Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
My name is Sarah Hodgkins, my business is Charlotte Designs and I am one of the UK’s most experienced mural artists. 15 years ago, after the birth of my second child, I set up Charlotte Designs initially, as an interior design service for children’s spaces.
I did this for 4 years and then realized that I need to specialize, so in 2009 I took the decision to only design and paint murals.
Since then I have painted around 500 murals for commercial Sarah Hodgkins and domestic clients throughout the UK. I currently bill between £4,000 and £8,000 per month.
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
I trained and worked as an interior designer in the 1980s and early 1990s. During that time I commissioned mural artists to enhance my interiors and became excited by large scale paintings an as art form.
I decided to learn these skills and painted a small number of murals in the early 90s, before going and having a second career in sales and marketing. When I had my children, I knew I wanted to work at something that I could fit in around the children, which is why I went back to interiors.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
Well, I don’t have a product, I have a service. I come from a service background so understanding what customers want is not difficult and I just needed to tailor my offering to that required by my customers.
I am constantly reviewing and refining the process as new customers come on board and my projects change.
I started with children’s rooms, from there I graduated to schools and care homes and then to businesses. What I have found it that every so often a project comes along that scares the b-Jesus out of me and then ultimately takes me to the next level.
I have learned to accept these scary times as part of the learning and growing process.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
I had a laptop, I got some business cards printed and I offered my services to my immediate network. Once I got a couple of projects under my belt, which I did at cost price, I got professional photos taken and built a VERY crude website.
I also put leaflets in NCT sales, school bags and did a couple of exhibitions and talks.
From there, I started to do more and larger projects and some of my old interior design clients rediscovered me. I then joined a local networking group and things really started to take off from there.
Tell us about your repeat customer rate? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
This is one of my biggest challenges, once people have a mural, they NEVER want it changed, or very rarely, so my repeat customer rate was non-existent.
I knew this was a problem and about 3 years ago started to engage with customers who would have a repeat need eg. Interior Designers, themers, etc.
This has worked and I now get more repeat business than I used to. Most of my business comes through my website or word of mouth.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
I have just had the busiest 6 months of my career and have made almost £20,000 profit in that period. I now have an associate artist based in the north and am looking for another in the south to help me with my workload.
I am looking to ultimately have a team of artists who can carry out the painting work, under the Charlotte Designs name, possibly as a franchise.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
Goodness no! I am not money motivated at all. I do this to make a difference to people’s lives, make them smile, stop them using huge sheets of plastic and help the planet.
I love my job and would paint, even if someone wasn’t paying me. I paint for pleasure as well as financial rewards. I even paint on holiday.
What tools or services did you use?
Not sure what you mean by this. I used networking groups to help spread the word, I now use exhibitions to be specific in my client engagement.
I also use Photoshop, Sketchable, and OneNote for day to day requirements capture and image manipulation. I still paint my designs using watercolors and use emulsions for the murals (unless the substrate requires a specialist product).
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
My key challenges are how to expand whilst keeping the quality of my product and service high. Also, as my projects get larger and more involved, how to keep the order book full when I am on-site every day painting.
I currently have a VA who has been working with me since October to help me with the administration side and another associate artist based in the south. I am also writing a ‘code of conduct’ and manual for mural artists.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
I will be honest, I don’t really do this, I don’t have the time! When I read (which isn’t often!), it is for pleasure. I have read a few business books, but nothing that I felt had a marked effect on me.
I listen to Ted Talks, they are often very interesting and I am currently listening to Michelle Obama’s autobiography on BBC Sounds. I use Pinterest extensively, this is a great resource for creatives and my absolute favorite social media channel.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
I think that if the woman takes her business seriously, runs like a proper business, keeps the company of other women who also run their businesses as a proper company, then she will be taken seriously.
There is nothing wrong with having a hobby business if that is what you want, but I think there is a distinction between the hobbyist and the entrepreneur, and you have to align yourself with the camp where you want to be.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
I interview women founders in building profitable businesses??
My idea is for other women to get inspired by these actionable tell-all stories and start their own profitable enterprises.
I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.