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
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.
I travelled the world and lived in Australia for twelve years; raising my three young children and working as a professional chef.
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.
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.
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 day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 here
Home Business Heroes, in association