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Self-Starter Stories: From vintage clothing to finding the most unusual holiday properties in the UK

Dawn Crawford - Founder of Host Unusual

Dawn Crawford - Founder of Host Unusual

By: Nadine Burzler

This week's self-starter story features Dawn Crawford, Founder of Host Unusual.

'Cataloging holiday properties from lighthouses to tree houses and everything in between, Host Unusual brings together some of the country's most extraordinary hidden gems as an antidote to the ordinary, at a time when ‘staycations' are growing ever more in popularity.'


#PickYourselfUK caught up with Dawn Crawford to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey.

Looking back, what lead you to be where you are today?: Shyness (hence starting an online business), a couple of mistakes, a sharp learning curve and a lot of determination.

What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Raising the funds to get it started - I had to take a big risk and get a loan as I had barely any savings, just a vision of the business I wanted to create.

Host Unusual Website 2017

Host Unusual Website 2017

What was your last job?: I had been running a vintage clothing business for 13 years before I started Host Unusual, and prior to that I worked in publishing in London - but I hated the train travel, the rush hour and having to get up really early and get back really late! As a self-employed person I work even more hours (sometimes 60 hours a week) but I like being able to choose when I start, take lunch and finish.

When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: I've been self-employed since 2003, so it would have been some time in the year before that as I was getting fed up with the usual rat-race. I wanted to be responsible for my own earnings and be in control of my own career. It gave me a sense of real freedom, hence I am still self-employed 13 years later.

What is your favourite business book and why?: Oversubscribed as it is a brilliant book outlining how to get business to come to you rather than going out and chasing for clients. It has some really helpful and actionable advice - and it must be working as we already have a waiting list for Host Unusual and we've only been online 9 months.

Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: I started off trying to do everything myself and quickly realised that things wouldn't get done on time if I did! I now use two wonderful copywriters to write our property descriptions, and I have a new business partner who deals with the sales and PR side of things so I can concentrate on behind-the-scenes tasks, social media and everything else.

How do you market your business?: We use a mixture of social media, press, and good old fashioned flyering/word of mouth, plus PPC and cross-promotions where possible. We also do networking and run various competitions, and we have a charity partner, The Family Holiday Association who we donate 5% of every listing fee to and they feature us on their site.

When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?: It was quite a daunting task as the site needed to have some properties to display on launch, but it was still being designed so we had nothing to show aside from a listing mock-up, and as a new business we had no exposure figures for potential members. I extensively researched the market and with help and advice from some travel industry friends we created a strong marketing e-brochure which laid out what we intended to do and how we were going to do it, so we could show potential clients - and it seemed to work, as we managed to get some great properties to sign up and give us a try which was essential in the first few months and enabled us to turn heads, get attention and create a buzz.

How did you get your first traffic to your website?: We started building our Facebook following about 4-5 months prior to launch, and posted teaser pictures and engaging content to get people interested. Then on the day of launch, we hosted a 'virtual launch party' and invited all our friends and followers to join us on our Facebook page, look at the site, chat about the properties and ask us any questions. It was a great success and gave us some great visitor stats to start off with. Going on, we launched a competition to win a Host Unusual holiday, and encouraged social media shares and site views which was a superb way to get noticed quickly.

What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: I'd say it's better to give something a go than never know! It takes a lot of bravery, but if you have a good idea and you believe in it, you shouldn't be scared to take the plunge. But do your research first.

If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?: Wayne Hemingway (and his wife Geraldine if I'm allowed both!). I love the way they started with a small market stall in Camden and now run a global design business but still manage to keep their feet on the ground. Their work on the recent regeneration of Dreamland particularly struck a chord with me as a vintage enthusiast.

To keep up to date with Dawn's journey, you can follow her on the links below:

Dawn Crawford has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.

Voting for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 will take place in November 2017 so make sure you get your entry submitted to qualify.