What’s the point of having your own interior design business if you’re not going to run it like a business?
I’ve had this conversation with many designers that come to me for coaching or advice. Some whine because they don’t really enjoy marketing and sales. My advice? Either make peace with it or go to work for someone else. I know that sounds harsh, but if you are in business, how do you expect to make money without clients?
Your number one job is to get and keep clients. So if you don’t enjoy that part of the business or don’t do it well, then do you really think you should own a business? My answer? Probably not, unless you really want to learn to do it well and feel that given the chance you could enjoy that as much as your passion for interior design.
Why am I so inflexible on this issue? Because most people get into business for the wrong reason. They want to pursue their passion, but what did they really expect? That they would magically have the phone ring, have clients handing over large sums of money to design their homes or business and be instantly successful? It takes work. There is no magic bullet or automatic client dispenser.
If you’re serious about making a business out of your passion, then your mindset and expectations must be aligned with reality. The key concept is that you are in the business of providing interior design services.
Chances are that like most interior designers you have little or no education or experience in running a business. That involves a lot more than doing design projects. So first you have to ask yourself how you really feel about being a business owner. If the idea appeals to you and you’re up to the challenge, then you need to decide what kind of business—not just what kind of practice—you want to run and how you are going to acquire the skills and knowledge to do that successfully. Do you have role models or a mentor to guide you?
Whether you are a seasoned veteran who’s dissatisfied with your business, or you are thinking of starting a business or of becoming an interior designer, here are some “real world” questions to contemplate:
- What is your real reason for being an interior designer… what is your why?
- Do you have people supporting you in your efforts to be a business person and design firm owner, or are there “silent partners” at home – maybe a spouse that thinks you have a hobby business?
- Do you accept that you need to be the CEO of your business and that is your primary role (the product and service you deliver is interior design)?
- Do you want to be a solopreneur or small firm owner with employees for the long-term? (I hope it is the latter because it is impossible to do it all yourself, and you shouldn’t)?
- How will you learn to do the things that you don’t know how to do – specifically business and marketing?
- What skills do you need to be successful, and which ones are most important to your success and survival?
- Are you willing to learn and invest in yourself to be good at this business?
- Do you have the perseverance and determination to overcome adversity?
- Do you have a plan for your business?
- Where will your business be in 12 months, 5 years, 10 years?
- Do you have the ability to survive financially for at least six months and invest in yourself and your business to market for clients?
- Do you feel confident about your marketing and sales skills?
- Do you enjoy marketing and serving people (sales)?
- Why should clients want to work with you over other designers?
- How are your design skills special? (This is key to your marketing strategy.)
- How will you market your business? Specifically – every single month and every single day you should be marketing your services…2 – 2 1/2 hours per day if you’re already busy, and full-time if you don’t have clients. Job #1 is to bring in business. (If your Job #1 is designing, go to work for someone else or partner with someone who likes to run a business.)
- Do you feel at ease talking about what you do for people no matter where you are?
- Do you think constantly about the best way to market yourself and your business… what to say and how to say it?
- What is your budget for marketing?
- Do you have a website that has a way to collect names and email addresses so you can market to your prospects?
- Does your website show professionally photographed work?
- Did you have a copy writer create text that interests the prospects enough to call?
- Do you know how to drive traffic to your website?
- Are you active in your local community?
- How will you charge your clients – i.e., what is your fee structure?
- Do you have a contract for your business?
- Do you have insurance for your business including errors & omissions (Don’t work without it)!
- Do you know what systems and processes you need to serve clients?
- Do you have software that is specific to this industry to help you manage your business?
- Do you have a bookkeeper that can help you with the accounting for your business?
- Do you understand how to build a financial model for your business?
- Do you feel it is right to bill for your services?
- Do you feel as if you deserve to succeed?
- Do you know where you will run into problems based on your current skill set and what do you need to learn?
- Do you have a team of advisors to turn to when you are stuck?
So many people get excited about going into interior design because they love color, creating, fabrics, etc. But, since 90% to 95% of operating a design business is about getting clients, managing projects, and making your clients happy, how much time do think is left for design?
As an interior design business owner, you are an orchestrator, assembler of teams, psychologist, marketer, sales person, manager, creator, process developer, researcher, detail manager, interviewer, problem-solver, analyst, budgeter, time keeper, contract writer, specification writer, document creator, editor, public relations specialist, speaker, promoter, scheduler, librarian, errand-runner, bookkeeper, financial planner, paperwork or bits and bytes pusher, cat herder (getting people to do what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it), shopper, sketcher, drafter, organizer, networker, planner, and, oh yes, let’s not forget problem solver. Any small business owner can tell you that CEO stands for Can’t End day On time. You’re the one who has to tie up all the loose ends after everyone else has gone home.
When you work alone, you have to do everything. If there is one thing in the list above that you don’t enjoy doing, then someone else should be doing that job or task. That’s why most solopreneur designers fail at the business: They try to learn to do or be better at things they don’t enjoy or don’t do well instead of delegate. That’s a waste of time and energy. Consider the average learning curve for a “self-taught” business owner:
- It takes about three to five years to get a steady clientele and referrals on a regular basis.
- It takes 5 to 10 years to be proficient at serving clients well and develop systems and processes that work in your business.
- It takes 10 to 20 years to be a great CEO and design professional at the same time.
It doesn’t have to be that hard. If you still want to be an interior designer or stay in your own interior design business, then get the business education and coaching you need as soon as you can. You can’t afford to take years to learn by trial and error. Besides, why should you? It costs you more time and money in the end. Coaching from an experienced professional can save you as much as 30 percent off your learning curve.
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