Dubai: During her seven-year stint as a flight attendant, decorating balconies was simply a side hustle she started out of her one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina. Little did she know then that what was a hobby would later turn into a full-time business.
Georgina Griffin, a 31-year-old British expat, has always been passionate about designing home interiors and possessed the much-needed creative skills, but the lack of a relevant degree prevented her from pursuing this interest as a career. Instead, she joined an airline cabin crew at age 21.
“I started working as cabin crew in 2013, and I would transform friends’ balconies as just a hobby on the side,” said Georgina, who moved to Dubai the same year. “However, as I gradually got busier with balconies, I also lost my job like many others did during COVID-19.
“So for me it was kind of a sign to just put my all into balconies and see if I could make something from it. I do believe as one door closes another one opens and to take any opportunities that are given.”
I started working as cabin crew in 2013, and I would transform friends’ balconies as just a hobby on the side
– Georgina Griffin
Why the interest in decorating balconies?
Georgina’s creative interests sparked during her growing years. “During school I was always my happiest in art class, woodwork or textiles. My father is also very creative and has designed all the homes I lived in as a child, from scratch, and he would let me be part of the process, which I loved.
“All the homes I’ve lived in, I’ve loved to design and decorate. I have always known it’s what I wanted to do but just never took that step. This is why I am so grateful for losing my job as it gave me the push I needed to start doing what I love full time.”
The childhood interest was later reignited when Georgina noticed that the house she and her husband lived in had a very tiny balcony, with only two small chairs and a table, and this limited spacing prompted her to think about how she could creatively create more seating space.
Guests always made their way to the balcony
“It’s always been where I see any guests we have, congregate when they come over. Me being me, and my creative mind, I wanted to make most of the space, but there was nothing online that fit the balcony space exactly how I wanted it, so the only way was to make it myself, and that’s what I did.”
At the time Georgina was still working as a flight attendant, and as there were no flights operating in 2020 due to the pandemic, she had much more time on her hands to focus on her business. Here’s how she went about beautifying her own balcony.
“I put pen to paper and created a layout. The cheapest thing I could think of using were pallets, so I got them ordered to the size I wanted. I sanded and painted them in my living room. I then ordered a sewing machine and made all the base cushions, after which I added finishing touches like plants, fairy lights and other accessory pieces.”
What are pallets?
A pallet (also called a skid) is a portable, rigid structure, predominantly wooden, used to make indoor and outdoor furniture, decking (outdoor flooring), and event décor. Generally, wooden pallets cost anywhere between Dh20 and Dh90, depending on size and use.
Grabbing attention via social media’s reach
Georgina then went on her Instagram page and showcased the whole journey of her little balcony transformation. “Unexpectedly, I got so many people appreciating and requesting if I can help with their very own balcony,” she said. Since then, the home business has grown considerably.
“It has been officially a business for almost two-and-a-half years now. At the beginning I remember starting with around 4 or 5 spaces transformed every month. As we have grown, in some of our busiest months which is of course during winter, we have had over 30 transformations completed in one month alone. Since the company started we have officially completed over 300 spaces,” said Georgina. She also added that it wasn’t easy at first, especially given her lack of storage space.
“At the beginning I was sanding and painting all the furniture myself and also making all the cushions too. As it got busier, my living room started to become full of wood pallets, and my dining table was full of fabrics and foam for the cushions. But luckily my husband saw I needed help and he found suppliers who could do all these things that I was doing by hand.”
What’s the average budget set aside for a balcony?
As balconies are of different sizes and shapes, the final cost depends on how much furniture and styling is needed. But on average, it costs between Dh5,000 and Dh12,000 to renovate most balconies, according to Georgina. “If it’s a terrace or full garden your probably looking more around Dh15,000 to Dh20,000,” she added.
Initial costs of starting a business from home
As to whether or not the start of such a small-scale business was a costly affair, Georgina noted that by going down the cost-effective ‘DIY’ route, i.e. using raw materials instead of buying the finished product, she could keep expenses to a minimum. Also, she took a cash advance on any new work.
“Initially, I had to purchase a sewing machine for about Dh500 and a sanding machine for Dh500,” added Georgina. “At first, I had to buy paints, fabric, pallets and accessories for my own balcony – which was of course an additional cost, but I was doing that for myself.
”Eventually, I had to get a business visa and license which was around Dh15,000 for a year. I also then started taking money upfront for any new clients, so I could use that money to buy the materials needed for their space.”
Georgina confessed that as she wasn’t really good with numbers, and was very unfamiliar with quoting contract estimates and keeping an account of costs, she soon realised it wasn’t going to get easier unless she hired outside help.
“I thought I was quoting as per what I should be, however after getting an accountant few months later I realised I was not accounting for many things and therefore didn’t make as much profit as what the business should have done in the first few months,” she added.
Is business as good as it was during the pandemic?
“We still saw growth in 2022 and 2023, but business grew at the fastest rate in 2020 as many people were spending more time at home and wanted to spend more money on their balconies. Also, the costs of materials increased dramatically since we started, so this has affected us too.”
Georgina also wishes to one day broaden her business’ scope to not just decorating balconies, but also the interiors of a house, while also eventually expanding into different countries too. “This would be my ideal situation as I am currently looking to partner with investors to help grow as I have many ideas but I do need some assistance to get to where I believe the company can get to.”
When asked about any savings or money strategies she uses when running or growing her business, she said: “As a new business owner, I have put myself on a salary which is just enough so that I know I can live off with rent and food etc. The rest all goes into the business.”
We still saw growth in 2022 and 2023, but business grew at the fastest rate in 2020 as many people were spending more time at home and wanted to spend more money on their balconies
– Georgina Griffin
Lessons learnt in your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Lesson #1: Hire an accountant to manage the money side of business
Georgina: “I do think it’s important in business to know your strengths and weakness’ and to not try take everything on yourself. The company accountant ensures all is accounted for and our business model is that we take 100 per cent upfront payment to pay for materials needed.
“As a business with a focus on outdoor furniture, we are much busier in the winter months than summer months and therefore we need to ensure we have prepared for quieter months when we know it is coming.”
Lesson #2: You’re not getting a salary, so always charge for your time
One of the biggest lessons Georgina had to quickly learn during the initial months as an entrepreneur was to charge for her time.
“I was so used to getting paid for jobs that I wasn’t particularly enjoying and so when doing something I loved, it was difficult to comprehend that people will pay me for doing this. I now understand it’s a skill and that time is so important and so needs to be chargeable,” she added.
Georgina said that as a first-time entrepreneur she also learnt to bring in people who are skilled in areas of her weakness, and advises the same to fellow business owners. “This is so that you can focus on the parts that you thrive in,” she explained.
Do you think you would ever go back to a full-time job?
“While I wouldn’t go back to a full-time job, I may be willing to work part-time if any company wants to use my services for interior decor etc. However, I believe I will always have my own thing now whether it be balconies, home interiors or designing furniture.
“I could spend the whole day sourcing bits for a space and designing a layout and would literally enjoy every second of it. While the flexibility is great, being your own boss also means you never switch off, so work becomes more of a 24/7 obsession, especially when it’s a passion.”
Georgina also flagged that a key highlight for her when running a décor business is whenever she gets to bring on other stylists on board and see their individual décor styles, which in turn helps her develop her personal sense of design.
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