2002 was the start of Jacky Bonard-Williams journey to self-employment, although she didn’t know it at the time.
All she knew then was the operation to remove her gallbladder was followed by long periods of unexplained ill-health. It was only four years ago, after years of trips to the doctor only to be told that there was nothing wrong, that Jacky finally received the first of what was to become quite a collection of diagnosis – stage 4 endometriosis, fibromyalgia, IBS and IC. She suddenly seemed to be collecting medical conditions like Imelda Marcos collected shoes only not quite so glamorous! Having established what was the cause of her poor health, Jacky had to take stock, reassess and reframe what she was going to do:
“I would never of started the business if it wasn’t for leaving my job. I felt I had no choice but to leave, taking redundancy when it was offered, and the original plan was to find another similar job after a six-month rest.
It became clear after my fibro diagnosis, that my issues were more serious and I felt no employer would touch me. So I felt it was either give up and accept I would likely have to claim support, or do something for myself.”
I first came across Jacky’s work through a mutual love of the best dogs in the world – Beagles – and I have followed her journey to becoming a successful business owner over the last year. I have been inspired by her dogged determination to remain positive and make a success of her venture when it would have been easy to fall into a life of feeling like a victim, of self-pity and reliance on the benefit system. With a family background familiar to many, it is not one with a long line of successful high flying business founders – rather of a ‘normal’ small family where mum and dad held down regular but unremarkable jobs and where Jacky attended local schools. Yet I believe it was Jacky’s experience at school that have had a profound effect on her, and continue to do so today. She was bullied, so hated it and it affected her confidence. She doesn’t recall confiding in her parents as it wasn’t the done thing – children were pretty much left to get on with school life and fight their own battles. Things were different then – you either liked school or you didn’t and children’s mental health was not high on any radar as it is now. As is the case with so many of us on leaving school, Jacky had definite plan as to what she wanted to do with her life:
“The honest truth is I never knew. I knew I didn’t want to work in an office, which is crazy as that’s where I then spent 25 years! I wanted to do something hands on, but nothing really jumped out at me. I loved creative writing, but knew there was no future in it, and loved to write my own songs, being the owner of a few guitars. Before I messed my knee up it was going to be something sporting though.”
So Jacky’s life fell into a routine experienced by many – she fell in to retail position, worked her way up and went on to yet another regular job in a regular office but it was in her private life that set her on the path to finding her true passion that was to become her living.
Happily married to her partner Wendy, they became the owners of probably two of the now most famous beagles on the planet – Copper and Dexter. Affectionately known as “The Beagle Boys” or just “the boys”, they have their own Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BeaglesWhoAreBoys/) and Instagram (the_beagle_boys_c_and_d) pages with 2,500 followers on each and it was by chance that I came across one post that led me to become one of their biggest fans.
Dexter is a very special beagle who, like Jacky, has a few health issues, one of which is that he is unable to focus properly. As a result, he has a very expressive and intense stare and is very happy to sit and pose for the camera – especially when it involves photoshoots for the now legendary charity calendar that Jacky has produced every year for the past 4 years. Since she started selling the calendars, her and her partner have raised a staggering £13k for Beagle Welfare from the proceeds of the calendar sales and, more recently Christmas cards:
“It started as a little joke one year for friends and family, in which we didn’t raise money, we just sold at cost for anyone that wanted one. People really loved them and so the next year I decided to put more of an effort into planning the dress ups, giving them more structure and starting working on costing via a larger print run and all the promotion that needed to go with it. Year one at the larger scale was a great success and we have built upon it.
The shots themselves are very quick to set up. More time is spent thinking up the costumes and then in processing the photos, editing and choosing the best shots, then making the calendar itself. It takes a huge amount of time overall, hour after hour, but the positive responses we get from people that follow the boys is what makes it worth it”
The calendars are fantastic and have been distributed worldwide which is amazing but it doesn’t make any money for Jacky as all the proceeds are given to Beagle Welfare – this year’s proceeds will be split between Beagle Welfare and Cyprus Beagles. For anyone interested, they can be found on their facebook page. but you will need to be quick as orders are only open until for a limited time. It was on the back of the success of the Beagle Boys calendars that the idea for Jacky’s own business started. With her many health conditions making sitting or standing for any length of time hard, it is testament to her strong work ethic that she pursued her goal of setting up her own craft business with its USP of selling personalised and unique items made for pet owners with a high emphasis on quality. Despite being a self-confessed worrier and insomniac, Jacky recognises that in spite of the worry that comes with being in business for yourself, her health has benefited from not having the constraints of a normal office environment. It is hard to understand how someone who is clearly extremely clever and creative finds it difficult acknowledge her own talent:
“I’m still a big worrier and I take things very personally and want to try and always do what people expect of me. Logically I know that’s not possible, and I am working on it.”
It may be that is why I am full of admiration for Jacky. A talented, creative lady yet struggling to overcome self-doubt, she will go out of her way to produce something that is amazing. Nothing is ever too much trouble and her desire to please ensures a level of service that is second to none.
But having now taken the decision and struck out on her own, would, in hindsight she have ever made the decision to go in to business for herself sooner? Absolutely not:
“I would love to say yes, but I just didn’t have the confidence. I’m not a confident person and although I have always felt I have a creative streak, whether that be through photography or song writing, I never felt I could do anything with it. If I hadn’t been backed into a corner, I think I would have still been struggling and very unhappy in an office job.”
Fortunately Jacky now finds herself in a very different place and, whilst she is not wholly convinced by her wife, family and friends who believe she is good at what she does, her ambition of making her business work so she can play her part in contributing to supporting her family is doing so much more than that. The joy that her photos bring to so many beagle lovers is amazing. The success of the charity calendars sales is incredible and something to be celebrated.
We read so many stories of women who have always known that they would start their own business. Yes, they have to overcome lots of difficulties along the way and their successes are to be applauded as is that of anyone who decides to set up in business, male or female. Jacky’s story is a little different as I’ve never met anyone who has been less sure of themselves which is curious. No inspirational quotes, no rallying cry but someone who is quietly determined to do her best and keeps herself on track with the mantra of “It’s ok to not be ok”. I for one am sure that for Beagle Boys Designs, that things really will be ok and it couldn’t happen to a better person.
To see Jacky’s work, head over to BeagleBoysDesigns
She doesn’t only do beagle/dog stuff – she has lots of other pet inspired stuff and if you want something bespoke, Jacky will be able to help!