business blueprint | Apr 3, 2024 |
10 ways to avoid hiring disasters in your firm

What are the three most common hiring disasters I see as an interior design coach?

The first is not hiring—period. The second is not hiring someone who is more qualified than you to do tasks that you shouldn’t be doing, like bookkeeping. The third is hiring the wrong people.

In the latest Interior Design Business Survey—conducted in 2023 by Pearl Collective, Interior Talent and BOH—the majority of the designers reported firm revenue of less than $1 million. Most self-employed designers brought in less than $250,000 in revenue and, out of that, they are lucky to earn a reasonable wage. That’s why it is so important to hire to increase your income.

There are several factors holding designers back: They don’t know how to hire, or who to hire first. They’re afraid of spending money, or they don’t know what to pay. They worry about not being able to keep paying their new employee because business is unpredictable. And they may be afraid of growing because they’ve never done it before.

One of my clients was so terrified of hiring that he waited until he was totally overwhelmed, then he hired someone with very little experience. It was all three hiring disasters rolled into one: waiting too long, not outsourcing specialized work first, and hiring the wrong role for his firm.

If you’re thinking, “But wait, at least he hired someone,” you’re right—to a degree. But inexperienced people cost more than you might think. Your time is the most valuable resource for your business, and if you’re hand-holding, you’ll spend so much of your time training that you’ll lose hours that could be billed to a client. That’s why I always recommend hiring an experienced designer first, which will allow you to let go of daily tasks and bill three to four times what you pay those skilled professionals. You make money by hiring experienced people.

For most solo designers, hiring a remote part-time bookkeeper is a no-brainer. (Few designers have the training or interest to do that kind of tedious work.) There are bookkeepers who specialize in design, and it’s a great investment to have them help you set up and manage your books. You don’t have to learn how to do things you really don’t need to do.

Hiring is part science and part art, much like our interior design businesses. You will make mistakes. You’ll learn from them. Your first hires are the most important ones, so take your time. This list won’t prevent hiring mistakes, but it will provide a basic framework if you’re new to hiring.

1. Create a job description for the position you want to fill.
If you’re not sure where to start, perusing other job listings on industry job boards can give you a sense of the kind of roles and responsibilities other firms are hiring for—and the salary range associated with those roles in your market.

2. Make a job posting.
You should include a salary range for the position—it’s legally required in some states, but it will also help candidates decide if they want to reach out to you. Without a salary range, you’re probably going to miss out on some good people who aren’t confident that the role will meet their needs. Keep in mind that it is a range: If someone comes to you with two years of experience, you’re going to pay them at the bottom of the range; if you have somebody with five years of experience, you’re going to go to the top of the range. You don’t want to eliminate people who could be a potentially good hire for you based on not providing that information.

3. Write a list of interview questions.
There are many online lists of great interview questions. Before you decide what you want to ask each candidate, make sure you know what you want to learn about them from the interview process. However you define the culture and values of your company, it’s important to also ask the questions to find out if this person is aligned. For example, one of our company’s words is “nurturing.” So for anyone client-facing, we ask: Are you nurturing?

4. Let your network know that you’re hiring.
Post your job on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed or Business of Home.

5. Review the applications for potential, then conduct a short interview over Zoom.
The way someone represents themselves in the interview process is the best they’re going to be. If someone has typos or grammatical issues with their writing, it indicates a lack of attention to detail. If they don’t send a thank-you after an interview, it shows that they’re not paying attention to the details that matter to your client. If somebody is late to the meeting, or if they’re looking at their cell phone while on the Zoom call, that’s a problem too. The other thing to look out for is entitlement—candidates who lead with, “What are you going to do for me?” rather than talking about how it would be to work for your company.

6. Invite your top two or three candidates to meet in person.
If it’s a remote role, Zoom may be enough—but don’t skip that step.

7. Get feedback from others.
If you work alone, ask someone you know who understands hiring to interview your candidate. If you have an office and a team, meeting in person gives you the opportunity to introduce candidates to them. Your team is going to have great feedback for you on what they see in that person. You’ll read somebody one way, somebody else will read them another way—and if you’re the owner of the business, people respond differently to you than they will to your staff.

8. Remember what you’re looking for.
When I see people make mistakes in hiring, it’s often because they’re hiring people like them instead of people who are better than they are in certain areas. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for a clone—you’re looking for someone with complementary skills, a great attitude, solid design skills and emotional maturity. And be cautious about picking someone just because you like them. Liking someone isn’t the same as a culture fit!

9. Provide a written offer letter.
This document will include the agreed-upon compensation; company holidays, vacation policy and benefits; and any other information that your candidate needs to approve.

10. If you do make a mistake, correct your decision quickly.
Check with your attorney and ensure that you are following the laws of your state—usually, you have a 90-day period with monthly reviews to decide whether or not this person is a fit for your company. Leading up to that 90 days, you need to review that person and let them know where they stand. If you decide that it’s a situation where they aren’t going to fit, it’s best to terminate at that 90-day mark. It sounds cruel, but they need to go find a better fit for themselves as well. It’s better to make that decision early than suffer through a misalignment.

For insights and analysis on how designers across the country run their firms, download the 2023 Interior Design Business Survey report, presented by Pearl Collective, Interior Talent and Business of Home.


Gail Doby is co-founder of Pearl Collective (formerly Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting), an interior design business consultancy that helps designers, architects and other creatives increase their profitability. Doby ran her own design firm in Denver for nearly 20 years and has a degree in finance and banking. Since 2008, she has been helping designers scale their businesses profitably and reach financial freedom. As a coach, mentor and business transformation specialist, she shares innovative ways to overcome the roadblocks, challenges and detours creative entrepreneurs face. She is also the bestselling author of Business Breakthrough: Your Creative Value Blueprint to Get Paid What You’re Worth. Her goal is to empower design industry clients to differentiate themselves, drive measurable results, achieve business projections, and create personal satisfaction through game-changing strategies and business practices.

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