Special report: The Sussex entrepreneurs running businesses from their back gardens

April Garrett

Jo Brooks, left, and Claire Croome

First published in News
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To lift the burdens of business rates and daily commutes, more and more small businesses are setting up offices in their back gardens.

Neil Vowles reports on the firms working on ways to make their businesses grow while watching their gardens bloom.

Bringing a smile to her pet dog was not the main reason for Jo Brooks to switch from her Brighton centre office to her back garden.

But it is one of the happy benefits of the move.

The decision by the PR agency at the start of the year to up sticks from their home of the past ten years in Gloucester Passage to a new custom built eco pod in the boss's back garden in Rottingdean is a shift being embraced by dozens of companies, entrepreneurs and employees across the county.

More business owners are embracing the idea of tackling their budgets surrounded by their begonias and filling out their tax forms among their tulips, leaving behind business rates and having to commute through traffic-congested roads.

For JBPR, setting up office in a surburban back garden rather than a city centre office did not put them any further away from the majority of their clients.

Their clients are spread across the globe from New York, San Francisco, Munich and London as well as Brighton-based Art Republic, Inkd, Trevor Sorbie and Moshi Moshi.

For the firm's founder, the decision to make the major switch required very little mulling over.

She said: “It was a really quick decision, I made my mind up in December and we were fully operational in January.

“It's the way forward especially with business rates as they are, they are so expensive.

“I don't have a problem with parking anymore, I don't have a problem with business rates.

“I have found that my working day is longer but my time management is much better, I am not wasting time travelling in and out of Brighton.”

Technology has made it much easier for firms to keep in contact with clients without the need for face-to-face meetings.

JBPR had their phonelines and broadband installed by Voipfone CEO and fellow Rottingdean resident Colin Duffy.

The firm says that their wifi is now three times quicker than when they were based in Brighton and their phone bills have been slashed.

The move has also encouraged the firm to cut down on the clutter which had accumulated over a decade in their old building.

Mrs Brooks said: “My clients are now spread out all over the world, not just in Brighton.

“In the past people loved coming for meetings but now it's just as easy to do it over Skype.

“The world is shrinking.

“It is crazy to have a great big office when you don't really need it.

“It has also helped us to sort through what we actually need in the office, we had gathered quite a lot of clutter in the old place.

“We are now in the process of digitising all our old press cuttings.

“Since we made the switch we have had other people say that's a really good idea and that they were considering making the same move.

“It really is becoming a trend.”

April Garrett opened up her own beauty salon in the back garden of her parents' home in Covert Mead in Ashington after running into problems running her own beautician business out of a village hairdressers'.

Beauty Hut was opened by the 20-year-old in November and has proved very popular with clients.

She said: “I didn't really like the idea of working within my house and clients can sometimes feel uneasy going into a home.

“But this is the best solution because I can have it within my own grounds. It's completely separate with a side gate that clients use to get to the salon.

“People like that it is private, a lot of people find it a bit daunting going into a busy salon.

“A lot of my clients come from within the village and they all think it's brilliant.

“They like to have that one-to-one service and that's why they come to me.

“But they don't feel like they are coming to my house, they feel like they are going to a salon.

“I think it's a perfect set-up for health and beauty.

“A lot of people should really think about it as a way of working from home without working within their home.

“The look of it was important, I didn't want people's first impression to be 'it looks like a garden shed'.”

For Horsham-based garden room designers Harrison James, the trend for businesses relocating to their own back gardens is flourishing - but a little later than they anticipated.

Director James Willmott said the company first started creating bespoke home offices six years ago after spotting what they saw as a “gap in the market”.

They are looking to build 20 home offices this year and say half of their clients are now asking for a home work space.

He said: “When I first tried setting up this part of the business I thought there would be huge interest but at first it was more requests for spare rooms.

“It took longer for businesses to get used to the idea.

“Now we are seeing more and more companies competing for this part of the market but very few able to offer the bespoke standard we do.

“Some of our customers are entrepreneurs who run their own businesses and in some cases have made quite significant cost savings.

“The other clients we get are people who work for a company and often they might subsidise the build.

“It doesn't matter if you are sitting next to your boss in the office or working from home as long as you get the work done.”

The firm's striking designs are built in the same way as a timber house to be more energy efficient than your average garden shed while the majority of their designs can be built without the need for planning permission.

Mr Harrison said from personal experience he understood the need to physically separate home life and work life for those working from home.

He said: “A lot of people say they suffer from the 'everything out on the dining room table approach' to working from home.

“With our designs, people can disassociate their office from their home, they still have to go to work albeit now their commute is to the bottom of the garden.

“Having a separate space makes a huge difference.

“For myself, it took me about a year to 18 months to really get my head around working from home.

“My house was as clean and tidy as it has ever been, I would do anything as long as it wasn't work.”

Comments (4)

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7:51am Tue 25 Mar 14

Sussex jim says...

It's a great idea; and I am surprised that not more people work from home, to avoid commuting. But you need to make strict rules with your family, to make sure you are not disturbed during your "office hours".
It's a great idea; and I am surprised that not more people work from home, to avoid commuting. But you need to make strict rules with your family, to make sure you are not disturbed during your "office hours". Sussex jim
  • Score: 5

9:15am Tue 25 Mar 14

hursthill says...

These people are still liable to pay business rates. ( They may be entitled to small business rate relief ). Tax evasion is an offence & is unfair on all small High Sreet businesses who are honest & comply with the law.
What is Brighton Council doing about this ?
These people are still liable to pay business rates. ( They may be entitled to small business rate relief ). Tax evasion is an offence & is unfair on all small High Sreet businesses who are honest & comply with the law. What is Brighton Council doing about this ? hursthill
  • Score: 5

1:21pm Tue 25 Mar 14

Somewhere in this warped Universe says...

you need to read it more carefully hursthill, she never said she is not paying it “I don't have a problem with parking anymore, I don't have a problem with business rates."
you need to read it more carefully hursthill, she never said she is not paying it “I don't have a problem with parking anymore, I don't have a problem with business rates." Somewhere in this warped Universe
  • Score: 2

8:49pm Tue 25 Mar 14

ARMANA says...

hursthill wrote:
These people are still liable to pay business rates. ( They may be entitled to small business rate relief ). Tax evasion is an offence & is unfair on all small High Sreet businesses who are honest & comply with the law.
What is Brighton Council doing about this ?
Yes it is against the law, to not pay the proper rates, its a shame its not against the law, for the highway robbery that Brighton council charge folks for the business rates, no wonder so many shops stand empty, if you can work from home , with out bothering anyone, noise, parking etc, you should be let alone,
[quote][p][bold]hursthill[/bold] wrote: These people are still liable to pay business rates. ( They may be entitled to small business rate relief ). Tax evasion is an offence & is unfair on all small High Sreet businesses who are honest & comply with the law. What is Brighton Council doing about this ?[/p][/quote]Yes it is against the law, to not pay the proper rates, its a shame its not against the law, for the highway robbery that Brighton council charge folks for the business rates, no wonder so many shops stand empty, if you can work from home , with out bothering anyone, noise, parking etc, you should be let alone, ARMANA
  • Score: 2

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