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By Clementene Coates, Apr 1 2015 10:46PM

This blog is a little bit different to my usual posts, but I was eager and excited to share my story with you concerning my recent trip to London.

You may be aware from my earlier blogs that I launched my business only a few months ago. And, as someone who is still very much in the early stages of growing a small business, I thought this a great opportunity to share my recent experience in case it inspires some to take the plunge and explore new career opportunities.

I’ll be the first to admit that on day one I, like most people, didn’t know the first thing about setting up and running a new business. What I did have, however, was a clear idea of what I wanted to do; it was something that I felt passionate about and I was determined to make my venture a success. I was also very lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who offered me advice and support whenever I needed it. Although I still needed some expert guidance to make sure I was headed in the right direction.

In just six months I’ve already had the chance to go to so many exciting places and meet a lot of very interesting people as a result of taking that first step and last week I was invited to Downing Street to showcase my business in front of the Prime Minister, which made all the hard work I put into the business leading up to this point so worthwhile.

The week before last I was knee-deep in the Country Living Spring Fair, blissfully painting furniture at the Marston & Langinger stand, showcasing paints in front of the fair’s many visitors. I was absolutely loving my time down in London and I thought the trip couldn’t get any better.

Then, around lunchtime on the Wednesday, I received a call asking me whether I would be able to attend an exclusive event at Downing Street to showcase my business to the Prime Minister.

It transpired that my business had been hand-picked out of 27,000 other businesses which are part of a government based scheme designed to help entrepreneurs, like myself, who have a feasible business idea, but no access to finance, get their venture off the ground.

For one evening only, a miniature trade fair would be held at Downing Street where twenty chosen business owners (including myself) would set up stands to present their products to business leaders and government officials, including the Prime Minister. I couldn’t believe that I’d been chosen - after all I’d only been going a few months!

On the Friday I received a formal invite which read: “the Prime Minister requests the pleasure of your company at 10 Downing Street on Monday 23 March between 5pm and 7:30pm” It was official. This wasn’t a hoax and I didn’t dream it up. I was going to Downing Street! I couldn’t be prouder. And because Pete has played such a significant role in setting up my business, I only thought it right that he come along too.

The big day was finally upon us. It's not every day that you get to programme 10 Downing Street into your car's sat nav...

As we stood outside number 10 we had to pinch ourselves. Was this really happening? We were about to knock on the famous front door when all of a sudden it opened all on its own, like a scene from Harry Potter. It wasn’t until we looked around the corner and saw a security guard whose sole role was to open and close it, that we realised it was just an ordinary door!

We walked into the foyer where we were asked by Downing Street staff to leave our mobile phones in these little pigeon holes as no camera or recording equipment was allowed. Security wanted to take my iPad too, but I managed to persuade them that I needed it to show the Prime Minister my website!

We were taken up to the first floor to the ‘Terracotta Drawing Room’ where the event was being held. We entered the room which was a hive of activity. Nineteen other businesses were busy setting up their stalls. There was a real mix of talent: everything from a milliner, a hip flask designer, a potter, a designer of cutting edge bicycles, a creator of a natural health food stuff and a clothes designer. It was great to see such a creative and entrepreneurial group of people who were living proof that it is possible to turn a good idea into a business if you have the determination to get out there and make it happen.

Pete and I set about putting our own little stall together. We carefully laid out framed pictures of my painted furniture alongside paint tins, paint brushes, business leaflets and business cards. Before I knew it, James Caan (former Dragon on BBC2’s Dragon’s Den) was stood before us. “Give me your pitch!” he said. This may have unnerved some people, but because I’m passionate about what I do I had no problem talking his ear off. He listened intently and then shook our hands before wandering off to another stall. I was glad he spoke to me first as I got the chance to practice my spiel before the big boss showed up!

Lord Young (the Godfather of the scheme) soon followed and he perused my work whilst Carol Kempton (No.10 events coordinator) and I chatted about different painting techniques - it transpired she loves painting furniture too! She took a business leaflet and card and said she’d be checking out my website!

I was then asked to do a piece to camera for the Downing Street press office. I was asked to explain how the scheme has helped me. I’m not a fan of photographs of myself or of being videoed, but this wasn’t the time to be bashful, so I gritted my teeth and did my bit.

Pete and I were then whisked back outside to the front door to have official photographs taken before being led back up to the Terracotta Room via the famous staircase which features photographs of our past Prime Ministers. There didn’t appear to be any room for any more photographs after Gordon Brown’s head shot and I wondered where David Cameron’s is going to go!

We were thoroughly spoiled with delicious canapés and drinks which were continuously being brought around by the very polite Downing Street staff. And every now and then Pete and I would look at each other not quite believing where we were.

Before we knew it the Prime Minister descended on the drawing room and he approached my stall. He spent several minutes chatting to me about my business and enquired as to how the scheme had helped me get to where I am. Political views aside, he did seem genuinely interested in the work I was doing. I showed him my website on my iPad and I explained that I would have brought a piece of my painted furniture with me, but the last time I did this at a similar event, Ed Balls had bashed the piece twice (quite accidentally of course) whilst carrying it down some stairs (that’s a true story!). Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister politely tittered (although I can probably guess what he was really thinking!). I ended my little speech by saying I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of Pete. The Prime Minister acknowledged this and enthusiastically shook both of our hands before more official photographs were taken and he moved on to the next stall.

We were then ushered into a side room where Lord Young, James Caan and the Prime Minister each gave rousing speeches about the success of the scheme and how proud they were of all of us. Whilst the event was put on at a very convenient time for the Prime Minister – just prior to the start of the General Election campaign – I won’t deny that the speeches had an emotional impact. I was so proud of how far I’d come and where I was standing. The scheme was without a doubt instrumental in helping me get my business off the ground and the continuous business mentorship has been invaluable.

After the speeches Pete and I went to speak to some more businesses. It was a great opportunity to exchange stories and it was a real inspiration to hear how far the other businesses had come. But eventually it was time to pack up. We said our goodbyes before being led back down to the foyer. We, along with a few other fellow business owners, thought we’d squeeze in a couple more photos outside the number 10 door. A very polite policeman kindly offered to take a photo of the two of us..

The moral of the story I suppose is that you can really surprise yourself with what you are capable of accomplishing if you have a good idea, determination and a real passion for what you do. My business is still very much in ‘start-up mode’, but every day I learn something new and for every new thing I learn it makes the whole thing feel more achievable.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, the Prime Minister made a very good point in his closing speech. The future of the economy in Britain today is not in the hands of the major corporations it is with the smaller businesses who have the spirit and the passion to turn a good idea into a thriving business.

I can’t tell you that starting a business is the right thing for you to do, but what I can tell you is that despite how scary the idea might feel, it isn’t as impossible as it might seem. That first step feels like a giant leap, but as long as you fully commit to it you will always find a way to make it work.

By Clementene Coates, Jan 18 2015 01:35PM

I very recently launched my new business, Clementene Coates, selling hand painted antique and vintage furniture. If you’ve read ‘My Very First Blog’ you’ll know that this is a complete change of career for me.

Up until a year ago I was a solicitor working in a large law firm in the city. Over the years I’d become disillusioned by the law and I desperately craved a change of direction. The last 10 years had flown by; I was in my early 30s and that infamous Mark Twain quote “Life is short…” felt all the more pertinent!

For a number of years I’ve been passionate about interior design and particularly restoring furniture, but I never believed back then that I could build a career out of it. It wasn’t until people wanted to buy my pieces that I realised the idea of me turning my love for painting furniture into a full time career may not just be a pipe dream.

Excluding the time I spend with my loved ones (especially my fiancé Pete and our two gorgeous greyhounds), I’m at my happiest and most content when I have a paint brush in my hand and a piece of furniture before me, ready to be transformed into something completely new and beautiful.

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to draw, paint and be creative. Both of my parents are artistic; my sister’s a clothes designer and my brother’s a writer. So, I suppose you could say I inherited a creative gene or two.

I get such a sense of satisfaction if I can save an old, tired looking piece of furniture from ending up on the scrap heap. This, combined with my love for painting, is wonderfully cathartic. But could I really make this my livelihood?

Although I had the support and encouragement of my family and friends (to whom I will forever be grateful), I was still reluctant to take that big step and leave the law behind me. After all, I would be ending a career which I had studied many, many years for and worked so very hard at. And I was rather good at it!

Embarking on a completely new career was a very daunting thought and one which took up most of the space in my head for some time. I began to draw up a list of the pros and cons of leaving:

- If I remain a solicitor I’ll be financially secure and I won’t have to worry about where the next pay cheque comes from.

- Starting a new business is a huge risk and there’s no guarantee it will be a success.

- If I fail, I’ll feel terrible. What will I do then?

- If I remain a solicitor I’ll be miserable and in years to come I’ll look back at my life and think what a waste.

- I want to start a family. What kind of example will I be setting to my children doing something that doesn’t make me happy?

- What will make me happy is to be able to wake up every morning looking forward to what lies ahead, rather than dreading it.

Whilst I became convinced that I needed to leave the law, I was still searching for some other source of inspiration (and courage!) to give me that final push to go in the direction I so greatly wanted to go in.

As if it was a sign, one weekend, I came across a series of videos on YouTube posted by the endearing and very talented Christen Bensten. Christen runs an interior design business in the U.S. called ‘Blue Egg, Brown Nest’ in which she sells her own hand painted furniture.

I watched Christen’s videos with great interest and I immediately fell in love with her passion for painting furniture. Like me, she started out painting furniture to fill her home; buying pieces on a budget and using her creativity and skills to transform them into beautiful works of art. Eventually people started to buy her furniture and so her hobby turned into a business.

What was most exciting about finding Christen was that she came across as such a positive, genuine and down to earth person with a great sense of humour. She talked so fondly about her children and husband and I could tell that she loved what she was doing as it translated into her beautiful furniture.

The next few hours flew by as I studied her wonderful website, which showcases her stunning home and the pieces she has painted over the years, as well as reading her blog, which I later discovered is one of the most popular interior design blogs in the U.S.

It was as if a switch had turned on in my head. The more I read about Christen and her journey, the more I felt inspired. Suffice to say, that following week I handed in my notice and I left the law to embark on a new career painting furniture. I’m delighted to say that I haven’t looked back – not even once!

Although my business is still in its very early days (6 weeks since it launched!), I’ve already sold some of my furniture and received commission work too. And, whilst I’m sure that I would’ve eventually left the law to pursue my dream, it may have taken me a while longer to make the jump. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t waste any more time, as time is such a precious thing. I now wake up in the morning with a smile on my face and a spring in my step!

So, to the point of this tale. Too often people aren’t recognised for the difference they make in people’s lives, when all it can take is a simple ‘thank you’. I’d just like to say thank you to Christen, from the bottom of my heart, for inspiring me and giving me the courage to realise my dream. I’ll never forget the contribution you made to my decision to change my life for the better (even if it was an unconscious one!).

As Christen did for me, I hope that my story can inspire at least one person to have the courage to do what they really want to do in their life, whether that be a painter, a cook, a writer or even a golf ball diver (yes, that last profession really does exist!!!).

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Here's the place to find out what Clementene's been up to. She'll post updates on new projects; features she's written for Country Living Magazine UK; design tips and tricks; and 'how to' guides for ways to paint your own furniture. Clementene's blog is regularly updated so make sure you keep coming back. You can follow Clementene on social media too (check out the links above) and don’t forget to post your comments - Clementene would love to hear from you. And, for those wanting the latest news, sign up for Clementene's Newletter...

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