Our homes are our new workplace / New Directions

[PAGEBREAK]Can working and living under the same roof really pay off? Three women tell Vanessa Howard how it became the perfect solution for them

[PAGEBREAK] “Teamwork has made my new business possible” Susannah Woods, 56, runs Neuadd Lwyd, a country house restaurant with rooms on the Isle of Anglesey. She lives there with her husband Peter, 59, an NHS manager.

Old Job: Midwifery Sister. New Job: Chef/owner of Neuadd Lwyd. Start up costs: £150,000. This year’s earnings: £90,000. How we did it: A business loan and one salary still coming in.

“I really enjoyed my career as a midwife, but once I reached 50, I craved a new experience. The plan was to downsize to free up some equity, but in truth I had no clear idea of what direction to take next. An estate agent sent us details of Neuadd Lwyd, a Victorian rectory. It was bigger than our existing home, about the same price at £300,000, and needed renovation. I fell in love with it completely. It has beautiful views of Snowdonia and if it was restored, I knew it could be the perfect guest retreat. I talked to Peter about it. He has a good business brain and knows how much I love cooking, but this was a massive step. After 32 years of marriage, he knows that once I get an idea, I’m determined. The plan was he’d still work and I’d run the guest house and do the cooking. We made an offer and it was accepted and our own house sold instantly. Inevitably people put doubt in your mind, ‘Gosh, that’s a lot of work’, ‘Are you sure you are doing the right thing?’, but Peter and I worked out a plan, agreed it with our bank and set a strict budget of £150,000, which we borrowed by using the house as security. The bank was positive, but I believe it’s how you sell yourself that matters. I used my savings to do a three-month, 6,000-euro course at Ballymaloe Cookery School, where I learnt how to be a chef to a business. We hired an architect and the process of transforming the home began. I worked with the Tourist Board to confirm my gut instinct that people are willing to pay for a five-star experience. I imagined the renovations would take 18 months, but it took nearly three years. I could have done some of the work myself, but I wanted it to be done to the highest professional standards and to use local craftsmen, for example, to custom-make sash windows. Peter would come home from work and we’d talk through the day’s developments and plan the next stage. It’s been hard work, but we loved the challenge. We opened our doors to guests in 2005 and, with support from the Tourist Board, good reviews and the website have kept busy. We have eight guests at the most. I have help out in the kitchen – my co-chef Delyth is invaluable – and at weekends with the housekeeping. Peter is also on hand at weekends and evenings to act as host. He’s indulged his love of wine as he’s responsible for stocking the wine cellar. There have been setbacks, but when I look at what Peter and I have achieved together, I’m so proud.” 01248-715005; www.neuaddlwyd.co.uk.

Best move: My cookery course gave me confidence to turn a passion into a profession. Worst mistake: Underestimating how much time a large project can take. Top Tip: If your market is for people who are time-poor but cash-rich, provide what they won’t have at home, such as a home-made breakfast, including, for example, freshly baked breads.

[PAGEBREAK]“I sold our home to buy a warehouse apartment and shop” Sarah Wyndham Lewis, 46, lives above her bespoke dog collar shop called Holly & Lil in south London with her husband Dale, 48, and their sons, 19 and 16. Sarah runs it with friend Elaine Jones, 47, who lives with her partner in north London.

Old Job: PR and marketing. New Job: Designer and shop owner. Start up costs: £60,000. This year’s earnings: £50,000. How we did it: Using the family home as a business asset.

“Elaine and I met five years ago while walking our dogs and we just clicked. One day we were moaning about how hard it is to find good dog collars. We decided to try ourselves and one evening we made some. So many people said, ‘That’s a great idea’, that we decided to sell them at our local market. We made about 20 and they sold out straight away, for about £40 each. Over the following year we did a lot of research. Most collars are made in China, but we wanted to use UK manufacturers. Some days, Elaine and I would be up at 5am working on the business before going to work. We were freelance, but it was a stretch. A year later we stopped working and devoted ourselves to Holly & Lil, named after our dogs – offering a bespoke service, selling collars on weekend stalls and via our website. But we hadn’t found a shop. Then an estate agent called about an old sugar warehouse that had come up for sale. The top two floors were miserable flats – but it was a light bulb moment. I was sure we could run the shop, studio and stockroom downstairs and live upstairs. Thankfully, Dale was as excited by the idea as me. He and I had already talked about downsizing the house. And with us having a family home to sell, we were in a position to raise the money to buy and renovate the building that would also house the business. It has worked out brilliantly. The boys love the warehouse feel of our home and the business has avoided the hassle of landlords and extra business rates. Elaine and I love our shop. Working on the business full-time has been tough, but when you can see your savings funding your business, it’s all worthwhile.” Find Holly & Lil at 103 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 or at www.hollyandlil.co.uk.

Best move: Research. We made sure customers existed for collars that can cost up to £80. Worst mistake: Early on, we’d buy fabric without thinking how it would work as a collar. Top Tip: Friends can help. A graphic designer friend created our logo, while another helped with the website design.

[PAGEBREAK]“I moved 150 miles to launch my dream business” Clare Hassall, 43, is separated and runs her own floristry called Haughty Culture in Honiton, Devon.

Old Job: Executive PA. New Job: Florist. Start up costs: £38,000. This year’s earnings: £16,000. How she did it: Moved to an area where business premises were cheaper to buy.

“Five years ago, my life was turned upside down. My dad became seriously ill and, although I hated to admit it, my long-term relationship had run its course. I began to rethink my life. I had carved a successful career working for directors of American companies in London, but at lunchtime, I’d wander into Selfridges and look at the gorgeous flowers, something I’d always loved. I’d chat to the florists, then one said, ‘You should think about doing a floristry course and open your own shop’. The idea really inspired me, but I quickly realized there was only one way to make it work – give up my job, sell my home, leave my life and friends in London and move to a place where commercial premises were cheaper. It was a huge decision, but I decided that it was now or never. I took a full-time, month-long course at Jane Packer’s fantastic floristry school. Then to build up experience and keep myself ticking over financially, I split my time between temping and working in florists. Meanwhile, with the help of my bank manager I put together a business plan and researched towns where I could afford to open a business. I’m originally from the West Country, where my mum lives, and I knew my money would go further there, so I signed up with estate agents and drove down as often as I could. I needed a shop where I could live above, as that would be cheaper. I also wanted customers to be able to park easily and a setting where I could do well from the luxury end of the market. One day, I was driving along Honiton High Street and saw a shop for sale. It was pretty run down, but it had huge potential and the top two floors could be converted into a flat. I went for it. That was in November 2003 and I was determined to open in time for Valentine’s Day. The builders had to rebuild the shop front and lay new stone flooring, then I redecorated. The upstairs just had to wait, but I managed to open the shop on time. It’s been a tough journey, but I’ve found job satisfaction I never knew before. I’ve ploughed money back into the building and I see that as adding value to what is both my business and my home. And even though I’m open six days a week, and sometimes work 14-hour days, I can’t wait to walk down in the morning and open up.” For more details, call 01404-41699 or visit www.haughty-culture.co.uk.

Best move: November is quiet, so last year I ran one-day flower arranging courses. They brought in vital income. Worst mistake: Spending too much on packaging – when essentially it only gets thrown away. Top Tip: Get as much work experience as you can – it will help you avoid most pitfalls.