When she decided to quit a good job in the NHS to develop a run-down farm, people thought Celia Gaze was crazy. When business was flagging and her response was to put her father’s old bow tie on a llama and share the snap on social media, they knew it.
Now, with a string of awards and a hugely successful business to her name, those crazy decisions don’t seem quite so crazy any more.
In this fascinating conversation Celia reveals the highs and lows of her extraordinary journey, and why she wrote her book – Why Put a Bow Tie on a Llama? – to encourage others to find the crazy ideas that might just change their life.
And if you’re struggling to get your book written, Celia has some great tips for you!
Celia’s website: https://celiagaze.com/
The Wellbeing Farm: https://thewellbeingfarm.co.uk/
Celia on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CeliaFarm
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge wait list: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Celia Gaze, who is an entrepreneur and founder of the Wellbeing Farm. She worked in the NHS for 14 years in a senior management role, before reaching the verge of burnout and quitting her job to start her own business. And she used this as a springboard to transform her life by creating the multi-award-winning wedding and events venue, the Wellbeing Farm. Celia has won multiple awards for her innovative work, it’s bonkers, including Implementer of the Year at The National Entrepreneurial Awards, and just recently UK Events Team of The Year, The Wedding Industry Awards. And her new book, Why Put a Bow Tie on a Llama? How a Crazy Idea Can Change Your Life and Transform Your Business, which was published by Practical Inspiration of course in 2020, offers practical advice on turning your crazy idea into a successful business. Welcome to the show, Celia.
Celia Gaze: Hello Alison. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you.
Alison Jones: It’s really, really good to have you here. It’s one of those books where… you’ve been through the mentorship programme. I know you, I know the story so well. And I can’t wait to tell people about it. But the first thing that everyone is going is, well, what was the crazy idea? And also, why the talk about bow ties and llamas. So just tell us how the title came about.
Celia Gaze: Well, the title was that everybody, when I said I’m leaving a well-paid corporate job to go and pursue a career with llamas, everybody thought I was absolutely bonkers. My Mum put it down to a midlife crisis almost. And the whole point of me setting up the farm was to devise a building set in an area set to minimise stress. At the time I was facing corporate burnout, and I got to the point in my career in the NHS, that I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to be there another 20-odd years, and almost getting to the end of my life and going, “Why didn’t I do that? Why when I had that idea of creating that farm and doing something with it, why just didn’t I do that?”
And we may come to the story of the llamas a little bit later in the story, because otherwise I could be jumping about a bit. But the bow tie and the llamas was a pivotal career changing moment in the work of the farm. At the time, just before the farm, I got this farm and it was a real rundown, neglected business. And I had to set about transforming it. And so many stories and things that I learned along the journey, which is why I wrote the book. But the point about the llamas was, when I was nearing bankruptcy, was a really, really low point in my business career with the farm. December 15, when as a hospitality venue, you should be packed out and people coming in for Christmas parties, et cetera. And I literally had no bookings. Because people at the time just didn’t really want to go to a farm in the middle of the winter. And in sheer desperation I had to pay this VAT bill, couldn’t afford the VAT bill. Went back home to my Mum, as you do when you’re desperate.
And she was clearing out her cupboards and she came across this bag of bow ties that had belonged to my father, he was a concert pianist. And she was, out of all the things I found in this wardrobe kind of thing. And I just said, “Just give me the bag of bow ties, and I’ll stick them on a llama when I get back.” And there was no thought to it. It was just one of these crazy ideas. And I got back home and I put the bow tie on a llama. And I took a photo of this llama wearing a bow tie, and it just went crazy. And my business just on the back of that one thing, went from two weddings … We started just getting wedding inquiries, but we went from 2 to 15, to 43, and 60. And it’s just grown on the back of the bow-tie-wearing llamas, which have now become almost like the trademark and the branding for my venue.
Alison Jones: It’s an amazing story, isn’t it? And not everybody will have that as their thing. Clearly you’ve bagged the market in bow ties on llamas.
Celia Gaze: Yes.
Alison Jones: But what I love about your book, is that sense that you don’t ever quite know what it’s going to be, but as long as you’re curious and out there and trying stuff, you’re going to find the thing that is going to be the magic for you.
Celia Gaze: Yes. In the journey that I took, it’s quite funny because I have a Masters in business strategy, and I’ve never had a plan, which is really bad. Sorry MBA students and owners out there. But honestly, I have just grabbed every opportunity that I could get. And I suppose within that, taking that way forward, I have made so many mistakes, so many. At the time when I wanted to do this, I come from this NHS career of 14 odd years, where we didn’t discuss things like that, and business rates, and all of these things. Your money, you didn’t really … You had a budget in the NHS, but someone else paid suppliers and everything else and the volumes of money that you’re talking about, which is so huge, that day-to-day budgets, and day-to-day managing the money, just didn’t come into my role. Unless you were like a ward manager, or a departmental manager of an area, that you just didn’t go.
And I was a programme manager doing big strategic projects, and I didn’t really manage all of this. So when I started this business, it really was in some respects on the back of quite a traumatic work related stress moment, in what I went through in the NHS. And so I’ve set about doing this farm, and now I had to go from scratch on installing wind turbines, liaising with architects, installing water treatment plants, dealing with builders, dealing with electricians. There was no gas, so looking at inventive ways to heat the building and using … Honestly, and I had no experience of doing any of this. And then having finally got the business up and running, to then discover things like people coming along charging me masses amounts in business rates when I’m not even opened. All these problems I had with websites, honestly it just went on and on and on.
And I had had so many failures and so many experiences, I decided that there wasn’t a roadmap which shows you how to take your farm and transform it, or how to take a building. And I decided to document everything I had learnt, in the hope that if anybody else wanted to almost change their life and do something different, and maybe had a property, or they didn’t even need to have a property. All the things I went through, they could just kind of go, right, okay, I’ll look out for that, and I’ll look out for this, and okay, that’s good advice, I’ll maybe do that. I had nothing like that, and I wanted to write something that people … Almost like a blueprint or a roadmap, whatever you want to call it, so people could follow that. And that’s the purpose of the book.
Alison Jones: Have to say you don’t make it sound like a great escape from stress.
Celia Gaze: Well the thing is, it wasn’t. And I must admit, being an entrepreneur has been at times far, far more stressful than anything I ever experienced in the NHS. But it’s a very different type of stress.
Alison Jones: It’s your own stress.
Celia Gaze: Yes. The stress is a passion. It’s a, get out of bed, I want to do things. In the NHS, it was a frustration. It was a stress around frustration and bureaucracy, and the things that I knew I needed to do, but I just couldn’t, because of all the different meetings and the business case and the things that you had to prepare. And so I think being an entrepreneur is a huge resilience test if anything. It’s, can you keep going when it’s really, really tough? And it has been incredibly tough so many times.
But to be honest, the things that I’ve learned, and the things I’ve learned around coping both within the business and personally, I think, I wanted to share with people, because not many … I just found that although there’s lots and lots of business books, masses. I wanted to also make sure I have the personal element in that book as well, because some people said, “How could you be so honest in this book about what happened?” And I just wanted to show people that I wasn’t stupid. But all these things genuinely happened. And if people can learn from my mistakes, then that actually is in some way a help to others.
Alison Jones: Yes. And I think that is hugely valuable actually, is that we tend to offer a sanitised version of ourselves a lot of the time. And it’s really inspiring when somebody goes, this is how bad it was, and this is how hard it was. And this is the mistakes I made. And you can learn so much from that. I want to talk to you about the writing of the book, Celia, because you’re not a writer…
Celia Gaze: No.
Alison Jones: It’s the first book you’ve written. What surprised you about it and what did you enjoy about it?
Celia Gaze: Do you know what? For me, writing a book was a tremendous, amazing point in my career, because I was the person at school who just barely scraped past their English language. I think it was O- level at the time, showing my age now. Do you know what I mean? So for me, to then become an author has been incredible. And I just feel there’s so many things that I learned in the process, around being an author and the process. I took quite a practical stance on it. Because I was writing almost like a biography, or a story of the farm, a lot of what I’d used to write the book, was based on making sure that everything I went through was almost recorded in some sense.
So I’ve always been very good at categorising emails, for example. I have loads and loads and loads of different boxes in my inboxes, for different types of emails related to different circumstances. So when it got to the point where I was writing about areas, the actual emails of the content and the stories and issues that I went through were actually really, really helpful to use. The other thing I found, which was incredibly helpful, was when I decided to write a book, which was New Year’s day in 2018. That was it, yes. And I literally said … And it was around this table and everybody said, “What’s your New Year’s resolutions?” I was just with my family, and I went, out of the blue with no thought, “I’m going to write a book.”
And then straight after, as if by magic, your 10 day book proposal challenge comes into my in tray, when I start googling, how to write a book, which was amazing. And then I started following your podcast. And that’s why I’m so excited to be on your podcast today, because it’s just be one of those moments that I thought, I needed to write the book and I want to write the book with Alison. And when I wrote the book, I … When I was on holiday, I was in holiday, and I went to see those … I can’t remember their name, honestly. You know the giant horses in Scotland, and they’ve got their … The Kelpies. Anyway, huge, massive horses. And I went to the gift shop and bought a pad. And that tiny little pad became the content of my book. I literally divided the pad into sections and I bought a tiny pad of post-its. And every time I thought about something, I would put the post-it into the section of the book.
So basically I carried the book around with me for a year. And everything that happened, and every thought I thought about, that would go into this pad. And so after a year of doing this, I had all the contents that I was going to put in this book, all mapped out within the pad. It was just a pad full of post-its, and comments, and suggestions. But actually that was something that could then start. And then that started forming the framework of what I was going to do to put the book about.
Alison Jones: I love it. And you’re the great tip that I happened to know, and I want you to share, because I think it’s brilliant. It’s that you, like me, took yourself off, didn’t you? Away from the business to do the final push on the book. Tell them about your brilliant Airbnb tip, or hotel room tip.
Celia Gaze: Right. So when I was living on the farm, I never got any time to myself, although I had an office and everything, it just was too distracting. So I have always, if I get a bit overwhelmed and need to get things sorted, I literally check myself into a hotel room. Now the hotel … And everyone goes, “Well how could I afford all this?” I’ll tell you now the hotels are like 50 quid a night, if that.
Alison Jones: You don’t want a fancy hotel for this…
Celia Gaze: You do not want-
Alison Jones: You don’t want any distractions…
Celia Gaze: Yes, you do not want a fancy hotel. You want a twin bedded room, and you’re not taking anybody with you, I can tell you that.
Alison Jones: This is important, not a double, a twin.
Celia Gaze: And you do not want it. Preferably you want it in the middle of nowhere. A petrol service station actually does work very well. It’s uninspiring, you don’t really want to go out, but you have got somewhere if you need a meal and something cheap, something to eat. But the point is, you go into the hotel, and the reason for the twin beds is, you literally take your desk with you, and on one bed you decant the whole of your paperwork and you spread it all out. And the other bed you are sleeping in. They usually in a hotel room have a desk, or some sort of desk, with luckily a kettle, or some coffee. And you don’t want to be distracted. You turn your mobile phone off, you turn your emails off, and you literally just go in to do the pieces of work.
So in the final run of pulling this together, this book, I checked myself into this hotel. And I took … Well you check-in normally with more suitcases of work that you do with clothes, put it that way. And I literally stayed in there for four days, with the aim of writing the first draft of my book. Now I thought, it’s going to be too ambitious to write the whole of the book, the first draft. So I thought, I’m just going to see what I can do. Maybe I’ll get to about 20,000 words in the four days, and just really motor and get down. So I started, and by the end of day one, I’d done like 10,000 words. And I was going, but I needed to get to about 40 odd thousand to … So it got then to 10,000, but I was just so in the zone. I was like, maybe I could just continue.
So I hardly slept, because I was just such in the writing zone, that I continued and continued. I literally left the room just to go and have some dinner, went straight back and back at it again. I could have had room service, but it was getting a bit much. I needed to get out. So basically I continued, and by the end of the four days, I had written the entire first draught of the book. A very, very rough first draught. But I had the words there.
Alison Jones: And that ladies and gentlemen, is how you write a book.
Celia Gaze: It was honestly crazy. I feel like body abuse was involved, because I literally-
Alison Jones: Physically it’s not the best, is it?
Celia Gaze: I left that hotel, I was exhausted. I go back to the family and they’re all like, “Oh my goodness, you look dreadful!” But I’d done it. I’d achieved this massive thing, which was hanging over my head, going, I’m getting near my deadline, and need to do it. And it was the only way. And I think when you go in and check-in in these hotels, you get into a zone of work. You’re not distracted and you literally just get on with it. And I think that’s the best way to get big pieces of work done.
Alison Jones: Yes, I’m completely with you. You can do an awful lot at home, but when it comes to those … For me, it was the pulling it all together. I just needed to get away. And I still look back on it actually with real fondness. It was one of those intense moments in your life, where you really accomplish something. And so much of what you do, day by day, it’s just got to be done, or it’s got to be done again the next day. And just occasionally, you get these moments of time where you can create something that lasts. And I think that, that’s really quite joyful, isn’t it?
Celia Gaze: Absolutely. And that whole jubilation when you’ve done it, and the sense of accomplishment. Especially when you’ve … Whether it’s writing a book or anything, I’ve used hotel working to do my website and all of these things. It’s that switching off from the daily things you have to do, because if you’re at home, you suddenly remember you’ve got to put the washing on, or whatever, or somebody goes to the door. It’s just easy to get distracted. And so by cutting yourself off and going to these places like a hotel, is absolutely the best way you can get work done.
Alison Jones: Yes. Sorry to our families, but I’m sure they appreciate it. And now that it’s out Celia, because this was published in January in 2020 now. Has it made a difference? Was it worth those slogged hours in the hotel? What difference has it made to you, professionally and personally?
Celia Gaze: Honestly, I feel like a different person since I wrote the book. I almost … I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I hold my head up higher, and I go, “I’m an author.” And you get this badge of credibility that nothing else brings in that sense. I feel even more of an accomplishment than what I did when I did my master’s degree. Because it opens almost like a secret club. You’re an author, and people do treat you differently. And I remember when I went down to the London Book Fair, when the book was only … I think you were there on the stand, and it was in the-
Alison Jones: You gave me the manuscript, didn’t you? It was terrific. It was a real moment.
Celia Gaze: And I remember when I got the London Book Fair, and I got my badge, and it said “Author” on it. And I was so excited, so proud to have that title of it, that author badge. I’ve still got it, because it was one of these moments. And again, when you publish the book, the opportunities that it opens up. I originally wanted to write a book, because I was fed up with people not knowing enough about the venue. So I could for example, go to Ramsbottom, which is just down the road, and nobody would ever heard of us.
And I wanted a way of marketing my business. And I thought, no other venue has … Apart from things like The Savoy or The Ritz, or whatever, has got a book. And what a good way to get across the story of the farm and how it was. And so people could perceive the farm as being more than just maybe a franchise. They could appreciate the struggle, the values that we have. You can almost get across in a book your story and how you run, and how you operate, far more than you could in any other article, or magazine. You know what I mean?
Alison Jones: Yes.
Celia Gaze: And because the book tells your story, it’s not massively edited, like some magazines. They go like, “You can’t put that in.” The book is your story. And since I’ve published the book, I’ve had opportunities to talk on BBC Breakfast, in the Huffington Post, in the Daily Express. And numerous radio stations and podcasts. And it’s just been amazing. And I went to a networking event and he said, “Gosh, your name is out everywhere.” Now I don’t think I would have got that level of publicity, if it hadn’t been for writing a book.
Alison Jones: Yes. And I think also the fact that ‘llama farmer’ is such an irresistible phrase for journalists that, that has also helped with that.
Celia Gaze: It’s not like I wanted to be known as … I don’t really want to be known as a llama farmer. But honestly, sometimes and the things that you have to do for your business, you just have to get yourself out there, and whether or not….
Alison Jones: Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Yes, you’ve got to find that hook that’s going to capture someone’s imagination. Even if it’s not actually what you really want them to be talking about. If you can use that and then tell your story, then happy days. That’s how PR works.
Celia Gaze: I know, and this is the thing, it’s like going back to the llamas. Without the llamas, I don’t think people would know as much about the farm as they do. We’re known as the farm with the bow tie wearing llamas. That’s the thing. And it’s, again, it’s finding that unique selling point for you, that thing that makes you stand out above and beyond everybody else in the crowded market. And it’s bringing all of that, bringing your story, bringing your values, bringing your personality and all of that out. And a visibility, and getting yourself out there, and just not giving a damn what people think about you. But just flipping getting out there, has been a massive thing that has enabled the book to do for me.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. Rousing. I feel roused now. That’s brilliant. So if I was to ask you your best tip for … Somebody is listening now and they’re all roused, and you want to crack on, what’s your best tip for somebody who’s writing their business book right now?
Celia Gaze: I think getting the things that you want to write about in order. I honestly think that if I hadn’t had the pad and the post-its, and carried that around with me. Because sometimes you think of something in the moment, and you’ll lose it if you don’t capture it. And having those tiny little post-its, which could go out on an evening, and they could go anywhere with you in your bag, to capture that point. Because as soon as it arrives, it’ll disappear. And having those, and mapping those out into chapters, it just makes the process of writing a book so easy, when you actually finally come to do it.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. It’s a great tip. And you can do that electronically, but there is something kind of magic about post-it notes, isn’t there?
Celia Gaze: Well that’s it. Because afterwards you could always go and you are very much around teaching the visibility, get the wall space and stick all the post-its all over it, so you can visibly see your book. I did that in a pad, because it worked for me.
Alison Jones: Portable.
Celia Gaze: The only thing is, do not lose your pad. That was the only thing, that pad became for me suddenly far more important than my purse. Do not lose the pad.
Alison Jones: Yes, very important. Very important. And I always ask people as well to recommend a business book. Obviously they should read Why Put a Bow Tie on a Llama, but what other business book, or book that you think is just useful for business people to read, would you recommend?
Celia Gaze: Right. Well, I think the book that has made the biggest difference in my time of being a business owner and entrepreneur, has been Traction by Gino Wickman. This is hilarious, because the Traction, I’ve recommended this book so much, that it’s now on Amazon, buy my book. It says recommended linked books, and the Traction is on buy my book. And he’s done a series of these books. He’s got, What The Heck is EOS? Which is the entrepreneurial operating system, and he’s got the Traction, Gino Wickman. But I’ll tell you, before I read that book, I was almost like a slave to my business. I was working probably sometimes 18 hour days, certainly six, if not seven days a week. And I just felt it was getting me down. I had no freedom. And I took that book, and sometimes … I read an awful lot of books, but I don’t necessarily implement them. This was the book that I literally took, and I gave it to my team, and I said, “We are going to implement this book.” And I gave it to a student as part of a project to implement this.
It’s all about putting systems and processes in your book, which ultimately leads to entrepreneurial freedom. And the epitome of reading that book, was when I was able to take a month off my business, with no emails and no phone calls, and go off to Bali for a month, and my business grew while I was not there. And that is how good that book has been for me. So I’m very, very passionate about that book, and what it’s done for me.
Alison Jones: Yes, that’s probably the strongest recommendation we have ever had on the show.
Celia Gaze: I know, I should be, he should be giving me money for this, because the amount of copies he’s sold because of me talking about that book. But it just did wonders for my business and for me.
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. Fantastic recommendation. Thank you. And it is a great book, actually, I read it last year. It’s good. And finally, if people want to find out more about you Celia, more about the Wellbeing Farm, where should they go?
Celia Gaze: Well, for myself, I have my own website which is Celia Gaze, C-E-L-I-A-G-A-Z-E, dot com. So celiagaze.com. And also for the Wellbeing Farm, it’s www.thewellbeing, W-E-L-L-B-E-I-N-G farm.co.uk. And I’m also on all the social media channels of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
Alison Jones: And there’s lots of pictures of llamas, right?
Celia Gaze: Absolutely, loads and loads of photographs with llamas, and everything else that we do there.
Alison Jones: And you do a whole stack as well, you’ve got the corporate events thing going now as well.
Celia Gaze: Yes, so the corporates has just launched, and what was really good is, I had my book launch in January, just recently. And I was able to, on the back of the book launch, to use the book launch day, as the day to also launch corporate events. So that’s brand new offering for us. And it’s been amazing, because when I’ve been sort of sucked into the wedding world while I grew the business from that awful time in December 15, sustainability and wellbeing has gone massive, and I’ve suddenly looked up and went, “My goodness, these are massive areas, and I have the Wellbeing Farm.” So, so far the corporate side is showing a lot of interest in the Wellbeing Farm, because purely the name I suppose.
Alison Jones: Yes. And I thought was very smart as well. You used the fabulous footage, the video footage from your book launch as part of that promotional launch. Because you just had a bunch of people with this incredible catering, and it’s a wonderful venue. And why not use that as your asset in the business? I thought that was super smart.
Celia Gaze: It’s been really good, because the trouble is that most of the photographs that we have with the venue, has all been weddings and people, I mean obviously you get your guests, but they’re all usually wearing lovely dresses, and got suits with waistcoats on. So not really a business type of attire. And so it’s been great, had a lot of people in the room. We went all out with this wow of a lunch to showcase everything. And again, used the footage, so it was almost like a double thing. I got an amazing book launch, but also got a fantastic event, and great footage, videos and photographs, to be able to use as further marketing collateral for my business.
Alison Jones: Okay. So we snuck in an extra little tip there. Love it.
Celia Gaze: Yes, that’s it. If you’re going to plan a party, make sure you get additional benefits from it as well.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. Launches are good for that. It was so much fun to talk to you today, Celia. Thank you. And it’s just lovely as well, you’ve been there right from the start of the journey. So to do this roundup at the end, well that was a ride, wasn’t it? So yes.
Celia Gaze: Oh honestly, and you’ve just been amazing, and the whole Practical Inspiration, absolutely fantastic. I’ve loved every bit of it.
Alison Jones: And we’ve loved you too.
Celia Gaze: Thank you.
Alison Jones: Thanks Celia.