Have you ever sat at your desk at work with a never-ending list of jobs that need doing and thought, ‘I wish I was doing something else’?
Back in autumn 2017, that was me. I was heading up a digital team for a national charity where I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic people and get involved with a variety of different projects. The job was demanding and incredibly busy but I was bored. I didn’t dislike the job but I didn’t have much enthusiasm for it either.
So, I decided to hand in my notice. I didn’t have another job but I wanted to do something that I enjoyed. However, instead of accepting my resignation, my boss asked if I would stay for one more year to cover a maternity role. I agreed on the basis that when the contract finished, I’d leave the organisation.
My team members were quite shocked at my decision to leave. The question I was regularly asked was ‘what are you going to do?’. The honest answer was I had absolutely no idea but I knew that I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to do something that I was passionate about.
Most weekend mornings, my hubby (Andy) and I would get up early to walk our dog, Bella. We’d treat ourselves to a coffee and almond croissant and sit outside Nero in St Neots. We’d often look at the derelict Old Falcon Hotel discussing what we’d do with it if we had all the money in the world. Most of the ideas involved a bakery, patisserie, restaurant and coffee shop.
One morning in August 2018, we were walking home after our usual coffee and croissant when we noticed the doors were open on the old nightclub opposite Bosphorus. It was being renovated. As we stopped to look, a lady (Liz) stuck her head out of the door and said, ‘would you like to have a look?’. Being nosy, we said yes.
Inside, the building was looking very sorry for itself with blacked-out windows, stained carpet tiles and a lime green bathroom that was so bright you needed sunglasses. However, there was a photo on the wall from 1929 with a group of people in front of the building on their opening day. It turned out that the building was originally the Beds, Cambs & Hunts Electricity Company Showrooms which had been opened to showcase what electricity could do when it first came into St Neots.
I couldn’t believe the hidden history of this incredible space. Liz showed us all these amazing original features that still existed, such as the parquet flooring and bronze window frames. It had been covered up for so long and I felt it had to be brought back to life.
It was at that moment that the idea for Elsie May’s Electric Lounge was born.
Of course, turning your passion into a business isn’t quite that simple. I’d never run or owned a café and bar before. I was a digital, marketing and PR professional who loved baking and had worked in events and hospitality back in the day. That was about the extent of my knowledge but I wanted the challenge and so did my business partners (aka my dad and hubby).
So we researched, planned, organised, talked to people and figured out exactly what needed to be done to open a café and bar. There were many spreadsheets and planning documents but the planning was crucial particularly as we were going in with very little prior knowledge.
We officially started renting the building in September 2018 and wanted to be open by December. A full building refit, including setting up an entirely new business from scratch in less than ten weeks, was a very ambitious deadline. It was challenging and took a lot of determination and grit but we did it and opened the doors on 4 December 2018.
That’s when the real hard work started. The first few weeks were very busy. We had thrown ourselves into the business at one of the busiest times of the year, which was a massive learning curve for myself and the whole team. Everything was new and different and we were having to find our feet at a pace. But as every day went past, we listened to people and learnt more, and it wasn’t long before we found our rhythm.
Now when I look back it feels like a completely different business as we’ve grown and developed so much. The changes probably look quite small from the outside but to us they feel like giant leaps. We’re still learning, growing and developing, and I’m really excited to see where we are two years from now.
It can be hard sometimes to remember what passion is when things go wrong. You have to stay focused on what you want to achieve and take every opportunity you can to learn.
That’s why I regularly remind myself of these three points:
- Have clear goals and stick to them. I set out my aims for Elsie May’s before it even became a business and they are still at the forefront of all my decisions.
- Talk to people. Talking to people reminds me about why I’m doing what I’m doing.
- Listen to your heart but think with your head. It’s very easy to get caught up in your emotions when you’re doing what you love but it’s still a business, so it’s important to look at it objectively rather than emotionally.
Turning your passion into your career can be risky as it is very easy to lose sight of what your passion is when you’re knee-deep in paperwork. My biggest concern was that I’d lose my passion for baking which I’ve had since I was a child and used to bake with my grandmother (Elsie May).
So after two years, is my business still my passion? Simply yes. I know it is, because when I get home from work, the first thing I do is cook or make bread.