Our Ask Me Anything host for July was Belinda Nihill from Nest Design Studio. See what she has to say on running a small business while managing 3 young boys!
Just to kick things off when you start at 12.30, what was the inspiration for starting your business and did you start in bricks and mortar before you went online?
I started Nest Design Studio about 6 years ago, after the birth of my eldest son. His nursery had been featured in a baby mag (Little One Baby) and it generated some interest. From there I started a blog and then people started asking for help creating their own nursery…..so it grew from there. Things really kicked off after the birth of my second son and his nursery being seen on lots of blogs and in lots of mags.
I have a qualification in Interior Design and have worked in various aspects of the industry in b&m (Colour consulting at a tile shop, working for builders doing their new home consults). I still do work as a sub-contractor for local Builders…..in between juggling 3 little boys and Nest nurseries!
You have a large, engaged Instagram following. What advice do you have for professional marketers (like myself) or small business owners/sole traders (like you) for building and sustaining this follower base? Do you use Influencer posts?
To be honest, I didn’t want to put Nest on instagram (or Facebook years ago when I started that too). I had my blog and I was happy with that! But it was only because I could see the benefits of social media that I persisted….and I even use snapchat now for business and numbers are growing on there too.
I don’t use influencer posts, but am asked to do influencer posts. It’s been an industry that is growing (kids interiors) and I think it was just being in the right spot at the right time. I try and keep all my images on social media consistent (l like light and bright), showing new products, how to use them in a childs space and the occasional quote (people really respond to the right meme). I’ve been able to establish great relationships with other brands (and clients) via insta and that has helped grow numbers as well.
How do you manage your process when designing via email or Skype? Are there any drawbacks from not meeting a client face to face, or has the technology ever let you down in a way that has affected your work?
My clients fill in a questionnaire (which has about 20 questions on there – any inspiration they already have, colours they don’t want to see etc) and then from there I go ‘shopping’ finding all the things that I think would suit the design and then I start to put together the design board. Every client is different and I might do things slightly different but there’s a general process to it.
I actually find clients are a little more open online than face to face (generally). They find it a little easier to tell me things (perhaps about their family background, the gender of the baby), often I’m the first person they are telling they are pregnant/the gender/the name.
Technology has let me down recently! Our internet provider was having trouble which meant our internet was slooow, which meant I couldn’t really work. But apart from that, it’s been fine. Clients can email me whenever they think of a question (often in the middle of the night for new mums) or if they do want to speak to me, we can do that too.
I can’t believe you have time to fit it all in! (with 3 boys especially!)
Any tips for keeping organised?
I wish! My eldest 2 are at school and my youngest will turn 2 in a few months. I am only able to work around his sleeps and at night (and the occasional weekend when my husband is able to take the boys out).
Let’s talk PR. You’ve been featured in several magazines and blogs and you’ve also won some prestigious awards. Do you send out media releases, hustle for product placements and self nominate for awards? If so, do you have any tips for small business owners/sole traders or mumpreneurs?
OR did all of these nominations, product placements and magazine features come your way because people had heard of you already?
When I first started, it was a matter of sending emails to magazines to show them a nursery. Now media generally comes to me (I had an email from a US pregnancy magazine yesterday wanting to know if I had any new nurseries to share).
I recently released a book and we did send out press releases for that but pretty low key. Everything for Nest is generated by me so it’s just a matter of trying to fit everything in.
There are few things (being featured in House & Garden Top 50 rooms, receiving a scholarship for the Rob Hunt Leadership Program) this past year which has given me additional confidence and I’m not afraid to put my hand up if I see things that I think would be good for Nest.
What was involved in writing/putting together your book – Is it an e-book? Coffee table book? Did you self publish or use a publishing house? Have sales been tracking well?
My book ‘beautiful babies room’s’ is available both in hard and soft cover and we have a number of stockists (locally – Gathered, Milt & Jo and Organise My as well as online via my website or it’s also on amazon, book depository and a number of other national and international sites).
I have a friend who has started a publishing business and my book was the first she published. Considering I haven’t done any real advertising (only my social media) we’ve done really well and made a nice little profit so far!
Where do most of your clients come from – existing client referrals, organic web searches, media opportunities (such as magazine features) or through social media?
All over the place. Many are repeat clients (I may have done their nursery for them and then they want a ‘big’ room), but majority is through social media. The magazine features have been a good way of building a reputation but they will usually decide to go ahead after connecting with me on social media.
I should check my website analytics more…..but it’s low down on the ‘must do’ list!
Small Business Sam:
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome as a small business owner? Do you have any advice you would give anybody who is feeling overwhelmed by the challenges they encounter on their small business journey?
The biggest challenge has been changing my thinking that it’s more than just a hobby. Changing your mindset that it’s a business. The second challenge is finding enough time to devote to it!
I’d tell them to take some time out. There are days when I have so much to do, things haven’t worked out like I’d hoped and I have just had to take a step back. Take a day off, don’t work for a few nights. Try again later!
Do you use paid advertising on Facebook or Instagram?
No I don’t. I have tried to boost a post a couple of times on Facebook but I haven’t sat down to work out the advertising side of it yet!
Bendigo Computer Services:
When you first started, how did you get the word out about your new business?
Did you invest in advertising?
Did your first jobs go to plan?
When I first started I spent a lot of time blogging, interacting with bloggers (leaving comments). I didn’t really have a plan (and certainly no business plan!) but as people found my blog, I started being seen by the ‘right’ businesses and people.
I’ve only ever advertised once in a baby mag. I don’t know if I gained a lot of business from it, but I do think it helped build my reputation.
They did! The first client I had was US based (second was QLD) and it worked out really well!
I’m a fashion designer and illustrator by trade but I now work in the corporate world and just do some freelance work as a hobby. How do you balance your natural inclination to think like a creative with putting on your ‘business hat’ in order to monetise what you do and grow you business? I struggle to put a price on my time and ascertain what the right way is to turn what I would happily do for the joy of it into a business. Any any tips would be much appreciated!
Oh I struggle! I started my pricing low (super low!) mostly to gain clients and exposure and just built up from there when I felt it was time.
I’m lucky that my husband has more of a business head and whilst he doesn’t really have anything to do with Nest, he is someone I can bounce ideas off for pricing and growing. I am really not good with the business side of it and would rather hand ball it to someone else….I’m sure Nest would be bigger if I had the extra time or someone to do it for me! I just want to do the ‘pretty’ things.
Sorry, that probably doesn’t help much at all!
Another one, you mentioned in an earlier post that you work with clients in different parts of the world. What is your approach when a new client comes in from a part of the world you haven’t worked in before – do you seek out suppliers in their region and go from there? Or, do you have an existing supplier network that pretty much covers every corner of the globe?
Clients come to me now from all over because Australia is leading the way in the kids industry. Our suppliers will generally ship world wide so decor, linen etc isn’t hard to do at all. I’m working with a client now in Saudi Arabia and this will be a little trickier as I haven’t had clients there before (Dubai is closest), this client needs cots, change tables, cupboards so there will be quite some research with that one! Many US sites also ship to these areas, so I’m sure I will find a way!