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Crunch Chorus stories: Hannah Searle, Interior Designer

Posted by James Dall on Oct 13th, 2020 | Becoming self-employed

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Having a clear plan and building a funnel of potential clients are key to Hannah Searle’s approach to making her Interior Designer business a success. Hannah is a member of Crunch Chorus – our free and supportive community for the self-employed. Joining unlocks access to free resources, including downloadable PDF guides, to help you start, run and grow your business.

Tell us about your business!

In 2020 during lockdown I launched the Sussex Home Stylist, based in West Sussex. I offer both online and in-person design packages. I’ve always loved interior design and making ‘home’ but always struggled with the amount it costs to hire an interior designer. I don’t see why having a beautiful home should cost the earth, so I set up a company that goes about design in a very different way.

It’s all about using what you already have, repurposing things you can’t afford to change and creating not a blanket plain space, but a home bursting with personality that reflects the people living there. Because I work online, I’m able to offer my services anywhere. My Home Style Reports start from just £189 and offer my clients design ideas focusing on style, colour, layout and accessories. I also offer a more in-depth service offering shopping lists to take the pain out of pulling a scheme together, right up to a full on build and project management service.

What prompted you to go self-employed?

I had a successful 20-year career in marketing based in London before I had my babies. I had always wanted to take some time with them while they were little, which I did while retraining in Interior Design. When my little boy started school I worked for a designer for a while, but COVID-19 arrived and it seemed like the perfect time to make a natural progression.

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What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome when starting out?

My biggest challenge was COVID-19. I was ready to launch and just before we went into lockdown I suffered from COVID-19 myself. As soon as I recovered, I knew that everyone was starting home lockdown DIY projects and I didn’t want to miss the boat.

What do you like most about working for yourself? And what do you dislike?

The thing I love most about working for myself is the same thing I dislike most; there’s no one to bail me out, it’s all on my head. That means that I’m hugely motivated to get it right, I work really hard to make sure I do and I get to make decisions without having to run them past anyone. At the same time though, when you’re up against it, that can be quite stressful. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. I love what I do and I’m hugely grateful that I get to do it every day.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when starting up?

At this stage no, but give me a year and ask me again!

What would be your top tip to anyone thinking about going self-employed?

Plan, plan and plan! Have a clear idea in your head of exactly what you want to do. So much happens at the beginning to make you lose your confidence and change your mind that you need to be dead set on what you’re doing. Don’t veer off course to start with, but be prepared to change the route slightly if you need to.

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What’s your biggest success story from your time being self-employed?

My biggest success story will always be my first project. A friend trusted me to do their living room. It was the first job I’d done for someone else and the first time I properly saw my ideas formally come to life. It gave me the confidence to really go for it and I’ll always be so grateful for that.

Do you have any pro tips on how to find new clients?

As someone with a background in marketing, building a funnel of potential clients is very familiar to me. At the moment, for me, it’s all about building my social network, but what I would say is don’t dismiss the old favourites. In local neighbourhoods, a card in a window or a mail drop can go a long way.

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What did you consider when calculating your rates?

I did a lot of analysis of the competition and some market research on people I knew in my target market. I then adjusted my rates while I built up my customer base. I’m confident at the moment that my rates are where they need to be but I’ll always revisit them quarterly to make sure they’re right.

Do you work from home or in a coworking space? How do you find that work environment?

I work from home. We’re lucky enough to have a home office space and I love it. No interruptions and enough room to spread out. Eventually I’d love my own studio but that’s a way down the track yet.

How did you find the transition to self-employment?

For me it was a positive one as I’d come from being a full-time Mum and was raring to go. The hardest thing about it is explaining to my young kids that I need to work sometimes but it’s just something they need to get used to. Do I prefer it to my previous work for a big corporate? Absolutely – I’d choose this any day. The work-life balance is so much better for me and I feel like I have so much more purpose not working for a big soulless corporate.

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