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Published 20 April 2023
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6 minutes

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Rachel Holland of Miss Rachel Holland

For NerdWallet’s Entrepreneur Spotlight series, we spoke to Rachel Holland, owner of luxury home fragrance brand Miss Rachel Holland. She told us how turning a lifelong passion into a successful career business, and what she wished she knew when she started.

How do you turn a lifelong passion into a successful business? It’s something many dream of, but few have the confidence to realise. Yet Rachel Holland took that chance, setting up Essex-based luxury home fragrance and candle retailer Miss Rachel Holland in 2019, first as a website before expanding into a workshop and store in Maldon, Essex, just over a year later.

We spoke to Rachel about her transition from underwriter to candlemaker, how she has dealt with rising materials costs, and why it is good to be embarrassed by your first product launch. 

Why did you start your own business?

Rachel has a long history of working with wax. “I made my first candle when I was 10,” she says. “A teacher taught us how to make candles on a random day, and I was just captivated by it.”

This passion – she jokes that her family would label it an “obsession” – became a constant throughout Rachel’s life without her ever feeling the need to turn it into a business. Instead, Rachel forged a successful career as an insurance underwriter, working at Lloyds for 26 years. 

“I had always been a single parent,” explains Rachel, “and while I loved my job, I had committed to it for my daughter.” Yet it ended up being Rachel’s daughter that prompted her career change.

“She said, ‘Let’s get some wax melts, Mum,’” Rachel recalls. “And I said, ‘I’m not going to buy those, I can make anything like that!’” 

After this point, Rachel simply kept producing more and more wax melts – scented pieces of wickless wax that are melted over a flame in a wax warmer – for family and friends, before her daughter suggested she sell them online. So Rachel made it her New Year’s resolution.

“On 1 January 2019, I set out a plan that I was going to start a business that year,” says Rachel. “It was a really rough sketch, with a breakdown of how I was going to do it – my deadline was 1 May, and that’s the date I launched the website.”

How did you fund your business?

Despite launching her online store in May 2019, Rachel kept working as an underwriter until she opened her business premises in 2020. It was her salary from Lloyds, combined with the use of credit cards, that funded Miss Rachel Holland in its early days.

“I racked up that credit card bill quite quickly, and I didn’t take a wage [from the business] for at least two years,” Rachel says. “I pumped everything back into the business. It was terrifying, but equally, I believed in it so much that I knew everything was going to be OK.”

What was your biggest challenge when you first started?

Rachel’s biggest challenge when she first started was one faced by many businesses NerdWallet has spoken to: knowing your customer.

“Everything I thought I knew about my customers, I didn’t,” Rachel admits. “Although I had been making [home fragrances] for a long time, and I knew what I liked, I didn’t know what the public at large really liked. Some products I thought would be really popular weren’t.”

But that’s all part of the learning process. “They say that if you aren’t embarrassed by your first product launch, you launched it too late,” she laughs.

» MORE: Small business marketing challenges

What has most surprised you about running your business?

So much work goes into a business that it could be easy to lose sight of its origins: a passion for creating that goes back to childhood. So hearing what most surprised Rachel about running her own business is heartwarming.

“In the beginning, it was how much people loved the things that I personally had handmade,” Rachel says. “You only know what your nearest and dearest say, and of course they are going to be mostly complimentary. But when you hear the public say it, it is very humbling.” 

What are your running costs?

Across 2022, and into 2023, running costs have become a big problem for Miss Rachel Holland. “The last 12 months have been the toughest since I’ve started,” she adds.

Rachel’s company has been hit from all sides. The business energy bill for her workshop rose from £500 to £1,500 a month, leading Rachel to halve the lights at her premises.

Wax costs, meanwhile, went up threefold. “It is a wholesale natural product, and the price varies from month to month, making it quite difficult to manage,” explains Rachel. “But you have to try and keep your prices flat – you can’t keep putting them up and down.”

And this comes at a time when consumers are cutting their own spending. “Retail shops are not recession proof, not in the slightest. Neither are online shops, especially if you sell a luxury item – it’s the first thing to be cut back, and that is what I am suffering from.” 

For any other small businesses in a similar situation Rachel recommends digging down into what is already successful. “It’s a good idea to cut back on your inventory,” suggests Rachel. “Find what your customers really want, like your bestsellers, and give them more of it.”

» MORE: How to grow your business

What do you wish you knew at the beginning that you know now?

Considering how difficult the past 12 months have been for Miss Rachel Holland, it’s not a surprise to hear what she would have liked to know when first starting out.

“I wish I had saved for the unexpected. Even though things were fabulous for a few years,” says Rachel, “I wish I had saved a lot more money at the beginning, rather than pumping too much into the business, as that would’ve been a lot more helpful.”

Yet it is the unpredictability of running a business that can make it hard to do this in the first place. “It’s full of surprises. There is always something around the corner. I think that the biggest lesson is that you really do have to expect the unexpected. You’ve just got to roll with the punches at all times.”

What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs?

“It’s great to be naive as an entrepreneur, as if you knew too much you probably wouldn’t start. But try not to go in with rose-tinted glasses.” recommends Rachel.

“If you have a job at the same time as your side hustle, keep that job going as long as you can. Drop your days down to three days, two days, and eventually time will dictate when you can let go.”

» MORE: How to start a business

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