Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Claire Houlding, Owner and Creative Director of Three & Me, located in Camas, WA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My business, Three & Me, brings art experiences to all ages and skill levels. I host arts and crafts events for ages 5 to 95+ in the local Clark County community. Many of my kids' classes run through the local schools' community education programs, with birthday parties hosted at home. Adult art experiences are run in collaboration with local restaurants as well as parks and rec to connect local residents with local businesses and programs. Corporate and team-building events are offered year-round for creative staff appreciation.
I like to make it about more than just the art. My events are experiences, from the moment you arrive, through connecting with friends or even like-minded strangers, to the creation of a functional piece of art that you will be able to appreciate and use for decades. Many options are offered for people to modify their projects to suit their style and personality... it's never a cookie-cutter outcome! Art experiences are a way to decompress from everyday stresses and find a space for yourself to meet creatively with people and make memories while learning a new skill. I am passionate about allowing each customer the freedom to be creative and come away with great memories to last a lifetime!
Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in South Africa, where I also became a pharmacist, working in rural and suburban settings, often with those less fortunate, and realizing the immense impact kindness can make on a person. After some personal safety scares, we were offered an opportunity to move to the USA, where I was unable to use my degree but still wanted to contribute meaningfully to society. While raising three sons, I just couldn't put in the time to convert my medical degree, so I decided to follow my other passion, arts and crafts. After doing mostly fundraisers and private events, I started Three & Me in order to offer art experiences to all ages and skill levels and reach out creatively to inspire my community.
My main motivation is that teaching art to people brings them so much joy. I love seeing people's reactions to the beautiful crafts they've made when they were doubtful of their artistic talents, to begin with. I love the connections between old and new friends as they sit side by side, painting. It makes me smile so broadly inside and out when I get the feedback that participants have had a wonderful time creating memories with their crafts. And the biggest inspiration to me is when customers come back again and again, year after year, and become my friends.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I would have to say that surviving the Covid years has been the biggest accomplishment for Three & Me. Before 2020, my business, at 3 years old, was just hitting the profitable margins reliably every month, with public events, art classes, and corporate functions. Covid shut everything down, and I remember clearly the day my last public art class happened, as we were preparing for unprecedented times. We painted and celebrated fellowship one last time without trepidation, all with the knowledge that times would never be the same.
During Covid, I had to shut down 100% of all my events and slowly started offering free online events with items that people likely had in their homes, so they wouldn't need to venture into shops. From there, my business started a kind of Covid cha-cha- 2 steps forward, 3 back, and 16 sideways! I started creating all-inclusive DIY Art kits with all the supplies, tools, paints, and necessary items, which I would mail, deliver or offer curb-side pickup for, with virtual online art classes. This meant starting an active blog with video feeds and carefully photographed step-by-step instructions so that although we weren't meeting in person, I still wanted my customers to have the feeling that we were crafting together in a community, albeit across a screen. Three & Me survived these years, and as we are coming back into social group activities, I still maintain in-person as well as online art experiences for all comfort levels.
My favorite moment throughout the shutdown was when I delivered DIY Art kits to people who would be waiting at their doors, windows, or garages. So happy to see another person from a distance. I loved the messages of hope displayed in windows and messages of joy from the crafts they had made within their safe circles, and I am so grateful for all my customers who trusted and supported me through these years. The uncertainty and unpredictability post-Covid still casts a shadow over my small business, but I hope that in time, it will pass to a distant memory of hardships overcome.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Time management! I can easily work 18-20 hour days, 7 days a week. Being a small business owner means that you never get paid time off or sick leave! Not only do I design new and trending projects, but I am also the person who does all my own photography, marketing, wood cutting, sourcing, blogging, merchandising, sales, social media, website maintenance, customer service, after-sales service, finance, taxes, and teaching... amongst all the other responsibilities of business ownership. My mind is always problem-solving all these aspects of running a small business, day and night. I have to make an effort to remove myself from my workspace not to be drawn back into 'quickly' doing something work-related! It's a dangerous rabbit hole!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Know your value. This is one of the hardest parts for me in running a small business. It's not just the cost of raw materials and business expenses that need to be accounted for, but time too, as the most precious of limited resources. If a project takes 12 hours to create and you know you can't charge the price tag, then you may need to let it go. Time will never be returned to you! I see each project as a packaged-up moment of my life. I am raising a family and running a home as well, and I don't want to get to the end of my days and not have made meaningful memories with my kids because I spent all my hours working for free. It is definitely a fine balancing act and a hard one at that!
- Be prepared to pivot. Whether it is an international pandemic, a short supply of raw materials, a recession, or any other proverbial fly in the ointment, you need to get up, show up and figure out a way through if you are determined to succeed. It may mean changing things up in your business structure or re-imagining your product. Not adjusting to the times will stagnate a small business. If you're fatigued from all the changes, take a break, switch off, care for yourself and start up again with a fresh mind and spirit when you're ready. Your business can't be powered by an empty battery!
- Celebrate & Learn. When something works out, celebrate it, even if it's the smallest of victories! Share with those who really matter so your success is amplified. But stay humble. Conversely, when you have a failure, which is natural collateral damage in any business, learn from it, build on it and use it as an opportunity to grow. Everyone stumbles, but it's how we right ourselves after a wobble that determines our trajectory.
Running your own small business is truly empowering and the lessons learnt are never wasted. I have no regrets about meeting incredible people, learning new skills, honing talents, surviving the struggles, and experiencing the joys of small business ownership.
Where can people find you and your business?
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