14th May 2020

Craft / Featured / Jen Shipley

Cut By Beam: Growing a Business That You Love

22 7 mins 1

Jenny Shipley, founder of Cut By Beam, describes the integral values her business upholds – the ones that make her business work. Jenny is an example of how hard work and authenticity can help you grow a business that you love and a life you desire. Here, she describes using creativity as a force for good and the power of an (accidental) all-female team.

I’ve never really followed a particularly conventional path when it comes to building my own business, but I’ve held one mantra close to me ever since the graft and toil of the early days: if you do the right work in the right way, the right people will notice.

Jen Shipley

I started Cut By Beam in 2013, from an old cow shed on a farm positioned rather beautifully in the countryside on the outskirts of Falmouth. It may not have been the most obvious place to start a laser cutting business, but it made sense to me at the time. 

When I graduated from the 3D Design for Sustainability course at Falmouth University, I knew that I wanted to stay living in Cornwall and that I wanted a creative job. Unfortunately, a downturn in the economy meant that graduate jobs were few and far between and while this was obviously a hurdle to get over, I saw an opportunity. If the job I wanted did not exist, I’d create my own.

I wanted to live a life in Cornwall with a dog, a Land Rover and workshop where I could spend my days making. So, I started working on a plan to get me there.

I’ve never really followed a particularly conventional path when it comes to building my own business, but I’ve held one mantra close to me ever since the graft and toil of the early days: if you do the right work in the right way, the right people will notice.

When I started, I could see the businesses and people that I wanted to create for, but I knew that I needed to find a way for them to see me. It was around this time that Instagram caught my eye; it provided the perfect platform for showcasing what I could do while simultaneously connecting me with the people that I wanted to do it for. 

I quite quickly began picking up followers as I posted images of the materials I was using and experiments I was doing and soon, the jobs and clients followed. 

To begin with, a lot of the work I got was for local businesses based in or near to Cornwall but as I started to get busier, I became aware of the strength of word of mouth and the importance of being part of a community. People were talking about what I was doing and recommending me. I learnt that I didn’t necessarily need to be the person shouting the loudest – I could quietly get on and do the best work that I could, and that would do the talking for me.

Team Beam. 

As it started getting busy, I knew that I needed help, and it was time to build a team. I never set out to make the business into an all women workforce, but that’s the way that it has naturally worked out. It shouldn’t matter that it’s run by women, but it does. We don’t make a big thing of it, but our customers know and appreciate the difference. The important thing to me is that there is no hierarchy in our process; we work together and make decisions collaboratively. I never really set out to be a boss and I dislike telling people what to do as much as I dislike being told what to do. 

What I want is to maintain a work environment where people have the skills and confidence to understand their roles in the business and be able to work independently. By ensuring our brand mission and values are clear, I know that everyone understands what we are working towards. I am able to put my trust in the team and give them the freedom to make their own decisions.

Creativity as a force for good.

My favourite question was, ‘can you do something with this?’. I learnt so much in my first year of working and still do now. The customers often provide me with the biggest challenges like how we’ll get a material to fit into a certain machine, what we’ll do with the material, how we can make it affordable and more sustainable. I feel like I’m constantly problem solving and thinking of new ways to make things. 

I believe that creative thinking is the foundation of minimising the impact our work has on the environment. With every client, we always ask ‘how can we do this better?’. We have an incredible opportunity with what we do, to be able to suggest design changes that can minimise waste, speed up manufacturing times and offer alternative materials that may be more sustainable – and more suitable. The goal of low environmental impact trickles through the work we produce and subsequently extends to our clients, too.

I’ve always been careful to grow the business in a controlled and careful way by being open and generous with my time and ultimately remaining an approachable person that people can connect to and want to do business with. We’ve moved on from the cowshed to take on a bigger workshop, but we’ve kept a rural farm location which feels to be such a strong part of our identity. My dog, Purdy, comes to work with me every day and sits next to me in the front of Land Rover.

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Jen is founder of Cut by Beam, a team of creative engineers and designers who use lasers to help companies bring their ideas to life. They create tangible objects, signs and products and believe that quality is the key to longevity.

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