“Treat others how you’d like to be treated.” This may be the motto she lives by, but after speaking to design powerhouse Emma Blomfield, ‘I can do anything’ might be more apt. Emma’s start-up story is inspiring for many reasons, but the thing I love most about her, is the attitude that everything is possible.
I was introduced to Emma by a friend at 9 To Thrive, a networking event run by Business Chicks; she was selling her new book Keeping House. Emma had a great business story, her energy was contagious and her message clear. “You are capable of anything – just start!”
Emma graduated university with a Business Degree during the GFC (global financial crisis); jobs were hard to find. Keen to work and with a passion for interiors and design, an opportunity to work for an interior designer seemed like a great option. Emma learnt everything she possibly could on the job, but her entrepreneurial spirit wanted more. So, as a “super naïve 24 year-old thinking ‘I can do anything – I’ll just start a website, see what happens’”, emmablomfield.com was born.
Fast forward nine years. Emma is now a recognised voice in the industry, sought after event planner, author, mentor, educator and speaker. It was far from an overnight success though.
With a full-time job to focus on, the website became her side-hustle. Rather than be daunted by the amount of work she was taking on, Emma was grateful; working in the field every day gave her a unique insight into interior design. Emma took “side-hustle” jobs as they appeared and networked like a ninja until eventually “word started to get out”. “I found that once I’d achieved a little bit of success – I’d been published in magazines, was speaking at events, running e-courses and just getting my name out there – I was positioned in a way that saw me as an expert in the industry. I also joined Instagram at the right time and managed to gain a bit of an audience -before they started making it difficult for everyone”, says Emma.
Straight out of university and with the adage that ‘businesses don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan’, still ringing in her ears, preparing a business plan was vital. As Emma puts it “I wouldn’t go into someone’s house and then just go to the shops and start buying things. I’d go back, research what kind of style we wanted to achieve; I’d write out a floor plan, draw where I think the furniture goes and then I’d go to the shops. It’s the same with a business, you have to write it out. Even if you’re just writing up budgets or working out what sort of lists you need to get to the next point; then keep reviewing it. Don’t think that you’ve written it once and can go and sleep easy”.
Starting a business can be overwhelming, and so Emma suggests that once you have your business plan “make a list and just chip away at it”. Her advice, “you just have to start in order to get going. You can’t just hope that it’s all going to fall in your lap one day; that you’ll magically have this business come together for you”.
In Emma’s experience starting small and tackling her to-do list as time allowed, night time and weekends included, reduced some of the over-whelm. “You don’t necessarily have to be dedicating full days to it” says Emma. “Start with a list that includes setting up your domain names; getting all of your social media pages organised; working with an accountant to set up the business; hiring a lawyer to write your terms and conditions; for example, and then gradually you’ll find it all coming together.”
The biggest challenge
After making the decision to jump into her side-hustle full-time, Emma found the financial side of business her biggest challenge. “All of a sudden you’re relying on the business for an income. If you’re jumping straight from a corporate salary, where you’re used to earning a certain amount of money each week, and then you’re suddenly demanding that from the business too – I think that’s when things can come unstuck”, says Emma. “Starting a business requires you to be pumping a lot of money back into the business in the early stages. Trying to also pay yourself the same amount as before, asks too much of the business from too early on. I think people come unstuck at that point.”
Rather than take out a loan or rely on family, Emma made the tough but rewarding decision to bootstrap her start-up. “The beauty of having a side hustle for five years meant that I was able to experiment early on with the safety net of a weekly salary. I could fall back on that if I experimented with advertising, or if I tried hosting an event that cost me money. It meant I wasn’t asking the business to pay me a salary. Plus I had the backup of my day job.”
Early on Emma was acutely aware that she couldn’t do it all herself; that it can take a village to have a successful venture. With “getting the finances right” on the top of the to-do list, Emma set-up Xero cloud-based accounting software and hired a good accountant.
Emma also employed a bookkeeper and a VA (virtual assistant) in the Philippines. “He helps me once a month, writes a financial report for me and he works out if there’s any areas of weakness; if I’ve overspent in certain expense categories. He’ll just pick up on anything that I might rush over and not notice, as someone that’s a CPA certified person would.”
“Outsourcing what you know you can’t do” is part of her business philosophy. “I worked out pretty early on that accounting wasn’t one of my strengths and therefore I needed someone to be stepping in doing that” says Emma.
Like most businesses, surrounding yourself with the right team is vitally important for Emma. It gives her the freedom to think about the bigger picture, be creative and work on what’s next.
Whilst establishing herself as an interior and event stylist, Emma kept her eyes open for other opportunities. As someone considered “relatively young” for a business owner, the fascination other people had with her age soon became a new area of her business.
“I was getting a lot of people coming to me saying, ‘Oh, how did you get a book deal? How do you get featured on these websites? How did you get into the magazines?’. Or they were asking me little things about how I run the business; that had taken me years to learn and create. It got so frequent I realised that there’s obviously a lack of resources for people wanting to know about this kind of information” says Emma. “I’ve got to find a way to monetise this.” Emma’s mentor program. and coaching services became the bi-product.
Remote area decorating
The next initiative for Emma was her remote area decorating service. Created when she was still working a full-time job and restricted by her hours, the logic behind it was simple. “I couldn’t get to people’s houses so if I had an ‘e-business’ it meant people could send photos and I could work out of hours and not have to go into their house at all.”
Also running workshops with regional retailers at the time, Emma visited places like Roma, in the middle of Queensland. Here she discovered that there were potential clients out on sheep and cattle stations who had little or no access to decorating services. It seemed logical to offer them the same ‘after-hours’ service, and remote area decorating was born.
Book deals and trusting your gut
In addition to Keeping House, Emma’s first book Home, a best seller, added the title ‘author’ to Emma’s bio. The book deal came about, as these things often do, serendipitously. It’s a good yarn about trusting your gut, and a testament to the resilience required as a business owner.
“I was working with a friend of mine on her book” says Emma. “Her publisher came to the photo shoot. I don’t even know why I said it, I’d not even thought about it before. ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’ I then rattled off a pitch to her and I thought about it after.”
The publisher gave Emma her card, suggested they meet and before she knew it, Emma had a book deal.
Unfortunately, this is where things started to go wrong. The publisher completely changed the original vision for the book into something that Emma didn’t want her name attached to. A legal battle ensued, eventually allowing Emma to take back control of the project.
Although devastated, Emma was not prepared to give in. With 30,000 words written and illustrations complete, “it just needed someone to give it some love and put it into production” said Emma. “It can’t have all been for nothing.” Eventually Hardie Grant came to the party and her manuscript was finally published.
“Standing up for yourself is hugely important” says Emma. “If you don’t think in your gut that it’s right, then something’s off and you need to work out why. Funnily enough, I never told anyone about the publishing contract the first time around. I told one of my closest friends and my family, but for some reason something was holding me back from announcing that I had this publishing agreement. When it all came undone, I realised that’s why I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops.”
As a busy entrepreneur we chat about the existence of work-life balance. Emma admits that she doesn’t refer to it as a balance in her life, rather a blend. “It’s something that I’ve had to work on and be conscious of. I think I’m lucky because I’m single and don’t have any children; so my time is a bit more flexible than some women running decorating businesses.”
“I don’t have a traditional workday, I don’t work 9 to 5. This morning I went to coffee with a friend and so I’ll probably work this afternoon. If that means I have to work until 9 at night in front of the TV, then so be it. But that’s the beauty of being your own boss, you can choose the hours that you work. If I need to go to the dentist during the week, or to the hairdresser I take my laptop and work where I am.”
To find out more about Emma’s services here.
Follow Emma on Instagram.