Our latest article in a series of shining the spotlight on small business owners with great stories to share. This time, we had a chat with Kirsty Cleverly, the business founder and owner of Bonjour Quilts. Kirsty spent 29 years in the military to leave it behind and start a business devoted to creativity, as well as helping others soothe their soul with a meditative activity. Here is her story.
Bonjour Quilts – what’s in a name?
I run a small business called Bonjour Quilts, which sells digital quilt patterns. Rather than a bricks-and-mortar store, I maintain a website, blog, and an online shop. I have always been interested in making things and found it a great way to destress when I worked an office job.
Quilting is a wonderful way to express your creativity. You can either design your own or sew from one of the many quilt patterns available in shops like mine. As well as being a relaxing and enjoyable pursuit, quilt making results in a really useful product: a quilt. There’s nothing quite like giving someone you love a quilt that you’ve tailor-made to suit their home and personal style. If you want to leave a hug with someone, give them a handmade quilt!
Bonjour Quilts began as an online travel and craft blog over a decade ago. It was a personal project, a place where I documented my family’s overseas posting to France. Once we returned to Australia I no longer had photos of cute Provence villages and truffle omelets to share, so I focussed purely on my quilt making. I started with sewing and quilting tutorials for small projects, and then tried my hand at creating my own quilt pattern designs. I’ve now got over 30 quilt patterns in my shop and have some of the most amazing customers, all around the world.
The business didn’t start as a business at all. It was a personal project for me to record our travel photographs. We were posted to France for 3 years and I was doing a lot of photography and craft. I wanted some way to have it all organized and blogs were so very popular back then. Everyone was blogging, I thought it was a great idea.
After we finished the 3 years in France and came home, I had no more photos to show. I was focusing mainly on the quilts. That’s where the name Bonjour Quilts came from.
A one-person operation
My business is just a one person operation. I’m doing all the things – I’m thinking up the designs, creating the design patterns, the samples, and I sell them in my online shop. I do my own marketing as well. It’s good fun, I really enjoy it. It is a lot of work and that’s why VistaCreate has been great for me.
I was on board back when it was Crello. Everything is clean and bright and beautiful, and it’s got an intuitive interface. It doesn’t take you days and days to learn unlike Photoshop or Illustrator. So this was something I could open and start using straight away, and that was really appealing to me. I get to create beautiful things, which is great.
Every now and then I’ll use the templates as they are, but just swap the photos. I like the VistaCreate emails I get with a selection of different templates. I look at that email and think “That one would be really good to use!” I take note of it, go in, and just swap in my photo. I also use all of the other elements that you have on the graphic.
VistaCreate makes my life easier, which is wonderful.
Beyond quilt making
My job, as I see it, is to help anyone who would like to do something creative. I think lots of times people will say “I could never do what you do, I’m just not creative”. And I don’t believe that! I think everyone can make something.
The definition of “make” can be used very loosely – from making a quilt to painting a painting. You can be creating code for something, creating a recipe – there’s always a way you can make something.
I think it’s really good for you, for your stress levels, your state of mind, and your soul to make things. And quilting is just one such thing. Anyone that’s got an interest in it, I feel like it’s my job to grab them and give them all the education and information I can. Hopefully, they take it up and continue on with it.
I also think of quilting as a craft and an art that’s part of our history. It’s something that’s been going on for a long time, and I would really love to see that continue and that tradition passed on to the next generation.
My kids have asked that I teach them how to quilt. Also, if there’s anyone else I can help through the website – to keep the tradition going, I think that’s important. And I’d like to help however I can.
One business with a small but powerful cause
Quilting is about creativity, reducing stress – it’s almost meditative. Especially if you’re hand stitching, hand sewing – it’s really a great way to work through things, think and reflect on things and take some time away from screens. Or our busy, hectic life – to take a moment for yourself. And at the end of it all you can end up with a gift that you can give to someone else. So it’s healthy for you and great for your friends too!
Imagine, for instance, your child is fascinated with dinosaurs or trains. You can make a quilt that has every little thing that your kid loves on it; they’ll be so excited to have a quilt that’s all about them. You can make a gift they’ll treasure for years – it’s great for your child and for you.
I came from a career in the military. I was in the military for almost 30 years. Working with your hands in some capacity – wood work or sewing – through the ages, has been a way that people in the military have coped with stress. It’s a good way to switch off from your day to day job, it’s a good way to unwind and relax and process what’s happened.
Sewing gives you confidence. You’ve got a pattern if you need it, but you can easily adapt kits or patterns to what you need or want, adding your own flair to it. Change an element of the design, add blocks, change colors – it looks a bit like the pattern you bought, but you added your own touch to it. It feels good to do that and gives you confidence in your own creativity.
Military and quiltmaking are two very different jobs
The toughest part about running your own business is the tendency to spread yourself too thin. You always think there’s something else you should be doing, you don’t always get to dedicate the time needed to each area. There are parts of the business I don’t enjoy, for instance, I don’t enjoy the finances part.
As I scale, I’d like to outsource some things so I can focus on what I really enjoy, which is the design side of things. I also enjoy talking to customers. Some business owners don’t overly enjoy the customer service aspect but I do like it.
I don’t mind when people come to me with a problem or a query. Even if it’s grumpy or angry people. I’m like “Come on, let’s go! I’m here for you. You’re having a bad day and I’m going to see what I can do to turn this day around for you!”
Once I can scale a bit more, there are some parts that would be good to outsource. For now, I’m doing it all on my own and learning. Running your own business is a really different job to being in the military.
Thoughts on design before VistaCreate
I didn’t know a great deal about graphic design before. In some ways, it seems a bit of black art, something that you either know or don’t. It can be intimidating! Design is everywhere and everything that we love and use is a product of good design.
That’s another thing that’s so great with VistaCreate – most of the design is done for you. They found the fonts that work together, the shapes that work together, the way it looks, the ratios of everything. Just to be able to drop things in, move them, and have everything line up properly. It tells you when things are aligned or not. It really makes creating a lot easier, and takes a lot of the hard work out of it. That’s been really helpful. I feel much more confident creating my own graphics with VistaCreate’s help. If I were given a blank square and was told to do something…I might freeze.
It’s like the quilt pattern is my starting point and you can work with that. It’s the same with VistaCreate – it gives me a foundation. I can mold it, add my own bits and pieces, and get a product I’m happy with that I can use in my business.
VistaCreate has been a force multiplier for my business
VistaCreate makes it so easy to create gorgeous visuals for Bonjour Quilts. I regularly need to create Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest posts to get my quilt pattern designs in front of my audience. VistaCreate makes it so easy to upload my own photos and add extra design elements and text to create eye-catching posts.
If I’m feeling lazy, I can also use the templates and photos they have available to create visuals in minutes. My favorite feature is the resize option, which lets me take one post and convert it to sizes suitable for other formats. An Instagram post can be resized for Facebook and Pinterest in a couple of clicks, saving me so much time and effort. I can even post directly to Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest from within VistaCreate, which is golden.
I’m selling one product – quilt patterns. But they’re all different. It’s great to have a base template where I can add my photos and change things. That’s what branding is, a cohesive look that when people see it they say “Oh, that’s Kirsty’s pattern” because they recognize the layout, the font, and all the details.
Quilting is obviously very visual, so graphic design is an important consideration in my business. I don’t have the budget or manpower of larger businesses, so I’m always looking for tools that leverage my time, and VistaCreate has been fantastic in this regard.
I can quickly create graphic design visuals and maintain my branding across all of them, from my quilt pattern covers, to blog tutorial photos, to social media posts. VistaCreate makes graphic design so much quicker and easier for me, leaving me with more time to quilt and engage with my customers. It has been such a force multiplier for Bonjour Quilts.
The tool that helps me put hours back into my business
Having to painstakingly make graphics element-by-element in Photoshop, as compared to doing it in a couple of clicks – the time saved is just incredible. That’s time I can put back into other parts of my business. Instead of being able to produce 4 patterns, I can produce 6 patterns a year. So it’s definitely a time saver! It makes my life easier and I feel like I’m a lot more productive.
I think my visuals look better than anything I could just come up with on my own. Much more eye catching and pleasing to look at. Much more professional.
VistaCreate has everything I need in one spot. Anything I need – to have a diagram or a photo on the post – I can do it there. I can personalize anything I need with my branding. It’s easy, it’s all in one spot, there’s new templates coming out regularly, so I always have more inspiration and options. And it’s easy to use, intuitive, it makes me happy working on the platform.
There are so many options to help you with your marketing and branding. You can start using it from day one to tell everyone about your product, show how wonderful it is, and help you sell more, which is what we’re looking for at the end of the day. We want to help our customers and hopefully make some money while we’re doing it.
Advice for the road
My advice to other small business owners would be to find your style and lean into it. Don’t change or dilute what you love to do in order to appeal to an audience. Create businesses, products, and visuals that bring you joy and make you proud, and the people who feel the same will find you.
You won’t have to second guess how your audience wants you to be, because you’ve already shown your hand and they’ve stuck around. It’s so much more rewarding (and easier) to serve an audience that enjoys you, rather than the person you’re pretending to be. Oh, and why not give quilting a try? 😉
Read more stories from our power users from the series:
- Boo’s Toy Shop, a small business by Charlotte Polley
- Rick Blyth, the founder of his own brand that helps software developers get started building their own profitable Micro SaaS apps
- Content Perfection, a content marketing business by Lisa Harvey
- DIYvinci, an online arts and crafts business by Jennifer Parr