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I created a cheese advent calendar and have sold almost 750,000 of them in 5 years. Here's how I did it while working full time.

Jack Needham   

I created a cheese advent calendar and have sold almost 750,000 of them in 5 years. Here's how I did it while working full time.
  • Annem Hobson launched a cheese advent calendar in 2015 while working full time in communications.
  • She worked evenings and weekends to build the business, starting with no dairy or retail experience.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Annem Hobson, a communications professional and business owner. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I've always preferred savory over sweet. And I've always loved, loved cheese.

Around Christmastime in 2015, I was running my own blog — — and working freelance in communications. I wondered to myself whether a cheese advent calendar existed. Today, you can find beer and pork-scratching advent calendars, but chocolate dominated the market back then.

So I did what anyone would do: I Googled it, realized one didn't exist, and popped myself to Hobbycraft so I could make my own.

At that point, I had absolutely no intention to make cheese advent calendars into a business. I just wanted to write a blog post, which I published with instructions for people to make their own.

The next day, I woke up and it had gone viral. It ended up on "Good Morning America," and celebrities — including Zooey Deschanel and Emma Bunton from the Spice Girls — were tweeting about it. It was only a year later that I thought I should do something with it.

In 2016, I bought the domain name I went back to the people who supported it the previous year and asked them to sign up.

I ended up getting 11,000 sign-ups in three days, but I didn't have any experience in retail or the dairy industry, so I didn't know where to start.

I discovered a company called Norseland. It's in Ilchester, a village nestled in the heart of cheese-making land in Somerset, England.

I found its name on the back of a cheese selection that I saw in a supermarket, so I put in the strangest call it's probably ever had to ask if the company could help me make a cheese advent calendar.

I went in to pitch the idea, which was almost "Dragons' Den"-esque. I drove to the company's office and turned up with my PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, it worked. Since then, we've sold almost three-quarters of a million cheese advent calendars.

When we first launched, we were exclusive to the UK supermarket chain Asda, and we launched it with five cheeses. Now we have nine varieties, including vintage cheddar, aged red Leicester, and Mexicana.

We also sell our calendars in 16 countries. It's popular in the USA and Canada, but I'm blown away by how popular it is in places such as New Zealand.

I'm doing all this while I work a full-time job in communications for a games company, which I've managed to juggle with my passion project quite well.

Supermarkets are already thinking about their Christmas selections for 2022, so product development starts now. I tend to be busy from summer onward with marketing, but I can use my annual leave to attend meetings, and if I need to look at packaging designs or presentations, I can do that after work and on weekends.

I still manage to get holidays though. It's not all taken up by cheese.

I'm fortunate to have both a full-time job and a side project, but I acknowledge that there needs to be a balance for the sake of mental health. It's important that you're not using every single one of your holidays because that's going to lead to burnout.

I only went full time at the games company about a year and a half ago. Before that, I was freelance, which allowed me to focus on the cheese advent calendar and grow the business. That's all thankfully settled down now.

A lot of my work is validated at this time of the year. December 1 is better than Christmas Day for me. People are opening up their doors, and it brings them so much joy. It makes people smile, and when people support you, it eases the pressure.

I'm not cheesed out by Christmas either. We still have a cheese board on Christmas Day.


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