This week I‘m interviewing Carole Heaton from Holmemade With Love, a local crafter, designer and producer of beautiful hand-made gifts and home goods, living in the gorgeous Holme Valley. We talk about what is really important to her in her business, where she’d like to take it and what has made her most proud, amongst plenty of other things.
I first met Carole at the Christmas Rural Fair in Holmbridge that she organises at St David’s Church where her husband is the vicar. She was running a stall of her lovely gifts and I was particularly drawn to her Tree pictures (you know me local tree-hugger). I was with my friend at the time and she said she’d buy me one for my birthday coming up in January.
Carole then explained I could add a personalised phrase underneath which just made it even better for me, I eventually chose this to link it to our family values :
And to be honest this is pretty much how we live our lives (maybe the tree is working its magic!).
Since then I’ve seen her at art festivals and fairs and have always come back with something! I’ve bought cute little lavender bags, Christmas decorations and recently a fabric storage bowl for a friend and why? Not only because these items are obviously gorgeous but it’s also the fact that I’m supporting a local independent business and I get great personal customer service, which in this day and age (gosh I sound like my mum!) is a rare quality indeed! So, lets dive in and find out how Holmemade With Love came about!
Tell me about your business, what it is that you do and how long has it been going.
This is where I really struggle to define what I do, but rather than just say I make pretty things!, which is my default description, I’ll go with what I put on my business card! So, I make personalised home décor, cards and gifts for all ages, made lovingly by me.
I started out in 2015 by taking over the running of the Church’s Christmas fair and decided to do my own stall. That went really well and my niece, who sells on Etsy and Not on The Highstreet suggested I should have a go at setting up a shop too, so I opened up my Etsy shop in January 2016 and have been selling on there and at craft fairs ever since.
Was this a long-held dream or something out of the blue?
I always crafted and created as a child but it wasn’t something I planned on becoming a business originally. I wanted to be several other things, a teacher (like my mum), an architect or an Interior Designer (but only if they had similar tastes to me!).
Were you creative as a child, what kind of things did you like to do?
Yes! I learned sewing from my mum and would make outfits for my dolls, line them all up and teach them as if we were at school! At Uni I made my own ball gown.
What was your first job?
Working on a sweet stall on a market! So, my passion for craft fairs began at an early age! I wanted the fruit and veg stall but there were no places, I think I was about 14. The stall owner promoted me to look after it and I then employed my cousin! We got free sweets too!
Where did your jobs / career go from there, prior to running this business?
I went to Uni and got a first-class degree in Production Management. I liked doing a subject that used maths to solve problems and found I really enjoyed the operational research side so I applied for roles doing this at British Coal and British Gas through the Uni’s ‘milk round’ process (where companies come in and interview the best students). Both companies offered me positions but I chose British Gas as they had an office in Leeds, the other was in London.
However, it turned out the role wasn’t what I’d initially gone for, so after 2 years I applied for a secondment into the Accounts department and got all my accounting qualifications. Since then I worked lots of different roles in my 24 year’s service with British Gas and the other companies it changed in to, from engineering to planning and general management!
Was there a key moment that led to you choosing to run your own business?
Yes, I became ill from a virus that then became M.E (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) See notes at end for more on this condition. I loved my career but after a long time on sick leave I eventually had to give up my job and focus on my health.
What are your business values / mission statement or what are your aims for the business?
The things that are really important to me in my business are great personal customer service and the quality of my products. I’m proud to say I’ve never had one complaint on either of these aspects.
I like having that personal connection and relationship with my customers and that’s why they keep coming back to me, which I love. It feels like a privilege to be part of people’s lives and occasions, such as 70th birthday, a wedding or mother’s day for example, and because I can make things bespoke, it becomes really special for me and them.
Quality is really important to me too, if it’s not right, I’ll start again!
How much has your life changed now that you are doing this for yourself?
It means I can manage my energy levels and work when I feel well enough to, I can just manage my health much better than before. So many of us in this kind of work have chronic health conditions and this kind of creative work can be therapeutic and have well-being benefits, so it’s a good fit for us. Plus, it’s much easier to have P.J days!
What is the best thing about working in a creative way?
Being creative is what we are meant to be, it nourishes the soul. People need to recognise what their creative talent is, everybody has one – it’s just different things from music to art to writing, we all have something within us.
What are the positives of running your own business and of course the harder parts too?
I have more time for the children, I have two boys, it’s a much more flexible way of working and my husband doesn’t get a lot of time off. There’s so much more freedom, no imposed deadlines and no long commute!
The downside however is the drop in money coming in and for some loneliness working on your own from home. I’m lucky in that I’ve built a community around me of local friends who also work from home, retired people and Insta friends too.
How do you feel when you are doing your creative work?
More mindful and relaxed.
What is your favourite product to make and what is your best-seller?
Ooo this is a hard one! I like the variety of making lots of different things but if I had to pick one at the moment it would be my ‘yarn bowl / project bag’ that are proving popular because they are so versatile and can be used for all sorts!
My best seller is the tree picture, that’s been going the longest, these are personalised and come in so many colours so it keeps it interesting. I had a customer once that had me make 3 different coloured tree pictures but all with the same message that said ‘Thank you for saving my life’, it makes you wonder what their story was and I was grateful to be able to make them for her.
What are your plans for the future, where would you like to take your business?
I keep pondering sometimes whether I should niche down and have a smaller quantity of products but there is no one product that stands out as a bad seller.
I’ve thought about providing workshops in the past so I might revisit that as I’m very social and enjoy chatting to people!
I’d like to refresh my cushion collection as they’ve been around a while now and I’d like to get back into writing blog posts and update my website in general with improved photography.
Note; Tip to other creatives – Carole created her own photo backgrounds such as a white brick wall for her photography and uses photo boards too – that way she can move products into the best light etc and it gives a clean modern look – they look brilliant in the background!
What would you say to someone who is thinking about turning their hobby / creative passion into something more, a small business?
I’d say it depends on the person and what they want to get out of it. There’s so much to think about when running your own business so you have to be comfortable wearing lots of different hats; you have to think up the creative ideas, do your own promotion, pricing, packaging, accounting, branding and even think about stock storage or it takes over your house! And you have to put yourself out there to get noticed through social media etc.
You also need a good support network like I said before or it can get lonely. It’s also not an easy playing field these days either as the market is so saturated so you have to be prepared to work really hard.
What have you learned about yourself, along the way, whilst setting up and running your business?
Resilience and confidence in my ability via lovely comments from my customers. Also, that I have a real eye for colour matching which comes naturally to me and I’m grateful for. Plus, it’s highlighted something that I’ve always known, that I’m really risk averse, but I’m working on that!
What are your top tips for anyone starting out?
Do your homework. Niche initially, do one thing and do it well. Give things a chance to work – ignore that imposter syndrome!
Do you still have other creative pass-times outside of your work, how else do you relax?
Yes! I love colouring in books but also on iPad Aps and playing with new colour combinations. I like doing logical problems, that’s from my past work and analytical brain! I like reading and singing in the church music group. Oh, and I love decorating and mindful walking too.
What’s the story behind your business name?
I like clever names that include a back story and never wanted to use my actual name as I never liked it! Holmemade With Love was a clever twist on where I live in the Holme Valley and I try to put my heart into everything I make.
What are you most proud of in relation to your business?
That my products I’ve made are now all over the world, I have cushions in Australia, bunting in Singapore and my tree pictures in America, that makes me feel really good that my products are across the globe!
Finally, what does living a creative life mean to you and what are the benefits to you personally?
It’s given me back a sense of being able to contribute, to produce something and work in whatever way we can. We’re all made by god to be creative and living a create life means living a life that is fulfilled.
We had a really great few hours discussing Carole’s journey, you can find all her lovely products at www.holmemadewithlove.etsy.com (nudge, nudge there are some lovely mother’s day ideas!). You can also catch her on Instagram @holmemadewithlove
Next week I’m interviewing Nigel Proud, a very talented local artist…
Until next time…
Juliet, The Curious Creative x
(Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) is a long-term (chronic), fluctuating, neurological condition that causes symptoms affecting many body systems, more commonly the nervous and immune systems. M.E. affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK, and around 17 million people worldwide.
People with M.E. experience debilitating pain, fatigue and a range of other symptoms associated with post-exertional malaise, the body and brain’s inability to recover after expending even small amounts of energy.