Sculpting a Business Through MBO’s Self-Employment Assistance

Maaike Charron’s fascination with pottery first began 12-years ago as a staff member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. Maaike was interested in attending pottery classes at their Clay Studio, but she could not stretch her retail wages to cover the registration fees. Luckily, she found a work around – by volunteering to host ‘open studio’ sessions she received unlimited access to the space! Practicing techniques in her spare time and immersing herself in reading during her work breaks, Maaike soon became a talented ceramic artist.

For the last 10 years, Maaike has channeled her talents into a part-time business producing her own line of functional pottery, selling directly to customers and wholesaling to craft stores and Social Enterprises’ across the province like the Craft Council and Heritage Shops.

She also became a longtime instructor at the Craft Council’s Clay Studio, where she initially offered 1-to-2 day workshops and later led multi-week courses. Maaike enjoyed introducing others to the world of ceramics so much that she decided a move was in order. In 2018, she began co-locating with a fellow ceramic artist in the Rabbittown neighbourhood of St. John’s. While the larger studio space allowed the pair to offer classes to more students, but it also gave Maaike the facilities to ramp up production.  

After receiving a layoff from her retail job, Maaike decided that it was finally time to go all-in with her pottery and pursue it to its full potential. From her years working in the craft industry, she had identified a demand for custom, handmade ceramics. She decided it was time for someone to fill this gap in the market, and that the person to do so would be her! Her new business concept would involve working with companies to create handmade corporate gifts, unique promotional products, and exclusive retail products. To make this happen, Maaike reached out to Metro Business Opportunities to inquire about their Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program.

Working with Development Officer Alicia Ivany, Maaike submitted her business concept and received approval for the Self-Employment Assistance’s 10-week development program. This gave her 10 weeks to dedicate to writing her business plan, building her business management skills, and preparing for business operations. During this period, she attended MBO training sessions on: time management tools, clients profiles, social media, branding, and networking. She also met one-on-one with Alicia, receiving essential business counselling and advice.   

Maaike Charron with Alicia Ivany, MBO’s Training Development Officer

MBO’s Self-Employment Assistance 10-week development program proved to be a very intentional and productive approach to launching my business. The process forced me to sit down and really focus exclusively on planning my business. The training sessions were very informative, and the sessions on branding, marketing, and networking in particular helped inform my business plan. I enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs and small business owners at the trainings – it was helpful to be around others who understand what I was going through. My Development Officer, Alicia Ivany, was great to work with. She was always on the ball and quick to provide encouragement, feedback, and advice.
— Maaike Charon, Ceramic Artist & Owner of CUP: Clay & Unlimited Possibility

Towards the end of the 10-week development period, Maaike submitted her business plan for review. With a strong plan that showed the viability of her business, she received recommendation for the 42-week SEA program. Once approved, she could officially begin operating her new business – CUP: Clay & Unlimited Possibility Inc.

Maaike officially launched CUP at February’s Provincial Craft Wholesale Show. The overwhelmingly positive response from customers proved that her new venture was indeed viable. In fact, she received quadruple the wholesale orders she typically receives at the show. In addition to placing orders for Maaike’s usual pottery line, many retailers clamored to order her new samples, and, most excitingly, several started the process of developing their own custom lines. These initial orders will keep Maaike busy throwing pottery for the next several months!

Now that orders are rolling in, Maaike can rely on the support of MBO and Self-Employment Assistance as she fine-tunes her operations and continues her growth as an entrepreneur. Throughout her remaining 42 weeks in the SEA program, she will have the time she needs to solidify her brand and learn about that ‘accounting stuff’ she’s been putting off. For the moment, she’s enjoying flexing her creativity, stimulating her brain with new challenges, and reaping the rewards of her hard work. To potential entrepreneurs inspired by her journey, Maaike says “Do your research, find your niche, and make sure you ask for help”.