Interior design may have started as a side hustle for Beth Diana Smith, but it didn’t end that way. The New Jersey–based designer was at the top of her game—making six figures working as the director of finance for MTV International at Viacom—when she started taking classes at the New York School of Interior Design on nights and weekends. The further Smith waded in the world of design, the clearer it became that a career change was on the horizon.
Though making the leap from a facts-and-figures job to a creative career was terrifying, Smith knew that her previous success was a testament to her work ethic and efficiency. “I just kind of felt like, If I’m going to work this hard, it will not be for someone else,” she tells Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of Business of Home’s newest podcast, Trade Tales. “I’m going to make this for me.”
Smith abandoned her corporate job in 2014 and finished up her design degree later that same year. As she assumed the role of full-time entrepreneur in 2015, she came up against many of the challenges early-career interior designers face—a sparse portfolio, pricing herself too low, and taking on clients with whom she had no chemistry. By dipping back into her corporate skillset, Smith found workarounds that satisfied her process-oriented mind—while allowing her creative side to thrive.
Listen to the episode and check out some of the takeaways below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify—new episodes will debut every other Wednesday. This episode was sponsored by The Shade Store and SideDoor.
Uncovering a signature style
Until she fully entered the design industry, the extent of Smith’s creative output was limited to a stray art elective taken while earning her business degree. After spending years in corporate finance, the idea of exercising creative freedom was almost foreign to her, even during design school. It wasn’t until she began working with the first pair of clients who gave her full reign over several rooms in their home that she realized she had an aesthetic and vision distinctly her own. “They were the type of people who said, ‘Let’s go bigger, let’s go bolder,'” Smith says. “It helped me even push my own limits.”
Process, refine, repeat
For Smith, establishing a standardized process has been the key to better client interactions and consequently, better creative output. Outlining the steps from beginning to end prevents stress and frustration—which tend to invite creative blocks for her—while fostering stronger trust between client and designer. Plus, having a set process means she can zero in on weak points in project management and client interaction along the way, and then refine those for future projects. “Every time I go through a project, there’s always an aha moment when I’m like … 'You need to tweak that,' or 'There’s a better way,” she says. “The last six to eight months I’ve really been focused on, ‘What can I do to create the best client experience?’ And that’s really what made me want to tweak a lot.”
Smith may have left the world of accounting and finance, but the sharp eye for numbers she gained through those experiences hasn’t left her—in fact, it recently helped her catch a potentially costly oversight in bookkeeping. She attributes this keen attention to detail to a piece of advice she received from a supervisor in a past corporate position. “He said, ‘If you can’t explain it well, it means you don’t understand it.’” she says. “I always try to carry that forward.” For Smith, this means that although she’s comfortable delegating responsibilities (she’s even currently looking to add two new members to her team), she’s not planning on forgoing her tried-and-tested business prowess anytime soon.