Running my Business: What I've Learned so Far

Our Work | August 16, 2011

My business is a little over a year old now. Crazy to me. I get lots and lots of emails from people asking for advice on starting up a business. Specifically an Interior Design business. It’s hard for me to know what to say because SO MUCH of what I’ve learned really had to be learned through experience. I’ve made tons and tons of mistakes along the way. Some little and some big. Here are a few of the biggest things I’ve learned.
Lesson #1: You can be picky

At the beginning I took any and every client that was remotely interested in hiring me. I think this was good starting out because I needed to learn to work with all kinds of different people. Most of my clients have been amazing to work with and I consider them truly great people. But no designer can escape difficult clients. I had one client who literally made me cry. Clients like that make you doubt your abilities and your talent. Suddenly I was thinking to myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this after-all.” I have to remind myself sometimes not to take things personally. If someone doesn’t like a design I’ve come up with then it just wasn’t the right fit. There are plenty of people out there who do like what I do and for them I’m grateful. 
Luckily I’m to the point where I can choose who I work with. I am not the breadwinner in my family so I have the luxury to turn down jobs if I don’t want them. I work purely because I love what I do and if a client starts to make me hate my job it’s no longer worth it to me. I’ve learned that I can be picky with who I choose to work with. If I feel like it’s not a great fit from the beginning I always refer my clients to someone else who I feel would be a better fit for them.
Lesson #2: Hire Interns! 
I have the most amazing interns. Lauren and Kim are superstars in my book. I seriously don’t know how I did this before I had them. My primary goal in working from home was to actually work from home as much as possible. Yes, there are times when I need to meet with clients or run errands myself but I try to do as much from home as possible. My family is my main priority and I hate to have to spend time away from them if I don’t need to. This is where my magical interns come in. I have them run errands, pick up samples, pick out fabrics, drop off pillows to clients, run to stores looking for the perfect accessories, drop off and pick up checks, run to the bank, the post-office etc! I feel like it’s a win-win situation for all of us. They are learning the ins-and-outs of the business and I am getting to spend more time doing actual design work. 
A past e-design board
Lesson#3: E-Design is Hard
There are many benefits to E-design. I get to work more from home and I get to work with people from all over the world. However, it’s very tricky to create a room from scratch without ever being in it and without ever meeting with the client. There are a few things I’ve learned from past experience that have helped me a lot. With my first e-design jobs I suggested fabrics that looked good in theory or on my computer screen but I’ve since learned I need to see the fabrics in person. Fabric online can look totally different than it does in person. Colors and scale can be totally off. So if the project and time allows I’ll always make a trip out to the showroom or order in samples to make sure that they actually do look good in person. 
I try and get as much information up front from my clients. What they love, what they hate, what their husbands can’t stand, what rooms make them drool etc. I keep a running list of what needs to be sourced and then slowly I start to check things off. Once everything is checked off I consider the project done. But there are always loose ends to tie up just like any other design project. I also like to keep checking in on my e-design clients to make sure the room is turning out the way they hoped. 
Lesson #4: Trust Yourself 
I remember my very first design consultation I was scared to death. She was asking me SO many questions and I was trying to tell her what she wanted to hear. What I’ve since realized is that clients hire you to push them and make them think outside of their comfort zone. I will tell my clients exactly what I think now. I always try my best to be a good listener and see the room from a clients point of view but at the same time if they are doing something I don’t agree with I’ll let them know. I feel like if they are going to be paying me for my opinion I need to give it to them. This is has been a hard thing for me to learn but I trust myself a lot more now. Overall I know I have good instincts when it comes to design and I need to remind myself of that often. 
These have been the biggest things I’ve learned so far.
Honestly I never expected my business to grow as fast as it has. It’s all I can do to feel on top of things most of the time. The emails get out of control, I still don’t feel like I make a lot of money, my office is ALWAYS a mess, it’s hard to sleep at night because I am constantly thinking about work and my clients and I have a hard time balancing everything but at the end of the day I just love it. I mean like really really love it. Every now and then I’ll have moments where I feel limitless. Like I can do anything! Those are the moments where I dream bigger.
I really have no idea where it’s all going to take me. That is still a guessing game for me. I always tell myself that I’ll keep working as long as it feels right. Hopefully it feels right for a long time….