A year ago I decided to start moving Bleak House from being a shop to being a home for Experiences, retreats, inspiration and UK travel guides to help busy women carve out time for themselves and make the most of the wonderful world around them. Here is a review of year one.
Around eighteen months ago I found myself at a crossroads in my business. Whilst I loved all of the products I sold on Bleak House and still feel proud when I see a customer carrying one of my lovely rucksacks or tote bags, I began to realise that the only way for a shop to be successful long term is for it to sell more and more stuff to more and more people. This undeniable fact was creating a disconnect between my business and my values in my personal life where I was (and still am) trying to reduce the amount I consume.
I wasn’t sure from that point how to take my business forward. I’ve never been one of those people who has a clear vision of the future and I didn’t really know what to do next. I was struggling to see what I wanted my business to be, and what I wanted it to do for me as a business owner.
With some help from my amazing business coach Elizabeth Cairns, I began to understand that it’s perfectly alright not to have a long-term plan and it’s ok not to be able to think past the end of next week. I decided to stop setting goals far ahead and to forget about five year plans, sales targets, growth margins and other dispiriting things. Instead, I thought hard about what I wanted my today to be. I thought about what I wanted more of and what I was ready to leave behind. Once I’d let go of the orthodoxy of business advice, the answer was very simple indeed.
I wanted to spend more time with women who inspire me and spend more time travelling around the UK.
This insight gave me the idea to create my first Bleak House Experience and I set about building a business that I hoped would give me rewards greater than the normal metrics of business success. In retrospect running Experiences was probably always the right path for me. I was the twenty-something who’d far rather go walking in the Peak District with a group of girlfriends than go to the coolest nightclub. I am usually the person my friends (and followers on Instagram) ask for recommendations for hotels, cottages, pubs, beaches and dog walks and so looking backwards it all seemed quite obvious.
I launched my first Experience, to Devon, last August and was thrilled when it sold out in just a couple of minutes of the email landing in my subscribers’ inboxes. I couldn’t have been more amazed or excited. I knew then that I was on the right path and immediately began planning some more Experiences in my head.
Over the last year I’ve run six Experiences and have loved every single one. Each Experience has been entirely different, partly in the planning and location, but also because of the unique mix of guests who come. Some of my Experiences been small, some have been large, some have been quiet and relaxing and some have been raucous and hilarious. I have met the most incredible women over the last year, many of whom have gone on to become dear friends. Slowly but joyfully a nurturing, inspiring and fun community is forming and I’m delighted to be a part of it.
Running my Experiences has enabled me to work with some fantastic businesses and it makes me very happy to be able to support the inspiring people who are taking such good care of our countryside and protecting and celebrating what’s great about the UK. I love being able to promote and share my favourite restaurants and support makers who create beautiful items with respect for the world’s resources.
Since running my Experiences I have donated one percent of all of Bleak House’s revenue to charities who are working hard to protect our environment and make our country a better place for us and our wildlife to live. During the last year I’ve been proud to support, amongst others, the National Trust’s Meadows appeal, The Goodwash Foundation, Terrier SOS, Wild Justice and the RSPB. Protecting and celebrating what’s great about our beautiful country is one of the biggest driving forces for me in my business and being able to travel more in the last year has made me treasure the UK even more than I did before.
But most of all, it’s about you, my customers, friends, followers and readers. I am grateful to everyone who has put their trust in me over the last year. Thank you to everyone who has come on an Experience, especially those of you who have travelled all the way from the USA which is amazing to me. And a special thank you to the brilliant people who have booked on to two, three and even four of my Experiences! It’s the greatest compliment I could get. I’m so appreciative of everyone who takes the time to read my blog and engage with me on instagram.
I am proud of what I’ve achieved in the last year and grateful for the help and support given by my friends, family and customers. To celebrate this wonderful first year, here is a video of some chronological clips of some of our Experiences, including some little teasers for Cornwall which is happening in just two weeks’ time.
I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. Cheers to year one, and hurrah for year two!
Looking forwards… year two
I am so excited about the next year. If you’d like to join me, you can find out about the Experiences that are currently open via the button below. I would love you to come.
And do sign up to my email newsletter, below, as that is where the places on my Experiences are always released first.
Photos by Lauren Keim
In this blog post some of our former students from Learn to Shoot on Film, and some guests from my Bleak House Experiences, talk about the images that thrilled them.
An insight into how Lauren Keim and I we put together a very special Bleak House Experience celebrating Virginia Woolf’s much loved book Mrs Dalloway.
Join me on a monthly walk where we will discover the atmospheric streets and gentle parks that sit behind the relentlessly fast-paced facade of this magnificent global city.
A picnic in the sand dunes, a cliff top restaurant to ourselves, swimming in the sea and the chance to make the most wonderful friendships.