Below we hear from one of our many successful past students; Emma Shaw. Emma undertook the Diploma in Curtain Making and Soft Furnishings before going on to the FdA Interior Design over 3 years ago. She is now running her own successful Interior Design Service; Ecclesbourne Interiors.
Case Study: Emma Shaw
Hello my name is Emma Shaw, I run a company called Ecclesbourne Interiors. I studied at the National Design Academy, on my first course 3.5 years ago, I studied the soft furnishings. On my second course I did the conversion course through to the Foundation for Interior Design.
So my initial interest in interior design soft furnishings sparked as a young child. My grandma used to take me down to the embroidery shop and we used to go and purchase embroidery and little bits. Then she decided that she wanted to do her room and I actually, at 13 years old, designed it for her. At which point she gave me a massive confidence to start to do it. I actually didn’t do my degree in Interior Design, I did my degree in Industrial Management, which is Engineering, Computing and Business Space which gave me some business skills to also enhance my business. These things have just allowed me to just grow the whole thing together and it doesn’t matter what your background is you can just retrain completely into interiors, curtains, if that’s where you feel your calling is, which is what I felt.
What steps did you take to change your career?
When I decided to change my career I looked online at several different courses, picking the National Design Academy for the Soft Furnishings. I found that a really thorough course and I thought, ‘Right, be brave enough to do it!’ And I went along and did the in-house course and met Ann. And we did one week studying and learning how to make various products; for example I think curtains and everything was in the first week. We then had a 6 week break which allowed us to study the products and understand what the competition in your local area was doing, your pricing strategies. Then you went back again and you analysed your findings and then that gave me the confidence to understand what I’d learnt in that period of time within the local market which actually gave me the ability to create a business out of it.
Were you apprehensive about starting your own business?
Fears of starting my own business were massive. You know, I was on my own I actually had to decide, well I had a pretty good job, I had to actually make the decision that was this going to turn over enough money to allow me to leave my current job, to give me the confidence to do it.
I was lucky enough that I managed to do that within 6 months of studying at the National Design Academy. Just because of the confidence they had given me allowed me to overcome my biggest fear which was meeting the customers. And then if you have your confidence in your pricing which is also a fear as well, that you’ve just got to know that what you’re pricing is what you feel you’re worth. And then at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you’re working in London, Scotland or wherever, you need to be able to know that the amount of money you’re able to earn, you need to do that. With the curtain making with the marketing, have a look at if there are local people making it because that will give you a bit of confidence to overcome your fear of is there an overflow in the market or not. And the other fear is how are you going to constantly make sure you’ve got money coming in? That you’ve got enquiries coming in? Because that’s a fear as well, how is anybody going to know about you? I work from home so for me it’s really all about, I’ve got my car logoed so I go out there people are seeing that, I started doing some little trade shows just getting my name out there making some little bits and bobs; doorstops, peg bags, just allowing them to pick up something that will put you in their home, that will give them the confidence to say, ooo I saw her, she made this, she might develop into making some curtains. And it’s having that confidence at the same time it’s that fear that is the biggest driver that you might fail. But don’t let that fear overtake you, make that a real positive experience and an adrenalin to drive you forwards.
Do you have any business advice that you can offer our students?
The way I run the business is, I give the customer 2 options when they first enquire. I either, they can come here, which I’ve done as a bit of a show home and they can come and have a look at the books, have a cup of tea, they can sit and actually have a look at different designs and get a feel for things. Or they can give me an idea of what they want and I can put the books in the car and take them out to them.
It doesn’t matter which situation I go into, whether I am in their home or they are in here, the key thing is to give them the confidence that you know what you’re doing, that they can see a product that I’ve created that has given me inspiration and that can give them inspiration. What I’ve found is that a lot of customers do know what they want, but what I’ve learnt through the National Design Academy and also through developing Ecclesbourne Interiors is that if you listen to what they want, you’ll find out what they want, even if they say they don’t know what they want, they can generally guide you as to a colour they like, as to a colour they don’t like, as to a texture that they really don’t want in their house that might give them memories, because textures and colours create memories and that is a key thing that’ll you’ll need to pick out from any client. And that’s what I think Ecclesbourne Interiors, we do try and listen to that. We make sure then that the customer has an overall great experience at the end.
What I’ve found is that then creates a really positive word of mouth network and the word of mouth network is where Ecclesbourne Interiors has just grown. I’ve just been allowed to develop the company through people saying ‘o I had a really good experience with Emma, she’ll come in.’ And I think that’s where from a marketing perspective, Ecclesbourne Interiors now, I actually promote myself with that caring finishing approach, which as an independent company, you have to offer, especially if you’re thinking if people are going to John Lewis, what gives you the extra edge? That is what National Design Academy experiences has taught me, you know, I’m going in, I’m giving them something different. They don’t do the whole product from start to finish, they come here, I give them the experience of different fabrics, then they go away and have a think about it, I give them the books so they actually have the confidence to sit at it, look at it in different lights, different textures, different experiences and just get some confidence with it before, because it’s not a small investment for any client, it’s a big investment for most clients. And you want them to make sure that they know that they’re spending money with you correctly and they get the confidence that they’re getting the best experience and exactly the same that you have the confidence that you’re giving them the best experience that they can possible have. And that’s what helps them to part with their money because they know that the end product they are going to be happy with and it’s going to be timeless, classic, it’s going to last for as long as they require it to last.
What are the main elements required to run a successful business?
I think key attributes to getting to where I have got to today that I found that you need as a business owner is a bit of self-confidence and confidence in your products. And for me, that’s just been priceless. I spend a lot of time going out to various networking events, meeting different people. I’ve tended to find personally that the female networks tend to work better than the male networks. Although never forget that the man does have an influence on the curtains or the interiors of the houses. I know that a lot of gentlemen have sat down with their wives and have actually been really involved and have actually made the final decision very often. So don’t discount anybody at all and always be really positive about the way you want to put your products forward, make sure you have every confidence, and if you don’t, don’t be afraid to say ‘I’ll give you that information, I’ll walk away’ make sure you don’t give a price when you’re there. Because for me, that’s really key that you come back and understand and have the confidence doing it there. because often you’ll make a mistake and I’ve done it in the past, you make a mistake on your pricing then you feel like you’ve been making something for nothing. Well actually, the reality is if you just walk away you can make sure you’ve got the right price.
What are the benefits of being your own boss?
I have now been in business for 3.5 years in total and it’s the best decision I ever did. I’ve never looked back, I’ve never regretted the decision to take that step into the world of self-employment which is a massive step. It allows me to be able to go off and do a few things and flex my life around it and I’m the kind of person that will work any hour of the day so if I want to go and walk the dog for example I will come back here and work and I’m committed to that. I think that that is the key if you are going to have a flexible home working job is not to get too distracted and watch TV you need to be committed to the cause.
And I would encourage absolutely everybody to do it if they have the opportunity, the facilities and the ability to do it.
Would you recommend the NDA to others?
I can’t recommend the National Design Academy enough, the experience that they have given me through doing my curtain making, my conversion course in interior design has been absolutely priceless. It has just given me the confidence to go out there and know that the product that I am selling is one of the best on the market. That allows me to get the price that I believe it deserves, that gives the customer the confidence to then say ‘yes’ that’s really what I want and that she has the knowledge to provide me and that what I say I’m going to provide is what happens actually happens in the end of the finished product.
The after support that Ann has given me, just being able to give her a call and say ‘I’m not really sure what to do, what can I do?’ You know, that just gives you a bit of confidence that when you’re coming into a customer, you’re never worried about what you’re going to meet from a customer, you do have that support network and that back up. The other thing that it’s really given me, like I say, the confidence to actually just build my business and know that any extras that I add on, if I’m not sure I could always ask the question. And that’s just amazing.