Last updated Mar 19, 2024 and written by Tom Richardson

Real Business Case Study: Michelle Carvill


Every edition of the Real Business Case Study is special but today’s is extra-special. Why’s that? Because today we’re chatting with Michelle Carvill, founder of our new social media partners, Carvill Creative. Formed in 2002, Carvill Creative specialise in creating effective and integrated online visibility for businesses across websites, blogs and social media platforms. As well as forming her own company, Michelle is also a highly respected social media trainer and has even co-authored a book on the subject; The Business of Being Social.

Tell us a bit about your background

I went to art school up in Lancaster but I didn’t get on with my tutors, so I moved into graphics and design. I started my career making maps as a cartographer. I was doing this through a publishing house and decided that advertising was where I wanted to work. Being in Lancashire, and feeling the allure of London, the only place I really wanted to work, was Saatchi’s.

So I wrote to them, saying “I really want to work with you guys”. Surprisingly they sent a letter back saying “Can you come and meet us?”. I’d never been to London before! So I hopped on a train and went to meet them, they then offered me a job as an account exec working on some really interesting accounts like Gillette and Mars.

Then what?

I stayed in advertising for a bit and then went to work for a bit of a maverick. He was a lawyer who had this idea of creating a consortium of lawyers to take on some of the big practices. This seemed like an interesting idea and he was going to let me go back to business school, something which I had wanted to do, as well as work for him. So I jumped across to professional services marketing, and did a part-time Masters in business, focusing on strategic marketing.

I ended up working within this business for about seven years – and the company grew from a handful to around 70 people, so I had first hand experience of growing a business. By then I also had my Masters. I then went to work for a consultancy that helped accountancy firms think differently about their work. That’s where I met Howard Graham. When he set up The Made Simple Group, he said “we’d love for you to come and work with us on a consultancy basis” and that’s where my journey with Made Simple started.

How did Carvill Creative get started?

Kevin [Michelle’s husband] and I were looking to start a family and so I didn’t want to be flying all over the place anymore, I wanted to settle down. I decided that I was going to take some time out and be a mum for a couple of years and then set up my own consultancy business to keep things ticking over.

It started off with just me in my front room and then a few years later it got a bit more serious. Kevin, who was working for a creative design agency in London, then came onboard and ran the design part of Carvill Creative, so we were a traditional marketing and design agency. We’ve since grown the team slowly and for the past five years have focused on the social media and digital marketing side of marketing, but with a traditional heritage.

How did you fund Carvill Creative?

I funded it myself. I had bought a flat in Brighton and it did quite well, it was an opportune time to sell. So I had some equity from that which kept me afloat in the early days. Cash flow would have been tricky as I didn’t have many clients; I was still being a mum predominately.

What’s been a low point?

When things go wrong that are outside of your control. We had a server crash when we were in the middle of a big web and social development project for a client. It was dreadful; everybody was in the office for four days and four nights fixing the problem.

I suppose another low point is when business starts to slow down. We’ve been going for 11 years now and have had to ride the recession, we saw a lot of businesses our size folding – friends having to make difficult decisions about their businesses. We were being contacted by people asking “have you got anything we could be doing for you?”. Seeing our printers go out of business was quite bleak.

And a high point?

We really punched above our weight to get a particular client. I was surprised we won the business. They wanted to come to our offices and meet our team, the problem was that it was just us in an office at the bottom of our garden. I’ll always remember myself and Kevin leaving the meeting and thinking “Oh my God, what have we done?”. Straight away we were on the phone to lettings agencies saying “you’ve got to find us an office”.

Luckily we got a really lovely office secured within 4 weeks and kitted it out. I then had to rope in friends and family to be the team that we didn’t have, it was façade. We knew we could deliver what we needed to deliver, but we didn’t think it was right for them to come and walk through our garden. So we had to get serious.

It was the kick up the backside that we needed. It set us on a different path with a different client-base focus. That was a fun, frightening high point and it worked because the client was very happy and is still happy. It was worth taking that risk and going for it.

What does the future hold for Carvill Creative?

It’s interesting because The Made Simple Group are now part-owners of Carvill Creative which is great. We’re delighted about that and it makes a lot of sense.

I see the growth of Carvill Creative within the social media space, helping businesses in a consultancy and training capacity to understand how they can harness social media and online visibility. It’s an area where there’s still a lot of growth to be had for agencies that understand the whole marketing mix and how it fits together. Social media doesn’t just sit in the digital department; it sits across customer service, procurement, marketing, sales and IT. It really filters across the whole organisation. It’s all about becoming a social business and I see Carvill Creative as a consultancy that can help businesses in this area.

How’s being your own boss?

It’s a great feeling; “I’m doing this myself, I’m making this work”. But the pressure is on you, there’s no safety of a definite wage at the end of the month. You don’t have the safety of being employed, where if you’re poorly you can take a day off or if you want a holiday you can take some holiday. Every day the responsibility is on you to make the business work. You never switch off; when it’s your own business it’s like your own baby.

What’s the best thing about it?

You’ve built something, you’re creating something, and you’re doing something that is making a difference to other peoples lives because you’ve given them a job and responsibilities.

And the freedom. I have the freedom to be able to get up at 5am and work till 7am, walk the children to school and then get back to work. I didn’t want to be one of the mums that always missed out on the school run. I wanted to have a work-life balance. It’s the beauty of having the freedom to do that.

Do you think small businesses get enough support?

I have two ways of thinking about this. First, if you want to start up your own business, you shouldn’t need any support. You have got to have the tenacity, the passion, the drive, the energy to see it through and that’s not something anybody can support you with, that’s something that comes from within. Tough times are going to come and you need to keep going and you may not get support. It’s not all dreamy and marvellous, it’s tough and you need to keep at it.

On the other side, I don’t think we get any favours. A small business can be classified as anything with up to 250 employees. This is not a small business in my eyes. I went to 10 Downing Street this year to discuss this very point. We need to be more segmented in dealing with startups and small businesses. Should we be taxed in the same way? Should we have the same employment regulations?

A few years ago I wanted to get an apprentice on board but the red tape that we had to go through was just prohibitive. Things could be relaxed to help small businesses grow. Life could be made easier for, what I call, micro-businesses.

What do you make of terms such as “Mumpreneur”?

I really hate that. I was at the Startup Awards and they had the Mumpreneur Award and my one question to the owners of that organisation was “where are the Dadpreneur awards?”. It’s just twee.

The women that I know that run their own businesses are not “Mumpreneurs”, they’re women in business. I don’t think statements like that do women any favours at all. It drives me insane.

Finally, what advice do you have for anyone thinking about starting their own business?

I suppose everybody says write a business plan, and whilst that’s sensible, I’m not going to say that. I’m going to say keep your energy levels up, stay positive and keep at it. If it doesn’t work at first, it doesn’t mean that it’s a failure, just figure out how you could be doing things better. Don’t get put off too easily and don’t listen too much to negativity. Some people will say “we love this”, some people will say “we don’t love it”, listen to yourself. Your own gut instinct is powerful.

Thanks to Michelle for taking the time to talk with us. For more information about Carvill Creative and their consultancy services, take a look here:

Social Media Services and Online Visibility Solutions

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