What I Learned in My First Year of Being an Interior Designer
One year down, dozens and dozens to go. Happy <business> birthday to me! I cannot believe all that has happened in the last 365 days and I can't wait for the next 365. As I reflected on my first full year in business (side note for all you hustlers...I technically started my business in 2012 but it was a side hustle with my full time corporate America job), I have so much to say. So many learnings. So much growth. And because so many designers and entrepreneurs taught me, I want to constantly be sharing what I have learned in my first hear of being an interior designer.
1. I made an agreement with myself that I would say yes to every project, no matter the size or budget. And in year one, I can say that was very advantageous for me. I gained experience, made mistakes, tried new vendors, and was constantly busy designing which, ahem, is what I prayed and dreamed for for decades. Perhaps this is unpopular (to say yes to every project) but, it worked for me and I learned A TON. I also gained referrals this way and was able to work with a variety of clients with different visions which helped me figure out my niche a bit more.
2. I should have hired an accountant out of the gate...and didn't. I took advice from the wrong people and didn't prioritize my accounting as much as I should have. Needless to say I am set up well now but I wish I had done that much sooner. A good accountant will ensure you have the right business type based on your expected revenues, he/she will be able to advise on tax law, help you understand how to maximize all tax benefits based on your state and the list goes on. It's worth the investment.
3. I created a client/finance/accounting tracker that is super simple but it helped me track my income and expenses in a very easy way. I was able to quickly see my monthly and quarterly revenues, how much I needed to save for taxes and tithing and where I was vs. my annual revenue goals. It also guided me on where my clients were coming from thus helping me with business development (spoiler alert - I got more clients from Instagram that I thought which then pushed me to be more strategic and spend more time marketing on Instagram). Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a copy of it.
4. I invested in attending The Haven List Workshop which literally was the best money I could have ever spent for my business, especially in year one. I learned about process, revenue streams, how to run a business, marketing for interior designers and so much more. I STRONGLY recommend this conference for any new-ish interior designers (in business 6 months - 2 years I think would be the sweet spot!). And if you are in a different field, the point is to find at least 1 conference and GO. Invest in yourself and back into your business. I'm going to Rise Business this year - let's go together! :)
5. I learned that I don't have a job without clients so, like many fields, clients are critical whether you enjoy working with them or not. It's business. It's subjective and creative, but it's business nonetheless. Don't have an identity crisis. If the client doesn't like your designs, don't be offended. Get feedback, listen, and work hard to get it right for them. Interior design is ultimately a service-based business and thus, relational skills and high EQ is just as important as your technical design skills.
6. I didn't understand the importance of trade accounts as much as I should have but thankfully, I do now! Sourcing from wholesale vendors and trade-only businesses is a significant revenue stream for interior designers so understanding that and leveraging that will only make your business more successful and more profitable. I remember a vivid moment when I humbly told a group of designers, one being, ahem, Kate Lester, that I passed my designer discounts to my clients and they all gasped for air and shouted curse words at me because that is my money, not my clients. I was mortified but thankfully it was one of my best lessons from 2019. And last point I'll make here. So many trade-only vendors have very unique, incredible products which will set your designs apart.
7. In my opinion, Ivy is an interior designers best friend. I invested in this software in Q4 of last year and it has saved me money and made me more money...I'd say that's a win win. From project management to curating products, I now don't do business without Ivy.
8. Be inspired by other designers, but don't compare yourself to them. I remember so many times in my first year looking at all the features other designers would get. I would watch them reveal their new office space. They would be celebrating their 10th hire on their team. And it would make my blood pressure increase and some days, I'd be so discouraged that I wasn't further along. Well here's what I've learned, thanks to Rachel Hollis...don't compare your year one to someone else's year five or ten. I think this is wise advice and I learned not to do that and instead, to always remember they are further along their design journey and they, too, had to bust their butt like me without a team. SO, eyes on the prize, keep going, keep hustling and keep designing.
9. Network, give back and/or be a part of organizations within your community. I would have said this even before launching AUID, but it is even more important now than ever as a small business owner. When you are involved in at least 1-2 other organizations outside your business, your presence and brand gets exploited to a wider net. While it can be time consuming, networking and attending events, dinners and other social gatherings can be critical as a designer. I've gotten leads because of this, I've gotten business because of this and in year one, I was published in a South Florida magazine because of this. As the old saying goes, it's not what you know it's who you know. #truth
10. Last, my biggest learning is that I am 100% doing what I believe God designed me to do. I took the leap of faith, albeit calculated, and I feel like I am truly living the dream. I've waited and hustled so long for this and I don't take one minute of it for granted! And since February 1 of 2019, I don't feel like I've worked at all. Which affirms that I am exactly where I am supposed to be today. An interior designer, a business woman, an entrepreneur, a content creator. Someone deeply passionate for interiors, giving back and now, encouraging other women to follow their dreams as well.
The best is yet to come! Thank you for the love and support.