Why I believe in living a life less ordinary
When the unexpected happens, you still have to run your business
with Clara and Macy
One of the common denominators throughout all small businesses, is that life doesn’t stop just because you own your own business. That means, when disaster strikes, not only do you need to navigate your way through it, but you need to survive. Here, Laura Clempson, who founded her successful business a decade ago, shares the story of when her son Miles arrived weighing a tiny 3lbs 1oz and it took everything in her, to not only make sure Miles survived, but as the main breadwinner, that she and her business did too.
Laura’s story began in February 2019 when she was pregnant with her fourth baby, Miles.
‘It was a hard year,’ Laura tells us: ‘When I was 11 weeks pregnant, I had a huge haemorrhage. I was rushed to hospital and we thought we’d lost our baby boy, miraculously he survived.’ After being put on bed rest for six weeks, at 25 weeks pregnant, Laura’s waters suddenly broke, ‘It was frightening being so early. I was rushed in an ambulance again and given steroids and magnesium sulphate and transferred to another hospital which took babies from 25 weeks.’
This is Laura Clempson, from near Manchester, founder of Clara and Macy since 2012, a small business creating beautiful gifts which ‘add a little magic to your everyday’.
Laura lives with her husband Tom and their four children and is living proof that whatever life throws at you, you still have to run your business.
‘I’d spend six hours a day in neonatal with Miles, but I had to make sure the business carried on. I’d make product samples and sketch out ideas while sitting with him which kept me grounded and felt so empowering. I’d then come home, work from my laptop all night in bed while Tom was at hospital.’
Laura’s journey began in February 2019 when she was pregnant with her fourth baby, Miles.
‘It was a hard year,’ Laura tells us: ‘When I was 11 weeks pregnant, I had a huge haemorrhage. I was rushed to hospital and we thought we’d lost our baby boy, miraculously he survived.’
After being put on bed rest for six weeks, by the time she reached 25 weeks pregnant, Laura’s waters suddenly broke, she told us: ‘It was frightening being so early. I was rushed in an ambulance again and given steroids and magnesium sulphate and transferred to another hospital which took babies from 25 weeks.’
Laura was told she had an 80% chance of going into labour within 72 hours, but thankfully her baby stayed put.
After being sent home on bed rest at home again, she had vital hospital monitoring with her infection chances being so high. Four weeks later, Laura developed an infection and had to have an emergency C-section. Miles arrived eleven weeks early on 6th June 2019 weighing a tiny 3lbs 1oz and dropped down to 2lbs 5oz after he was born, Laura told us: ‘It’s a miracle he survived.’
Laura then began her ten-weeks in neonatal, she told us: ‘When he first came out he was in a very poor way, we both had sepsis so he was rushed into intensive care and put on a ventilator. He was struggling to breathe.’ Describing the intensive care unit in neonatal, Laura said: ‘It’s terrifying and so intense. I had days where I didn’t cope well at all. The worry, the business pressure, the intense lack of sleep, and three other children was a lot, but when you have your own business, you can’t just close it, it’s our sole family income and we couldn’t afford to let it slip away.’
Proving she is made of strong stuff, Laura managed to keep both her sanity – and her precious business together – on top of having her three other children at home, Matilda, 12, Theo, 10 and five-year-old Martha.
Laura came up with a business survival plan, ‘We extended our delivery times, increased staff hours, and we made it through without having to close or put the business on hold.’
Laura explains: ‘I’d spend six hours a day in neonatal with Miles, but I had to make sure the business carried on. I’d make product samples and sketch out ideas while sitting with him which kept me grounded and felt so empowering. I’d then come home, work from my laptop all night in bed while Tom was at hospital.’
‘I learnt to delegate and soon realised that the business could run without me which was a vital lesson. When you first set up as a business owner, you feel responsible for everything and it’s hard to let go. I soon realised that they do keep going.’
Laura was on auto-pilot and set herself a strict routine, ‘Every day I managed to get to the hospital cafe for a small slot of time to answer emails, order stock and check in with my team back at the studio. It kept me connected to the business in a way I had to be.’ ‘It was scary taking so many steps backwards while trying to survive. We had to move studios last minute, look after our employees and have the responsibility of keeping the business growing enough to pay for everything.’
Laura – who illustrates and designs every Clara & Macy product, as well as making the majority by hand – also learnt to cope by asking for help, having reliable staff and learning to live hour to hour rather than day to day or week to week, ‘Things change so quickly so I stopped planning ahead and lived in the temporary.’
Talking of other coping mechanisms, Laura told us: ‘I learnt to delegate and soon realised that the business could run without me which was a vital lesson. When you first set up as a business owner, you feel responsible for everything and it’s hard to let go. I soon realised that they do keep going.’
When Miles was eventually allowed home from neonatal, he was tubed up to oxygen tanks and feeding tubes with regular hospital check ups and blood transfusions.
Laura told us: ‘When Miles ever took a dip health wise, there was always the fear of the business suffering. My husband and I worked around the clock to make sure everything kept going. We freelanced a lot of work out which was not only saving money, but also time. It’s a way of bringing in more staff but not having them in the studio which is so much more productive.’
Knowing the rollercoaster ride that comes with premature babies, Laura wanted to help in any way she could. Tapping into her creative side, Laura used her experience to make a thoughtful range of gift pins saying things like: ‘A hug from Mum’ or ‘Coping okay today’, which she has donated to neonatal units in hospitals all over the North West. ‘We’ve sold thousands and it’s blown us away.’
Laura told us: ‘We had so many lovely messages about them being a real source of comfort, if I can help in any way I will. It breaks my heart seeing families going through what we did, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I honestly believe that.’
Talking about the future of Clara & Macy, Laura told us: ‘Hopefully we’ll keep growing. We’ve been lucky with our growth in the past year so we can invest more into the business. We’re going to buy some new equipment and take on a new full time staff member, we’ve never had anyone full time, only three part timers. The only way is up, it has to be!’
1. Seek help and have a good support team: My supportive husband and my family helped no end. They moved our whole studio when I was in neonatal. Don’t try and do everything yourself, it’s too much mentally and physically. Make sure you have good, reliable staff. Last year we started to employ a bank of freelancers. We sent work out to them instead of them coming into the studio which worked brilliantly. We will carry that on as it’s so much more cost effective and saves a lot of space in the studio. We’ll just tell them what we need, our budget and they can make things whilst watching Netflix. If we’d had that in place in 2019, we’d have sailed through it a lot easier.
2. Get techy: Before we all became accustomed to running businesses via Zoom in 2020, we had to quickly figure out how to make it work in an emergency situation. There were a lot of video calls and figuring it out on the go but has benefited our company so much.
3. When things appear impossible, remember that each day is just temporary: It will come to an end, you might not know when but it will, nothing is forever.
4. Cry and talk whenever you want to: It’s part of the coping mechanism. Don’t try to keep your emotions together, it’s bad for your mental health. I was trying so hard to be brave and keep strong for the kids but fell apart after a month. I definitely suffered post traumatic stress from it all.
5. Realise what’s important: I’m not the same person I was before. I’m stronger now and small things don’t bother me. We live in a really small two bedroom house so we’re all such a tight unit. Everything we went through taught us about working hard and coping, those are the two main ways we got through it all.
What is emotional labour?
As in Laura's case, many female founders find that they bear the brunt of the household's emotional labour. Never heard of it? Now's the time!