Home Business Heroes, in association
Home businesses generate £284bn of the UK's GDP, making
them the true heroes of our economy. So to continue Smarta and Viking's
celebration of these brave entrepreneurs, we tracked down Sarah
Stanley, founder of Unique Home Stays.
Name: Sarah Stanley
Can you sum up your business?
Unique Home Stays hold the key to
extraordinary private homes in breath-taking locations the world
over. Providing luxury unique holiday accommodation is what we do
best. People looking for 'unique' come to us - simple as that.
What were you doing before?
I travelled the world and lived in Australia for twelve years;
raising my three young children and working as a professional
How did the idea come about?
Hosting friends and family stay in my own home in the UK led to
a realisation that there was a niche in the market. During my
travels I had stayed in many different kinds
of accommodation, which afforded me a clear idea of what I
wanted to achieve with Unique Home Stays. My aim was to hand-pick
the very best private luxury accommodation oozing with character,
with interesting owners who wanted to provide guests with a
real experience. I had to find the right homes with the right
owners to make the company work. I wanted 'Unique' to be at the
core of everything that I did.
How did you fund it?
I started the company from scratch with just a £500 loan from my
mum and a single, simple Cornish cob-walled cottage on the books.
It took heaps of self-belief, a supportive family and great
determination to succeed in the marketplace at the time; the birth
of Unique Home Stays coincided with the 9/11 tragedy,
which provoked a downturn in the economy.
How did you market it?
I focused on generating quality editorial about the business and
the unique homes, which made up the growing portfolio. My business
model of listing spectacularly unique private homes worked
beautifully as it ignited a keen interest in journalists, and
subsequently in the public, who were excited about the prospect of
staying in luxurious private homes - there was just nothing
else out there like Unique Home Stays at the time. I also took a
bit of a gamble by investing in the skills of a young web developer
who worked with me to create the website and grow the business
online; search engine optimisation is a key marketing tool to this
How did you build a list of clients?
Mostly through the website and through generating
editorial. The homes I chose to add to the portfolio were so unique
that they worked to "sell" themselves really. The list of clients
grew organically through good quality editorial features, word of
mouth, and through optimising the keywords on the website so that
people searching for luxury homes found Unique Home Stays.
Where in the home is your office?
It started out at the kitchen table in my family home, but as
the business grew and the need to employ staff arose, it was
necessary to extend the house to accommodate the small team. The
office is now situated in the back of the house in what used to be
my sister's room.
Do you have set working hours?
I start at 9am and finish at 5:30pm. It's important that I have
a structure to my day or else I would be working 24/7. Having your
own business really does consume your whole life, but I wouldn't
change it for the world.
How do you make sure you're focused and never get distracted at
The office environment I've created and my determination to
succeed helps me to remain focused. However with three teenage
children, four cats and two pigs, this busy farmhouse is usually
bustling with life and so sometimes distractions do occur.
What was it like at the start?
Exciting but extremely hard work. Balancing your home life with
a fledgling business is a difficult balancing act as any single
working mum out there can no doubt appreciate.
What's the worst thing about working from home?
Closing the door on work is just not possible - although is it
ever for anyone running their own business? This really eats
into the time that I spend with my family - especially important
when they were younger. Also, we have staff working at the
weekends and so true 'downtime' is difficult and very precious to
me - usually, I have to stay somewhere else to get privacy and a
real break for 'me' time.
What's the best?
When you strive for perfection, and your business is hugely
important to you, it is great to have literally everything at your
finger-tips - just in case there is that fast-ball situation that
really has to be addressed immediately. Also, it works the
other way too, I avoid the commute and the hours of the day lost to
traffic snarl-ups and can take time out if I need to for my family
or to sort out other domestic issues. It's also easy for me to
rustle up an impromptu barbecue (weather permitting) and that seems
to go down great with the staff.
Why did you decide to take staff into your home, rather than
find an office?
Firstly, I was lucky enough to have the space - and when the
business outgrew the kitchen table, rather than use capital to buy
or rent an office it seemed most logical to keep the funds in the
business. Then, as I mentioned above, growing up on a working
farm was a great experience and the hustle and bustle seemed so
natural to me then that this is really no different: although no
longer a farm, my home is still a working building and this, to me,
somehow feels right and as it should be.
For more information about Unique Home Stays, click
Home Business Heroes, in association