I like Fridays as it’s biz story and biz column day. This year in my biz story columns I wanted to focus on all sorts of businesses not just retail ones, as I think there is so much we can all learn from different ones. This morning I’d like you all to meet Fiona Duke, who has recently launched an interior design business.
Why did you decide to create your new business?
It’s a question I keep asking myself when I’m having a particularly ‘tough’ long day and finding myself still at my desk at nearly midnight like today…..!!!……..but seriously, I had been thinking about doing it for a long time. I graduated initially with a French degree and subsequently spent some time in France but in more recent years I returned to college and studied interior design as I knew this was where my real interests were. Most of my spare time was spent involved in ‘interiors’ in some way, constantly researching, advising, renovating numerous homes… so to start a new business within interiors felt quite natural to me. It was only when I was made redundant from my job that I got the push I needed to actually go and ‘do it’ !
How did you launch?
I had seen a classic Fiat 500 car when I was in Italy a few years ago and always wanted to buy one and in a moment of madness, I managed to get hold of one and bought it on impulse. Using the ‘Fi-at’ as inspiration for my business , given that my name is ‘Fi’ I decided to call myself ‘Fi @ Interiors’. Once I had purchased my 42 year old Fiat 500 I realised that any budget I did actually have to help kick start a new business had now pretty much disappeared! The vintage car just felt perfect to launch my business as my idea was interior design and how to make good design accessible to more people by mixing clever sourcing ideas and advising on style but at affordable prices. The little car (Claudia) gets a lot of attention and is a great marketing tool in that respect and she has already paid for herself with the jobs that I have generated from her.
I knew I needed a website and ideally a few other social media tools so I spent many nights watching YouTube videos in order to teach myself how to set up websites and blogs as I didn’t have the money to pay someone to do it for me. It did get a bit frustrating at times as I worked late into the early hours and I felt completely out of my comfort zone but now they are up and running it’s quite a sense of achievement to know you did it with little or no skills in this area. I set myself the goal that hopefully after 12 months in business, I will then invest in creating a slightly more ‘sleek’ version of what I have. I know there are lots of very glossy websites out there within interiors which can feel quite daunting and make you lack confidence but I know this will come in time.
Do you actively market or advertise?
Not really apart from my little car which I drive around in. It was a conscious decision to use this as part of my launch as I felt it was simple, original (no others around here…) quirky and kind of reflected my interior style. It gets noticed wherever I go and it very much a talking point which is perfect.
What skills and lessons have you learnt along the way?
SO many lessons learnt and learning every day. I was quite naive initially to the ‘business’ side of setting up a new business – the accounting, insurance, and general running of a small venture was a huge learning curve for me. This was quite a worry initially but once these areas were accounted for I felt much happier. The whole social media thing was quite overwhelming to start with too as I felt there was so many areas that I should be involved in but was worried I was spreading myself too thinly and would end up having a presence everywhere but all done quite badly. I decided to focus initially on my website, blog and Facebook and then in time was able to venture into instagram and sites such as pinterest. I do have a twitter account but to be honest, never really use it.
With regards to the actual role of interior designer, I think each new job I take on has new challenges and I will always be learning. Design is constantly evolving and there are so many new products on the market that you have to keep up to date with.
Any major obstacles or hurdles faced?
Initially my concerns were not around ‘could I do it’ but more ‘how do I package an interior design service’? How does it all work with regards to what I can offer a client? Taking in a brief is one thing but then pricing for an actual project can be quite difficult as each one is so different. Some can be quite advisory roles whilst others require complete project management, and costing correctly has taken some time. Keeping a note of all time spent on a project is invaluable so you can see what you actually ‘realistically’ paid yourself for the work involved. You realise quite quickly how important it is to get this right if the business is going to be viable and with every new job, you have a better idea of what is involved and in that respect it gets easier to quote for each job. After my first meeting with a client I always write what was discussed and clearly work out next steps and pricing and get them to agree to this before continuing any further. Although discussing payment terms can be sometimes quite difficult initially it is much easier to deal with any ‘issues’ before you start the work than afterwards! It’s amazing how your confidence grows once those first intially projects have been completed.
It is quite early days for me and I am delighted how much business I have had already which is helping me grow in confidence daily. I want to keep taking on new challenging projects and expand the business. Interiors are forever changing and there is always something new to try. In time I want to try and focus on my overall ‘brand’ and ideally start to get known for my actual design style. I write a blog regularly and although this is quite time consuming it is great way of communicating and getting involved in what is going on in the ‘blogging community’ and amongst other interior like minded people.
Any advice you would give to others thinking of setting out?
Just do it. There are 1000’s of reasons NOT to and these are the ones that always stop you doing it because if you focus on them for too long it’s so scary that you just think ‘no way’. It is hard work, long hours at times, especially if like me you are juggling a family too amidst all the new business affairs. Most people who set up their own business are naturally driven and want to achieve the best they can (otherwise they wouldn’t bother setting up!) and at one point I did feel quite overwhelmed at what I was trying to achieve, but part of my learning is yes, push yourself to reach your set goals but also learn to set more realistic goals and do these well rather than try and do everything. I think you also have to keep giving yourself little ‘pep talks’ to let yourself know you are doing well and what you have accomplished over a certain period of time. Despite the late nights and hectic days, you can’t underestimate the enormous sense of achievement you feel when you see your completed work and an extremely happy client.
Thank you so much Fiona for taking the time to answer the questions, I wish you much success with your business. If you fancy telling me about your business and want it featured across my social media channels email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Back later with my business column today I’m focusing on wholesale!