Don't let COVID stop you from starting your own business – my company's now worth £10m

Don't let COVID stop you from starting your own business – my company's now worth £10m

Hannah Chapman was 23-years-old when she started Ava May Aromas in her parents' kitchen with "zero followers, zero money and zero marketing budget."

Two years on, her company is now worth a staggering £10 million, she boasts a team of over 20 employees and has the support of viral cleaning guru, Mrs Hinch.

Speaking to Four Nine about her incredible journey, the 25-year-old says "the biggest thing was just starting". And this is the advice she would give to would-be entrepreneurs looking to take the leap into self-employment.

Hannah Chapman Hannah Chapman started Ava May Aromas out of her parents' kitchen (Credit: Supplied)

Hannah Chapman on starting Ava May Aromas

Like many young adults, Hannah felt "lost" after leaving university, and quickly became disenfranchised with her first job at a marketing agency. "I remember thinking: 'there's got to be something out there that I enjoy more than this'".

The idea of starting a candle company came out of noticing an uptick of interest in wellness products. "I just felt like it was something that I could realistically do," she says matter-of-factly. "Making candles is a skill you can learn."

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Within a few weeks, Hannah had purchased a candle making kit, and had had a conversation with her parents about quitting her job.  She explains: "I had this agreement with them that I was going to give it a crack for two months, or however long my savings lasted. Then, if it didn't work, I'd get a job and go back to paying them rent."

A mere six weeks later and Hannah had already outgrown her parents' home. "It was at the point where it was so crazy that I had to move out of my house because it was literally taking over the kitchen, the living room, the dining area, and even my sister's room!" she explains. "Stock was everywhere."

Hannah Chapman Hannah now boasts 24 employees and runs Ava May Aromas out of an industrial site (Credit: Supplied)

Teething issues

Still, finding her feet as a young entrepreneur did not come without its difficulties. For six months to a year, Hannah was unable to take home a proper salary. "Anything I earned I was having to reinvest to keep making more and more products," she says.

"I love the freedom that comes with being my own boss now, but I didn't feel like that when I started. Initially, I had no work-life balance, and was running on empty. It was really, really hard work. I was up until the early hours of the morning, and then I had to wake up early too, because if I didn't make my Post Office runs, no one else was going to do it for me."

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Of course, having an online business presents its own challenges. Hannah speaks to me about last Christmas, where her website kept going down, and her team were unable to figure out why. "Customers were going crazy. Sometimes when you're really frustrated, and people are just screaming at you left, right, and centre, you just want to say 'I don't wan to do this anymore'," she concedes. But of course, she didn't give up.

Trolling, sexism and ageism

Hannah was also not exempt from the pitfalls of ageism and sexism that continue to hound young, female professionals.

She recounts an incident where she and her father – who is her business partner – were at a trade show. "People at the stand, predominantly men, would just talk to my dad, and literally wouldn't acknowledge me," she tells me. "I felt like I wasn't there."

Another time, when Hannah called her courier up to issue a complaint, the man on the receiving end "just laughed down the phone". She did, however, have the last word: "After that, I cancelled the contract, and moved us to a different courier that I love."

Hannah Chapman Hannah was not able to take home a proper salary for almost a year (Credit: Supplied)

While Hannah says she's not a "naturally confident" person, she's had to grow fast, especially when her face became more associated with Ava May Aromas.

In fact, she says the biggest struggle for her has not been the imposter syndrome she's experienced because of her age, but the relentless trolling she has received on social media.

"If you show your face, you're going to get judged," she tells me. "When it first happened, I remember really struggling with how nasty people could be. They would judge me on my voice, the way I talk, look, just anything. It made me want to give up for a long time.

"Talking about it helped massively. Eventually, I realised that people could say anything they wanted, but it didn't change my business. They could only get into my head if I let them. As much as I was tempted to reply times, that was the worst thing I could have done. Because you're acknowledging it, and letting them think they've won."

Hannah Chapman advises entrepreneurs to 'just start'

Utilising social media, and getting going, is the crux of Hannah's advice to potential entrepreneurs.

"For a lot of people, the biggest thing is just starting," she says. "I'd sat on the idea for eight months. And sometimes I think to myself, 'God, if I'd started eight months sooner, I'd been so much further ahead than where I am now'. So go for it, don't let the idea pass you by."

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Certainly, before Hannah started Ava May Aromas, she'd never made a candle in her life.

"There's a misconception that you have to be really passionate about something for a long time. If there's something that makes you think 'yeah I can do that', start from there," she says, crediting YouTube as a fantastic resource for picking up new skills.

"I think people sometimes look at me and go, 'Oh you must have had money, or your family must had money'. But we're not wealthy - I went to a state school, not private school. It's purely social media gave me the opportunity. It levels the playing field, and it's nice for other people to see that and feel like they can do it too."

Hannah Chapman Hannah pictured with her father, who is also her business partner (Credit: Supplied)

The coronavirus pandemic

Of course, the young entrepreneur acknowledges the difficulties that businesses have encountered during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but she doesn't think it should scare people off from starting something new.

Even if you've got a full-time job, as Hannah points out, there's nothing stopping you from creating a website, or Instagram and Facebook pages to test the waters.

"To be honest, Covid has brought more opportunity in the sense that it's made the demand for eCommerce go crazy. So if I was starting out now, I'd definitely be looking there, and using social media to leverage whatever product I was selling."

"It's always risky," she asserts. "If you use Covid as a reason not to, you'll never start."

This ethos has certainly served Hannah Chapman well, as she enters her third year as a young entrepreneur. And as for what's next for Ava May Aromas: "It's lots of new product development," and she chuckles, "Just spreading wax melts everywhere!"