Meet the successful businesses that start at home and stay there

We’ve probably all heard stories of businesses which start in a spare bedroom and become multi-million pound concerns.

But what about the businesses that stay – and thrive – in that spare room?

For some, work can be done wherever there is a good internet connection and a phone service – even when it involves hiring and managing other people.

Sam Acton started Domestic Angels, a domestic cleaning and home help service, in her home at Southbourne in 2002. Not only has it expanded and won a national award, but she has recently turned it into a franchising opportunity.

“I started with an ad in the Daily Echo on April 11, 2002. At 11.10am, a woman phoned up. She was my first client and stayed with me for 11 years,” she says.

“I quite quickly had four staff, then stayed at that level for a few years. I learned to be an employer.”

She now has around 20 staff looking after around 1,000 client hours a month. Although the business has moved to a home office in the garden, she has found no need to find separate premises.

The agency started in the days of home produced flyers rather than websites and social media, and the advance of technology has been vital to keeping a sizeable business going from home.

“The business would never have got as bit as it has if it wasn’t for technology,” she says.

“Email is very speedy and I can email and communicate with our clients whilst they’re at work. You can email for a reference and get it back straight away, which makes the business scalable anyway.”

She chose to franchise as a way of expanding the business while keeping her own operation a manageable size. Franchisees buy into a way of running the businesses and the processes it has evolved.

“Our reputation is the most precious thing we have because we’re in a service industry. It’s a really big deal. Franchisees are buying into the reputation and the culture,” she says.

Kate Shaw runs her own public relations business, KTPR, from home in Westbourne. Having been involved in politics and the private school sector, she launched the business in an area that has no shortage of PR agencies.

“It was my husband who had the belief that I could make it work. I started totally cold and I did have many doubts and kept my eye on the job market for quite some time but I gradually picked up and it’s gone from strength to strength,” she says.

The business has moved a couple of times within the house and is now in a spare bedroom.

“I found when I was in the back room it was starting to take over my life. My office is confined to one room in the house,” she says.

Both women have learned about finding boundaries between work and personal life. Sam Acton says she had to make it clear early on that working from home was still working.

“I was making myself too accessible. I had to say ‘I’m working at the moment, can I get back to you?’” she said.

But both say they benefit from flexibility in their working days.

“I like the fact that when [son] Jack comes in the door, we can have a chat. It’s being able to do those kinds of things and enjoying life and not feel like anything’s getting out of hand,” says Sam.

“When you get to the end of the day you’ve got the chance to sit at the table and have a chinwag.”

Kate Shaw added: “Quite often when I’ve got a press release to write, I’ll go down to the beach and take my laptop and be inspired by the surroundings. I’ve been quite flexible about where I might go during the day.”

There is little danger of feeling isolated from not being in a busy office, she says.

“The nature of my job is quite social anyway and it’s not just me sitting in my office,” she adds.

For Sam Acton, the success of the business outstripped her expectations. She took the title for home based business at the Venus National Awards for women in business in 2013-2014 after winning the local award. The confidence boost from that success has helped her expand the business, go into franchising and meanwhile organise annual Parliament Week events locally.

“In 2013, when I won the Venus, I struggled to take it on board that I was a business person. I was Sam who did Domestic Angels,” she says.

“When I won the national award, that’s when the penny really dropped.”

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