trade tales | Oct 2, 2020 |
7 designers share what they wish they’d known before starting their firms

There’s so much to know when starting a business, and there are bound to be surprises along the way. We asked seven designers—Michelle Cortizo, Swati Goorha, Natalie Kraiem, Denise McGaha, Steve Pallrand, Ana Claudia Schultz and Cherline Shea—what they wish they’d known before striking out on their own.

Ana Claudia Schultz
Ana Claudia SchultzCourtesy of Ana Claudia Schultz

“I wish I had known the power of professional photography. When sending estimates to my first clients, I should’ve embedded photography fees into my pricing. At the time, I was not making enough to outsource photos, and took many pictures myself or took none at all. By doing that, my portfolio was not showcasing my work correctly, and it kept me from getting more exciting work as an emerging designer. Now, I have professional photographers shoot most of my projects, which leads to more content on social media, more press opportunities and better work on my website, in turn creating more business.” —Ana Claudia Schultz, Ana Claudia Design, New York

Swati Goorha
Swati GoorhaCourtesy of Swati Goorha

A jack-of-all-trades
“The amount of nondesign work required to fuel and keep a business running can be underestimated. The operational aspects of running a business, which includes legal, bookkeeping, accounting, tax filing, HR practices and payroll management, are just the start. You have to be always networking, marketing and building relationships. Dedicated attention is required to manage employees and vendors, as well. The founder is not just a CEO, but also the creative head, and managing the right balance is what results in a successful and profitable business.” —Swati Goorha, Swati Goorha Designs, New Providence, New Jersey

Steve Pallrand
Steve PallrandCourtesy of Steve Pallrand

Partner up
“Finding the right person to complement your talents, to fill in the areas where you are not as strong, is essential. That may mean hiring a business manager, taking on a managing partner, or contracting with an outside consultant, payroll or HR company. Whatever it may look like, finding the right person allows you the freedom to concentrate on the areas of your work that energize and motivate you, that feed your artistic drive [and] your business—make that happen! You will not regret it.” —Steve Pallrand, Home Front Build, Los Angeles

Cherline Shea
Cherline SheaCourtesy of Cherline Shea

Get Credit
“I wish I had known the importance of building my business credit while still in school. At that point, I had fewer expenses to manage and it was the perfect time for me to build up my business credit. Nonetheless, my school didn’t tell me about the monthly expenses that are necessary to run a business in order to become a successful and profitable designer, and I [missed out because] of that.” —Cherline Shea, Shea & Co. Design Studio, Pembroke Pines, Florida

Natalie Kraiem
Natalie Kraiem Courtesy of Natalie Kraiem

Charge on
“I wish I had known how other designers structure their fees and how much to charge for a job. I think it’s sometimes a taboo topic and it would have been helpful to know the way to structure flat fees, retainers and initial design fees. I would have loved to see the invoicing process at other design firms, as well. It would have also been useful to see how other designers manage the transition from a one- or two-person team into a larger company.” —Natalie Kraiem, Natalie Kraiem Interiors, New York

Michelle Cortizo
Michelle CortizoCourtesy of Michelle Cortizo

Gut check
“Mostly, I wish I’d known to trust myself more. Obviously, time and experience are the best teachers, but I later learned that that listening is not only a tool for understanding client needs and desires, but also for trusting and listening to myself. My gut is the purest adviser, and I’ve learned over time not to ignore it. Learn to identify situations that only you will be able to resolve with patience and mindfulness. Advice is valuable, but only you can assess the situation in its entirety. All of this is second nature to me now, but 20 years ago, I didn’t possess the confidence I have today.” —Michelle Cortizo, Cortizo Interiors, Boston

Denise McGaha
Denise McGahaCourtesy of Denise McGaha

Business savvy
“I wish I had known how important it is to manage your finances with a business manager. A tax accountant isn’t enough, and you need to have budgets and forecasts so you can plan for spending, hiring and investing in your business. Just reconciling your credit cards and paying your taxes isn’t enough.” –Denise McGaha, Denise McGaha Interiors, Dallas

Homepage photo: A project by Swati Goorha | Courtesy of Swati Goorha

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