Creativity and business combined. This is Clare's ultimate dream that she never knew she could achieve....until she did! Bon Maxie was founded when Clare became a mumma back in 2015, and through a series of personal circumstances has flourished into a thriving business and full time gig. Read more to discover how it all began, the Bon Maxie creative design process, how outsourcing has helped the business, why challenges and innovation go hand in hand plus much, much more!
Tell us about how Bon Maxie began?
I'd just had a baby and wasn't getting any maternity leave payments. I quickly discovered new mum life is super hard and I felt quite isolated, I started looking to Instagram for some 'social' interaction. I noticed there were a lot small businesses on there and I wondered how it was all done. I'd been painting for years, so decided if I could get $100 a month selling my paintings, that would be a little extra I'd be able to put towards the household income. I painted 4 animals wearing human accessories (fox with glasses, hedgehog with a bowler hat!) as some gender-neutral nursery decor and started researching 'how to start an online business'. There were a lot of seminars watched, a lot of blogs read, and I found myself two printers who could reproduce my work on paper and wood. From there I set myself a launch date without even knowing what that involved and did everything I could to work out how one actually starts a business! I launched my art print and wooden mobile store, didn't get any sales for 6 weeks and wondered why I'd invested the original $300 to start! I realised soon enough that social media involves a lot of social interaction, so I started approaching bloggers, following beautiful 'mummy' accounts and got my Insta hustle on! About a month in, I realised my little baby portraits I'd done for friends and family might have some traction and launched them too.
I don't sell my paintings or portraits anymore, my son started to get a bit more active and I realised how little time I had to paint. I started keeping my eyes open for an idea that I could produce that actually solved a customer problem and something that wouldn't take me a few hours each to produce! The earring holder idea popped into my head when I was rushing out the door one day and couldn't find a matching pair of earrings - I thought 'there must be a better way!'. I spent a long while looking around the market trying to find a similar idea to what I had in my head, but - nothing! No happy, fun, customisable earring holders that weren't plain clear plastic or chicken wire that held both studs and dangles. So, I drilled and painted my first earring board, shared it on Instagram and it kind of exploded from there!
What was the journey to launching your business like?
I had NO idea what I was doing at the beginning. I realised that just having a pretty product doesn't actually do much. You need an interested audience to grow your business. I found (still do) a lot of solace in listening to podcasts about big brands that started from nowhere, and that pretty well no one knows what they're doing when they start a business! My biggest challenge in the early stages of the business was when my nine-month-old boy, Max, got quite ill. Three months after launching, and two months after I went back to part-time work, Max started having seizures. We couldn't get a straight answer for a few weeks and spent a lot of time at the hospital for tests. I was in with him one day and I checked my emails on my phone, I had a wholesale order from New Zealand that equalled probably what I'd earned in the past few months and I cried with relief and happiness. I'd had to take leave without pay from work and I wasn't even sure what we were facing health-wise with Max but having a bit of external reassurance reiterated that I was on to something with my business and that I really needed to figure out a way to create work around caring for Max. It wasn't long after that I quit my job - having that pressure to do or die really solidified that need to succeed in me and I certainly credit that worry and pain. Max was home with me full time until just last year and I never would have been able to care for him if I had to work elsewhere, but I'm not sure whether I'd have the guts to quit my job without Max needing me to be there 24/7!
My earring holder products go hand in hand with accessory businesses, I found a lot of support early on from earring brands and we cross promoted (still do!) as our products are complementary. I really feel that having these business relationships helped in the early days to blast my brand name and product out to heaps of little networks around Instagram! Apart from that, production challenges are always incredibly frustrating and have almost broken me! I had orders coming out of my ears early on, dealing with Max's health and I was staying up til all hours painting and drilling holes for earring holders. Those moments of pressure and frustration made me try to innovate, build more efficient processes and figure out other ways I didn't have to have a hand in every single product so that I could still grow without adding more work. I really feel that businesses need that pressure to work out how to succeed - it's delusional to think everything is going to be daisies and unicorns - those challenging times are often when fabulous innovation occurs.
"It's delusional to think everything is going to be daisies and unicorns - those challenging times are often when fabulous innovation occurs."
What does the creative design process entail for Bon Maxie products?
Months of bedtime or shower sketching! Generally an idea will just pop up in my head, a customer might request something (like another design for a holder or a modification) or something is a logical next step from a product (like a larger size/different format). I usually let it gel for quite some time in my brain. I often reach out to my followers for opinions but I do like to draw various iterations of an idea, chat to suppliers, keep drawing, produce samples, use them myself, get some family and friend opinions and then start the reveal process to the public! I'm a lot more calculated with my designs now that I understand my target audience a lot more than I did in the early days. I don't just rush into launching anymore! I feel once you get feel for how you know you work, bringing ideas to life does get a little easier.
How do you like to stay in touch with trends and updating your range?
I think there's always general themes around fashion and Instagram businesses, often the Pantone colour of the year is a good hint for popular colours, but I generally gauge what I need to do next based on current best-selling items. I've also tested items that haven't gone as well as I'd hoped, but being flexible and fluid is key to being both proactive and reactive to any trends around.
How do you manage your time, workload and team effectively?
I'm not sure I ever fully switch off, but it's taking about 3 years to realise I'm allowed to give my brain a break. My husband works with me almost full time now so we have daily and weekly WIP meetings to work out our priorities. I've delegated a lot of the product processes to him and he manages the finances - having clear tasks has really helped with ensuring things don't get left behind. We've outsourced order packing and have assistance with production now, and that's been a ridiculous help in productivity and letting me focus on things that will build the business, rather than just help it tick along.
I give myself very few 'big' tasks for the day but I look at weekly goals and how I can break into smaller tasks to reach the goal by Friday. I always need to close the laptop, switch off notifications and put my phone out of reach at the end of the day as it's way too easy to keep answering customers or doing admin! We're in the process of moving to a dedicated warehouse - I'm looking forward to being able to close the door at the end of the day and have a bit of separation between work and home life!
"We've outsourced order packing and have assistance with production now, that's been a ridiculous help in productivity and letting me focus on things that will build the business, rather than just help it tick along."
Best business advice you have been given?
'You'll never feel like you're done if you own a small business'.
I used to keep waiting for the feeling that I've made it or that I can rest for a while and products will sell themselves but I think that's the twisted beauty of running a small business - you never feel like you're done. I've learnt now that if you're hands on in a business, it's just about recognising that feeling, getting comfortable with it and working towards adding measures to help you manage it! I take great comfort knowing that my next idea will present itself at the exact time I need it and I'm still learning that I'll never be fully satisfied with how things are as is!
Day in the life?
In the morning I get my son up and ready for his therapy sessions. Often my husband or my Mum will take him and I can get straight into work. This involves customer emails and any immediate actions, then I try and block out time for larger projects like production chats, product photography, creative briefs for packaging, reviewing processes or anything else that pops up! If my husband is home, we'll go to a gym class together, then he builds and packages stock and we might run stock down to the distribution centre. We might head to the warehouse to consolidate stock and then I'm back on the computer or Insta Storying! I always try and get some Insta stories in there too as I find that's a fabulous way to connect with my wonderful customers!
"No matter how hard I plan, every day is always unpredictable, that's guaranteed."
Goals and plans for 2019?
Bon Maxie is changing direction a little bit - I have a new product that's just launched that's a very functional miniature wallet that isn't just a weekend, going-out card holder or coin purse. I have a few more functional items up my sleeves that I'm excited to bring to the brand and expand on the 'handy items' category!
Best thing about being a woman in business?
The people I've met. In any business there are highs and lows and frustrations and mad moments and tears! I've found a fabulous group of women online and I've now met a fair few of them in person - we're all kinda going through a lot of the same feelings and issues. Having that support network of like-minded people has certainly allowed me to not feel as alone as I did right at the start!
Also, I can wear what I want!
Thank you so much Clare for your honesty and sharing your very personal, touching AND inspiring business journey with us! Clare is the perfect example of how the universe can work in mysterious ways, and sometimes our most challenging experiences are what really makes us shine in business, our careers and our personal relationships. To discover the Bon Maxie range, head to the website and follow on Instagram for all the latest releases and updates.