Focus on serving your people. Put everything you have into creating the best product or service that is going to solve a pain point for your customer. If you can do that, the rest will flow easily.
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 Gemma Bonham-Carter. Gemma is a serial online entrepreneur, business strategist and podcast host. After creating several successful online businesses, Gemma has made it her mission to help others do the same. She specializes in digital products and email marketing and helps solopreneurs rise up to create a bigger income and impact online. When Gemma isn’t working with clients at GemmaBonhamCarter.com or hosting The Passive Project podcast, you can find her on adventures with her two young kids in Ottawa, Canada.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up with two scientist parents. Yep, actual “work in a laboratory” scientists. The idea of being an entrepreneur never even crossed my mind. From an early age, I fully expected to pursue academics and then land a “good stable job” that I would work at for my entire life. Looking back though, I can now see that I was always an entrepreneur in my bones. I used to charge my family members admission to come watch plays and dance performances as a kid. I hosted my first garage sale at 7 years old and tried to sell anything I could from our house. And even as I grew older and did the expected thing of going to University, getting an undergraduate and then a Master’s degree, I still did these weird side gigs to make money. Things like finding furniture in people’s garbage and then fixing it up and painting it to then re-sell online. Or knitting items that I sold on Etsy. Even though all of the signs were there early on, I never even considered entrepreneurship.
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?
When I was still working in my stable 9–5 job in Public Health, I decided on a whim to start a blog. I needed a creative outlet and since my husband and I had just purchased a “fixer upper” home I thought it would be fun to share the renovations and projects we did with our family and friends. Never in a million years did I consider that us doing renovation projects would become a business. But a few years in, I attended my first blogging conference and was inundated with interest from brands who wanted to work with me. And suddenly I started landing these sponsored posts and I realized I could monetize my blog with ads and affiliate links. Suddenly these streams of income started coming in. When I got pregnant with my daughter, that was the real catalyst that made me suddenly realize how much I wanted to take a different path: To create a business that would support me to have a life by design, where I could have the freedom and time to spend our days exactly the way I wanted. That moment (well, those 9 months!) was my ah-ha. It didn’t happen overnight, but I worked hard at building my blog business and once my maternity leave was over I didn’t have to go back to my desk job (and never have since!).
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?
At first I tried to learn everything myself. I read all the articles, watched the YouTube videos, and slogged through. But it was slow. And painful. As soon as I got over the fear of investing in myself and enrolled in an online course, everything changed. I realized the power of learning from those who had gone ahead of me. The first course I took helped me triple the traffic I was getting to my blog website. And then from there, every time I was ready to up-level something in my business, I found the right person or program to invest in to teach me how to get there. Even though I am so much further ahead now than I imagined I would be, there is still always something new to learn. If you are open to learning, willing to invest in yourself as a business owner, and remain consistent in your determination, you will succeed.
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?
Have you heard that phrase “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, it’s true. I genuinely LOVE what I do and can’t get enough of it. If you have a pastime already that you adore, you are doing yourself a disservice by not monetizing it. Try it out in a part-time capacity and see what happens. My guess is that you are going to get so fired up and excited that you won’t be able to resist growing it further from there. The things you are most passionate about are NOT random — they are your calling. Your purpose. Follow them and see where they will lead.
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?
Truthfully, I have never had that experience. The fun has never gone away. Sure there are some tasks as a business owner that feel a bit tedious, but the larger reward of getting to do something I love outweighs them all day long. One tip would be that once your business starts to grow, outsource the items you don’t enjoy first. Bringing on someone for even just a few hours a week can take those things off your plate, and allow you to stay in line with the items in your business that bring you joy.
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?
What I enjoy most about running my own online business is the freedom is provides. I can be there for the school bus drop off and pick up every day without having to have a rushed commute to the office. We can take time off as a family and go on incredible adventures, and not be limited to a certain number of “vacation days” a year. I can prioritize things like exercising and self-care, because I have the flexibility in my days to do so. I wouldn’t trade that freedom and flexibility for anything. Some of the drawbacks to running your own business are things like feeling like you can never shut off. Feeling like you have to be tied to it 24/7. Knowing that a secure paycheque isn’t a guarantee and that you are the one on the line to make that income happen. But ultimately all of those things can be managed with careful planning, the way you set up your business, and mindset work.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I didn’t have any major preconceived notions about what being a blogger, and now a business coach and strategist, would mean. It was all a bit foreign. I think one of the misconceptions I had was that you needed to be “famous” on social media in order to be financially successful, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are people out there with hundreds of thousands of followers who are barely making ends meet, compared to others with tiny audiences who are hugely successful. It’s all about the strategy.
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?
Any business is going to have ebbs and flows when it comes to income, particularly in the beginning. I have certainly had my fair share of months where the income wasn’t as profitable as the month before and I panic! In those moments, the idea of a stable paycheck was attractive, but I never once considered throwing in the towel. Instead, I focused on ways to design my business that would give me more security financially so that I could have a relaxed approach to my role as CEO.
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?
How much time do we have? I made so many mistakes!! How about when my first ever blog post was two sentences long and didn’t include a picture? Or the time I did a complete sponsored post for a brand with blog post, social media shout-outs, the works… all for one measly free can of paint? Or when I was transitioning to becoming a business strategist and spent months on creating an online course without doing any market research and ultimately it made next to no sales? I have learned so much along the way. I think the key is to not worry about perfection. Done is better than perfect and we all just need to have the courage to put ourselves and our products out into the world. Take the leap and you’ll figure it out on your way down.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
To me, anyone who creates a life where they are pursuing their passions, making an impact, and doing the things every day that bring them joy, that’s an incredible inspiration.
I am also regularly inspired by my kids. They are creative, empathetic, energetic, and constantly following their happiness. I think we could all use a little bit more of that.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My aim has always been to improve people’s lives in some way.
On my home décor blog, The Sweetest Digs, my hope is that the tutorials and articles I share help inspire others to create a beautiful, simple and healthy space that they love.
In my coaching business at GemmaBonhamCarter.com, my mission is to help people create thriving online businesses that give them the financial and time freedom that they want in their lives. And that ultimately allows them to make an impact on THEIR clients. It’s a ripple effect.
I have also gotten my coaching students involved in giving back to global charities. Each month we donate a percentage of our profits to a charitable organization — usually around topics including women’s health, education, childhood wellbeing, and the environment. It’s a win-win all around.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t worry about it being perfect. Just put it out into the world and you’ll make it better over time. Heck, the worse your “thing” is that you start out with, the better the ‘before and after’ will be. Imagine how far you’ll come!
- Invest in yourself and in your business before you think you “should”. You’re worth it.
- Get visible. You need an audience to grow a successful business so get out there. Don’t let the fear and insecurities hold you back. Be brave and be vulnerable.
- Don’t work in isolation. The fastest way to grow your business will be to network and make connections with others.
- Focus on serving your people. Put everything you have into creating the best product or service that is going to solve a pain point for your customer. If you can do that, the rest will flow easily.
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.
I would love to inspire a movement of “the ripple effect”. The more entrepreneurs I can help, the more they can have a positive effect on their clients. And it keeps rippling outward. If we can all lift each other up, and then all give back in the ways we feel pulled to do so, imagine the potential.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams” ~ Oprah
Doing the scary or uncomfortable thing is usually the one that brings the most reward. Everyone’s dream is going to look different, and you need to get in tune with what that dream is for YOU. I love this quote from Oprah because it consistently reminds me to go for it!
We are very blessed that 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.
Rachel Hollis. I can watch that woman talk for hours on end. She is fiercely out there doing her thing and spreading her message. So inspiring!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.