A few years ago I was interviewed by Shona Chambers, owner of Self-Employed Club and Shona Chambers Marketing. I loved doing this interview so much because it was the first time I had shared my business story as to how I became an Aromatherapist and why I set up Made by Pure Hands. I hope this interview helps you understand why I do what I do, and I why this has been the best job in the world.
Though my business will evolve as I grow and the needs of my clients change; it will always be centred around wellbeing and self-care and helping you find that sense of inner peace and calm.
In this weekly blog series we aim to highlight fantastic creative people mainly from SE London who we either work with or admire.
This week it's Vanessa Afful an Aromatherapist/Massage Therapist and owner of Made by Pure Hands
1. What led you to start up your business?
Now this is a really long story which I will try and keep it short.
It was a combination of being unfilled at work and struggling to progress up the career ladder. 20 plus years ago it was a complete slog for women that looked like me to progress in Marketing.
So after entering the world of temping and freelance work (which was meant to be a short term work solution), I found myself stuck and desperate to find what my next career move would be.
A good friend had recommended a book called ‘What Colour is Your Parachute’.
One of the chapters in the book was about working for yourself.
However, I lacked the self-confidence to work for myself.
Also my confidence had taken a complete battering; in short I wasn’t ready.
So I put the idea to one side and concentrated on discovering what I thought would be ‘my dream job’.
The one thing I did was enrol myself on a 6 week course learning how to make my own beauty products.
It introduced me to the world of Aromatherapy; I was hooked on learning about oils.
By the end of the book, I had landed my ‘dream job’ of running a Website and I was also back in PR so everything was great.
Well it was, until I hit another crossroads and the journey I am now on was finally allowed to breathe and grow. It all l started when I picked up this book and realised what it was that really made me tick.
2. What were the biggest obstacles to starting up?
What I realise now, is in order to give yourself the best shot at starting up and staying in business, is to have the belief in yourself and what you are doing.
Yes, you will come across obstacles. Yes, you will make mistakes, but if you get up and show up each time you give yourself a fighting chance.
So, as I can be stubborn as a Mule, in the early days I kept talking myself out of taking the plunge. So in true Universal fashion I started to lose all my safety nets that were preventing me from taking the plunge.
Life became extremely uncomfortable, so in the end I was out of excuses. I had to succeed, plus I now had a little person that depended on me.
Also when you first start a business you take on any work that comes in, but this does change as you realise what you enjoy doing more of and eliminating what isn't as much fun or what doesn't bring in as much profit.
3. What do you love about your business?
So, so, so much, I love assisting people with their journeys to better health, I love making a difference in someone’s life.
When someone leaves my couch/massage chair and they feel a sense of wellbeing, it is the ultimate high.
I love working with natural products and learning about them and massage techniques that give the maximum benefit to my clients.
I like that I am not stuck in an office, and that I get to see the sun and I get to be out. Omg the list goes on and on. This is the best job/career I have ever had; I never want to stop.
4. What do you love the most about working locally and do you get to work in other areas?
Apart from the practicality of working locally, which means I can do the school run on most days.
Peckham has changed a lot compared to when I first moved here 34 years ago.
When my Mum first moved us to Peckham I was bitter to say the least. All my friends were in Battersea, I was going to have to choose a Secondary school locally and that was the biggest downer for a 10 year old.
Over the years businesses left and Peckham fell into decay; so I was always on the run.
If you asked me in my 20s if I would love living in Peckham and I would work in the area. I would have told you “You’re having a laugh! "
Yet here I am, and loving it. I often get to walk to work; I don’t have to deal with the daily awful commute. There are so many wonderful local businesses popping up everywhere.
I love the community feel of Bellenden Road from both businesses and residents.
The Bellenden Big Lunch is one of the highlights on the street. This year I was unable to take part due to work commitments, but I still wanted to support the event.
The growing network of business community that is popping up in Peckham and East Dulwich is phenomenal.
This is what I’ve always wanted to see. It’s wonderful that people supporting one another (particularly women). It is an absolute delight to be part of it.
I spent too many years working in a sector that pitted women against each other, and for me, it was soul destroying and I was never going to buy into it.
I also get to work further afield through my onsite chair massage work, so I don’t always feel like I’m in a bubble.
I have a regular gig at UCL so I’m there usually every fortnight to treat the staff and lecturers.
Also my training as a Complementary Therapist can take me anywhere. My favourite place to train at the moment is in Brighton with Jing Massage School.
They are a brilliant school and they make learning so much fun. Plus you get to be in Brighton which is Complementary Therapy central. I love it.
5. Where have you received the most support along your journey?
I have to be honest; there would be no Made by Pure Hands without the wonderful angels in my life.
Some of them I have known my entire life. Lots of them I have met along the way.
Over the past year I have really had to pause and count my blessings for all of these wonderful people.
I even put together a post recently, because I really felt the need to say thank you to some of them.
But the two people who have given me the most help have to be my Mum and my Bestie who is also Godmother to my Son.
They have enabled me get out there and work, they happily give up their time to help look after my son when they can, which has kept my childcare costs down.
Cause let’s be honest childcare costs alone can take you out of business, particularly when you parent solo as I do.
I remember in the early days when I used to have to take my little one to the child-minder in the evening, then head off to Bellenden Therapies, then collect him at 9pm and put him to bed, in all seasons. It was not a great time.
So my Bestie sat me down with my Mum and said, let me help you out. I can come after work and look after your son, on one of the evenings you work.
I really didn’t want to inconvenience her because let’s be honest who wants to come home after a hectic day at work and look after a toddler? But she did, and still helps out when she can.
6. Would you consider going back to employment for someone else now?
I think you might have gathered what my answer would be from my earlier answers. (laughs)
7. What do you consider the key skills a small business person must have?
Stubbornness, to keep moving forward even when it feels like you’re getting nowhere.
Flexibility, which will enable to adapt and open to change; because sometimes your business might not look as you thought it would look. That was certainly the case for me.
Belief in what you are doing, if you don’t have the belief, you’ve kind of already lost the battle.
Good planning and organisational skills, as boring as that sound it makes all the difference if you are juggling a lot, or trying to do it all yourself.
8. What would your top tips be to anyone considering starting their own business?
If you’re a Complementary Therapists I think it’s important to realise the odds are not great.
When I first started out I learnt from Mark Shields, The CAM Coach that:
65% of Complementary Therapy students who completed their courses don’t make it into practice, and those who do, many fail within their first year.
I also learnt from Mark Shields early on when I started out, that Complementary Therapy Start-ups are 20 % more likely to fail when compared to other Start-up Businesses in other industries.
There is a definite need for people in my field to understand why this is, so my tips would be:
Don’t be afraid of charging for your service. This is a definite mind-set thing that I go through and continue to battle.
Yes, you probably got into this industry to help people, but just because you are helping someone, does not mean you mustn’t be paid for your service. You can and should give a great service and get paid too.
Which leads me to my second tip - Get over the old adage that you have to suffer for your craft. Nope we do not have to be frugal and shun the world in order to be authentic at what we do.
Remember you are a business, so act accordingly.
Market yourself and your business.
Network with other businesses both within and out of your industry.
In fact in the early part of your start up make sure that 75% of your networking buddies are not in your industry.
Not because you want to shun what you do or view other Therapists as threats, but because you want meet with people who can teach you things about business.
It will also help you break the Therapists mind-set cycle, which can be perpetuated by other Therapists, particularly those who have been in the industry a long time.
Have a business plan. (Says the woman who needs to update hers!)
Not the one you did when you did your course, but a new one; particularly if it is more than a couple of years old.
It will keep you grounded, make you revisit your research, make you identify who your customer is (and more importantly to Therapists as well as any business) identify how many bookings you need to make it profitable, or at least, help you to break even.
This is extremely important to Therapists, particularly if your Therapy is either physical or emotional.
You will soon learn how many clients you are able to see in a week that won’t leave you burnt out or cause physical injury. This is so important if you want to have longevity in your field.
Thank you Vanessa!