I first came across the “The Old Norse” by accident. I was browsing through Jimdo websites when I saw this “shipping policy” and laughed—not the usual reaction. That’s when I knew that whoever had written this website definitely had a great sense of humor and fun personality with a story worth writing about.
Chris Clarke was on track for a career in management until he decided one day that life was too short and he wanted to be the master of his own destiny. Inspired by Nordic culture, he decided to set himself on a path of self-sufficiency and work towards self-employment. Whilst simultaneously keeping a part-time job, he changed his goals and dedicated himself to working even harder on his own project.
So, what do you do if you combine a love of Viking culture, self-sufficiency, and beards? You decide to design and produce your own range of beard care products with natural ingredients made the old-fashioned way, of course!
I asked Chris about the moment that triggered his step into self-employment, the best part of working for himself and what advice he would offer to people who want to follow in his footsteps.
What did you do before you became your own boss?
I worked in management for a supermarket chain. Starting off as a trolley boy on Saturdays, I worked my way up to section management and was knocking on the door for the next levels. But I thought to myself, did I want to crawl further into the belly of the beast or crawl back out? I had to make that decision. Once I knew I had an idea that was going somewhere I scaled back my hours and job role so I could concentrate on something I had a real passion for.
What made you realize that you wanted to start your own business?
The idea of being able to be your own boss is something that has always appealed to me. When you’re younger it‘s so difficult to pinpoint exactly how you would like to direct your life. Leaving school and working in management for a supermarket chain was an acceptable job—nothing to be embarrassed about. It pays the bills and is far from being a bad job. Realizing that a life in retail was far from how I wanted to spend my life made me search for other avenues to better myself. Having something that I’m fully accountable for and not having to work through the politics of big business where you’re just a cog in a machine is a big drive for me creating my own business. I am the machine now and the cogs and the oil.
Was there a certain moment when you had this realization?
I was sitting at a desk working through my sections schedule and inputting people’s pay and holidays for the week. Along with several other managerial tasks that were in need of completing. I then had my superior come and tell me that several other things needed doing. I felt that those things didn’t really need doing but as you’re being told/asked to do them you kind of have to do them. And I just sat there for a second and realized, “Why am I doing this job if I no longer believe in it?” So, no word of a lie, I then walked up to the boss’s office and said: “I’m done”. Soon enough I relinquished my role and responsibilities and went down to the bottom of the pecking order, a regular supermarket assistant. But one who had a dream, an idea, a passion for a business that I owned. The journey had well and truly begun.
“I am the machine now and the cogs and the oil.”
How did you get started? What were your first steps?
Whilst working full time at my job I spent a lot of evenings and days-off researching recipes, scents and narrowing down ingredients that would end up creating a product that I feel proud to be able to share with the world. Creating a product that I’m happy to use is important. You are your own worst and best critic so if I’m not happy with the product then I wouldn’t want other people to be disappointed too.
One of the first things I learned was that the world of cosmetics is a legal minefield. Reading up on this was mind-numbing but necessary. Getting the products tested and fully legal is a must, so knowing the potential pitfalls before I made them helped me understand what hoops I needed to jump through to make a product and that I was able to introduce to the open market.
Creating a brand is no mean feat too. A single product wasn’t enough for me. A memorable product was my dream. Being of no artistic abilities I worked with designers to come up with labels, logos etc. Something that I would be proud to slap on my products and hand out business cards with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with things you’re not good at. Carrying the world on your shoulders may sound heroic but when there are others who can help you share the burden, you would be silly not to make use of their expertise.
What’s the hardest part of working for yourself?
Knowing if what I’m doing is right. Having never run a business before, the road I’m traveling down has never been mapped. You are your own safety net. As much as I can ask people for advice and ask questions galore in the end I have to make the decision on what I feel is best for me. It’s hard but satisfying, I don’t have to answer to anyone or follow any long-winded protocol.
What’s the best part of working for yourself?
Knowing that everything that happens is as a result of the work I have done. The successes I achieve will live with me forever. The failures will too, but in a way that will better my knowledge of the business world and further my success in the long run. Making me more capable of making better decisions in the future. Wearing my PJs all day sometimes is always a plus too.
I love your branding. Why did you choose this Nordic / Viking style brand?
Having visited Iceland and Norway I fell in love with the culture and lifestyle they live. I’ve always wanted to be self-sufficient and have a dream of living in a cabin in the woods. That was the life back in the Viking Age. Along with a lot of raiding and pillaging too but their religion and beliefs are fascinating. Watching the show “Vikings” got me interested at first but it just led on from there. Who better to have as a symbol of masculinity than muscular, bearded Vikings? Can’t get more manly than that.
Why did you decide to produce beard oil?
You can either be clean-shaven or have a beard where I worked. Not being clean-shaven was a punishable offense. That may sound like a joke but you could get eventually fired for not shaving a few times. So I took two weeks off work and decided to grow a beard in that time. I came back with the smallest beard ever but it was still a beard. It began to itch and flake but I persevered with growing. I read up about products to help with this and couldn’t find anything that agreed with me or smelt nice enough to have on my face all day so it drove me to create something I wanted to use on myself.
You were recently featured in GQ Magazine. How did that happen? How did you feel about it?
After being featured in a local newspaper I had an email from GQ asking if I would be ok with being included in a feature they were running. At first, I thought it was a hoax, like one of those African bankers who want my bank details to transfer 5 million Zimbabwean dollars into my account for safe keeping. But after some research and email tennis, I found out it was legit. Seeing my product on glossy paper and knowing that it can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people is thrilling. It was a great step. Being able to say “as seen in GQ” still doesn’t seem real to me.
What’s your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?
I’ve been featured in GQ, newspapers and sell online all the time. But I go to markets as well to show my face and have real interaction with people about my products. Spread the bearded word so to speak. It was my first ever sale I made in person that will stick with me forever. He came along and picked up each product. Had a deep sniff and found one he loved—it’s called ‘Norwegian Fir.” And he said to me “I love this, it smells exactly like my home.” So I thought, what an odd home you must have. He then told me he is Norwegian and this product smells just like walking through the forests in Norway. To know I have created a product that can have such an emotional connection with someone made me so proud. And then for him to put cold hard cash in my hand for this product is a close second.
What did you learn from starting your own business?
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” would best describe it. You want everything so quickly: success, money, fame. But in reality, this takes a lot of time and dedication to achieve. I would work 15 hour days often before I had even opened the business to the public, just in preparation. At this time I wasn’t even selling anything. I was making my website, testing my product, emailing suppliers, researching competitors, thinking about advertising strategies etc. Along with trying to have a social life and pay my mortgage. It’s hard work but if you feel passionate about it then it feels justified. I learned that you’re only going to be successful as you want to be. If you want the world and everything in it then you can’t be afraid of emptying your hands first so you can grab it.
“If you want the world and everything in it then you can’t be afraid of emptying your hands first so you can grab it.”
What would you do differently?
I would get into routines early with the “boring” stuff. Having a product that I’m proud of and can talk the hind legs off a donkey about is great but filling out paperwork, accounting, stock checking is a less glamorous side of business. Putting it off and saying I will do it another day isn’t acceptable. Firstly, I have no-one else I can delegate these tasks to and secondly they’re an important part of running a business. My naivety on this matter was quickly rectified when I spent a day trying to find a postage receipt. It’s not fun rooting through bins for paperwork. Just so you know, I did find it.
How did your friends/family react to the news you were starting your own business?
Surprised! I hadn’t told anyone about it until I knew I was going to unveil to the public and launch my website. But they were very proud and happy that I’d found something I could be passionate about. Being able to tell someone that I’m the CEO of my own company is a powerful statement and they were impressed. The fact that it’s a company of 1 person isn’t important, it still sounds cool.
What advice would you offer to other people who want to start their own business?
A great quote I like to work by is “Don’t half ass several things, whole ass one thing.” Put your all into your work. If it’s something you feel passionate about then make it your life to succeed in it. It’s by no means going to be an easy road you’re traveling down and there will be guaranteed speed bumps but that shouldn’t put you off. If the end destination is self-gratification that you have built something from the ground up then hitting those speed bumps won’t stop you. Your hard work will pay off if the belief in what you’re doing is strong enough.
Give us an example of a typical day?
Social media is a big player in advertising in this day and age so I advertise several times a day via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. Waking up and often posting a post I’ve prepared from the night before.
I start work at 5 am for my regular day job. I spend most of my time there thinking about my business and my next moves. When I finish there at 1 pm I come home and check my orders.
I package up any orders that came in. This involves gift wrapping each product, writing a personalized note and packaging it up. Once they’re all ready I have to go to the post office send them off. Back home I file the paperwork for each order to ensure my paperwork is up-to-date. I will then start to create more batches of my products. Because I make them all in small batches by hand as and when I need them—I do this a lot. It helps to keep the products fresh and makes sure the customers get something that will last a while. Then I hand-pour and label my products.
I record all the batch information so that I have records of everything that comes in ingredients-wise and products that go out. I will then post more on social media to ensure my online presence. This also helps with search engines and improves the chance of people finding me online. Then I’ll email stockist, suppliers, and customers about my products and ingredients to make sure I have enough coming in to meet demand or attempt to find stockists for my product.
I will then find time to sit down and tinker with my website. Having a website that is user-friendly is a must-have so I try to make sure everything is as easy as possible. I update my content when I need to and try to improve my SEO as best I can to keep up with trending topics online. At this point, I will work on future projects. Having an ever-evolving brand keeps customers interested. New ideas take a while to implement and I have to balance the logistics of getting these ideas off the ground with the daily running of everything else. Only once I’ve finished my daily tasks can I start working on the future of the company.
My other half goes to bed at around 8 pm so I then stay up and work on getting new ideas into place. This is my spare time where I should be in front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream watching Westworld… but I choose to be working.
I go to bed by 11 pm and wake up again at 4 am to get ready for work. And repeat…
Thanks for sharing your amazing story and website with us, Chris! You can learn more about Chris and his beard oil and care products on his website: theoldnorse.co.uk