Meet the Maker: An Interview with Craft Schmooze

I am super excited about this month's Meet the Maker interview simply because I've wanted to have her on the blog since I started it back in late December. I didn't want to seem too keen though and scare her off so I played it all cool and was like 'so fancy being on my blog?' Luckily she didn't break my heart and found time in amongst the piles of orders and numerous printouts to feature on this month's post.

I am absolutely crazy about this business, mostly because it's stationery and we all know how much I love that but also because she is genuinely one of the hardest working people I know and nothing is too much trouble. I couldn't be happier with what she has created for me and I'd love other businesses to realise that they too can have beautiful stationery to fit their branding and style.

1. Tell us a little about you and your business.

Helloooo! I’m Gemma Compton, I’m 36 and I run Craft Schmooze, a business stationer based in Essex. I started running my own business after being forced to leave my job as a scenic artist (an artist who paints the backdrops and scenery for theatres, well mainly theatres, I even did the odd theme park ride!) due to being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This is a chronic illness that affects my physical ability and energy levels. I needed an alternative source of income and the entrepreneur in me was released.

2. What inspired your business name?

I originally started out as Essex Craft Market. It was a company that supported and promoted Essex crafters and hosted craft fair events. This led to an online market place website for craft sellers in Essex. A bit like Etsy, but on a ridiculously smaller scale. It was a marketplace, forum, and support network for crafters. It wasn’t generating enough income as I had severely limited my target market. So, opened it up UK wide. However, “Essex Craft Market” didn’t really fit any more. I had to come up with a new name and new branding. I wanted something original, and something that represented the mix of all the things you could do on the site. The main thing was talking about crafts, networking with other businesses, and helping each other out. After a quick brainstorm the word “schmooze” popped into my head. It is an old Yiddish word, “schmues”, meaning to informally chat. Its more modern representation reminds you of high flying suits, sitting in a room “schmoozing” their way to the top. I didn’t mind that. The whole point of Craft Schmooze was to better your business through networking.

3. How did you first discover your passion for your craft?

The website was a commission only marketplace. I only took 3.5% of sales. I needed extra income and started looking at further ways I could support small businesses and earn a bit of money myself. I was really frustrated looking at all these beautiful products people had made, and they weren’t getting many sales. So, a picked a couple of my marketplace sellers and “dabbled” with their branding, helped them with packaging ideas, and gave them tips on how to unify their look. Boy oh boy, did that take off! Before I knew it, I was knee deep in card and stickers! My passion doesn’t lie in the actual printing of the stationery. Any one that follows me on social media knows that I am constantly having printer troubles and have been known to throw a printer across the room. You may think I am exaggerating but I HURLED that thing. I wanted to hurt it. Sorry. I digress. My passion lies in seeing what my stationery does for other businesses. Watching them grow, becoming more professional and totally nailing it with their business. It’s worth the all-night printing sessions and stress. Because I know that I am helping other people fulfil their dreams. That’s pretty darn cool!

4. How long has your business been running?

As a stationery printer, just over 2 years. The Craft Schmooze marketplace closed in 2016, shortly after I set up my Etsy shop. With all the sticker printing and business card making it was proving impossible to manage. I’ve not had the chance to clear the website of all the marketplace software yet, so has been a continual work in progress since then. Its on my perpetual to do list.

5. What inspires your creations?

Mainly, the customers. They drive what products I make and design. I work with some of the most inspirational and talented crafters across the world and they have some amazing ideas. My mantra is “business stationery should never be boring”. Business stationery MUST be informative and communicative, otherwise there is no point in having it. But it should also reflect your business. Who you are, what you make, and appeal to your target market. So, if we can pretty it up with some flowers and glitter then we ruddy well should!

6. What is your proudest achievement to date?

Ooooh! This is a tough one. The day I reached over a thousand sales in a year, I celebrated. I celebrated HARD! I still can’t drink gin to this day without feeling a little bit sick. I have been featured in Making Jewellery magazine twice now. Once for my jewellery display cards and once for my jewellery planners. Again, a big achievement for me. But mainly, my biggest achievement is I haven’t given up. It's been a rocky road. It has not been easy balancing a small business with a chronic illness and there have been many times I have wanted to throw the towel in. But I don’t and that’s kind of a big deal!

7. What is the biggest lesson you have learned?

This was a hard one to pick. I’ve only been working for myself a few years and already I’ve had a few entrepreneur slaps in the face. Pricing is the main one and it still bites me on the bum occasionally. Essentially, I sell to crafters and small businesses who have little profit to play with themselves. So, I started out cheap. TOO CHEAP. I made a loss I my first year and had to raise my prices. I wasn’t charging for my time. I was making a “profit” as such on the materials but was working for free. FYI working for free doesn’t pay the bills.

8. What is your favourite make?

I have to say bundles. I know, I know. It’s a bit of a cop out as my bundles contain various products but I have a good reason for picking them! When a customer places an order with multiple items I have the chance to “tidy up” their brand. Get their stationery looking consistent across the board. If I had to choose one make, it would be my Jeweller planner. Although they are a bit of a labour of love, they look gorgeous (if I do say so myself) and the feedback I’m getting from them is amazing. They are really helping people to plan their business. It has also opened the door to lots of other printed planners too! I just need to make some time to get them designed!

9. What is the best feedback you have received?

I’m very fortunate to have a lot of good reviews. Working with other small businesses who know the value of a review means my feedback rate is higher than many others. But the best feedback? Its impossible to choose! I am my own worst critic so hearing that other people love my stuff makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

10. Is there anything you regret?

Not investing in the right machinery sooner! I was making do with domestic printers as that’s all I could afford at the time. And with the quantity of stickers and card I was printing on them daily they all went kaput pretty quickly! I now have a swanky digital printer, laser printer and inkjet printer (along with a few back-ups) which are all intended for commercial use. Although my love/hate relationship with printers continues, they are much better equipped for the work load I am throwing them!

11. What are your goals for the future?

How long have you got? In the short term, I would love to get my partner more involved in the business. He is already an awesome badge maker and makes exceptional cups of tea! But would love him to come and join me in the day to day running of the business. Despite living together, I don’t see him a lot! It would also help me reduce my turnaround times with an extra pair of hands. In the long term? I dream of a bigger shed (yes, I currently work in a shed, it’s a beautiful shed, but still a shed!) and a workforce. The craft schmooze annual Christmas do is a bit boring with just me for company.

12. What is the best part of being a maker?

I get to express my creativity every day! That’s a wonderful thing for the soul. Also, the maker community is amazingly supportive. We all have the same issues and worries, and I have made some awesome online friends as well as customers. I would love to name them all but there are honestly too many to mention!

13. What is your least favourite job to do?

Changing inks on my printers. They have it in for me. I think one is possessed but that’s another story. I use refillable cartridges on the inkjet printers to limit my companies landfill waste. You can guarantee I will have to do it half way through a big job, the ink goes everywhere, it’s a mixture of pigmented and dye ink so stays on your hands for days. I have tried rubber gloves, but I have what is medically known as “sausage fingers” * which means they are short and stubby and the gloves fingers dangle off the end making it almost impossible to do anything!

14. What advice would you give your old self?

Don’t spend time wondering what went wrong. Spend time thinking of how you stop it from happening again.

15. What advice would you give other makers?

You get back what you put in. Running a small business is not as easy as putting stuff up on the internet/ and expecting it to sell. There will be sleepless nights and bouts of utter exhaustion. You will worry, you will doubt yourself, and you will bite your partner’s/neighbour’s/dogs head off more than once for asking you the wrong question at the wrong time**. Things can and will go wrong. You run a small business. Its like trying to juggle 3 ferrets while skateboarding backwards over a pool of sharks, whilst being chased by a tax man.

IS IT WORTH IT? I hear you cry.

ABSOLUTELY! Creating what you love and getting paid for it is living the dream. The bad moments happen rarely and the benefits of being your own boss greatly outweigh the negatives. So, if you are thinking of giving it a go. Do it! You never know if you don’t try.

*Ok, it may not be a medical term. But it should be.

**That might just be me……

To find out more about Gemma and to see more of her incredible work, follow her here:

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