I am so excited that the start of August marks the launch of a new series on the blog - Flourishing Entrepreneurs.
As I mentioned in my post last week, over the last few years I have been so inspired by female entrepreneurs that I wanted to find a way to showcase and celebrate what they are doing and hope that their journeys, insights and resources might inspire you too.
Working for yourself, whether you're doing it already or aspiring to in the future, can be a very lonely experience if you don't reach out and connect. But through the magic of the internet, social media and incredible networks and coaches you can discover a world of support and inspiration you never knew existed before.
My Flourishing Entrepreneurs series will introduce you to incredible women who have started their own businesses. I'll talk with them about how they got started, what jobs they were doing in a past life, what the voice inside their head tells them and dig into the resources and tips they can offer you on your entrepreneurial journey.
I'm thrilled today to introduce my Flourishing Entrepreneur #1 Charlotte Argyrou, a botanical illustrator. This written interview was paired with a live chat with Charlotte on my Instagram account on Wednesday 8th August 2018, find the video at the end of this post.
Who are you, what is your business and what job title do you have?
I am a botanical illustrator, wife and mother living in Greenwich, south east London. I like cooking, dinner parties, cinema, fabulous clothes and long summer evenings. In my downtime, you’ll find me reading thriller novels, self-development books or Vogue. I value health, family and friends above all else. My last meal would be lobster linguine sat by the sea, followed by something ludicrously chocolatey.
I launched my illustration business in October 2017 as a way to channel my creativity and passions in a way that works around hectic and ever-changing family life. I sell my own work as art prints, take commissions, work in partnerships with brands, and I offer a Wedding Bouquet Illustration Service. My illustrations are vintage-inspired, nostalgic, and intensely-detailed and celebrate the colours and complexities of the natural world.
What were you told about work growing up?
I can distinctly remember the careers lesson where I was told that I shouldn’t be a botanical illustrator. I must have been 15/16 years old.
It was the time that all creative businesses were going digital, and it was suggested to me that illustration was “dying” and graphic design would be a better choice.
So if not illustration when you started out... what job did you do before you came back to it?
I turned my attention to animation, briefly, but always came back to the realisation that I didn’t want to practice my craft on computers.
While at university (studying Literature) I worked a summer season at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was wild, and consisted of 12-16 hours days – working 9am-7pm in an office, followed by shows and parties every day and night for six weeks. It nearly broke me, but I was flattered to be offered a job back in London for another agency with comedy clients.
About 3 weeks in, it dawned on me that the relentless party lifestyle was a bit too hectic for me – even aged 21. An internship came up on the features desk at CosmoGirl magazine, where I wrote quizzes, the Confessions page and edited the agony aunt page.
I took another internship in the press department at LK Bennett, before taking a proper job for Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas. Without me really engineering it, my fashion career had begun. In 2007 I began work at The Communications Store, where I worked until my first pregnancy. I looked after press, launches, parties, fashion shows, celebrity dressing and photo shoots for high fashion clients in London, New York, Milan and my favourite – Paris Haute Couture.
Even after having my first and second daughters, I freelanced there over London Fashion Week each Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter season. One month full time, five months off.
How has your mindset changed around work since you started out?
Back then, I thought working hard was the key to success. First into the office, last to leave. It would show dedication, commitment, enthusiasm – all the things I thought a boss would value. I wanted to give my clients all of me, even to the detriment of my own physical and mental health.
"First in the office, last to leave... I wanted to give my clients all of me, even to the detriment of my own physical and mental health."
Once I had my first daughter, that all changed. I was still enthusiastic and excited to work, but my focus had shifted. I wanted to work in order to retain elements of my life that were for me, not only moneywise, but also in terms of my identity. Sleep was a challenge in our household, and strangely I found work energising, not exhausting.
What transferrable skills have you brought with you from the past to your business now?
Working in PR with a focus on brand strategy has been hugely advantageous to my own business. People often comment that I have a strong personal brand, or that I seem very comfortable in those aspects of business.
I understand the importance of marketing to my ideal client and providing consistent branding and messaging. Most of all, I have the benefit of understanding I am my brand. What I wear, where I meet clients –it’s all part of building a business that people trust and identify with.
How do you prioritise your health as a busy entrepreneur?
It’s hard, and at times I don’t. There are certainly times where I simply can’t be bothered to exercise, even though I know I would feel better if I did just 20 minutes. I think the combination of being an entrepreneur and a mother to pre-schoolers makes it doubly challenging. Often, I logistically can’t get out of the house to attend an evening class, if my husband is not home to take care of the girls.
Nutrition-wise, I try to keep perspective that the world will not come to a standstill if I pause work to make a decent lunch. A veggie noodle broth takes 10-15 minutes to make from scratch, or I often throw together some leftovers from the previous night into a salad. It’s good for my brain and my posture to step away from the computer or my illustration desk.
"I try to keep perspective that the world will not come to a standstill if I pause work to make a decent lunch"
As I wait for the kettle to boil, I proactively try to think about pushing my hunched shoulders down. By working from home, I don’t lose any time by taking a break in the garden – sitting amongst the greenery is good for my soul.
How does food feature in your life and what does it mean to you?
I feel like I am very much at a crossroads with food. I’m ready to make a commitment to eating healthier. Perhaps it’s a mid-30s thing, or the reality of the toll two children takes on the body, but I’m heavier than I’ve ever been and I’m not quite sure how that happened.
Probably, it’s the downside of working from home. No-one sees if I serve a double-helping and physically, I’m not moving as much as when I was full-time mummy or commuting/working full time.
Good food to me is colourful and flavoursome. I love all kinds of Asian food especially. Variety is important to me, so I do refer to cookbooks or the Ocado recipe section before I do my online food order.
What is your favourite meal, something you would recommend others learn to cook or prepare?
I make a crab linguine that is super super quick. It’s my emergency meal when we have nothing in. Pan fry chilli, garlic, sliced asparagus (or any green veg), and throw into some cooked linguine with a tin of crab meat. Finish with olive oil and plenty of fresh cracked pepper and that’s it.
[V: There's a simple crab linguine recipe by Antony Worrall Thompson on the BBC Food website if you want to make something similar - I like that Charlotte adds veg to hers!]
I think everyone should try to make curries from scratch if they have time or dal for a quicker (veggie) alternative. It’s such a rewarding feast!
My favourite dish to make is inspired by the brilliant Hemsley sisters: a roasted beetroot and quinoa salad with a powerful garlic, mustard and tarragon dressing [recipe here]. I throw in roast chicken and new potatoes to turn it into a full meal.
The voice in your head - we’ve all got one! What negative thing does it say to you most often and how do you overcome it?
Mine says, “this may not work out”, in lots of variations.
I worry all the effort and expense will be for nothing, or that I’ll embarrass myself, or that I’m simply not good enough to make this a success. But I can look back at journal notes from a year ago and see how extraordinarily far I’ve come. So, of course I’m impatient and want everything to happen sooner, but I have to be grateful for the journey so far.
I look at the opportunities ahead and have to think “people wouldn’t be asking you to do this if you were no good”. In times of self-doubt, I try to look at the facts and not catastrophise. I purposefully give thanks for the things I have and where I’m at today.
Self-care. What does it mean to you and what self-care practises do you have to look after yourself as a busy entrepreneur?
I’m mindful to know when to down tools for the day. Sometimes enough is enough. As an entrepreneur, there’s always going to be more blog post to write, or one more pitch to send out, or tweaks you can make to your website. But if my body tells me I’m tired, I’ve learned to say, “tonight I’m going to sit on the sofa and talk to my husband, then go to bed at 10pm”.
"I believe in the power of visualisation, and it’s a practice I use daily. I see moments in the future that I would like to engineer or experience and I imagine them over and over. I call this self-care, because I allow myself the opportunity to fantasise in this way."
I’ve become clear on the activities and people that motivate and energize me, and those that drain me. I even have a list of things I love doing, in case I ever have a child-free hour and don’t have to work, I can quickly think of something lovely and meaningful to do, rather than putting away laundry or losing an hour down a Pinterest blackhole.
What one book, video or podcast would you recommend to entrepreneurs?
I prefer to illustrate in silence, so only very occasionally listen to podcasts while doing admin work. Usually, I choose something with a personal development focus, but if that’s too distracting sometimes I enjoy a pop-culture update – The High Low podcast by Dolly Anderton and Pandora Sykes is a fun and clever mix.
What one tip would you share with other entrepreneurs to help them on their journey?
My tip would be to find an online community of entrepreneurs either in the same industry, or just at the same stage of business as you. I find that my friends and family are interested in my business story, but it’s very empowering to have a forum of people who genuinely share your ideas or fears at the same time and in great detail.
Missed the live chat Charlotte and I had on Instagram Live? Here's a video with the best bits: