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#SelfStarterStories: From Creative Production Manager to becoming the Founder of a Free-from Chocolate Brand

This week's #selfstarterstory features Clyne Hamilton-Daniels, Founder of bean London Ltd.

#PickYourselfUK caught up with Clyne to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey.

What was your last job?:

I come from a creative and marketing background, my previous role was Creative Production Manager for a prestigious premium estate agent where I was responsible for digital and print advertising. A great role and working with some amazing people but I was a little unfulfilled.

When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?:

I've always had a burning desire to go it alone. After working for some amazing businesses, I knew I could create something myself, from scratch with little help. I am confident in my abilities and though being an entrepreneur is new to me and involved many aspects I had no idea about, I relish a challenge and don't shy away from pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

I'm incredibly passionate about the food I eat and I tend to avoid products where unnatural ingredients are used. Having a sweet tooth, and as an avid chocolate fan (obviously), I noticed a lot of my competitors were claiming to be 'healthy' yet including ingredients such as soy lecithin, refined sugars, and preservatives, purely to combine ingredients which wouldn't normally mix together, and for shelf life.

From this, I decided to launch bean Chocolate London where I offer chocolate bars using three to four main ingredients, and nothing else. I stripped out anything unnecessary, proving you can have delicious chocolate free from these ingredients. We produce everything by hand so we're able to control every ingredient and our customers and stockists love our products. Just honest and authentic chocolate.

What was the most challenging part of starting a business?:

Funding. There are so many brilliant people with amazing ideas but without cash to initiate your idea, you're stuck before you can start. I was lucky to self-fund my business but to grow, you need investment. It's a huge challenge and one I'm currently experiencing.

Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?:

I launched the business alone and continue to do everything myself. That was the challenge, to see if I could. I taught myself how to make chocolate using minimal ingredients (my products are 'free-from' and as healthy as chocolate can be while tasting delicious).

Coming from a creative background (and having worked as a photographer and designer in the past) it allowed me the skills needed for branding, packaging, web design and photography etc. I'm proud to see people’s reactions to my bars knowing I've created them without any help whatsoever.

What is your favourite marketing tool ?:

Word of mouth, mainly at events and farmers markets. You get to speak to people directly, passionately describe your business and your story. It's proving to be the best form of marketing for my business. My customers are passionate about the food they eat and they like knowing the provenance of my products.

How do you market your business?:

I run Google AdWords for a continued online presence. I'm very passionate about my business and brand so I'm always talking to people about it. It may sound old-fashioned but word of mouth is invaluable. I have four different ways my customers can purchase my products so this helps with continued marketing, these being: my website, retail stockists, third party e-commerce suppliers and farmers market.

I had a Christmas event last year and had my first fan. She has a weekly ritual with her boyfriend where they buy one of my bars and enjoy it on a Sunday morning. Hearing stories like that is so encouraging because it tells you you're getting it right - people resonate with your brand when out of context of the place they normally buy it. She didn't know I would be there and saw me at random.

When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?:

Through social media, Facebook and Instagram. As I have some understanding of Facebook advertising and targetting, I saw modest sales coming through from a couple of ads launching the business.

Also, friends, family and former colleagues were incredibly excited and generously purchased rather a lot of bars when I first launched. This gave me a little working capital from the very start.

bean CHOCOLATE London website May 2018

bean CHOCOLATE London website May 2018

How did you get your first traffic to your website?:

I ran a serious of ads on Facebook which promoted a competition to win a year’s supply of free chocolate (I mean, who doesn't want that?). I pushed people to my site where they would need to fill in their details which allowed me to build my email list. I had thousands of entries and the advertising costs were fairly low.

Nominate one person/friend who believed in you from the start, and what would you like to say to them today?:

My husband, Simon. The risks associated with starting and running your own business are huge, especially with a mortgage to pay in London. I'm sure he's worried, but his support has been incredible. He's picked me up when I've been down, laughed with me when silly mistakes have happened and smiled when things are going the way I'd hoped. He's believed in me.

What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?:

Ultimately, if you've had an idea then you're partly there. You've questioned something in your life and you want to do something about it. My advice, follow your dreams, take charge but be aware of the risks. There are so many factors in running a business and you'll need to understand a lot of them quickly. Mistakes will happen but learn from them, do not be defeated.

If you can do certain jobs or tasks yourself, do them. If you can't and you think you can learn how to do them, try. The internet is a great resource. You'll find you can easily waste vital cash on menial jobs. There's always someone out there promising X for Y. Unless absolutely vital, don't be tempted until you can afford it.

Finally, it's stressful at times but so immensely rewarding when you see success. Good luck!

If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?:

Elon Musk. I'm convinced he's been sent from the future. A serial entrepreneur who has big ideas, he doesn't allow failure to get in his way (and he's no stranger to it). He's changing the world we live in and is an inspiration to us all.

There are people out there who see things differently, opportunities and with clear vision. He sees the bigger picture and I find that incredibly inspirational. If I had even 1% of his success, I'd be extremely happy.

To stay up to date with Clyne's entrepreneurial journey, please find him on Facebook below:

Clyne Hamilton-Daniels has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2018. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.