I’m a chocolatier and my hubby, Jo is a blacksmith. We offer experiences with molten metal and chocolate, but not at the same time!
It’s our 20th wedding anniversary this year and it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride at times, but this is how we came to offer blacksmith experience days and chocolate-making workshops respectively to our customers in Hertfordshire and beyond.
Jo has been a blacksmith since leaving school, and until about three of years ago, purely concentrated on supplying ornamental and architectural metalwork to commission. Inspired by my chocolate workshops, he decided to start offering half and one day courses for the ‘budding blacksmith’ from his forge in Letchworth Garden City.
“I love teaching people to work with metal. To me it’s so important to ‘make things’. To have something tangible that you have designed and created is very satisfying way of earning a living – many people’s jobs do not have that element anymore – and people love coming to make something of their own. Everyone goes home with at least one piece they have made themselves. There is no experience necessary, anyone can have a go.’
At 47 Jo was diagnosed with testicular cancer – with three children aged 11, nine and five at the time, it was a very tough time for us all. Jo was fit, healthy and working hard on his business and it rocked our world for him to be given a cancer diagnosis.
“After surgery, I had intensive chemotherapy treatment, which involved staying in hospital for five days at a time, as well as regular day visits between hospital stays. Friends and family rallied round to help with the childcare and Dawn was a fantastic support, sitting by my hospital bed for hours at a time, just keeping me company and being there for me.’
“Although the whole experience was extremely scary and tough, it really made me focus on what was important in my life. I already loved my job so I was doing what I wanted at work. I’m very lucky to have a loving and supportive family and realised how important it was to spend quality time with them whenever possible. It was definitely a tough time for my business, inevitably I had to turn down jobs, as I was unable to work for some months. As I came back to the fold, the recession really started to take hold, and it was touch and go at times as to whether it was viable to keep the business running. I’m thankful to have some very loyal customers.’
“Now things are looking much more positive, with more confidence in the economy, more jobs are coming in and the blacksmith courses are a great added bonus to my business and really starting to take off.’
“Life can be very short, and you just don’t know what’s in store for you so I strongly believe it’s so important to do what you love, and love what you do. Luckily I’ve now survived over five years since treatment and the prognosis is very good.”
I set up my chocolate workshop business from scratch in 2009 from the summerhouse at the end of our garden in Hitchin.
Like many mums, I’d taken lots of part-time roles to fit around the needs of my family, often under-selling my skills to get the flexible element of reduced hours. As many mums will know – however part-time the role, it’s still a constant juggle, especially when the children are poorly. I didn’t even factor into the equation that my husband might be the one who was seriously poorly and for so long. Just a few months prior to Jo’s health scare, my Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At times I was trying to fit in hospital visits and appointments for both of them. Having my Dad and husband undergoing treatment at the same time, and trying to be there for the children was a huge emotional and physical challenge. It really made me think long and hard about what I wanted for me and my family going forward.
I had a dream to be my own boss and run some form of workshop business from our summerhouse. I didn’t want to run off to an office anymore, I wanted to do something I totally loved and that would give me flexibility for family life. I racked my brains and in the end I just decided that as I love chocolate and people, I would put the two together. I sat down and wrote a business plan of my dream business – The Melting Pot, offering chocolate workshops for children, adults and teams!
I thought it might remain a dream until I was made redundant in the June of 2009 and I said to myself ‘it’s now or never’ despite it being the height of the recession I went for it! Jo and I worked really hard that summer to have the summerhouse revamped and up and running, I completed my training and launched in September of that year.
Almost six years later, I’m still here and going strong – there have been some trials and tribulations along the way, not least of which was finding a malignant melanoma on my back in the summer of 2012. I have very fair skin and have been very careful in the sun for many years; I’m always the palest person at the end of the summer. I did however get burnt on a regular basis when I was very young, as there wasn’t the knowledge we have today about being careful. I drive my children mad about putting on enough sun lotion and not getting burnt, and here I was the person who always sits under the tree with a diagnosis of skin cancer – it seemed rather unjust after how careful I’d been.
We lost a friend to skin cancer only a couple of years previously. I was extremely worried and frightened – I knew how serious it was.
I had the mole removed and a wide excision (they take a wider area of skin around where the mole originally was). It was a small procedure, carried out on me as an outpatient, and I just had a very short time off of work while it healed. No further treatment was prescribed, so thankfully I didn’t have to suffer the same arduous journey as Jo with any chemo or radiotherapy treatment. I’m under surveillance and have check ups every three months at present. I was extremely lucky that the melanoma was incredibly thin and my prognosis is also very positive and encouraging.
Like Jo, I had time to reflect and work out what was most important to me too. Life-threatening illnesses really make you take stock of everything. I was grateful to know that I was pretty much where I wanted to be.
Each running our own businesses has meant we were able to share childcare between us, and take off for long family holidays during the summer (with our trusty tent)! Quality family time was one of the main reasons for choosing to run my own business. We’ve managed some three and four week adventures around Europe, and as many short-breaks as we can fit in. The added bonus has been how much fun it has been, doing something I love and stamping my own personality on everything I do. My own personal journey with the business has been beyond anything I could have imagined.
As well as running the workshops, I now speak regularly to businesses on creating ‘sticky customers’ – how if we are fantastic at creating the best possible customer experiences, our customers will stick around (although of course I cover my customers in a little chocolate to make them genuinely sticky). I’m in the process of writing my first book “12 Steps to Getting Sticky Customers”. I’ve been featured in The Sun, and The Independent, spoken on BBC local radio and appeared on TV. I could not have imagined such rewarding times from sitting down and thinking about my dream business.
I’m really excited about the next phase for The Melting Pot, as I launch my first ever chocolate business opportunity! I’ve created a ‘business in a chocolate box’ so others can build their own fun and exciting chocolate workshop businesses around the Country. I love encouraging others to live their dream lives too – so by packaging up all I have learned in running my business, providing training and ongoing support – I hope to enable others to enjoy their work as much as I do. I’ve written a free e-book about the amazing opportunities that working with chocolate can bring!
I proud I can now say that I am an ‘award-winning business’, having picked up Customer Service and Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the work I’ve done on creating memorable experiences at my workshops and devising a supportive and accessible chocolate business opportunity.
Having the support of each other through these ‘ordeals’ has been fantastic and I’d say has strengthened our relationship no end. We both now completely understand the fears and irrational thoughts that being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can bring and we totally appreciate the precarious nature of life. We found it really helped to understand what was most important for us, and to try and live as close to that ideal as we can.
Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about CREATING yourself – George Bernard Shaw
Here’s to the next chapter……