Self employed people contribute strongly to the UK economy, with over 5 million self employed people and represent over 15% of the labour market. This blog aims to shout out to just some of the hard working and talented self employed people I know.
This week we profile Jamie Mckenzie from Jamie Gaunt Designs. When i first met Jamie a few years ago at Broadway Market, i immediately saw someone who was first and foremost passionate about his craft. If you are lucky enough to meet him you can see that his whole self embodies nature, and each of his pieces really speaks into his passion of making. He runs his small business from a workshop in the countryside and loves that his children are running around in the countryside having a simple yet rich life. More and more i realise that work and personal lives are intertwined and Jamie's business really captures this new (yet old) philosophy.
He has generously answered my questions here, and i hope his interview might inspire you to also follow your passions.
Describe your business:
My business is...errrrr...an exploration in woodwork! How else can I say it? Because I’ve never had any kind of tuition in the more recognised, traditional woodworking techniques, I’ve never felt comfortable attaching familiar labels such as cabinet maker or carpenter to my business and instead tend to describe my work more on the side of ‘woodwork as an art form’. In many respects I think I’ve always felt like a bit of an imposter in my craft as a result of coming to it relatively late. Because of this however I’ve been able to develop my own techniques and emerging from that over the years is hopefully a style which is unique to me. Much of my work contains a practical element such as the chopping boards or vases for example but the form I try to bring to them is anchored more to the sculptural world.
What is your background and how does it link to what you are doing now?
In terms of a relative background to woodwork I once made a mini cricket bat at school aged 8. It was basically a thick stick which was slightly thinner at one end. Then after school I studied Fine Art at university, so just a very loose connection to where I am now. I have however always loved making things with my hands. Pre woodwork I went through phases of making things like children’s mobiles and bed side lamps etc, then one day a friend showed me a folding bookstand used in the kitchen for cookbooks which really fascinated me, so I had a look in my Dads garden shed, found some old shelves, sawed them up, boshed them together and made my first piece. I was hooked!
What was your breakthrough moment?:
Funnily enough I've always thought the time I was made redundant from a role in a mental health organisation in Melbourne was my breakthrough moment...psychologically at least. I’m not sure that without that push that I would have been brave enough to take the leap into the world of self-employment. I’d been working on furniture designs and developing homewares ideas in my own time for a year or so by that point but it was only when all this time (and a cheque) suddenly landed at my feet, that I decided to give the business a proper go. I’ll always be grateful for my time working with some truly inspirational people in a wonderful mental health organisation but ultimately it wasn’t a great fit for me and I could never imagine going back to that life now. I invested in some basic tools, changed the basement of the house we were living in at the time into an improvised (and very small) workshop and got to work.
What was your plan?
At the time when I found myself striking out solo on this new venture, I don’t think I really had a plan as such. Anyone who knows me even a little won’t be too surprised to hear me say that! I do however remember having a very strong desire to learn as many wood working skills as I could but in a self-taught way if possible. Books and YouTube were very helpful! Perhaps my plan was just to distance myself as much as possible from a regular 9 - 5 life. When I was working my government job I clearly remember hanging out for the weekends which seemed like little islands of relief from the sea of shit I was otherwise swimming in. I’m sure it wasn’t actually quite that bad but it clearly left a profound effect on me. There’s a song written by my all time hero Eddie Vedder called ‘Wasted Reprise’, the lyrics are so powerful and I find myself uttering them time and again when I feel challenged in my work;
‘I have faced it, a life wasted
I’m never going back again
Having tasted, a life wasted
I’m never going back again
I escaped it, a life wasted
I’m never going back again
Give it a listen...It’s just a very beautiful short song and anyone who’s self employed needs to listen to it on high rotation! My plan; never go backwards and to keep working hard to avoid it.
How and when did you launch?
I feel like the word ‘launch’ implies that there was an initial structure and some sort of method to the birth of Jamie Gaunt Designs but as I mentioned before, that just wasn’t the case. No one should ever come to me for advice on how to start out on their own! My own beginnings were a fairly ugly, cagey affair devoid of any kind of grace or beauty; more a hesitant, ungainly stumbling and fumbling about in the dark that somehow found enough traction to keep me going forwards. As well as learning how to make things from wood in that dingy basement I was at the same time trying to figure out how to manage a small business. Everything was new; accounts, marketing, distribution & selling, building contacts, networking, running a website, building social media...it seemed to go on and on but fortunately for me I had lot of fresh enthusiasm.
How have you continued to build your brand?
The word best suited to answer this is SLOWLY!!! You’ve probably realised by now that marketing is not my strength in this solo venture so it's an area that I’ve always been willing to listen to other people's suggestions on and look to seek out help with. It is definitely a weakness of mine which I’m constantly wrangling with in some way or another. I honestly do my work for the love of the making which sounds so twee but it really is the truth. I’m certainly not here for the financial benefits (I’m fairly confident that not many woodworkers are!) although I of course understand that I need to make a living from it, so there is a level of responsibility attached to this aspect of the business. Since the very beginning of ‘Jamie Gaunt’ I’ve been a trader at weekend markets and I’ve always found this to be the most effective method of brand building for me. I enjoy talking to people directly about my work, explaining the nuances of a certain piece and what might make it special in a way that only the maker could express. I’ve found that people really respond well to the direct interaction and seem to appreciate the opportunity to build a connection with my work through hearing a bit of a backstory. Most, if not all exciting new opportunities have actually come from trading at markets. Over the years I would have met and spoken to many thousands of people about my work in a meaningful way and from that everything else has dutifully followed.
How do you stay motivated?
I should say straight away that it has been relentless and staying motivated all the time is hard. Make no mistake about it, working for yourself is exhausting and certainly not an easy option. Emotionally it will drain you. Everything starts and stops with you. There is no one else to point the finger at, no one to take up the slack if you’re having an off week (or month) so you have to be willing to just get your head down and work through the shit sometimes. By nature, I’m not a highly motivated person which is something I’ve become more and more aware of, so I’ve had to really work hard on this. I’ve often lamented not having a business partner to give me a kick or dangle a carrot in front of me when motivation is in short supply. I still often struggle with a sense of being overwhelmed and during these times the temptation to just throw my hands in the air, turn my back on it all and walk away is huge. All that said however the business is still going and not only that but it’s growing steadily so in a way I’ve learnt to accept that it won’t always come easily, that motivation will wax and wane but that ultimately it’ll work out in the end! I also recognise that there is an amazing network of other self-employed ‘loners’ out there who are each incredible people with special skilIs and I’m not afraid to ask them for help. For example; I don’t feel comfortable, and therefore motivated to do any sort of meaningful online marketing, something which Jacqui here will always very patiently try to help me with! Thanks Jacs!
What have you got your eye on for the future?
Over the years I feel like a clearer image has emerged for where I’d like to take my work. I love the place my work has recently entered into in terms of the creative direction and with a little luck I’d like to take my work to the gallery and have an exhibition with some of my larger more unusual pieces. This for me would represent a hugely proud moment and be a real marker in the sand.
How can people get in touch with you?
I find that Instagram works well for me and it’s the one and only social media platform I feel really comfortable using, so head there for the most up to date images of my work and to see what I’m currently working on: @jamie_gaunt_designs
My website, www.jamiegaunt.com is of course also a great way to get in touch and to follow my woodworking adventures!