Marcus Mason-Williams set up his own business in 2021. He designs and sells greeting cards and other art products. His work is inspired by his passion for wildlife and has led him to work with big brands such as KPMG and Coca-Cola, as well as charities like Special Olympics GB, the Wildlife Trust and the DfN Foundation. Marcus tells us about the highs and lows of starting a business as an autistic adult, and shares his top tips for other budding entrepreneurs.

Tell me what inspired you to set up your own business

My passion for drawing wildlife began when I was about 5 years old after being introduced to Henry Rousseau’s animal paintings. A lot of my artwork is inspired by my heroes Sir David Attenborough and Bill Oddie.

My first job was working for Kevin Barry Adams at the Glasshouse as a trainee crystal glass cutter – my nickname there was ‘Iceman’ due to the ice patterns I made. It was after this work experience that I decided to set up my own digital art business and with the help of Exceptional Minds (autistic animation studio) in the USA, learned how to use digital software to create my drawings, which are the designs you see on my website

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

Not only has it allowed me to pursue my passion, but it has also opened up so many doors for me. I am currently working with fellow Special Olympics GB athletes Michael Beynon and Niall Guite on the Unified Business project with Coca-Cola Europacific Partners and Special Olympics GB. I have had help from a number of other organisations including Genius Within and Summerfield Stables in Birmingham, which supports young people in the community who would not otherwise have access to horses. They have become customers as well as mentors.

I love working with local people in the community. I sell my cards in my home village of Barnt Green, in our local gift shop and florists, and my work is displayed in the local dentist’s waiting room.

My job allows me to work with nature too - at Wildgoose Rural Training, which I attend two days a week and act as a trainee nature reserve officer. This gives me inspiration. One of my pictures of a goldfinch was inspired by a sighting at the reserve.

I also like talking to young people, especially those with special needs, about what they can achieve if given a chance. Recently I talked to students at Rigby Hall School as part of National Careers Week.

It’s not about making money to me, it is about playing your part and trying to do what is best for the world.

Do you find anything difficult about being your own boss?

I can sometimes find it hard to make choices and too much information all at once is confusing. I prefer doing things one after another according to my schedule. My mum helps with this to remind me to add new things to a “future projects list” so that we reduce the number of choices.

I also struggle to find time to finish work occasionally due to distractions. My mind is very active and shutting out ideas can be difficult. Also, I do not fully grasp the notion and measurement of time. Luckily my mum reminds me to set my watch to let me know when a certain time has passed. This is a very useful tool for me.

However, we operate as a ‘family business’ as there are activities that I am good at and there are others that are not my thing. My mum and dad help me with the matters above that I find difficult. My dad, who is an accountant, looks after the finances and the technology / website (though I feel he may be a little old for the latter!) and my mum manages the orders, the packaging and deliveries, as well as helping me when I get anxious.

We are very proud that we have been shortlisted for a Small Award 2023 by Small Business Britain in the category for the Legacy Award for best family business. The results will be out in the summer.

Do you think having autism has benefited you in any way in starting your business?

I feel like I can be me and I do not have to pretend. I am able to work in a more flexible way (when it suits me) and I do not have a “boss”, as I was worried that I might get fired when I was in employment if I did something wrong.

Being able to say what is in my mind has helped me when presenting to senior business and public figures, for example when I was at the Glasshouse College to the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council and circa 50 guests.

Having autism also gives me the opportunity to work with autistic and other disabled entrepreneurs. The d:Entrepreneur part of Small Business Britain have been marvellous with introductions and promotions. I recently featured in this video campaign about disabled entrepreneurs.

Where do you see CoolArt2021 heading in the future?

I have recently published my first book (for children and adults alike) called Zooland: A Sign of Hope. The message is that when you have passion, talent and a dream, anything is possible. This is what I believe for my business too.

With my mum and dad’s help, we are talking to a number of environmental and nature bodies, e.g. Nature in Art, the Wildlife Trusts, WWF and others about stocking my designs and products.

I also want to write and illustrate more books - I have a second one underway called The Horse and the Dragon.

I am about to start working with the animation team at City Press, a marvellous and very kind PR company, to produce a short animation from my book.

As I have said, I like public speaking and I will be getting some training and practice through the Special Olympics GB Athletes Leadership programme. I have been asked to talk about my work to the CEO and senior leadership team at a media company called Oceans Outdoors. I also hope to talk to more school children, following the reading of my book to special needs children at my local primary school, and my talk to students at my old special needs senior school. I want to give something back.

Ultimately I would love to make my stories into movies!

What advice can you give other people who want to become an entrepreneur?

Allow everyone the time to show that they have something to offer. Overall I would say be true to yourself and when things get difficult, take support from your family and reach out to friends and contacts who can help (your extended ‘family’). You are not alone.