In this interview with Design Penguin, Director Nicola Taylor shares her story as a small business owner navigating the challenges of COVID-19 and how the London Business Hub adviser support provided clarity along the journey.
Tell us who are you and what you do at Design Penguin
My name is Nicola Taylor, l am an interior designer and the Director of Design Penguin Ltd (https://design-penguin.co.uk/).
Design Penguin is an independent interior design studio, based in West London. We help people renovate their homes, from a single room to a whole home design, and everything in between.
I took a leap of faith and set up Design Penguin in 2016, after a 20+ year career in PR and Marketing. My vision was to take a fresh approach to the interior design sector, which can sometimes be perceived as elitist sector. Our brand emerges as a breath of fresh air, offering something against the norm.
Working with Design Penguin, clients get stylish results, with a simple and transparent process and plenty of joyful moments along the way. Stylish, simple and fun – a bit like penguins – hence our endearing name and trusted brand, much loved by our clients.
How has the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis impacted your business?
Anyone who tells you that it is possible to do interior design remotely isn’t doing it properly. To design a room or a house, you simply need to be there. You need to see the light and judge the flow throughout the space, take accurate measurements, clients need to touch and feel the materials to give input and approve designs. Moreover, builders need to be present to execute the vision, all the way to the final touches of putting furniture where it’s supposed to go. From the first lockdown to all the ones that have followed, this crucial design process suddenly became impossible.
COVID-19 has brought many challenges, particularly in our sector, and as a small business. All our current projects were put on hold, and no new business could be pitched. Initially, my goal was business survival in the short term, and I decided to use the downtime to consider how I might need to evolve the business for the longer term.
During a time of much uncertainty, l was in need of expert guidance and support. I was referred to the London Business Hub by Women in Business Network (https://www.wibn.co.uk/), a pivotal step to gaining greater clarity along my journey.
How did the London Business Hub help?
I was appointed a business adviser who provided free advice and support as l navigated challenges presented by the pandemic.
Over the last four years, l realised I had become a little detached from my original business goal. My proposition had become confused, and my adviser, Raj, helped me to take some time out to reassess and adapt. He shared some simple techniques and processes to help me reflect and refocus my business proposition and sales pitch. Raj also gave me the confidence to consider repricing my services post-crisis, to better reflect the value my business delivers to customers and boost my profitability.
My adviser Raj helped me to understand the financial support available before I made my application to the Bounce Back Loan. More importantly, he helped me take a few steps back with my business positioning.Nicola Taylor, Director
How did your business adapt in response to COVID-19?
Support from the London Business Hub provided direction and clarity. After following the steps Raj suggested, I was able to use the downtime in the first lockdown to refocus my business proposition, adapt my marketing strategy to work with the new proposition and redraft and redesign my website.
Moreover, I also applied for and received a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan. Following this, I analysed the profitability of previous projects and decided to increase my pricing for future business, and take on fewer higher-value projects.
It can be very lonely running your own business. You have nobody to bounce ideas off, no fresh input. My adviser helped me to think clearly, and with a little fresh perspective.
The one-to-one support offered was really valuable both practically and psychologically, during a very stressful time.Nicola Taylor, Director
What is your advice for other business owners during the current crisis?
Business owners have been bombarded with information about what we should do, new policies and procedures, Government initiatives, advice from our banks… it has been noisy at best, confusing at worst, and often difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The London Business Hub can help busy or worried business owners to cut through the noise and take practical steps that are right for them.
With free help and advice available, what do you have to lose?Nicola Taylor, Director
What’s next for Design Penguin?
As we vaccinate our way out of the crisis, this year’s short-term goal is to bounce back to profitability. This will be aided by the repricing that my adviser gave me the confidence to do. Raj also reminded me that it is important to reflect more regularly. I will put that into practice with a proper business review before writing the Fiscal year (FY) 21/22 business plan.
Moving forward, my goal is to take on a smaller number of larger, more complex projects where I can achieve wonderful results for my clients, at a more profitable rate for my business.
I’m now much more confident in my business model and customer proposition. I also have a beautiful new website to showcase my work to future clients.
The London Business Hub Business Support programme is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF’s) Hub & Spoke project.
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