting an influencer on board costs a fortune for small business.

Any highlights that stand out in your mind?

This company took a lot of research: almost two years. Only once I knew as much as possible did I start drafting a business plan. The highlight, after all that hard work, was obtaining first-round funding.

How did COVID-19 affect Authentology?

The business started during COVID. As the pandemic pushed people to shop online, starting an ecommerce business was a good fit.

Where do you promote the business? How important is word of mouth?

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Word of mouth is worth gold, but a social media influencer’s referral is worth diamonds. Regrettably, getting an influencer on board costs a fortune for small business.

Any highlights that stand out in your mind?

This company took a lot of research: almost two years. Only once I knew as much as possible did I start drafting a business plan. The highlight, after all that hard work, was obtaining first-round funding.

What have been your worst moments so far? The times you’ve been at your lowest.

One of my greatest disappointments, which I still feel today, is that after moving from South Africa to the UK and looking for work, I discovered to my horror that all the senior executive work experience I had — covering more than 20 years — appeared to be meaningless.

I struggled to get any interviews. I spent a fortune having my CV written by professionals, polishing my LinkedIn profile, and so on. But because my experience was not ‘specialised’ it seemed that recruiters just simply did not know where to put me. Pigeonholing is a huge issue: if you don’t fit in a ‘box’, you’re difficult to position in the market.

I find this very strange, especially in an age where companies are moving away from very rigid corporate structures (Silos) and, instead, are pursuing more innovative approaches to corporate structure. This means that employees with experience in multiple business disciplines are being sought after.

This issue is not localised to the UK; it is also something I have recently experienced in Sweden. I don’t like to generalise, as I do know of companies who embrace non-sector-specific work-experience individuals. Regrettably, though, the problem does still cover the vast majority of the employment market.

I am also a firm believer in the fact that sector knowledge can be learnt. After all, when you study at university you are taught business skills in a particular topic, e.g. marketing, which is not industry specific at all. And I don’t seem to be alone in this thinking. One only has to look at the individuals who are disrupting sectors with innovative ideas: most of them come from outside that sector.

Word of Mouth is Worth Gold

What would you have done differently?

Taken a job with an established company instead of risking everything for a start-up… Jokes aside, I would have researched the employment market in the UK before leaving South Africa, and better prepared myself for entering that market.

I also would have built up a better work network for the UK, as it’s not always what you know but who you know.

 

What was your steepest learning curve — the most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Getting traffic to the website, as you’re competing with ecommerce stores from all over the world.

 

What would you have done differently?

Taken a job with an established company instead of risking everything for a start-up… Jokes aside, I would have researched the employment market in the UK before leaving South Africa, and better prepared myself for entering that market.

I also would have built up a better work network for the UK, as it’s not always what you know but who you know.

 

What was your steepest learning curve — the most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Getting traffic to the website, as you’re competing with ecommerce stores from all over the world.

 

Who has been your greatest support?

My greatest support throughout my career has come from my business mentors (they know who they are). I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting with that senior leader who is willing to offer guidance and advice, especially for women moving into senior roles. It is not easy: it may take a few tries to find that person who just clicks with you and understands the support and level of encouragement you need.

I am currently registered as a business and student mentor for LinkedIn and have offered advice and counselling to start-ups, SMEs, CEOs and new graduates from around the world.

My life partner and family have been my second greatest support. They are your essential and I thank them so much.

Without Failure We Do Not Learn

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs — and/or for women in male-dominated sectors?

Find a mentor. Start looking for one now, no matter what stage you are at. It’s very important to connect with the right mentor. It took me more than 10 years to find mine. Personal coaches are also very good if you need someone to help you focus on future career paths, or just as a sounding board. Because when you move up to senior executive positions it gets very lonely from a work perspective, as you can’t really confide in co-workers and definitely not in junior employees.

Another bit of advice: do the research. And then do more research before even thinking of starting a business. Be prepared to give up all your free time, family time, and holiday time, because running a business takes a lot of work.

And accept that you will make mistakes. But don’t see them as failures; rather see them as opportunities to learn. Thomas Edison, when developing the filament for the light bulb, once said, ‘I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.’ Without failure we do not learn. And if we do not learn, we do not innovate — for innovation and failure go hand-in-hand.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs — and/or for women in male-dominated sectors?

Find a mentor. Start looking for one now, no matter what stage you are at. It’s very important to connect with the right mentor. It took me more than 10 years to find mine. Personal coaches are also very good if you need someone to help you focus on future career paths, or just as a sounding board. Because when you move up to senior executive positions it gets very lonely from a work perspective, as you can’t really confide in co-workers and definitely not in junior employees.

Another bit of advice: do the research. And then do more research before even thinking of starting a business. Be prepared to give up all your free time, family time, and holiday time, because running a business takes a lot of work.

And accept that you will make mistakes. But don’t see them as failures; rather see them as opportunities to learn. Thomas Edison, when developing the filament for the light bulb, once said, ‘I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.’ Without failure we do not learn. And if we do not learn, we do not innovate — for innovation and failure go hand-in-hand.

What are your future plans?

Now that I have completed my project as CEO of Authentology, Sweden, I am looking for a new long-term opportunity back in the UK so that I can be closer to family and my ageing father.

We wish you all the best with that, Mel. You certainly must be an exciting prospect for any switched-on employer!

One last question. Did you say you had a SPECIAL OFFER for readers of this blog?

Yes! A 15% discount. Just pop onto the Authentology website and use **Discount Code SAVE15 at checkout. (Offer expires 15 February 2022. Just in time to get that Valentine’s Day something special for her.)

That’s a generous offer, thank you! I assume **the discount code will only work after the current ‘15% off’ SALE ends on 26 December?

That’s right. The code, in effect, extends the sale for you until 15 February.

WOW. Well, I’m certainly not going to wait: I don’t want the stock to run out before I get there. #timetoshop

GOOD TO KNOW: Authentology ships worldwide. AND they generously offer FREE SHIPPING on all purchases over £50.

Oh, by the way: there’s a handy currency converter on the top left-hand side of the site’s main menu.

What are you still doing here? 

HURRY! Place your orders at Authentology ASAP to get your goodies in time for Christmas & snag that fabulous discount!

You can also follow Authentology on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER SURRENDER!

WORK YOUR PASSION

FIND A MENTOR

EXPRESS YOURSELF

WORD OF MOUTH IS WORTH GOLD

SECTOR KNOWLEDGE CAN BE LEARNT

WITHOUT FAILURE WE DO NOT LEARN

INNOVATION & FAILURE GO HAND IN HAND

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER

CATCH ON TO CONSCIOUS CONSUMERISM

SUSTAINABLE FASHION IS HOT! (Just ask Benedict Cumberbatch.)

And here’s one for discussion:

SHOULD PIGEONHOLING BE POOH-POOHED?

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP . . .

Next week: An incredible artist who designs & creates ‘art you can wear’. And you’ll want to wear these pieces, I PROMISE.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

HAVE YOURSELF A CANNY LI’L CHRISTMAS

HAVE YOURSELF A CANNY LI’L CHRISTMAS

Ami Hansen is an intrepid, bubbly Geordie living in Blyth, U.K.  Just over three years ago, with no training and a demanding fulltime NHS job, she started up The Canny Wreath Co. — creating beautiful handmade bespoke wreaths.

But she didn’t stop there. Quickly she branched out into garlands, centerpieces and door hangings… not just for Christmas but for every occasion! 

Bursting with ideas, it wasn’t long before Ami launched a sister company: The Canny Custom Co. — her outlet for bespoke printing. The range includes her ever-popular custom-made thermos-controlled tumblers with fabulous toppers, as well as t-shirts, baubles, dog treat tins, bags, keyrings and pillowcases.

Whether you’re thinking of starting up a business, or you’re just in need of motivation to take the plunge into the unknown, you will be inspired by Ami’s story. Read about her journey: how she quit her fulltime job and battled through depression and grief to follow her creative passions.

Below are excerpts from my in-depth interview with Ami, as well as fabulous Christmas decor options & Christmas stocking fillers for everyone!

Ami, what was your lightbulb moment?

It was me husband Andy’s lightbulb moment, actually. It all started with a Pinterest photo of a wooden tray with pine cones and candles. As soon as I saw it, I decided I would make something similar as a Christmas decoration. That’s how I ended up at Hobbycraft with me mam and Andy. As it turned out, the tray never got made as I couldn’t find the perfect size. But it had sparked something inside me, because while we were in the shop, me mam said, ‘Can you make us a wreath for Christmas?’ and I immediately said I’d try. I’ve always been creative, so I thought: why not?

We got some bits while we were there, and I took everything home and made me mam a wreath — and she loved it. And then, me cousin saw it and asked me to make her one. Then somebody else asked for one after that… Throughout all of this, I was just doing it as a hobby.

Then, one day, Andy said, ‘You should try and take this somewhere.’

I immediately said no. I didn’t think I was good enough. I had no faith at all in meself. But Andy kept encouraging me. He believed in me from the get go. And I kept giving excuses: ‘I wouldn’t know what to call it. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere…’

But Andy saw something I didn’t. So he kept trying to persuade me to do something with it, and he kept on encouraging me. I mean, he just harped on and on. I guess, maybe because of that, I did have sort of a lightbulb moment, because it just popped into me head one day: The Canny Wreath Co. That minute, on the 15th of November 2018, my company was born!

When did you know you were onto something good?

When people were willing to pay for something I’d made! I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden we were doing loads of orders. Nearer Christmas — in my first month — I received orders for, and made and delivered, 52 wreaths! I was gobsmacked. Then, after Christmas, the ideas just kept coming. And that’s when I thought: Right. I’m going to do this for every occasion.

I didn’t think I was good enough.

How scary was the plunge into working for yourself?

Terrifying. It’s the fear that’s stopping me from quitting me part-time NHS job. I’ve said to meself a million times: I’m going to quit. But it’s scary. If I don’t make any business, then I don’t have any money. This arrangement gives us the comfort of knowing we’ll always have a wage coming in. Especially during a slow month. January and February I’m lucky if I get any orders. I don’t think I’m ready to do it. Quitting me fulltime job was enough for now.

How has your day-to-day life changed?

I went from working Monday to Friday, set hours, and your weekends are your own. But now me work’s at home, so a lot of the time I’m still working at 1.30am. My life has massively changed in that respect. I’m always on me phone because I’m always replying to order queries, or sending over artwork, or giving people ideas for gifts. I’m just constantly working.

Is there an unforgettable moment that stands out in your mind?

The biggest highlight has been making a brilliant connection with an Influencer on Instagram. Two years ago, we sent a Christmas wreath to @cleaning_with_mario and it got us a massive Scottish following. And a lot of them are still loyal customers. Mario is a genuinely canny guy and he’s made the most incredible difference to us. I gained a load of business, but the most important thing is: I gained a friend.

What effect did the pandemic have on your job and your business?

I was a fulltime NHS employee, so I worked through the entire lockdown, in awful Covid conditions. A lot of people, during that time, went mad for ‘Support Small Business’ and my business boomed, because people had to stay indoors, so they were bored, so everyone was buying. We released a new wreath during this time: the Rainbow Rose. And we gave a £5 donation to the NHS with every one sold. People went mad for them. Then it was coming into spring and summer, and people were placing orders for the seasonal wreaths. And then they started ordering Christmas wreaths early. And then they saw the Halloween options, and they started ordering those too. It was brilliant.

How do you juggle the time for two businesses and a job?

I quit my fulltime job a year ago and now work part-time as a healthcare assistant for the NHS. It fits in fine as it doesn’t start until 6pm, so I have the day to do my business. I must admit, though, I work long hours on my own business. During the lead-up to Christmas and other busy seasons, I usually end up working from early morning until early morning.

What can I do to stand out?

How important is word of mouth?

Incredibly important! I get a lot of new customers from recommendations. I have wonderful, loyal customers. Many are locals. Some smaller businesses too. My regular customers are usually the ones who are telling everyone they know about us, and I’m so grateful for them.

Any memorable lightbulb moments once your business was up and running?

A big lightbulb moment happened after that first Christmas. I’d only been set up a couple of months, and I was constantly wondering: What can I do to stand out? That was when I started moving onto the mesh. Not happy to be mediocre, I was up in the loft all on me own, in the freezing cold, with all the cobwebs, and I stayed there for hours, just trying different ways to use the mesh… I wanted my wreaths to be more than just green rings with a couple of flowers on them. I wanted to be different. With Halloween in mind, I painted some zombie hands and put them on a wreath, together with a ‘BOO’ sign. And people went crazy. And I thought: Right, this is the way to go. This is standing out.

Was there ever a time you did not think you would be able to go on?

Two deeply personal family issues knocked me for six: the death of me closest relative, and Andy being diagnosed with cancer. They happened right on top of one another and I struggled to keep going with me business. But I had a lot of support and people around me who believed in me, and so I managed to carry on. Nothing really compares to these two instances, but two ‘minor’ (in the big scheme of things) situations also got me down, due to extreme exhaustion…

A couple of years ago. I was trying to tie a bow with me hands, and I couldn’t do it. I mean, I can tie shoes and I can tie a bow — but actually creating a beautiful bow by hand is incredibly difficult. So there I was, sat on the living room floor, and I was getting frustrated, and I was getting worse and worse. And I just said to Andy, ‘I can’t do this. It’s just too much. I can’t do it.’ It was the stress of knowing that I had to get these done and I had Christmas coming up… That was me first meltdown. Thankfully, Andy encouraged me and persuaded me — and now I absolutely pride meself on how well I can tie a bow.

Another low point happened when we released the Poppy Wreaths. I didn’t expect to sell many and so I wasn’t prepared for the amount of orders that flooded in. I was so proud. But I was exhausted, too. We had it all set up in the kitchen — there were just poppies everywhere — and it was 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, and me and Andy had been working all day, and it got to the point where I just thought: I can’t do another petal. I can’t do it. I cried me eyes out. ‘It’s too much,’ I said. ‘It’s too much to do this on me own, in the house, I can’t do it anymore.’ Of course, as a result of fatigue, I was over-emotional. And of course, Andy came to the rescue. He always pulls me out of it, every time. He sent us to bed that night, and I woke up the next morning and I was fine.

What sparked the idea for The Canny Custom Co.?

I was getting some printed metal signs made by another company, for me wreaths, and I said to me dad, ‘We need to work out how to do this, because I’m paying £9 for one sign.’ So I was either losing a load of money or I was massively putting me prices up, and I pride meself on not having huge prices, because I’m not in the game to rip people off. So, after months of research, we eventually figured out the whole process, and I bought everything I needed to make the signs. And then I practised and it was terrible! I was so bad at it. But I just kept practising — and now they’re flawless! And that’s how The Canny Custom Co. came to be. All because I didn’t want to pay nine quid for one sign, because I knew that if I tried hard enough I could make one meself.

Were your start-up costs affordable? Did you have to get a loan?

I’ve never got a loan. I’ve always paid for everything out of me own pocket, from me wages. I slowly built everything up. Me stock — the stuff we have now — for both businesses is massive. But it’s taken — this is me fourth Christmas — until last Christmas to really get somewhere with it. Me start-up costs weren’t ‘affordable’ in the sense that I spent a lot of money practising to get things right. It cost me a fortune to launch The Canny Custom Co. because I had to buy expensive, quality materials and equipment. For me just to buy the tumbler — without the printing on it, as I do all that meself — is expensive. I don’t make much money on them at all. But I just love to do them.

Who has been your greatest support?

Andy has been the best support ever. And me dad. Me mam, me sister. Me grandma and grandda. Andy has supported me through the absolute worst and the absolute best. When I’m working, he’ll just pop his head in and give me a quick kiss and say, ‘You know, I’m really proud of you.’ And that just makes me heart full.

KNOW YOUR WORTH

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

First: Know your worth. Second: I used to take an order and make it, and it would sit around the house until somebody paid, and I would get frustrated. Until somebody told me: ‘You’ve got a business. Run it like a business. You wouldn’t go into Boots and not pay for your stuff. People order and pay for your stuff, and then you make it. Simple as that.’ Third, and this is the most important bit of advice: Cash is king.

What are your future plans?

I would love a nice big unit where I could put both of the businesses in. That would be it… I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to keep selling me stuff.

Do you have any advice for other wanna-be entrepreneurs?

Never give up! Also: don’t expect something to happen within the first week or the first month, or even the first twelve months. Don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight. Don’t expect a quick buck — cos you’ll not get one. Expect to be tired and ratty. But don’t give up. Keep pushing. And believe in your product, whatever it is. If you’re a hairdresser, and you want to start up on your own: believe that you can cut somebody’s hair the best. If you’re a dog walker, believe that you’ll give somebody’s dog the best exercise… As long as you believe in yourself, you’ll not give up. Oh, and don’t just do it for money; do it to get your creativity out there.

What has been your steepest learning curve?

Hand-tying beautiful bows! You’ve got no idea of the absolute carnage that went on in this house while I was trying to hand-tie bows. That’s definitely been the most difficult thing.

Did you need training of any kind? Or are you just naturally talented?

I’m completely self taught. Qualifications don’t necessarily make people better. Natural talent counts for a lot. I put all of me into every creation. That’s worth a lot, I think. And I’ve practised and practised and practised until I got it right. And then I kept practising until I made something worth selling. I think that counts for a lot too.

And finally, Ami, what are your most popular products?

From The Canny Wreath Co: Wreaths and garlands for doors, mantelpieces, windowsills… I can fulfil any measurements and colours as they’re custom made. There’s a huge variety.

From The Canny Custom Co: Our custom-made tumblers make perfect stocking fillers and Secret Santa gifts. A printed, thermo-controlled tumbler with a leak-proof lid and a reusable straw is £18, and there are hundreds of choices. A lot of people get Toppers added onto the tumblers, which will be a bit extra, however, the end result is gorgeous!

 

(And so is Ami — absolutely gorgeous and just plain canny. It was a delight to interview her.)

By the way, ‘canny’, in Geordie slang, means: lovely or nice. e.g. If you met a nice person, you’d say she’s canny. Or you could say, ‘Look at this canny little cupcake.’ Or: ‘Wow. What a canny wreath!’

 

Did you enjoy the Excerpt? 

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

WHETHER YOU THINK YOU CAN OR THINK YOU CANNY — YOU’RE RIGHT.

PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT EXCELLENCE.

BELIEVE YOU CAN — WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT. DARE TO BE YOU.

KNOW YOUR WORTH.

RUN YOUR BUSINESS LIKE A BUSINESS.

CASH IS KING.

NEVER GIVE UP.

BELIEVE IN YOUR PRODUCT.

WORK YOUR PASSION.

KEEP GOING. KEEP PUSHING. YOU CAN DO IT!

A SUPPORTIVE PARTNER, FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER IS INVALUABLE.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

HURRY! Place your orders at The Canny Wreath Co. & The Canny Custom Co. to get your goodies in time for Christmas! (All prices are on their website.) They ship worldwide.

You can also follow the Canny companies on Facebook & Instagram.

COMING UP . . .

Next week:  A fearless CEO who deals in beautiful authentic handmade gifts you’ll want for yourself.

If you subscribe to my weekly newsletter (it’s brief, I promise!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂