HR & Management

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Sarah Stanley: Follow your dream

7 Mins

What were you doing before you chased your dream?

In real terms the journey of following my dream literally began with the seeds sown in my childhood growing up on a traditional Cornish farm where genuine warmth and hospitality was extended to everyone who walked in the door. In 2001, on returning to my native Cornwall after an extended period away (travelling extensively to many different countries, working in the hospitality industry and being on the receiving end of much dubious ‘hospitality’ myself!), I had an extremely clear vision of what constituted good hospitality. 

For 12 years I had done various things such as working as a chef in a Japanese golf course in New Zealand, renovating a Queenslander house with wrap-around veranda, and had three children before arriving back home to Cornwall complete with young children in tow. I managed to secure a chef job as soon as I returned home, and within six months I had started Unique Home Stays.

Why did you leave that life behind to chase your dream?

Three main reasons; security, independence, and to have choices. Becoming a mother to three meant that I wanted to find a vocation that fitted with the demands of parenting, but I also had a mind literally over-flowing with ideas of how to provide uniquely different ways to provide luxury accommodation to travellers the world over.

How did you make the switch to become a dream chaser?

I started the company from scratch; with just a £500 loan from my mum and a single simple Cornish cob-walled cottage on ‘the books’. Between working and running a home, I started researching and planning Unique Home Stays. Within a few months I quit my job and concentrated on the business.

What were the first challenges you had to overcome?

Firstly- how to turn on a computer! I had no idea and had never actually used one, but as I had no money (and reflectively perhaps the intuition that web-based companies were the way forward!) the only option for me was to be web-based when I started my own company, even though my knowledge was extremely limited to say the least. The next challenge was to find a web developer who knew what they were doing, and most importantly, one who I could trust. 

I took a bit of a gamble by employing the skills of a local young web developer who worked with me to create the website and grow the business online. Search Engine Optimisation is a key marketing tool to this day. The second challenge was when I realised that to grow the business and duplicate my time, I needed to employ a team of passionate people who were far more efficient than me…!

At what point did you realise that you had made the right decision?

My best business decision was ignoring the business advisor who told me that I would never make money and that I should give the business up and find something else to do with my time! 

A key turning point which helped to shape Unique Home Stays into the successful business you see today, was when I introduced a ‘no upfront fee’ (instead of taking a membership fee). I worked on a commission basis whereby the property owners’ income was generated directly on the business that the company procured for them. By doing everything myself – all the marketing, bookings and customer service – I had creative and quality control. 

This catalytic change showed me that I had something different and unique, and that I’d made the right decision to chase my dream.  I succeeded or failed on my judgment alone – we had to have the right owners, the right properties, the right marketing and the right clients. Having the epiphany that it was my professionalism and passion that actually sold the properties to clients, and that I wanted Unique Home Stays to be much more than simply another listing website, was the turning point which ensured the business succeeded and that I’d definitely made the right decision.

What advice would you have for other dream chasers stuck in a life that isn’t their perfect choice?

To coin a phrase from a well-known sports brand- ‘Just Do It’! If I’d considered all of the pitfalls, risks, employment and business regulations involved in setting up a business I don’t know that Unique Home Stays would ever have been created…Find something you are passionate about and know why you are doing it. Personally speaking, I have found that having a wise person/mentor you trust to bounce ideas off is invaluable.

What can other entrepreneurs in the lux travel sector learn from your experiences?
Specialise, personalise, and surprise your clients by continuing to exceed their expectations.

What impact has chasing your dream had upon your life?

The business has given me exactly what I wrote down as my goals before I started Unique Home Stays 13 years ago; choices. In addition to this, my three children have lived the trials and tribulations and now see the positive results of hard work and delayed gratification. The cottage was not just a home it was a place of business with the lounge full of computers with staff and phones going day and night. The end result and ultimate success I feel will be to have confident children who have the choice to ‘Just Do It’ on their own…

Charles Orton-Jones is a business journalist.

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