Interior design schools do their very best to teach you how to design and perform the technical parts of the business. Please do not think I am at all knocking them. Their time is limited, and they have an expansive curriculum to cover. Besides, it is impossible to learn everything you need to know about the practice and business of interior design in school.
It was only after I started my own business that I discovered, through trial and error, the five essentials for business success they don’t teach you in interior design school (or at least they didn’t in my school). I want to share them with you.
- Interior design is a business first, and you just happen to be providing the service of interior design and, perhaps, interior design products, as well. Being a business owner is much different from what most people think. What is often shocking to many new graduates looking to start their own businesses is the amount of paperwork and time spent running the business required when they thought all they were going to do was design. If you don’t have a business background, and if you didn’t take accounting, business management and project management in school, please take some classes and work for someone else for a while to learn the ropes on someone else’s dime. As Beth Slifer, the owner of one of the largest interior design firms in the country remarked, “The business of design is a science, and design is the art.” Get the business down to a science, and you can enjoy more of the art.
- You have to know how to “sell,” but most importantly, you need to know how to uncover your prospects needs and find out what they value and then provide a solution. Yes, “sell” is a dirty word for some of us. Well, you have to get over it, because you can’t sustain a design firm if you can’t bring in business. You have to pay bills, and your revenue comes from having clients who pay you to do projects. Besides, you don’t have to coerce people to sell them on design services they want and need. Selling is a process that you need to learn to facilitate. Many interior design school graduates have told me they wished they had had a class in client psychology and marketing to clients. Such classes do exist through private professional development providers.
- Your ability to manage your time is one of the most important tools to leverage your business success. I see lots of designers get caught up in being busy and multi-tasking, and not doing productive things like bringing in clients and doing design work. Those are your two most important activities. Yes, as the business owner you are the “chief cook and bottle washer,” as my mother used to say. Nonetheless, you don’t have to go it alone. It makes more sense to find people to do work that isn’t using your highest and best skills (like bookkeeping or managing social media) than to try to do everything yourself. The third activity that deserves attention is systematizing your business. If you have processes and procedures, you can teach someone else how to do things. If you do something more than one time in your business, it needs a process or checklist.
- Your self-esteem can limit your success. There are many challenging times in this business, and you have to have the grit and determination to look for solutions. If you feel insecure working with people with money or talking about money, you will have a problem collecting money. This is a business for which you should be paid, and just because people don’t understand what you do doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for your expertise.
- Whatever your biggest constraint is, or your weakest skill set will determine whether you will succeed. The sooner you remove your biggest constraint by outsourcing, delegating, not doing things that produce no meaningful results, or go looking for an answer or solution outside of your own business through books, classes, mentors or mastermind groups, the better off you’ll be. It’s always cheaper to pay more to get a specific answer to your problem or bottleneck than it is to take the longest route of learning the hard way. You only cry once when you pay for quality. (Remember that line to use with your clients.)
Yes, having a design business usually turns out to be something different than what new designers imagine. They get bogged down by business matters, and many end up with a job and not a profession. Over time, they lose their passion for the practice. If that is the case, the business has no upside leverage, and it will always be stressful and experience lots of up and down cycles. Master the business essentials early, and you’ll have a more successful and fulfilling career.
Our live events are a great way to hone your business essentials, connect with a supportive community of colleagues and gain a fresh new perspective for your business. Be sure to bookmark our Upcoming Events page and visit often for information on upcoming events and event recaps.