5 lessons I learned reinventing myself as an interior stylist
Earlier this month, I celebrated two milestones - Stella + the Stars turned 3 (it's like another baby!) and on the same day, we had our second Dubai-nniversary! 'Time flies when you're having fun' is the understatement of the year and sometimes I completely forget how far I have come. I am now officially on maternity leave (it's literally the final countdown and by the time you read this I may have created a new human being from scratch!), so I thought the last post before I take some time off with the new baby should be some sort of reflective one where I try and impart some wisdom with you all. Just kidding, I have major impostor syndrome and have basically no idea what I am doing on a daily basis but I have learned so much in the past few years, and as I often get asked how I changed careers and launched Stella + the Stars, I thought it would be worth sharing some of my experiences with anyone out there who finds themselves in the same spot.
If you've only recently started following Stella + the Stars, you may not be aware how this whole adventure actually began. Almost 4 years ago, as I took time off my PR job for a big media group in London to look after baby Stella, things I had taken for granted started to not really make sense anymore in my tired, hormonal and sleep-deprived brain. Not many people know that, but I originally trained as science journalist and I started my career writing and editing online medical publications...! A very, very far cry from the interiors world to say the least. I don't know if my creative juices were dormant all these years or if I had repressed them in a way not to overlap on my professional life but suddenly after being off work for so long, the prospect of going back to a full-time job with no flexibility whatsoever, a ridiculously long commute (3 hours a day), in an industry I wasn't passionate about anymore, added to the lack of creativity of the corporate world I had been so accustomed to, wasn't a very attractive one (to put it mildly).
It's funny how taking a step back from something you've been doing on auto-pilot for so long makes you re-evaluate everything! I also found out that being used to living on a very tiny/almost non-existent pay for 12 months helped me fathom the idea of not having a juicy salary coming in for a few months. Another catalyst in my reconversion was attending Abigail Ahern's Design Masterclass (one of my ultimate design heroes!) which gave me a little taste of what what could be. Fast forward to December 2014, when, with the support of my biggest fan, Mr Stella + the Stars (who not only supported me unconditionally for months but actually believed in me more than myself and pushed me to go for it! #heisakeeper), I quit my comfortable job of 8 years, and went back to design school to finally re-invent myself as an interiors blogger and stylist. While retraining, I started feeling something very weird, like I had just woken up from a very long snooze and suddenly everything started making sense again. My confidence was back, I was doing and learning something I was actually passionate about and people wanted to hear what I had to say. I launched the blog in April 2015 just as I was finishing my course at KLC and it all snowballed from there. I definitely had a big case of being in the right place at the right time and one thing led to another, in the following months, I was asked to revamp my neighbour's pad, got asked to work on styling jobs with fabulous interiors brands, got my first paid client and the highlight of that year, my blog got nominated for an award. It was a total revelation.
You have to remember at the time, there weren't that many interiors bloggers on the UK scene, and certainly none as bonkers as me in terms of style and vibe. And Instagram was still in its infancy - back then, if you were starting to gather 1000 followers on your Instagram feed, it kind of felt like you 'made it' a little bit more than it does now! ;-)
Anyways, that's the background story but, ENOUGH about me; the reason I wanted to write this post was to give anyone who listens (and is still reading!) some insight into my little adventure in the hope it can help others who are thinking of taking the plunge! I get contacted A LOT by lovely people who are thinking about becoming interior stylists but don't know where to start so here are some of the lessons I learned along the way... I am not the most successful, I am certainly not the best out there, or with the most traffic on my blog, or the most amount of social media followers. If you're looking for tips on how to make a million dollars with your business or how to get 50k followers on instagram in a month, this is not the right place, and you might want to move on! However, if like me, you're looking to make a career out of your passion, want a great work-life balance or simply be a bit happier every day, then read on my friends because that's exactly what I think I have achieved in the past four years!
1. Don't over plan and instead be open to opportunities. It's good to have a plan, but it's not good to restrict yourself to it without opening your mind to new unexpected ideas and opportunities that might come your way. On my wish list 3 years ago, you certainly would not have found: speaking in public to groups of people or organising styling workshops. But it happened and I have massively enjoyed a new side of being a stylist, helping others think outside the box when it comes to decorating.
2. Get yourself out there. Network, meet people within the industry, try and get connected to those whose personality and journey you admire, and don't be afraid to ask for help. When I started, I sheepishly contacted a few interior stylists I really loved (I am looking at you Sarah Akwisombe!) and I found most were very happy to help with tips and advice. However, this doesn't mean private messaging someone out of the blue and ask them point blank how they work and how much they charge by the way. Remember that it's all about give and take, and offering your help, or even just asking to take someone out for coffee to learn from them goes a long way. Chances are whoever you connect with will have started that way at some point and should be open to return the favour. Don't take the p*ss though! You can ask for advice but you can't expect someone you never met to spend an hour of their life putting together a client brief for you (yes that's happened to me before... insert rolling eyes emoji here)
3. Be authentic. Find your niche. Stick to it. This should probably be number 1 to be honest! When I started, there were only a small number of people doing what I wanted to do and it was a bit easier to get a foot in the door. The market is a bit oversaturated now so you really need to bring something different to the table to get yourself ahead of the pack. My USP is bold, statement, fun and colourful home styling without breaking the bank. How to decorate your house Tom Dixon style when all you have is a Zara Home budget if you like. Believe it or not, there aren't many out there who provide that service especially in Dubai. Once you've found what sets you apart, don't look at what others are doing or try to copy them, it won't work. You have to look, feel and sound authentic to your readers, followers, clients etc. They'll smell a mile away if you're trying to emulate what others are doing and it won't work.
4. Trust your instinct and that sometimes means saying NO. It's the hardest thing I have found so far, saying no. I really struggle not to accept every single opportunity that comes my way, even when I know it's not something that feels right for me. A job, a client, a project, even an event... I have had endless sleepless nights trying to fit it all in sometimes just because I kept saying yes to everything and totally overstretched myself for opportunities that were not always a good fit. If it doesn't feel right for you, or you get a funny feeling from the start, SAY NO! Don't be another victim of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), or do it because you're worried someone else will get the gig. Only accept opportunities that make sense to you and your personality/brand/profile
5. Don't worry about how many followers you have on instagram! Unless you want to become an influencer (trust me that's very hard to achieve these days), stop chasing the followers or do something just to get more likes. I can guarantee you that every successful person on social media you follow didn't start thinking they would become that successful on instagram just for the sake of it. No, what they started with is being authentic, finding their niche and trying to share that with like-minded others. The success (and followers!) usually naturally follows. I have just welcomed my 16,000th follower. Sometimes I think it's actually surreal so many people bother reading what I have to say about home decor, sometimes I think others have achieved that in probably a third of the time it took me. But when 'comparisonitis' start showing its ugly head, then I remember: what bloody difference does it make?!?! I get opportunities landing in my inbox almost every single day, I get some many home styling enquiries I have to say no to half of them on a weekly basis, but more importantly I don't get overwhelmed with responding to thousands of daily messages and comments - do you know how many hours a day you need to spend on Instagram to manage an account with 50k followers?!?! I simply couldn't fit it in the day and it would only increase my anxiety levels. And don't get me started on trolls and nasty comments. I can tell you I have NEVER had anyone say or send me privately something negative in 3 years! And thank god because I don't think I could actually deal with it, I am too sensitive.
So here is my two pence on starting from scratch in a new industry. I could go on and on but this is a good place to start! I hope it's useful, and feel free to leave a comment below with any questions you have and i'll do my best to respond. always honestly.
Right, it's time to say goodbye - even just temporarily. I am taking a little break from Le Blog and will be back early September, a little more tired and a little wiser hopefully! In the meantime you can follow our adventures on Instagram as Stella meets her new sidekick, where I surely be baby-spamming the hell out of life very shortly.
See you on the other side peeps!