When Ana Nicols from Martha Jean first came to see me for business coaching, we were living a few minutes apart from one another in Melbourne. As it turned out, we both made the move to the Mornington Peninsula around the same time. Not long after that move, Ana and her husband Paul came to see me again and we spoke about how their business has flourished in the past few years.
What I love most about Ana’s story is her commitment to integrity. She could easily have scaled the business by having her designs made offshore but in the same way that she has chosen to work out of a small renewable-energy-fuelled studio under the trees in her garden, she makes the choice to source from and sell to small stockists wherever possible and maybe most importantly, to continue to make her beautiful jewellery by hand.
It’s an inspiring story and a reminder that if you have an idea for a creative business, it might be time to just make a start.
Can you tell me a little about you business?
My business is called Martha Jean. We design and make jewellery and accessories at our studio on the Mornington Peninsula. We place design at the centre of everything we produce. I have a background in textile design and love to work with colour. I enjoying use a wide range of materials such as resin, paper, acrylic and wood and often mix different textures to create dynamic gems.
More recently I have been going back to my roots and playing with different patterns. We sell our products both online and to around 100 stores across Australia and New Zealand. I tend to focus on design, marketing, sales, packing orders and the general day to day. My husband does what I think are the boring parts: finances, accounting and the website back-end. I also have a studio assistant who helps out a few days a week.
What do you love about working for yourself?
I love the flexibility of working for myself. I have two children and it was really important to me that I could be here for them. That was a big driver in starting my business. I usually work school hours, but at busy times I will work in the late evening as well. I also love that I can be creative and express and release that creativity without having to be filtered and altered to receive approval. I often make things that I think are quite out there and enjoying receiving positive feedback on them.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day usually starts with little people in search of a cuddle waking me. Then we start the morning routine and get the children off to school. We walk to school most days. It’s a lovely way to start/finish the day. It brings some calm to the hectic mornings and it allows the kids to unwind and talk about their day on the way home. I do group fitness regularly, so I’ll often head there after school drop off.
Everyday is different; there is no shortage of variability running your own small business. The seasons also dictate what I am focussing on and seem to fluctuate with a reasonably predictable pattern, be that intently designing a new range or working on displays for tradeshows. Most days I make earrings, pack orders and do general admin. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks while working. I am extremely messy in an organised-chaos kind of way. It generally builds up until I can’t take it anymore and do a big tidy up.
I drop everything at 3 pm and head to school to pick the kids up. We generally head to the post office after school to drop off orders. I try not to work once I have the kids at home.
We all eat dinner together. We start the conversation with our best, worst and funniest of the day. At busy times my husband and I will do a couple of extra hours after the kids are in bed.
How do you maintain a sense of balance in your business?
Balance is very hard. I like to think about balance on the longer-term scale of a year, rather than daily balance. There are times throughout the year that are very quiet and allow me to recharge, to be present and to be fully involved as a mum, wife and person. Then there are times when my business needs a lot of my attention. During these periods free time and my social life are limited.
In 2017, I worked myself to exhaustion. So last year we put a few things in place to help relieve some pressure throughout the busy times, but also to help me with my general wellbeing throughout the year. I hired someone to work a few days a week to help with packing and preparation. I also set up structured time for exercise, which is non-negotiable no matter how busy I am. We hear a lot about the value of exercise. In my experience it helps make me a better person in both business and family life.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to someone wanting to go into their own start up?
Stop talking and start doing. It can be really scary starting something unknown. Don’t be scared to fail. Be open to change. You might start out doing one thing and then end up somewhere you never expected. But you will surely gain lots of knowledge along the way.