Small Business Feature: Carmen Alava Deco & Home Staging
Today’s business feature is a very special one! I want to introduce you to Carmen, a Spanish girl with a passion for home decor and interior design who decided to start her business in one of the most difficult scenarios: right after moving to a completely different country. I worked with Carmen to create her logo one year ago, when all of this was just a project. Now it is a reality and you can read more about her, her thoughts and experiences in this short interview. Enjoy!
What do you sell and how long have you been around?
I set up my home decor business 6 months ago, after moving to Costa Rica with my family, and after weeks and weeks of looking, unsuccessfully, for a “normal” job.
How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
I´ve always wanted to set something up. I used to help in the family business as I was growing up, and knew some day I would do “my own thing”. I learnt organization skills, leadership and order from my parents and older brothers, and, in the years to come, after graduating, I improved the necessary skills while occupying positions of considerable responsibility in the international relations world. During those years in the international world, though I was happy, I felt I really needed to give way to my creativity. I had design obsession, I would devour all the decor magazines and programmes, and I would practice with my home and the homes of friends and family just for fun. People started to suggest I take it more seriously, and then we moved from Spain to Costa Rica. At first, I just didn´t feel brave enough, everything seemed SO different, difficult and overwhelming. And then, after months of job searching , it suddenly struck me. On June 23rd, 2014, I hit the “publish” button of my Facebook Page, and that´s when it all began.
How has the business evolved over time?
The mother of a Costarican friend needed help with her living room. She asked how much I would charge for that. I said “nothing, as long as you tell all your friends that they really need me”. I am currently decorating eight houses, and there are 4 people on the waiting list. I have decorated real rooms here in Costa Rica, and “virtual” rooms in Switzerland and Spain through Whatsapp consultations. I am also collaborating with a magazine, writing home decor and organization articles. Plus, I have started receiving the first enquiries from people who are not related to anybody I know.
What is your biggest success right now?
I recently decorated a play room in the most expensive part of the capital, San Jose, which has earned me 25 new likes on my Facebook page this week, from people I do not know at all. My “before and afters” get lots of comments. I feel people go crazy when I publish them, it is such fun!
How do you market your business?
I have published two ads in a magazine so far, but no clients have come from those. Facebook and Instagram have been my best “shop window”, but so far I have not paid to promote my business on the internet. I have reached 295 likes on Facebook. Only the first 120 are from people I know. I´ll see from here, and maybe I will think of promoting the business a bit more next year.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced during this time?
Getting to understand the Costarican personality better. I now feel I have succeeded in that, and it is making my job (and my life) so much easier!
Where do you see your business in a year?
I trust I will have as much work, and I feel I will have more visibility. I even plan to appear on TV, at least once (that is my absolute dream!).
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
The meaning of the word “ahorita” (I thought it meant “right now”, but it actually means “maybe some time in the future, or even NEVER!”).
What advice would you give people who want to set up their own business?
Do it, no matter what. Get the skills and do it. Talk to people who have done it. Know you will work way more than in your “normal” job, but also know that your exhaustion will have a wonderful flavour.