Gone are the days of the traditional office, and nowhere is this more evident than in the start-up world. Working from home is a popular choice for those starting up their own ventures – it’s cheaper, it’s flexible, and you can tailor your environment to exactly what’s right for you, whether that’s fitting in childcare or having everything you need in one place. We talk to three businesses funded by Virgin StartUp about how they run a business from their respective homes.
The home studio
Genevieve Sweeney is the founder of Genevieve Sweeney Limited – a premium British knitwear label featuring designs that incorporate unique yarns and traditional techniques from small UK mills. Genevieve received a £13,000 loan from Virgin StartUp.
I design and produce two collections a year for womenswear and menswear, running the business from my home in East London. A typical day is very dependent on the time of the season. Some days I’m knitting in my basement for the upcoming collection, negotiating prices with factories, writing blog features or meeting with buyers.
If I’m working from home all day, I get up about 7am and get ready to start the day at 8am. I work mainly in the kitchen and will try and take a break in the afternoon to go for a run or do a workout. On a normal day I will finish working about 8pm, have dinner with my husband then do some hand-knitting for the collection until I go to bed at midnight.
The great thing about working from home is being able to work on whatever the business needs at any time. If I need to quickly knit a garment or update a product on the website, i can. By having my studio and office in the same place, time isn’t wasted travelling from one to the other. Also my overheads are very low as I don’t need to pay rent or bills on a separate office, which is really important when starting up a business as every saving counts.
I tend to work all day and night on my business without really stopping for a break, so sometimes I have to go out for a walk to clear my head and refocus on the days tasks. The one negative about working from home is that you end up doing all the cleaning during your working hours - I can’t stand seeing unwashed plates on the side.
Sometimes it can be hard to split life and work when working from home, but it’s good practice to set times and breaks in the day. Start a routine, and treat working from home as you would going to an office. Make sure you set some rules and that you will have short breaks planned into your day. Go and meet someone in a similar position, or see a mentor for coffee - its great to talk through an idea or what you are currently working on and getting someone else's perspective.
The super-flexible office
Clarissa Renee is the founder of lifestyle website and online shop I Dream of These, selling her own brand of unique custom jewellery. Clarissa received a £6,000 loan from Virgin StartUp.
I set up I Dream of These in 2014 as a lifestyle website with products & blogs. Then, last year, I came up with a bracelet design in semi-precious gemstones that was a lifestyle tool as well as a piece of custom jewellery. After gifting them to over 100 celebrities at the 2015 TV Choice Awards, my 'Create' Bracelets really took off, so I pivoted my business model to just offer custom versions of these, with lifestyle Vlogs via my I Dream of These YouTube channel. I do this from a little workstation in my flat.
As a single mother of a two-year-old toddler this is a dream come true for me, and allows me to spend valuable time with my son, fitting my business around that as much as possible. I regularly sit working on the bathroom floor while my son plays in the bath!
My working day starts by checking my emails and social media as soon as I wake up, responding to new messages, comments, subscribers or any big overnight news. From there my day is planned in one of two ways; if my son is home for the day, I'll wake up a couple hours before him to meditate, exercise and work. Then I'll prioritise anything urgent to complete during the day, leaving all other tasks until my son is in bed. On the days my son is at nursery, I allow myself a lie-in knowing I'll get a few hours of quiet time to work in the afternoon! Once my son is in bed, I get back to work.
I try to stick to certain tasks on certain days. For example I need quiet time and good lighting for consultations, photos and Vlogs, so I try to do this on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoons, when my son is at nursery. I then work on my bracelet design and production, social media and newsletters in the mornings and evenings.
There’s so much I’ve learnt in the past 17 months, but without the most important thing is to be realistic about your capabilities and plan, plan, plan with this in mind. For example, I don’t plan important projects if my son isn’t at nursery, as I can never be sure how my day is going to go. I don’t book client consultations after 8pm - my brain is not at its best by this time!
I love the flexibility of working from home, and the ability to choose my own hours and days of work. I also love that I can work in my comfiest clothes (pyjamas!) all day. It’s much cheaper to work from home, and I can be more productive – like getting the laundry done while waiting for my latest Vlog to upload! The downsides are that it can be quite isolating at times. Because of this I regularly take my laptop or phone to the beach or to a café to work on my social media and engage with my followers. Also, I had to practice becoming more and more self-disciplined, not giving in to constant bouts of the “Just quickly’s” - I’ll “just quickly” watch this, or “just quickly” nip to the shops…
Lou Archer is the founder of Archers at the Larches, a home and garden shop. One of her products is fertiliser made from dried alpaca poo – Lou’s Poo – which was recently recommended as a gift by Gardener’s World magazine. Lou received a £5,000 loan from Virgin StartUp.
My name is Lou and I sell poo! I work from my smallholding, high in the Shropshire Hills, with a herd of alpaca, a flock of sheep and a madcap bunch of chickens, cats, kittens, family members and occasional volunteers. I run an online and wholesale business selling home and garden products, and one of these is Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertiliser which has proved very popular as a gift for gardeners and is sold in garden centres and gift shops across the country.
A typical day involves getting up at 6am to open the chicken coops and feed all the livestock before taking the children to school. We need to ensure we've cleaned the animal paddocks every day to ensure good animal health, taking the best of our alpaca poo for drying and cleansing. Through the day we take and pack customer orders from our website, prospect for new wholesale customers, look for marketing opportunities, arrange meetings and network with contacts. On the less usual days we can be lambing through the night or watching for the birth of an alpaca or hatching chicks.
I love working from home - I love working with my animals and planning my day the way I want it, but this winter has been very challenging. The warm, wet weather has kept the fields overly wet and so we've had to keep all vehicles off the grass. This means a lot of manual labour and added time to feed and care for the animals. Still, there's no need to go to the gym when you move bales of hay every day!
When your home is your office, it’s helpful to write a list of things to do, both daily and weekly, work-related and home-related, and tick them off as you complete them. Try to ring-fence the time for work and the time to do personal tasks. Any tasks not completed must be top of the list the following day or week. Also learn to do your own daily accounts, supported by your accountant if you have one. It's utter torture but it’s brilliant for giving you a clearer view of your own business.