Introducing … Vintage Brooch Bouquets

Friday August 28th 2015

Vintage Brooch Bouquets

I am a magpie for anything sparkly so the new trend for wedding bouquets made from vintage brooches instantly attracted me. Therefore it was a highlight of my week when Amanda Heer of Vintage Brooch Bouquets agree to write a short blog about her business for us:

Hello my name is Amanda Heer, Professional Floral Designer/Stylist/Artist.

Amanda Heer

Amanda Heer

I am the owner of Fantasy Floral Designs and the creator of the Vintage Brooch Bouquets that has become a new trend since they were first introduced to the internet in Oct 09. I created the first brooch bouquet for my own wedding 10 years ago and it is still in perfect condition today. I was lucky enough to hand mine down to Cameron (my daughter) for her wedding in Dec 09.

What makes these bouquets so wonderful is that they are made from family treasures and jewelry. Anything can be used that has special meaning to the Bride and her family, consider this the bride’s life in her bouquet. They are very emotional everlasting                                                                       works of art, and are so much more in person and so very exciting just to hold your very own.

50 to 60 Pieces will be needed, Such as wine corks/earrings/military pins/boy scout badges/moms vintage wedding dress buttons or lace/little / vintage watch turned to the brides wedding time/brooches/bracelets/old strands of pearls/rings/Locket/scrabble pieces.

After a bride has collected all the pieces for their custom bouquet they are shipped to Brooch Bouquets. Special pieces need to be labeled as such and filler pieces need to be separated so the most important pieces are showcased on the top. I then design your custom Brooch Bouquet into a work of art that can be treasured forever and ship the completed bouquet back to the bride. The bouquet will be shipped back to the bride at least 2 weeks before the wedding day or as needed back by the bride.

Marcia Cross and Amanda Jane

Marcia Cross and Amanda Jane

To date we have had orders from all over the world.  As far as Dubai, Ireland, London, Italy, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Canada, and all over the United States. My brooch bouquets have been featured on Daily Candy, Blogs, magazines world-wide, We TV, and Channel 7 eye witness news.

Finally, each bouquet costs $375.00 to create which includes the shipping in the USA for your Custom Designed Brooch Bouquet.

Thank You

An Interview with Milly

Saturday August 22nd 2015


Hi All

Just for fun we thought we would feature Milly in this post. For anyone who does not know, Milly’s our cat and the namesake of our business so we thought she would be the ideal person/pet to interview for (I’m not a mad cat women, promise):

Milly, Tell us a little about yourself? Well I’m about 6 years old. I’m your typical black cat but I’m getting a few white hairs these days, don’t tell anyone. My main loves in life are my human’s, Russ & Gemma, looking out the window, playing with my plug (don’t ask) and sitting in boxes …. ohh and food!

Is it a great responsibility being the namesake of the business: It is not that big a responsibility as I have Gemma to look after everything and I just tell her off when she does something wrong. I do get confused somethings though when they say my name  but in fact they are talking about the business and not me.

What is the worst thing about being involved with Milly’s Cottage: Gemma is always following me around with her iPhone and putting the photos on Facebook.

What does your day normally involve. Well about 6.30am I act as the family alarm clock and jump on the bed to get them up so I can have my breakfast. Food makes me so happy that for about 20 minutes after that I run around the house.

Once Gemma and Russ start work for the day I join them and until 11am I go back and forth between both studios checking on them, making sure they behave themselves. At 11am I need my sleep so I’ll either sleep in my basket in Gemma’s studio or my basket in their bedroom.

My tummy lets me know it is dinner time abut 4-4.30pm so I get up and wonder around waiting for dinner. After my next food related run around I settle in my chair by the window in the living room and watch everyone pass by; I’ve been doing this for so long now that I’m known as the local cat with my head out the window; I know I should just go outside but I can’t be bothered.

Gemma and Russ go to bed much earlier than I do so I go upstairs to say goodnight to them and then I carry on playing for an extra hour or two before heading to bed myself.

What has been your greatest business lesson. Don’t sit on the prints or lay on the tissue paper, the humans don’t like it.

How has your life changed since Milly’s Cottage launched? When I was first adopted by Gemma and Russ they worked long hours in London and I didn’t see them that much. Now they both work from home so I see them all the time and where we used to live in a small London flat we now have a large town house in Dorset so I spend my days running up and down the stairs (I love it).

What would you advise other cats who want to be involved with their human’s business. Try and help them through stressful times by curling up on their laps and purring a lot, that always works for me and often earns me extra treats.

So many times I have been asked the process involved with making a Milly’s Cottage print so I thought it was about time to let you into our little studio secrets.

Step One: When a customer places an order with us I look through the content  and make sure everything makes sense and we don’t need to ask anything or request any extra content.

Step Two: Until the start of 2013 I did a lot of proofs myself but we are now at the stage that we have gown so much that we have three virtual Milly’s (designers) who together cover every day of the week. I will compile the order information and send to the relevant Milly who is working that day. (I now only do proofs for the Express orders which need a quick turnaround.)

Step Three: Your proof is made up within 48 hours (so very quickly) and emailed to you with our standard email. At this point we have to wait to hear back from our customers and always make any changes they need before they are happy to sign-off their design.

Step Four: At 8am each morning I start printing off all our signed-off orders placed within the last day. This normally takes me at least two hours a day (as you can imagine At Christmas I am doing this all day). Once your design is printed I carry it through to the dispatch room and leave it in one of the pigeon holes.

( At this point items which require framing or printing onto canvas are emailed to our frame maker/ canvas company and from there dispatch normally takes a week.)

Step Five: Russell is in charge of the dispatch room. In here all items ready to post are gift wrapped if required (hint- always select gift wrapping as it is free) packed and franked ready to head to our local post office.

Step Six: Each day when he is ready Russ takes that days sack of gifts around to our local post office (which is only a 5 minute walk). We are a fan of the Royal Mail, touch wood we have had very few problems and normally at this stage your gift will be with you the following day or two.

Charlotte on her own Wedding Day


Charlotte on her own wedding day

Charlotte and I both attended the London Blogcademy Course in 2013. After chatting on the group forum, we agreed to meet and have breakfast together before our first day (strength in numbers and all that). We hit it off right away and can be found regularly chatting away on social media (Charlotte lives in Derby so too far for regular catch-ups in person). I think we get on so well due to the fact that we both aspire to be great bloggers while also running other successful businesses. However, unlike me, Charlotte is also bring up two lovely children (how does she find the time?). I’ll let Charlotte continue from here….

… well where do I begin? I’m Charlotte and I run Fig Tree Road, an online wedding business. We sell gifts, décor, and accessories; hire out vintage china and props, style weddings and loads more too. Then over on fizzybunting (her blog), I write about wedding planning, business and what we have been up to.

I live with my husband Mat, Amelia & Joshua my two children and our dogs, Bella the bulldog and Poppy the Collie. To say we lead a busy life would be an understatement!

I love weddings. The elegance, the prettiness and everything in the middle and I love helping couples create the wedding they dream of.

So far, in the tiny eight months we’ve been going, we have done an awful lot that we are so proud of…photo shoots with amazing businesses, visiting shows as VIP’s, learning new skills like floristry, writing reviews, selling our products across the pond to the USA and loads more.

It’s a fantastic feeling and I cant wait for more exciting things to come.

Brill! OK, time for some questions:

Charlotte, tell us how you got into wedding prop rental (it sounds really exciting!).

I got into the wedding business after getting married myself in 2012. We had so many people ask us about our style, where we got our products from and how we came up with our ideas that I thought I would provide a website where you could find it together in one place.

We found that some brides wanted a more homemade look on their wedding day or to hire just a few key pieces. We work with our couples to let them choose exactly what they want, or don’t, on their wedding day.

How do you decide what products to stock?

Mat and I visit many trade shows throughout the year. Here we scour the exhibitions and find the new suppliers that have just started out. We like to find suppliers that have new ideas or something different.

I love finding products that I can’t see elsewhere, I also tend to drift towards ethical products as a big part of Fig Tree Road is being as kind to the environment as possible!

Mr and Mrs bunting, sold on Fig Tree Road

Mr and Mrs bunting, sold on Fig Tree Road

Tell us about some of your products: what are your favourites and why?

My favourite products would have to be some of the new items we have sourced, I can’t tell you yet though as we are showcasing them very soon, watch this space!

 Is it easy running both your online shop and props business alongside each other?

Being self-employed is never easy and it’s always a juggling act, but I find that the vintage prop hire just works. A bride will email us to discuss her needs and thoughts and we work with her to sort it.

We have been as far as Kent with our china and have a wedding in Heathrow later on this year!

Do you believe social media has helped grow your business, and if so what social media success have you had?

I love social media and Twitter in particular. We only set up our accounts last January and have had huge success with our social media campaigns.  I check my social media and to visit Twitter regularly throughout the day. I’m quite new to the Instagram and Pinterest game and try to promote these too but that’s work in progress!

I know your blog, Fizzybunting, is a crucial marketing tool for you. For anyone thinking of starting a blog in order to grow their business, what advice would you give?

That for me, starting a blog is a fundamental part of my business. I use it to promote, to share, to discover and everything else in between. It may not be for everyone but you wont know unless you try!

Tell us about a typical day at work.

With the rest of the brood still asleep, you can usually find me on my phone using Twitter, that would be about 6.30am. The next stage is usually a blur with breakfast, uniforms and taking the kids to school.

Next I settle down in front of the Mac and reply to emails, send off any invoices, order new stock, and write and schedule a few blog posts. Then I might have a meeting or two and then go hunting for new pieces for the vintage hire section.

When you work for yourself I find I put in twice as many hours as I did when I was employed, but it’s ten times more fun!

Prop hire item from Fig Tree Road

Prop hire item from Fig Tree Road

How did you feel the very moment you became self-employed?

I always knew I wanted to work for myself, as I’m not great at taking instructions from someone who is paid to be my ‘boss’. The fact that I am now self-employed fills me with joy. I know I still have a long way to go but so far I love it!

Are there elements of self-employment that surprised you?

People say it’s a lonely business being self employed and it can be at times but being on social media has surprised me, it can be hugely collaborative and I love how supportive some people have been.

If you had to impart one nugget of advice to someone newly self-employed, what would it be?

To go with your instincts and do what feels right. Don’t be a hero to everyone, you won’t be thanked for it. Find your niche and be the best at it that you can be.

P.S We also use a lot of Charlotte’s items as props in our product photo shoots.

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Rumi

Quote of the day

"Let the beauty of what you have be what you do."


A Gift That Keeps On Giving …

Friday April 18th 2014

Not an Other Bill

Not Another Bill Boxes (photo by Not Another Bill)

In the last year, we have seen a new trend start to really flourish. This trend is for Subscription Gift Boxes, where the recipient will receive a gift through the post every week or month. The gift giver will start by sending a voucher which the recipient can redeem and begin the subscription in their own time. The variety of gifts available keeps growing and growing, so now you can purchase anything from monthly scrapbooking craft items to coffee sample kits, curry making ingredients with recipe ideas to flowers posted (yes posted) through your door each month, or even 12 boxes of mini gifts for a new mum.

Below are my favourite gift boxes I have seen to date:

Not Another Bill – A selection of stylish lifestyle gifts for the recipient, and a lovely way to discover new artists, designers and brands.

The Cake Nest – A tasty slice of cake through the post each week or month.

Whimsey Box – A selection of craft materials to inspire your next craft project.

Glossy Box – A selection of high-end beauty products to match your skin type and colouring.

I have been receiving the Glossy Box for the last few months. It has become my Sunday night treat after a busy week. I would say that occasionally the samples are a little small, but most of the time they are full sized products. As an extra bonus, you can also give Glossy Box feedback which they will forward on to the makers for research purposes, and in turn you receive credits for future discounts.

The main joy of these boxes is knowing you will receive something you love through the post each month, and just for fun, all are gift wrapped to the highest standard. Have a look at the Glossy Box packaging below.

Glossy Box

Sample Glossy Box (photo by Glossy Box)

“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Gemma’s Top Ten List

Thursday April 17th 2014

Inca Trail


This is me, trekking the Inca Trail

You can’t beat a good list to learn about a person; their likes, dislikes, goals and achievements. I believe that discovering things like this about someone helps you to understand their character, what inspires them and makes then tick. Therefore, with the help of my trusty Listography books for inspiration, to learn more about me and what inspires me, the answers to their more interesting questions are below.

Ten lists of Ten

Ten Most Important Objects I Own

  1. My mum and dad’s wedding and engagement rings.
  2. A vintage metal and pearl brooch which simply says ‘remember’, bought in Buenos Aires when I was backpacking in South America.
  3. If you can call our cat Milly an object (not politically correct I know) then she is second only to Russ.
  4. A watercolour my great-grandmother painted when she was pregnant with my grandmother.
  5. My iPhone and iPad – they make life much easier.
  6. My various different cameras.
  7. My watercolour sets and paints.
  8. Maps and journals of my travels.
  9. My Nespresso machine.
  10. An Anya Hindmarch bag, which to me is like a modern work of art.

Ten Things I’d Like to Buy One Day

  1. A massive rose quartz for my office – yes, I’m a hippy at heart!
  2. An Audi Convertible.
  3. A Chanel handbag.
  4. A dress for every day of the year.
  5. I’d like to be able to go to the airport and ask for a ticket to anywhere.
  6. An around the world cruise.
  7. A work of art by Monet.
  8. A cottage retreat in Cornwall.
  9. Silly luxuries like cashmere socks and candles.
  10. Vintage jewellery from the antiques markets in Bath. My dad used to take my mum there when I was young and I’d follow them around admiring everything.

My Top Ten Achievements

  1. I have traveled around the world.
  2. I moved to London with nothing (even sleeping on a friend’s sofa) and less than five years later had grown my business to the point that Russ and I work for it full time.
  3. Getting into university, despite secondary school teachers thinking I couldn’t due to my dyslexia.
  4. Getting our Milly’s Cottage products in the Gift Guides – for anyone in the know, they will agree that is not an easy thing to do.
  5. I have an excessive fear of sharks (I’ll even run away from a magazine image of one) and I’m a terrible swimmer, but somehow I still managed to be the top student in my scuba diving class.
  6. I got a 2:1 BA (Hons) Degree (even though my parents passed away while I was studying).
  7. For some unknown reason I did a stunt plane lesson and a sky-dive in the same day (I did not feel at all well after that).
  8. Passing my driving test for the first time – if you had seen how nervous I was, you would know it’s amazing I even got the clutch control correct.
  9. Walking the Inca Trail.
  10. Starting this blog and overcoming the fear that the world could potentially see I’m dyslexic.

Ten Realistic Dreams (things I could in fact achieve)

  1. One day I hope to buy a house with enough land to accommodate a small retirement home for elderly cats and dogs (and any other pets really) which have problems being rehomed.
  2. I’d also like to buy a plot of land, maybe part of a forest, which can never be sold again so it can become a protected area for British wildlife.
  3. Complete my PADI diving course.
  4. Start painting again and be invited to stage an exhibition.
  5. Do a flight in a hot air balloon.
  6. Learn to fly a plane.
  7. I would like to see my loved ones without debt and not in want of anything.
  8. Writing a book has always appealed to me.
  9. Go on a massive hike, maybe from one side of a country to the other.
  10. Own a number of businesses.

Ten Places I Want To Visit

  1. I’d like to visit the Antarctic or the Arctic circle, and maybe even see the Northern Lights.
  2. I’d like to see a volcano.
  3. Go on the Trans Siberian Railway.
  4. Learn from a Guru in India.
  5. Relax in the Maldives.
  6. Drive Route 66…
  7. …And Route 1.
  8. Go Inter-Railing around Europe.
  9. Go to the Galapagos Islands.
  10. Visit the Lost World (Table Mountains) in Venezuela.

Ten of My Favourite Places (that I have already visited)

  1. Disney World
  2. Stourhead
  3. Longleat
  4. Bath
  5. Lyme Regis
  6. Ko Phi Phi
  7. The Hawaiian Islands
  8. Boulder, Colorado
  9. California
  10. Bangkok (I could just keep going with this list)

Ten Things I Hate more than Anything Else

  1. Tea (sorry, I might be English but I’m a coffee girl through and through).
  2. People not being honest.
  3. Cruelty to animals.
  4. The new celebrity culture.
  5. Bad eating habits.
  6. Sugar – because that is my bad eating habit.
  7. People who think dyslexics are lazy (ask Russ, I’m far from lazy).
  8. Hmmm … I don’t really hate many things, unless we start talking about war and poverty etc etc, so I’m not sure I can think of 2 more!

Ten Things that Sum Up My Character

  1. Creative
  2. Caring
  3. Tenacious
  4. Poised – I don’t talk for the sake of talking.
  5. Adaptive
  6. English
  7. Humorous – I try and crack a joke even if it doesn’t always work.
  8. Loyal
  9. Motivational – or I strive to be.
  10. Adventurous

My Ten Best Memories

  1. The last Mother’s Day I had with my mum.
  2. Travelling around America for three months.
  3. The day Milly’s Cottage was invited to sell on
  4. Meeting dad at the airport when he returned home from working away.
  5. Travelling around California with my parents.
  6. Driving through Europe with my parents when I was 8 (it was the same week the Berlin Wall came down).
  7. Family Christmases.
  8. My first trip to Disney World.
  9. Backpacking around the world.
  10. My 30th birthday – Russ took me on a cruise up the Thames, where we enjoyed one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had, and I also went to the Ritz with my girlfriends.

Ten Lessons Learnt

  1. Trust your gut instinct, it is never wrong.
  2. You can achieve most things – what you do achieve depends on the amount of work you put in.
  3. It is OK to not be good at everything.
  4. I had to travel around the world to learn how lucky I am to be British.
  5. It is not the amount of friends which is important but the quality of the ones you have. When you have found your group of lifelong friends, cherish them as you would a family member.
  6. No matter how far down you fall, if you take one step at a time you can still achieve anything you want.
  7. Encourage your children to exercise at a young age so it is natural behaviour in later years.
  8. You really are what you eat!
  9. Try new things – it’s worth it even if it scares you at first.
  10. Smile, even when your’re down, and that alone will start to improve your day.

That is a good point to end on I think.

Gem xoxo

If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.

Retweet on Theo Paphitis's Twitter Account

Retweets on Theo Paphitis’s Twitter Account

We have previously listed our favourite Facebook and Pinterest business accounts, so today I thought we would look at Twitter. I found this list a little harder to compile, as I wanted to find people/businesses who offer something on Twitter that they don’t offer on other platforms. Here are my favourites:

@StartUpBritain – This website gives free advice to new startups. Any news they have is tweeted first, so follow them to hear about the latest UK business advice and see their new posts.

@IndieRetailUK – If you are an independent retailer, tell @IndieRetailUK about your business and they will include you in their Social Media promotion.

@TheoPaphitis – Famed as being one of the Dragons from Dragons Den (every Sunday night from 5-7.30pm), successful entrepreneur Theo Paphitis asks SMBs to tweet him about their business and include the hashtag #SBS. On the following Monday he will re-tweet his 6 favourite and add them to the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday website.

@Jacqueline_Gold – Chief Exec of Ann Summers and Knickerbox, Jacqueline Gold also re-tweets her favourite business every Wednesday. However, this is specific to women entrepreneurs. Send her a tweet between 1-3pm and she may RT you after 3pm the same day.

@HMNation – Also every Wednesday, between 7.30-9.30pm, if you tweet your handmade collections with the hashtag #HandmadeHour, the ladies at Handmade Nation will re-tweet it out to their thousands of followers.

“LinkedIn is for the people you know. Facebook is for the people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know” ~ Source unknown

Revaluate that To Do List

Monday April 14th 2014

Crib Candy

Corkboard Plannner from the blog Crib Candy

Right now, I’m on a train heading for a much needed girl’s night out with one of my best friends. It’s Friday and the end of a very stressful week.

The two major stresses in running Milly’s Cottage are making sure all orders are out before major celebrations and preparing new products in the weeks leading up to a photo shoot. Recently the stress has been photo shoot related as I always strive to ‘ready’ more products than is possible, which inevitably results in moments of panic as time runs out.

The workaholic in me will keep going and going until the moment of burnout is looming (I know it’s a bad habit, but when the going gets tough I’m driven to work even harder). That burnout moment happened this Wednesday, so I realised I had to regroup and re-evaluate where I am.

At the crack of dawn on Thursday, I woke up, got out my notes and looked at our progress in getting everything ready. As it turned out, the results were VERY positive and showed I didn’t need to panic in the slightest.

I realised that if I print off all the designs I have done at the start of next week (the day this post will launch) then we will easily have enough products to fill a full day photo shoot. All the extras I had been stressing about didn’t necessarily need to be ready in the next two weeks (I have learnt the hard way that you should never rush the design process).

Creating that level of stress around the deadlines clearly shows that I like to work under pressure. I am starting to think that I may even bring it on in myself. However, this experience also showed me that no matter how stressful a situation might be, it is always a good idea to pause and re-evaluate.

Creatives are by nature over-achievers and strive for perfection, but that pressure can magnify situations unjustly.

I still have work to do, but this weekend I’m going to take my time, enjoy the process and hopefully create better work for it.

A goal without a plan is just a wish

Claire Hawkes – Branding Specialist

Friday April 11th 2014

Claire Hawkes

Claire Hawkes

As is often the case with small businesses, I discovered Claire Hawkes while looking for a branding specialist to perfect the Milly’s Cottage ‘look’. She had previously worked on branding for our photographer Holly Booth and I really admired her style.

Claire is based in Kent, so earlier this year when Russ and I stayed in Royal Tunbridge Wells (while planning our year ahead) we met up and discussed making changes to both our online and offline branding. From our first meeting Claire was friendly and professional, and it was clear she truly loves her work and is passionate about design and branding. It turns out that she is also a Partner, and sells her wedding stationary under her brand Charlie Loves Lucy.

Today I received an email from her with the final designs for our new paper marketing. It was fantastic and I have been absolutely beaming all afternoon!

After working with Claire and watching her create a distinct character and look for our business, I knew I wanted to interview her to find out just how she does it. So please sit back, order your favourite coffee and enjoy!

How do you go about creating the perfect brand presence for a new client?

The key to building an authentic brand presence for any client is in getting to know their personality and what they’re all about – as a person as well as a business. That first step of getting to know a client and what they want to achieve with their business is so important in creating a brand identity that truly represents them and what they are. It’s during that process that initial ideas and concepts start forming.

That first stage sets the foundations for the rest of the design process – inspiring initial design concepts which I then work with my clients to whittle down and develop into their identity as a whole.

Do you have a favourite branding project you have worked on? Please tell us what it is and why you liked this project so much?

I find the whole design process pretty all-consuming and so my favourite project tends to be whatever I’m working on at any given time.

I recently worked on identity design for photographer Holly Booth. I love working with Holly and am so pleased with the way everything came together – the whole process really was a joy from beginning to end. When you click particularly well with a client everything just seems to fall into place. We were both very much on the same wave length and had clear goals and visions for Holly’s brand. 

Claire Hawkes Branding work for Holly Booth

Claire Hawkes Branding work for Holly Booth

If you had to pick just one ‘brand identity’ project designed by another graphic designer who inspired you, what would you pick and why?

Oooh, that’s a tough one. I am very fickle with my design obsessions, there are so many brilliant identity designers and studios out there. If I had to choose just one, at the moment I’d go with Ro and Co’s identity work for luxury New York fashion brand Honor.

At its core it’s a very simple aesthetic, used so creatively across media. There’s huge attention to detail through all of their print collateral, as well as online, which I think gives the whole identity a wonderful depth. The simplicity of the Honor logo itself allows Ro and Co to be really creative with it’s implementation without losing brand recognition.

Another reason for my love of this identity is one of personal taste. The clean, bold type contrasts beautifully with florals, foils, and more delicate elements. I’m also a big lover of print and Honor’s print material is so meticulously created with real consideration for the user experience. The specialist finishes used alongside such thoughtful design really encompass the luxury of the brand.

What is the best graphic design/branding lesson you have ever learnt?

I’m not sure I could pinpoint one single lesson. A biggie in bringing out the best in me, my business, and the work I create for my clients has been understanding the value of great design – and learning not to undervalue what I do. This is still something I’m working on, but I’m definitely getting there.

Even with the years of experience I had working from junior designer up to studio manager and dealing with every side of the business – from scheduling and quoting to pitching, as well as the design side itself, I still made every mistake going when I first set up on my own. I think the sheer panic, along with starting from scratch with regards to building my reputation as a stand alone designer, meant I took on too many of the wrong projects. I’m proud of the work itself and I had some fabulous clients too – many of whom I still design for now – but I spent that first year going it alone working silly hours on too many projects that weren’t rewarding creatively or financially.

As soon as I gave myself a kick up the backside and started valuing what I do I started getting clients that valued and obsessed over design as much as I do. This also allows me to give more of myself to a client’s project which ultimately results in a higher quality of work. It’s also seen me getting a lot more interesting and creative briefs.

I guess the same can be said for any business so it isn’t really a graphic design lesson as such. In valuing the work I create I’m attracting clients who do the same and that’s enabling me to constantly push myself and create the best work I can for my clients. It’s an obvious one, but something I lost sight of early on. Realising that and making changes has been a real game changer for me.

How do you think branding has changed over the past few years?

I’ve definitely noticed my clients are a lot more aware and are putting more thought into their client/customer experience as a whole, which is brilliant.

It’s likely down the rise of social media making it so much easier than it ever was for small and medium sized businesses to be putting more of themselves out there. Clients tend to have a much better understanding of the importance of their brand as a whole, and how much more there is to it than a nice logo. Increasingly they understand that every single interaction with their clients combines to form their personality – their brand, which in turn informs the feeling their clients/potential clients will have about them. Everything needs to work in harmony to create a consistent brand identity.

This has long been understood by larger companies, but it really is nice to see this growing understanding and self awareness in smaller businesses too. Plus with smaller and medium sized businesses you don’t have the whole ‘design by committee’ element and so the the final outcome is often much more creative and charismatic.

Tell us about your ideal day at work.

My favourite days are those where I’m able to dedicate the entire thing to one project, without distraction. That always feels like a real luxury and having such freedom and space clears the mind and helps me to be at my most creative.

I’d say my favourite stage of working with any client – identity design or otherwise – is reaching the point of sketching out initial ideas. When all the research and brainstorming is in the bag, the client and I have worked together to build foundations and an understanding of a project. That’s when the fun really begins. Putting pen to paper and sketching out ideas before starting to bring things together on screen is always so exciting! I love the creativity of design so much and this early stage of the process, where there are so many possibilities, I find the most creative of all. This is the stage where all the anticipation; all those ideas whizzing around the head waiting to burst out; finally start to become something more tangible.

So I’d say my ideal day would be waking up nice and early to the sun shining (although I do love the atmosphere of a dark stormy day) – possibly a morning spin class to clear the mind and get energised – then a day of sketching and concept work sitting in our peaceful little garden with only the sound of birds chirping (or possibly Spotify through the headphones depending on the tone needed for the task at hand). Days like that are utter bliss. Maybe I should throw in an hour or so first thing replying to emails to clear the mind of any clutter.

Claire's design for her own website


Claire’s branding for her own website

What must-have equipment can be found in your studio/work space?

My iMac with Adobe Creative Suite has to be number one – definitely the most used of everything. There are always plenty of pens, pencils and stacks of paper for sketching, doodling and note-making (sorry trees, it’s all recycled I promise). The Mac is indispensable, but there’s nothing quite like putting pen to paper. They’re the key items, then it’s just the Canon printer/scanner, various scalpels, cutting mats and finishing equipment and a whole load of paper and print samples and magazines. Ooh, and there’s my pretty little Roberts Radio, noise is a bit of a must-have when you’re working alone.

How did you feel the very moment you became self-employed?

So excited and terrified in equal measure. Also relieved – a huge mixture of feelings. I’d wanted to take the plunge for a long while so it was a relief to finally be doing it, but at the same time I was ridiculously worried that I might have been making a huge mistake. My friends and family were so supportive, as were my employers who made sure I knew I’d be welcome back if ever I changed my mind. That definitely took the edge off of the worry. I was pretty confident that I’d made the right decision and so, although the fear was almost crippling at times, it was such an exciting time.

What made you decide to become self-employed?

The fact that I did want it sort of took me by surprise to be honest. Throughout my education I’d always known I wanted to work in the creative industries, which led me down the graphic design path, but I’d never dreamed of running my own business or working for myself. It was instilled in me from quite a young age to build a career in something I was passionate about, but the idea of doing that for myself just hadn’t entered my mind. Doing something I love so much day in, day out seemed like enough – more than enough! Obviously I have little natural entrepreneurial spirit.

I was lucky enough to be offered a job as a junior designer before I’d finished studying, which was brilliant – last day of college; weeks holiday with a friend and her family in sunny Devon; start work doing what I always wanted to do. I think the turning point came when the design studio I was working for took on another designer and he had this abundance of entrepreneurial spirit. You know when it’s so clear someone is going to go on to great things. We worked really well together and chats and discussions we’d have about our futures and ambitions seemed to light this little spark that got me thinking more and more that I’d like to do my own thing. I’d been working as a graphic designer for six years. Being in a small design studio meant I had a pretty firm grasp of all areas of the business, which was great and just got me thinking more and more that going it alone could be a viable option. So after much deliberating and chats with friends, family, and my super supportive other half I decided it was the right time for me to give it a go.

I haven’t regretted it for a second. There are things I miss. I miss working with people (a lot) and I miss that separation of home and work life (although I think however you work as a creative you never really switch off completely). The stress of keeping on top of every side of the business does get to me, but the freedom and pride that comes with working for yourself is immense. The projects I’m working on on a day-to-day basis just seem to get more and more exciting now that I’m forging my own path and pushing the business in a direction I love.

Finally, if you had to impart one nugget of advice to someone newly self-employed, what would it be?

If something isn’t working change it. Don’t wait around hoping it might pan out, just be brave and make changes as soon as you’re aware of something you’re unhappy with. It’s your business and you have control over how you do things so don’t be afraid to make those changes where they’re needed. If you try something and it doesn’t work out stop doing it and try something else. There’s no failure in giving up on something that doesn’t work for you – the failure’s in keeping going with it even though it’s not working. 

I’ve far from sussed it out, I have a really long way to go before I’m comfortable and confident in running my own business, but I’ll get there. Over the last year I’ve been far braver and quicker to make changes as I spot them and I’m really seeing an impact on the way by business is heading, the clients I’m working with and joy I’m getting out of the work I’m doing. 

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Films as Inspiration

Thursday April 10th 2014

Personalised 'Top Twenty Films' Print by Milly's Cottage

Personalised ‘Top Twenty Films’ Print by Milly’s Cottage, photo by Holly Booth

Russ and I love our films; one of our main hobbies in London was making the most of our Cineworld Cards (which allowed us to see as many films as we could each month for a fixed price and boy was it cheap!). As a teenager I worked in the local Blockbusters, which is probably where my cinematic obsession started; thanks to the staff incentive of 7 free rentals a week, I have seen a ridiculous number of films.

I love movies for two reasons. Firstly, when I am at the cinema I have the excuse to do nothing else but watch the film. Being a workaholic I usually feel the need to constantly keep working through my to do list, but at the cinema I can throw that out the window. Secondly, I used to play films I knew well as background noise while I painted, so to me a good movie makes good company.

Films have also inspired many of the Milly’s Cottage products, most obviously is the print above (our Personalised Top Twenty Films art print).

Russ and I both watch films for different reasons, and usually pick a theme depending on our mood. Here are a few of my favourites:

 The Wizard of Oz – As a child I watched this film every day. The songs remind me of happy childhood days.

Random Harvest – Russ introduced me to this classic only last year. I love films with a good twist that keeps you guessing, and for an old black and white film it is a very contemporary love story.

How Green was My Valley – For me, films can bring back feelings which I need for the mood of a design or painting I am doing. How Green is My Valley brings me back to 4pm BBC2 afternoon films and tea and biscuits with my mum.

Little Mermaid – If you asked me as a child what career I wanted, I would have said a Disney Animator. I used to draw the characters for hours.

A Walk to Remember – A lovely theme tune and a film that reminds you of what is important, this brings back memories of sleepover films when I was 16.

In Pursuit of Happiness – Watching films where people defy the odds stacked against them always inspires me to do the same.

Coyote Ugly – The soundtrack to this film was always playing on my car radio when I was 17.

The Notebook – My true happy indulgence. The ultimate film for a sick day!

The Help – I’m not sure why I love this film so much. The manner in which the main characters are treated is stomach-turning, but something about the way they stay such good people, no matter what, means I have had this film on repeat many times in the studio.

Becoming Jane – I know that this is not the true life story of Jane Austin, but I can always pretend!

Sense and Sensibility – Well, I am from Bath after all… ‘The Georgian City!’

The Shawshank Redemption – For me this film has some of the best screen writing of all time… and as I said before, I love a good twist!

It’s a Wonderful Life – This film is compulsory in our house on Christmas Eve!

The Social Network – This film was released while I was at university, so I feel I can relate to the characters in this film.

The Silence of the Lambs – When mum and dad first watched this film, I hid and watched from the top of the stairs, and as a result I didn’t sleep for a week!

28 Days Later – One of the first films to give the zombie genre a new twist: undead that can run really fast = twice as scary!

Scream – Another sleepover film from my teenage years which had us all hiding behind the sofa.

Far and Away – This film makes me want to travel to the US and set off for the new frontier (although I’m about 120 years too late).

Gattaca – Fantastic, a real unique, brilliant film.

Gone with the Wind – New Year’s Day in our house when I was a child meant watching a long film like Gone With the Wind… heaven!

“Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”  ― Alfred Hitchcock

keep looking »

About me

London Designer-Maker turned Dorset Micro-Manufacturers; our blog depicts the trials and triumphs of setting up a personalised gift company. Our lessons, loves, business & life.