The entrepreneurial bug bit Hannah Chapman at a young age. She was a teenager, watching TV at a friend’s house, when her friend’s sister began wrapping packages to ship from her Etsy store in the same room. Chapman was struck by the idea of this young woman making money doing something she loved, on her own schedule – while hanging out with friends, no less. Yet in her early 20s, Chapman found herself working at a marketing firm where she saw little growth potential for her. Unhappy, she decided it was finally time to get going on her dream. She launched Ava May Aromas in 2018 to sell designer-inspired candles, diffusers, room sprays and aroma oils to the masses. Today, the UK-based entrepreneur is learning her strengths as CEO, ignoring any and all trolls on social media, and taking time to appreciate how far she has come since taking the startup leap years ago.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
Our branding and online presence. Our distinctive packaging has become such a key part of our identity in and of itself. And, our social media accounts are run by me, allowing me to give them a personal touch. I chat and share my life stories, which creates a connection between me and my followers. I have a real bond with my community, and I listen to their feedback about what products and scents they want to see.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
The day we opened our kiosk at Meadowhall Shopping Center in Sheffield, England, was a real high. Up until that point, I’d only ever sold our products through my website. Seeing them in a physical retail setting was a “pinch me” moment. I thought back to when I started my business in my parents’ kitchen and felt emotional to see how far that little idea had come. There were so many highs and lows along the way, but in that moment, it felt like it had all led to something real.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I was 23 when I started this business, and my age proved to be something of a barrier. I often received unsolicited advice which was unhelpful at best. I allowed myself to be guided at times by other people, even when it didn’t sit right with me. But I accepted it at the time because they were older and more experienced. For some reason, I allowed that to silence me. Now I know to never stop my opinion from being heard, just because someone is older.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Social media is difficult to deal with. As the business grew, so did our following on Instagram — and that exposed me to a level of scrutiny I wasn’t prepared for. I fully accept that I put myself out there, and that people will have opinions. I don’t expect to be liked by everyone — nobody is everyone’s cup of tea. However, I was not prepared for the level of pure hate that I received, some of which was very personal and direct. From the way I talk, to the way I dress, my relationships, my home — there was no limit on what people felt entitled to comment on. At one point, it really did get to me. I felt so anxious, I remember almost hyperventilating in the bathroom after I’d gotten an especially nasty message from one woman — I can still remember it now. It sent me over the edge. I’m much better at dealing with things now — I’m older, wiser and more confident in myself.
On a more personal note, within the past 5 years I have lost both my uncle and my grandma. Grief is never easy to deal with. I have relocated from Hampshire to South Yorkshire, England – about 3 hours away from all my family and friends. I’ve had my business boom during Covid, and then struggle post-Covid as people returned to work and lockdowns were lifted.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Running a business is one of those things that you can only truly understand when you’re in it. In a regular job if something goes wrong, there are other people that you can reach out to, or someone higher up you can pass the problem on to. When it’s your business, you’re the problem solver. There is no Plan B. In short, business ownership is not for the faint-hearted.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I try to be grateful for the simple things. As long as I have my dog, my family, my friends, and a roof over my head – I’m ok. I’ve got the basics, and I can survive whatever has been thrown my way.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Good As Hell” by Lizzo.
Who is your most important role model?
My sister is my biggest role model. She inspires me so much. She is kind and caring, yet also strong and determined. She knows exactly what she wants, yet she exudes empathy and understanding to others. She works hard, and she is always so positive. I aspire to be like her. ◼