Helen Jennings set up her design company HJ Interior Design Ltd back in 2013, and has gone from strength to strength. Awarded Kitchen Designer of the Year in 2008, Helen has worked on many bespoke design projects, including the Accordia Homes project in Cambridge, and the fantastic Utopia superhome in Sandbanks, Kent. Her website went live four years ago.
What is your background? Tell us about yourself!
I started my career in design in 2001. My main design career started in the contract kitchen industry from which has developed to also being involved in contract bathroom design, interior design and creating colours schemes for leading developers.
I was always interested in home improvement TV shows, always bought home interior magazines and often changed the scheme of my own home. With that I soon enrolled in an Interior Design Course in which I received four distinctions. I absolutely fell in love with the work and knew it was what I wanted to do.
How hard was it to get your business off the ground ?
It was actually very easy. Although a big leap to take, I had experience, a client base and great support from former colleagues and associates. I researched into everything and set myself a plan. Although I have had to work very hard, it has all been plain sailing from setting up.
How do you market your business?
The website, Instagram, Linkedin and Facebook. I also sponsored a local music festival this year in support of the local Hospice and MS society.
What services do your company provide?
We can offer anything from helpful advice to a full deign scheme and complete project management. Working closely to targets and budgets we take away the headache and stress to create and give the desired dream spaces without compromise on quality and care
What were your biggest hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The biggest hurdle is contacts which thankfully for me, my background had my name known in the sector I was setting up on my own in.
What do you look for in an employee/contractor?
Eye for detail and those that take pride in their work. A great design needs great joinery, workmanship and fine detailing.
How do you facilitate a positive work environment that attracts and retains talent?
By being supportive, constructive and always being positive. If there’s a problem we don’t dwell on the problem we resolve it and learn from it.
You have done some very diverse jobs design wise. What was the most challenging and which is the one that you are most proud of?
That’s a difficult question as all design jobs are challenging and I have many that I am proud off. I guess for me, the biggest challenge was project managing a very large project with over 350 dwellings. Not only did I have to carry out all the designs and quotations I also offered upgrades and dealt with individual purchasers of the properties who wanted to have a completely bespoke kitchen to the rest of the complex. The size of this was a huge challenge but I loved every minute of it.
What or who are your influences, in terms of business and on a personal level, and why ?
I love Kelly Hoppen’s work, it is very much to my taste. I love her colour choices and the way she puts schemes together, she is a true inspiration. I am very alike in how I create my schemes and it gives me confidence when I look at her style and can relate to how she designs.
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is somebody I admired back in the days when home improvement shows started to have a large impact on TV. I had the pleasure of meeting him once. His knowledge in the history of Interior Design and his passion and huge talent in artistry is outstanding. He once did a program called Fantasy Rooms, although the rooms he designed were very personal to the client and not to many peoples taste, Laurence listened to the clients brief and did exactly what was in the title of the program, he created their fantasy room. His artwork was breathtaking.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Knowledge, customer care, loyalty and providing the best service to all clients.
What has been your greatest moment of success?
To have carried out a complete refurbishment, project managing it from start to end and having complete input on every part of the scheme rather than just parts of a scheme.
What do you do to recharge when your’e feeling drained?
Take time out, even if it’s a half our stroll away from the office.
How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way you do business over the next 10 years?
I believe that with any business you need to keep up with the times and stay attuned to the “now”. With the ever-improving CAD systems I can only see this evolvement as positive growth and we should grasp its power
What do you know today that you wish you had known when you first started?
To always be cautious, not everyone treats you as you treat them. That saying there is no love in business can unfortunately be true
Name some strategies that you would recommend for making the best of one’s time?
Always be positive and help others. If I can help anyone in any way by letting the public know of their great work & services that bring my designs a reality, I will. We should all support each other so that we all grow and be prosperous
How do you stay inspired?
I’m always looking at surroundings wherever I go for inspiration and new ideas. I have home and interior magazines on monthly subscriptions and I attend exhibitions to learn of new products and meet new people.
How do you distinguish between competitors?
This really comes down to your style in design and how you deliver your service. Having a great rapport with clients and suppliers is vital in this game because people need to be able to trust you.
What is the best advice you would give to anyone wanting to start business?
Do your homework first and understand what you could be up against. Importantly, believe in yourself, be positive and remember to take care of your staff / contactors. If they are happy your clients will be happy and your business will grow.
How would your employees/contractors describe you?
Difficult one to answer, but I guess they would describe me as confident, visual and someone they can trust to get the job done. It is through reputation that my clientele has grown from strength to strength. I have a very positive outlook on life and will always give 100% to ensure a happy team.
How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
By attending workshops and any other venues / study days that will improve my skills.
Describe your average day in your office.
There is no set routine in my line of work, whether be it that I have a day at my computer drawing, doing research, working on building quotations. I am often out and about on site visits, meeting clients and casing the shops for room schemes and samples. No day is ever the same.
Do you have a five year plan?
I don’t have anything set on paper, but I do have goals and ambitions on where I’d like HJ Interior Design to be.
Do you have any advice for somebody starting out in business for the first time?
Do your research and planning and of course budgeting before anything. Follow your heart, intuition and most of all, be confident. Once you take that step you must believe in yourself. A very important part to making your business a success is always look after your customers, treat them with honesty and respect.
What’s happening next for HJ Interior Design?
HJ Interior Design is continuing to grow and what will happen next! Who knows, watch this space.