I have been reading Faye Savory’s blog Bed, Bear Hugs & Beyond for almost a year now. One of the very first posts I read struck a huge chord with me. It was called ‘resigning from a job I love‘. At the time I read it, I was not long signed off sick from work and I knew in my gut that something was very wrong with my health– this would be no ‘quick fix’ for me. Sure enough, here I am nearly a year later and, despite a couple of attempts to return to work, I am still on long-term sick leave.
I love Faye’s positivity and she made me realise that life can and does take unexpected turns but new and exciting opportunities can come your way too. I still have hope of returning to my job role part-time but feel more at peace with the fact that maybe I won’t and, if I don’t, that’s okay. Life has a way of working out and just because you aren’t able to do what you planned, it doesn’t mean something great isn’t just around the corner.
That something great is happening for Faye now. I find it so incredibly inspiring that, despite her health challenges, she has set up her own business called BearHugs; offering a range of gift boxes designed to comfort and uplift. BearHugs was the very first sponsor of Fibro Geek and you will continue to see the BearHugs banner in the sidebar for the next couple of months too (you can find out more about sponsoring the blog on this page). I took the opportunity to interview Faye and find out more about the challenges of setting up a business when you have chronic illness.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Faye Savory, I’m 25 years old and, very excitingly, I recently set up a business called BearHugs. I’m most often found with my small dog, Teddy, and a cup of tea in my colourful little “office” surrounded by stacks of gift boxes. While my BearHugs gift packages are designed to brighten the days of the people they are sent to, the process of making and packaging them also brightens mine.
Since 2012, I have been making the challenging transition from being healthy and highly physically active to long-term poorly with ME/CFS. In 2013, I started my blog, Freckles & All (now Bear Hugs & Beyond), where I write about my attempts to live positively and intentionally around chronic illness. Through my blog I also sell pieces of simple silver jewellery, all profits of which are donated to the ME Association.
When I’m not resting or pouring love into my business and blog, I enjoy a cup of tea with friends, reading, listening to podcasts and having a go at anything crafty.
What inspired you to set up your own business?
When I was first able to read again after a spell of it being too difficult, I bought myself Jodi Ann Bickley’s book, One Million Lovely Letters. Jodi, also an ME sufferer, started a project where she writes letters to people all over the world in need of reassurance, cheering up or a reminder that they are loved. I felt incredibly inspired by her kindness and loved how much good she was putting out into the world. It planted the idea in my head that I’d love to start something of my own which had such lovely intentions and kindness at its core.
My other motivation for starting BearHugs is that I’ve found maintaining a sense of purpose to be really important since I’ve been ill. At my poorliest, I drew accomplishment from working my way through an audiobook a few minutes at a time. Later, as I got a little better, it was from writing blog posts and making jewellery. Now, while still significantly restricted by ME/CFS, I feel I’ve reached a point where starting a little business is a feasible challenge that could bring me a lot of fulfilment.
How long did it take you to come up with the concept of BearHugs and did you have any other ideas?
The vague idea of a gift box business first popped into my head over a year ago when I received a thoughtful package from my friend Sophia (of Spoonie Sophia). I started thinking about it more seriously in November last year and have been tweaking it since. It took me a long time to come up with a name but as soon as I settled on BearHugs everything started to slot into place.
I suppose my first idea was probably selling the jewellery that I was making to pass poorly days. While I still do this and love being able to donate the profits to the ME Association, it’s not something I feel as passionately about as BearHugs.
What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
By far the most challenging thing about starting BearHugs has been managing my activity levels and sticking to a pacing schedule. I get so excited that my adrenaline kicks in and I want to do everything at once. It’s frustrating sometimes to have to stop when I’m enjoying what I’m working on but I know it’s for the best in the long run. It’s not worth carrying on for longer than I should and making myself more ill.
What (if any) support have you received in setting up your business?
I’ve been receiving support with BearHugs from the Princes Trust Enterprise Programme since the beginning of this year. I cannot sing their praises highly enough. All things business-related are completely new to me and I can’t stress enough how little I knew before starting. This being the case, it’s been great to be able to follow their programme through, learning as I go. The Princes Trust can offer support with writing a business plan, training and funding. They also match you up with a business mentor who can give guidance and advice along the way. I attended an introductory meeting and then what I could manage of a free four day course covering business planning, marketing, sales, raising capital, tax etc. This was a major challenge for me, but when I was open about my difficulties, everyone I met from the Prince’s Trust was supportive, understanding and accommodating of my health. I’ve since been meeting with a mentor once every three weeks or so to monitor my progress. I’ve been encouraged to work at my own pace and at no point felt under pressure. If I’m not up to a meeting, I can ask for help via email or on the phone. As a result of the support they’ve offered me, I’ve felt empowered and excited about what I can achieve around my illness.
How has starting your own business changed your life?
Starting BearHugs has completely shifted my mindset about what the future may hold for me. When I first fell ill and had to stop working as a Speech and Language Therapist, I was devastated. I loved the work and assumed that I’d just wait until my body recovered so that I could resume my career in healthcare. While I’m not going to write off returning to Speech and Language Therapy one day, starting BearHugs has shown me that it’s possible to get that rewarding feeling in a different role. It’s been lovely to realise that running a business can bring about satisfaction and fulfilment in ways I never would have experienced otherwise.
How do you balance your business with managing your health?
It’s still early days for this and I’m working on getting the balance right. I recently saw an Occupational Therapist who will work with me on managing my activity and pacing. So far the things that have helped most are taking regular rest breaks and alternating activities. For example, I try to break up physical tasks like packing boxes with rest breaks and more mentally demanding tasks on the computer. I also try to take 15 minutes after I’ve had lunch every day to use the Headspace app for a guided meditation. I seem to cope better when I am getting ‘proper’ rest in the middle of the day.
What would be your advice to someone with chronic illness who is thinking of starting their own business?
My advice would be that if you’ve been thinking about it a lot and are in a place where you can manage – you should go for it! You can always account for the unpredictability of chronic illness by building contingency plans into your business proposal. If getting started takes a long time to make sure it doesn’t compromise your health, that’s okay. Chronic illness doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. You’re already way ahead of all those people, healthy or otherwise, who considered it but weren’t brave enough to try.
I don’t know about you but I am full of admiration for Faye and wish her the absolute best with her business venture. You can purchase a BearHugs gift box on Etsy and can follow BearHugs on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.