Jobs for the Girls: Working From Home

This month’s Jobs For The Girls tackles something we’ve spoken about before on the blog,  something that grates with many of us; the inflexibility of the workplace.  How so many jobs expect you to be able to work from 9 until 5, how there is limited flexibility for parents with children, how much more productive we could be if we weren’t trying to ram everything we could into those specific hours.

When Lucy emailed me and told me about how she and her business partner, Kirsten, had built their business from home, I knew it was something that our readers would love to hear more about.  This is something we can do.  This is something scary, but that is not beyond our grasp.  This is a solution to being a round peg in a square hole, to wanting a family but fearing losing out on a career.

Lucy explained the background of her business, and why she and Kirsten started it:  ”My friend, Kirsten, and I live just around the corner from one another in a small, East Yorkshire market town. We both have young children and we wanted to develop a web-based business that would give us the freedom and flexibility to work from home, and would fit around family life, rather than having to work 9 to 5. So, we dreamt up Boutique and Breakfast.

Kirsten and Lucy from Boutique and Breakfast

It took us some time to hit upon the right idea, but it all stemmed from the fact that we were fed up of not being able to find the standard of bed and breakfast accommodation we were looking for. We’re both passionate about travel and interiors, and so we put that interest to good use by creating our own guide to the very best B&Bs in the UK. After a year spent conducting market research and gathering feedback from B&B owners, we knew that we were on to something. There were plenty of websites featuring boutique hotels, but nothing exclusively for boutique-style B&B accommodation with the strict selection criteria that we’ve put in place. Our plans came to fruition when Boutique and Breakfast was launched in October 2011. It has been a long, hard slog at times, but the business has grown steadily in its first year and we’re really pleased with the standard of the B&Bs, guest houses and restaurants with rooms that we’ve managed to attract. We’re now in the fantastic position of having B&Bs approaching us and asking if they can join us – something we hardly dared hope for a year ago. To mark Boutique and Breakfast’s first Birthday (in October), we’re adding self-catering properties to the range of accommodation on offer, so we hope to be able to grow and develop the website even further in year two. ”

Which led me on to my standard nosy-parker question about what someone who works from home and for themselves actually does all day.  All I know is open-plan offices and frantic typing.  What does a typical day look like for Lucy?

“The thing I love most of all about my work is that there is no such thing as a typical working day for me. As someone who found the 9 to 5 office environment pretty stifling, I love having the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss and working the hours I choose. Prior to launching Boutique and Breakfast with Kirsten, I’d been self-employed as a freelance journalist for the past few years, and I knew that there was no way I’d ever go back to being employed if I could help it. I love the fact that I can start my day by walking my dogs, rather than sitting in traffic commuting somewhere. I became pregnant with my daughter, Poppy, (now six months), just a few months before Boutique and Breakfast launched, and I realised that, if we could make a go of the website, it would be the ideal way to earn an income whilst caring for her.

Although I still contribute a few features to magazines and newspapers, the majority of my work is Boutique and Breakfast-related these days. The beauty of running an online business is that Kirsten and I can work in the evenings when our children are in bed if we need to, so we don’t miss out on taking them to baby groups and other activities. A typical working week involves writing new posts for ‘Blog and Breakfast’, as well as updating the special offers section of the website and the features on the home page. Social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, have been really useful for us. They’re a great way of generating interest in Boutique and Breakfast, but also a means of keeping in touch with our B&B owners and helping them to share their news and achievements. My background as a journalist means that I’m responsible for drafting the entries for any new B&Bs that join us and generating media coverage for the website. Kirsten and I both spend time researching new places that we’d like to feature and responding to enquiries from B&Bs that would like to join us. Kirsten tends to take responsibility for the visual side of the website and is also super organised and a whizz with spread sheets (which I tend to mess up!), so we each bring something different to the business and complement one another nicely.”

But does she miss the office lifestyle?  ”I’ve never really had a career plan, even in the days before I went self-employed. I always loved writing and knew that I wanted a career that enabled me to do that. I think things happen for a reason and all the work experiences I’ve had along the way – good and bad – have been useful as they’ve helped me to work out what I don’t want to do and find a way to make a living from the things that I do enjoy.

I realised a few years ago that I placed more value on work-life balance than climbing the career ladder, which is why I became self-employed. That balance has become even more important now I’m a Mum. Running your own business from home is a great option for someone with children.”

And what are the bits that make Lucy’s eyes light up, and what are the bits that make her want to go back to bed?  (Every job has them…): “I love researching places to visit, and get a huge thrill from finding a fabulous property and being able to add it to the website. As someone who loves to write, it’s a real joy being able to research and write travel features on different areas of the country and also describe the gorgeous interiors of our properties.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is something that neither Kirsten or I were particularly clued up about, but we’ve had to develop a basic understanding of it in order to push Boutique and Breakfast up the search engine rankings. You can have the most informative and best looking website, but if no-one sees it because it ranks too low on search engine results, you may as well call it a day. When the site went live, our web designer recommended we each buy a copy of an SEO guide from Amazon and I remember being filled with horror when I first picked it up; it may as well have been written in a foreign language! We found that we could learn more by talking to people, and I also attended a really useful free workshop for local businesses. With a little trial and error thrown in for good measure, we’ve now got a good idea of what we need to do to ensure that the website maintains a prominent ranking (we think!). When it first went live, if you typed ‘Boutique and Breakfast’ as a search term into Google, the website appeared on page 40-something. These days, we not only come top when you type in ‘Boutique and Breakfast’, but also feature on page one alongside sites that have been established for much longer when you type in much more generic search terms, such as ‘boutique B&Bs’.”

As well as the concept itself, what I loved about this story is how two women had the guts to start up a business from scratch.  How do you go from dream to reality?  Not just the gumption, but getting the skills in place that you need?  ”Whilst my past career experience has undoubtedly helped, I would suggest that if you’re thinking of setting up an online business, pick something that you’re passionate about and that interests you. I don’t think Kirsten and I could be so motivated if we weren’t so passionate about travel and interiors. Also, think about the skills you have already – Boutique and Breakfast was an obvious fit for Kirsten and I because of my writing skills and Kirsten’s creative eye.

The SEO side of things and the technical aspects of running an online business were definitely areas where we needed further training. Kirsten went on a course to understand how the website was constructed, which was helpful, and our web designer, Chris, also gave us some basic training to help us get used to refreshing the website and adding new content.

One of the hardest things about running your own business is that you have to fulfil every role – from keeping your accounts up to date and ordering new stationery to promoting your business and dealing with technical glitches. It helps if there are two of you, particularly at busy times or when one of you is unable to work due to illness. During our first year, both Kirsten and I each gave birth to a baby. We were each able to have a few weeks out (because we covered for one another) whilst still maintaining a seamless service for customers and visitors to the website.”

I know how hard making this blog into a business has been, and I know starting up a business, however small, isn’t for everyone.  What qualities do you need to be able to make it from scratch? “Whilst my past career experience has undoubtedly helped, I would suggest that if you’re thinking of setting up an online business, pick something that you’re passionate about and that interests you. I don’t think Kirsten and I could be so motivated if we weren’t so passionate about travel and interiors. Also, think about the skills you have already – Boutique and Breakfast was an obvious fit for Kirsten and I because of my writing skills and Kirsten’s creative eye.

The SEO side of things and the technical aspects of running an online business were definitely areas where we needed further training. Kirsten went on a course to understand how the website was constructed, which was helpful, and our web designer, Chris, also gave us some basic training to help us get used to refreshing the website and adding new content.

One of the hardest things about running your own business is that you have to fulfil every role – from keeping your accounts up to date and ordering new stationery to promoting your business and dealing with technical glitches. It helps if there are two of you, particularly at busy times or when one of you is unable to work due to illness. During our first year, both Kirsten and I each gave birth to a baby. We were each able to have a few weeks out (because we covered for one another) whilst still maintaining a seamless service for customers and visitors to the website.”

Furthermore, there are other elements that make you motivated: “now that we have more and more B&B owners paying us for our service, that also motivates us to do our best for them, plus, the fact that the business is giving us an income (albeit a small one at the moment), really spurs us on because we know that it has the potential to grow even further.”

What about mentoring, or support groups, for when it all gets too much?  ”I’m constantly inspired and motivated by my female friends (many of whom I’ve been lucky enough to work with in the past) and their ability to juggle. A good friend of mine, Rebecca, is also a busy working mum with her own online business (www.sellmywedding.co.uk), and she’s fantastic when it comes to spotting an opportunity to promote what she does. We regularly share ideas and information, and support one another all we can. Another former colleague and old friend, Lorraine, is an amazing role model. She probably doesn’t even realise it, but working with her completely changed my approach and attitude to my career. We worked together in busy PR roles and nothing would faze her – she is cool and calm in the face of a crisis, a really safe pair of hands.”

And finally, what are the biggest compromises Lucy has had to make to do this?  And conversely, what is the biggest reward? “The biggest reward has to be knowing that we have achieved this all by ourselves – the website is entirely our concept. It’s amazing to know that we’ve taken an initial seed of an idea and turned it into a profitable business with so much potential, and at the same time created a career for ourselves that suits us and our families.

Kirsten and I have both had to learn to listen to one another and be prepared to compromise sometimes – it’s essential when you’re in business together. I think that the first time we both had a different idea about how to tackle a particular issue we were both worried that we’d upset one another by vocalising our opinions. Looking back, that was a tricky milestone in our working relationship that had to be negotiated and, since then, we’re both able to speak our minds more freely without fear of upsetting one another. Emotion has to be put to one side where business is concerned.”

Thanks you so much, Lucy.  I for one have loved hearing what it takes to make something a success from nothing but your own drive and ingenuity.  And…I will be using Boutique and Breakfast because…let’s face it…it’s a beauty of a website run by sane, smart, driven women who are drinking tea of their About page.  Who could ask for more?

Categories: Becoming a Mother, Jobs For The Girls, Money and Career
9 interesting thoughts on this

9 Comments

  1. Posted November 13, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    This website is genius! Going to bookmark it right now. Also, are you from Beverley?

  2. Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I love this – really inspiring and interesting. And the website is fab! Think I might lose a few hours drooling over places to stay today…

  3. Frankie
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Love this!

  4. Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Oooh our wedding night B&B is on there!

    • Katielase
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Oh! Which one is it?

      I love this website, and the working from home/building your own business story is inspiring.

      K x

  5. Chirsty
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I love this even more because I know your site! I stumbled upon it when the boy and I were trying to decide where to stay for a holiday earlier this year and ear-marked several that I LOVED (and more as back up!)

    As he is a die-hard all-inc-hotel-er I am yet to bring him round to the wonders of B&B… but don’t worry, I haven’t given up hope! And when he finally ‘caves’ i have no doubt it’ll be for one of the beauties on your site.

    Keep up the great work ladies!

  6. Lara Blue
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Ooh, the website looks great and it was lovely to hear about how it happened as well :) I have bookmarked it for future reference!

  7. Lucy
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Thank you for all the lovely feedback, you’ve made our day.

    We’re based in Howden, East Yorkshire, so not far from Beverley.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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