When actress Sarah Burghard became a mum she realised she needed to find a new, more family-friendly career. So she retrained in art and design. Today she’s an up-and-coming designer and the recipient of a SWIG Start Up loan.
What’s your career background?
I trained as an actress and worked in theatre – West end, regional and touring – as well as TV, voice overs and commercials.
This had to change when I started my family as being away from home and working nights wasn’t a lifestyle I felt was compatible with being a mum.
How did your career change after starting your family? What do you do now?
I decided to study while my children were young as this kept me busy but still able to put them first if they were ill or needed me to go and see their school play, or take them to clubs etc.
I went back to study part time on a foundation in Art & Design, then an HND in Fine Art and full time on a BA in Textile Design at Central St Martins in London. It was very hard work juggling and a strain not to be earning but the investment is now beginning to reap rewards as I’m running my own business and absolutely love it.
You launched your business with a SWIG Start Up loan. What is it and how did you get it?
The South West Investment Group (SWIG) is part of the central government funding to launch small businesses. The first step is apply and after a telephone interview (if your idea is successful) you meet with a mentor to write a business plan.
This plan is submitted with forms outlining your business idea, financial planning and market research. Loans are available are up to £10,000, the application took about two months to complete.
How did you use the money, and how else did they support you?
The money was used to upgrade my IT equipment – essential for my design work, build my website and fund an exhibition stand at The Independent Hotel Show in London, where I will be officially launching to the industry this October.
SWIG also offers a year of mentoring and lots of educational seminars and networking opportunities, which is really helpful.
How did you identify your niche? And how important do you think it is to have one?
I think it is absolutely essential to have a niche. Understanding what you offer and who your target markets are is really important if you want to be credible.
I worked out my niche by growing my business by word of mouth for 18 months. I grabbed every opportunity to design, and through this experience I developed clear thinking about what I could offer and to whom.
What type of clients do you work for, and how do you find them?
I work with boutique hotels, interior designers and private clients. My first jobs came from lovely, supportive female friends giving me a chance. Word of mouth was invaluable and led to bigger and bigger jobs which now form my portfolio.
I am now using social media to network and let people know what I offer. I use the press and speaking events to build my reputation, and industry trade shows to reach new customers.
What’s been your favourite project so far?
Oooow that’s tricky! I feel like all my projects are special in different ways as they all incorporate an emotional response due to their very personal nature.
I am very proud of The Boat House Cafe in Oxfordshire as it’s such a beautiful building and I worked on every single part of the interior design. The branding, furniture, textiles, historical wallpaper and quirky artefacts are all elements that pull together and the client and customers all love it.
It’s also lovely to see the design living on as they develop the brand onto pots of honey and delicious goods in the deli. I suppose this was my first baby and the place I really felt I was heading in the right professional direction.
What were the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in setting up your business?
Time and money!! Time is hard because I’m still running our household and need to keep domestic life in check. I work a lot in the evenings and pretty much always at the weekends.
I love what I’m doing, which is important as the process is very demanding if you want to be successful. Money is always a challenge if you’re starting from scratch, which is why the funding was so helpful.
I have often felt very worried that all this time and effort is not going to actually create an income, but with support and proper planning I’m determined to make my dream career happen.
What has been your proudest moment to date?
Launching my website among a group of supportive female friends recently. The event was held at one of the hotels I worked on and it was fantastic to show my lovely, savvy girlfriends that I’d moved from student and wannabe to full time business woman!
How do you balance your work and your family?
As well as I can manage – which is patchy depending on my schedule. It takes more organisation and planning but now my children are both teenagers so it’s possible. I work too much but then I love it so they understand.
The quality of my housework and ironing has definitely gone downhill! I’ve been a full time mum for 16 years so it’s a good time for my boys to learn to help out a bit more around the house. I don’t think it’s possible to feel you’ve got the right balance but I’m doing my best…
Who inspires you and why?
I’m inspired by other businesswomen I know. I have joined some women’s networking groups and also regularly meet with my ‘gurus’ as I call them – women in my sector who are about eight or nine years ahead of me and going from strength to strength.
These women inspire me because they reach out and help those of us coming up behind them – a great model of behaviour that I intend to follow.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Still working very hard and loving my job – growing, learning and perhaps even inspiring others, that would be great. Oh and staying in some of the fabulous hotels I’ve helped design!
What advice do you have for other mums thinking about a career change?
Take your time to find exactly what it is you want to do. It is a massive commitment and if you feel that you know what you want to achieve you are on the right road. Take advice, surround yourself with people you can trust and that know what they’re talking about.
Apply for a start up loan if you need it, too. Going through the application process helped me believe that my idea is viable. And finally, life is short so get on with it!
You can find out more about Sarah and see her work on her website.