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Inspiring Clients – Suzanne Cunningham

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I met Suzanne back in 2006 when both of us were working in the city. She and her husband Adam had recently moved home from London and Suzanne had achieved a good degree of success in her corporate marketing role – but she had a sense that there was something else she could be doing. Together, we began to explore the idea of her starting her own creative business. As you’ll read in Suzanne’s candid interview below, it took her a few years to work out exactly what she wanted to do but once she launched One Girl Interiors, she took some courageous steps that have led to great things, including being recently profiled on The Design Files. Have a read of her story and take a look at the stunning photos on the blog and on her website. I think you’ll agree, she’s chosen the perfect creative business to match her talents.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business?

About six years ago my husband and I undertook a major renovation and extension of our home. I loved the whole process from the planning to the tiny finishing details. After we’d finished we had many friends and people visit who commented on how much they loved our house and asked if I could help them out with advice. Around the same time I had returned to work after the birth of my daughter.  I found going back to my old corporate job on a part time basis a culture shock.  I was working for the same organisation but everything had changed for me.  I was no longer able to put in the hours I did when I worked full time.  While the rest of my colleagues worked, I had to head out the door just before 5pm most nights to be home in time for my daughter. I felt very different to everyone else and it was isolating. I became unhappy and longed to do something more creative with greater flexibility to fit around our young family. I started to realise there were people who wanted help with their own home but found approaching a traditional interior designer unfamiliar and perhaps a little intimidating. They wanted to work with someone who felt approachable, who was like them. I began to explore the possibility of starting my own interior design business and I also did some further study. One Girl Interiors is the end result. It’s a design service for people who want a beautiful home but who need a hand pulling everything together.  I work on projects from kitchen and bathroom renovations to the finishing touches and styling in a room plus everything in between. SF2_5324

What do you love about working for yourself?

So many things! I have always wanted to run my own business. I first met Kate when I moved back to Melbourne in 2006 after living in London for two years. I told her that I wanted to work for myself doing something creative, but I just didn’t know what it was. It took me another six years to be ready to make a move. Now I love the freedom of making my own decisions and creating a brand that is a true reflection of myself. I love the sense of satisfaction seeing a vision come together and a smile on my client’s face. But most of all I feel proud that I have realised a dream for myself.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have a four year old daughter, Grace who is at kinder this year and a busy almost-2-year old son, Tom. So, I work my day around them. I often do work while Grace and Tom are in bed at night. That’s okay with me as I’m doing something I love. And I regularly did work after hours in my previous corporate job anyway. I also have a day or two to myself during the week where I meet with clients or visit suppliers to source items. SF1_5376

What’s one thing you would do differently if you had your time over?

Not a whole lot. But I would probably worry less about making such a big change and trust my instincts more.

Who are your role models?

Megan Morton. Her story about her corporate career being a wrong fit and longing to do something more creative after her children were born felt like it echoed mine. It really inspired me and made me feel that I was not alone in my experience.  I had the pleasure of meeting Megan Morton when I did a couple of her classes at The School last year. She is one of the most generous, clever and hilarious(!) people around. Lucy Feagins. The work she has done on The Design Files is amazing and so inspiring. She is also very generous, supporting new creative businesses. And on top of that she is an incredibly warm, friendly person. I loved meeting her when she came with the very-lovely and talented Eve Wilson to photograph my house earlier this year. During the time when I was setting up my business I was also really inspired by a number of amazing TED talks. Stories by Susan Cain, Larry Smith, Ken Robinson, Simon Sinek and Brene Brown really resonated with me and encouraged me to keep going. SF2_5663

What’s been the best thing you’ve done to grow your business?

Spending the time up-front to have a clear vision of my brand and my target audience.  This made all of the following steps much easier. I’ve also noticed that the majority of my clients do belong to the target audiences I originally identified. I would also say that investing in branding, great photography and website development have all been really important as well. Fortunately I found this work came naturally and was really enjoyable because my previous career was in marketing.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Lots of places. I subscribe to quite a few magazines. My favourite one is a UK publication, Living Etc. I have also recently found a fantastic website called OneFineStay. You can search through literally hundreds of people’s homes in London, New York and Paris and pay to stay there as you would in a hotel if the owners are out of town. I love it because I find it fascinating to see how other people live. And film. I love going to see a good film and I always find myself noticing details about the character’s homes. I often find myself taking mental notes about shades of paint! SF2_4866

How do you maintain a sense of balance while running your business?

It certainly is challenging.  Especially when you have a busy young family. You have to manage your own time and you’re working on weekends and at night.  I do have a rule that I stop work at least half an hour before bed and do something that has nothing to do with interior design.  Otherwise I find my mind ticking over with thoughts on pendant lights and bathroom tiles when I should be sleeping!

What are you looking forward to?

Helping my clients to bring their plans to life and to make their day-to-day lives just a bit more special. I believe a beautiful space can do that. I also have an incredibly exciting personal project coming up.  I grew up in the country and we moved to Melbourne when I was eight years old.  It has always been my dream, especially once we had children, to have somewhere to escape to on weekends. We have just purchased a house in Daylesford that we plan to renovate and stay at every month or so. We’ll let it out when we’re not there. I love the idea of other people enjoying it as well. SF2_4876

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to go into their own startup?

  • Know your strengths and your weaknesses.  And don’t let your weaknesses stop you from doing something. Get some support in that area instead. Brene Brown talks about not waiting until you’re perfect or bulletproof to try something and I think that’s great advice.
  • Don’t underestimate the relevance of your previous experience.  I spent a fair amount of time dwelling on the fact that there were a lot of other people who had studied Interior Design straight out of school, whereas I’d taken a different path first.   But I’ve since come to see that my background makes me unique and many of the skills from my corporate career are really relevant in my new job.
  • Get some support.  I had amazing support from my husband Adam who patiently listened to my concerns, told me “yes, I hear what you’re saying but you’ll regret it if you don’t try this” over and over again. I also found coaching extremely valuable and the practical advice I received from Kate perfectly complemented the emotional support from Adam.
Posted in: Interviews

I'm Kate James and the owner of Total Balance. I work with people who care about living purposeful, creative lives. My clients want to clarify their personal values, identify their strengths and learn about how they can make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

I run workshops and retreats in Melbourne and Byron Bay to give you the chance to escape the noise of everyday to discover what really matters to you.