Nothing happens overnight. You can’t track your success against others in the business. I would watch other companies grow to millions of subscribers while we were still in the thousands. I would find myself thinking, “What are we doing wrong? What am I doing wrong? I must be doing something wrong.” I had to stop and be glad we were growing from our hard work and be inspired by other’s success.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Stapleton-Smith the creator of The Hedgehog Hollow crafting blog. Alexandra is a lifelong crafter and has turned her hobby into a growing and profitable business with customers all over the globe. She and her family moved to the USA from the UK two years ago. The self-starter who is Alexandra taught herself video production and how to create websites, giving birth to her blog The Hedgehog Hollow. The first video delivered by The Hedgehog Hollow actually published upside down with little production value but was still well received by the online crafting community. Alexandra’s new blog took off. The Hedgehog Hollow grew to 43,000 YouTube subscribers in 2 years. Alexandra’s blog is now an award-winning company and thriving in the social media community. Her company has grown in staff and seems to not be slowing down any time soon. Alexandra’s blog strives to have the best video production in the crafting community and to collaborate versus competing with fellow professional crafters. This is a strong reason why her growth has been so organic. Alexandra expects the next year to be her best year yet with large creative collaborations in all directions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I lived in student housing in high school and graduated when I was 16 years old. I didn’t have money for food so eating was a privilege I wasn’t given many days. I went to bed hungry more nights than I care to share. My first job after I graduated high school was as a bank teller for a bank. The hunger I felt as a lonely kid in Colchester gave me grit as a young woman. By 18, I worked my way up in the bank as a Business Development Regional Manager for commercial lending. I guess I have those hungry nights to be thankful for in an odd way. I became hungry to succeed and never looked back.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I was working for Jaguar as a Globalization Business Development Manager when my life had a dramatic change. My husband and I were actually going to move to India to help launch a new subdivision for Jaguar, but I became very ill. I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time and began having liver failure. I was forced to have a hysterectomy after she was born and was out of work indefinitely. My husband, who is an engineer, was offered a job in the United States for Goodyear, so we moved to Northeast Ohio.
I couldn’t work without a visa. I found myself reading tons of inspirational blogs out of boredom. I decided to take a stab at blogging and searched the internet for a “How-to” book with the best reviews. I bought a book titled “Create Your Own Website Using WordPress In A Weekend” by Alannah Moore. I built the crafting blog named The Hedgehog Hollow and my husband and I launched our first crafting video. The video had tremendous response and things took off from there for The Hedgehog Hollow.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I had nothing to lose because I couldn’t work without a visa, so I took a leap. The main thing was having fun. The Hedgehog Hollow blog continued to grow in viewership. We kept at it and grew to a few thousand subscribers in three months. As we grew, we learned more and adapted.]
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
You have to go for it. Believe in yourself. Believe in your vision. A lot of people think you have to start full time, but you don’t. You can start your passion as a side hustle, little by little. Find out if a market exists for your passion, and if not, try to find out why and what the market needs. If you never take the leap, you’ll never know. So jump.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
For me, I have to separate the business side from the crafting side. The fun of crafting is still exciting for me and our family. Entertain new ideas and try them out to keep growing in business and knowledge. Know what you like and keep doing those parts. If crafting is your business for instance, you still have to take time to craft for fun… for you.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I enjoy being in control of my life. I get to watch my kids grow up and be active in their lives. My oldest child has an autoimmune disease and running my own business means I get to be there for her every single day. Watching the business grow from an idea and turn into something real gives me a sense of worth I wish 14-year-old me could feel.
It’s hard work building a business from scratch. In the beginning you’re everything from the CEO to the janitor. It’s long hours. When the kids go to sleep, I’m still up at 10, midnight or even 2 a.m. working on the business.
Having a vision and seeing the potential in the possibilities is a must. We have to set goals for our business and family. My husband’s overflowing support has been a key factor in overcoming not just the drawbacks, but the difficult times. We make it a priority to set time for only family time every day and week. We eat meals as a family and do something together at least once a week. It’s having the discipline to know when to take time away from the business and spend it with the family or even away alone for moments of peace.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I quickly learned how little time I actually have to do my hobby, which is crafting. I spend so much time with meetings, administrative work, customer service, prepping, editing, etc. Although content is queen, I spend less time creating and more time managing the business.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
When our business really took off, it became instantly overwhelming and the self-doubt tried to creep in. I was able to overcome self-doubting by creating goals early on which always brought me back to center and kept the vision alive. Don’t abandon ship when things get difficult. Difficulties are wonderful precursors for new growth.
We started a new idea by offering subscription boxes stuffed with crafting supplies that came from a variety of other crafting companies. We wanted to give our audience new and fun items while giving exposure to other professional crafters. We bought materials for 50 boxes, thinking our first month would be small. We didn’t sell 50 the first month, we sold 500.
We became so busy, the entire family became an assembly line for almost one week a month — stuffing boxing, printing labels and mailing them out to customers. The subscription boxes weren’t making enough profit to hire someone to take over and we weren’t being productive for the business with the time it took to deliver subscription boxes. I was ready to pull the plug on subscription boxes all together.
I talked to our Tax Strategist about ending the program and she dissected our numbers. She was convinced our subscription box could be profitable and put me in touch with a distribution investor from San Diego. He flew up to talk and was immediately ready to invest with our program, after looking at what we accomplished out of our basement. He saw the potential to grow correctly. Our new investor took over distribution and doubled our box sales immediately.
The lesson to be learned is surround yourself with a team of knowledge and relationships. You can’t and don’t have to do everything on your own. Build a team to help build your business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After creating our blog from a how-to book, our first video published upside down. It’s quite embarrassing to watch now because we even had cables hanging in the shot.
Allow me rip the band aid off and tell you the truth. You’re going to make mistakes. No one is going to get it perfect in the beginning. Go for it and learn through experience. Whatever your weakest link is, that’s the next thing you need to improve.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My grandfather inspired me as a little girl. He was in the army for 25 years and ran a series of successful businesses. Once a month he would bring me with him to collect rents for his properties and teach me bookkeeping, accounting, relationship building and how to run a personal business.
The Hedgehog Hollow is named after a memory from him. Hedgehogs are wild in England and would nest in holly bushes on my Grandfather’s property. We would rescue baby hedgehogs after rolling out of their nests, build them cardboard box homes and feed them cat food before releasing back into the wild. Yes, cat food because they needed the protein. Hedgehogs are actually lactose intolerant, so milk didn’t work. The name Hedgehog Hollow reminds me of my British heritage and warm memories I have from home with my Grandfather.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We strive to make the crafting community a place for everyone. We believe in collaboration over competition. The more success we gain, the more exposure we are able to give to others. I want our fellow crafters to succeed and not be a stepping stool in our journey.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Nothing happens overnight. You can’t track your success against others in the business. I would watch other companies grow to millions of subscribers while we were still in the thousands. I would find myself thinking, “What are we doing wrong? What am I doing wrong? I must be doing something wrong.” I had to stop and be glad we were growing from our hard work and be inspired by other’s success.
- Track your numbers from the very beginning. We were terrible at tracking our numbers in the beginning and it made it difficult to know our true growth from the start. We had to backtrack to realize how much we had actually grown. Knowing your growth can help motivate you when times get difficult.
- Good staff are hard to find and it’s not all about how much you pay them. We’ve over paid the wrong people and some of the most expensive have been the worst. Use your gut with people you bring into your circle. Don’t get into any or commitments keeping you awake with anxiety and fear at night.
- You can’t be everything to everyone. I wanted to be a great blog for crafts, DIY, lifestyle, recipes, etc. I couldn’t tackle all of those categories on day one, so I decided to start with what I was best at and build up the others over time.
- You can’t do everything all at once. I had 20 different business ideas I wanted to incorporate like merchandise, additional subscriptions, products, etc. I had to find what was worth investing time and resources in first.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Find what you love and don’t be afraid to take the leap. It’s never too late. Just start. The smallest steps can project your future outcome. You are able. You are enough. If people around you say otherwise, then it’s time to prove them wrong and find new people to be around. Believe in your abilities. We all need your inspiration for our own personal journey.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Don’t let your past define your future. I could have let my harsh childhood hold me back and put me in a position as an addict, or alcoholic living on the streets, but I refused to let that happen. I decided to forge my own path that got me to where I am today.
“She dreamt she could, so she did.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet. Martha Stewart, because she is someone I’ve always admired and strive to emulate. She would be the dream collaboration.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.