business advice | Nov 28, 2023 |
Business has slowed and I’m spiraling. How do I refill the pipeline?

Dear Sean,

My small interior design firm has had a fairly consistent workflow. However, I just invested a lot in a photo shoot with a stylist—hiring respected and established professionals—and have yet to get any traction or new inquiries. I haven’t experienced a lull in business like this in a few years, so it has sent me into a bit of a tailspin. My question is: How do interior designers find new clients and projects to keep their pipeline full?

Looking for Leads

Dear Looking,

I can hear the panic in your voice. Your photo shoot has not yielded the results you thought it would. I am guessing it feels like you are pushing against Jell-O as you work to land the next client or allay your fear that there just is not enough work. While there are many amazing marketing experts out there who can help you improve your social media outreach, establish connections and promotions, and be more visible to potential clients, I would like to take this time to shine a light on your mindset: It begins and ends with abundance.

In your best place, you know there is more than enough for everyone: The more you give, the more will be given to you; creativity is its own success, no matter the result. If only you (or any of us) were always in your best place. But that’s not real life, and even when business is slow, there is usually good news ahead. For instance, your photo shoot is a long-term investment meant to establish (or reinforce) who you are as a designer—yet you seek the immediate gratification of a sudden influx of new business. The shoot is merely part of your strategy for success; a piece of a puzzle will never be an entire solution.

Any creative entrepreneur can drive themselves crazy by indulging in the fear of it all going away. That feeling can become overwhelming and interminable, and it is all but certain to kill your creative spirit. My worry is that you are so close to this place that you cannot see the power of innovation and creation.

Whenever we fail (as we all do more than we succeed), we face the choice of whether to give up or keep going. When we choose the former, we often overlook the harm we cause to ourselves and those around us—the collateral damage done by succumbing to a sense of negative fatalism. The test of resilience is not endurance; it is desire, grit and faith in the singular effort of motion. Professionals show up every day, test themselves no matter how they feel, and challenge themselves to persist in their endeavors, even if it means slowing down and waiting for the path to reveal itself.

Take a moment to ask yourself who will value your creative conversations. Direct connections, of course—architects, contractors, real estate brokers and vendors. But what about other people who might be passionate about what you do, whether that’s a gallery owner or a photographer? Always look for meaning over mass. You can only come back to yourself when you remember just how much love there is: your love of creation, of family, of community, of tomorrow.

Do not deny the process of suffering, as healing lies in the willingness to move forward, to evolve. If your pipeline slowing has sent you into a tailspin, use that as an opportunity to reframe the matter: What is the value of your pipeline in the first place, and what does it mean to you? Are you getting the work you really want? Are you willing to fight for that work? If not, you’ve uncovered a valuable insight about your firm’s identity, messaging and clientele. Compromising on the type of work you’re doing is never the answer, as it is inevitably soul-sucking—a fatal flaw for any company, but particularly for a creative one.

The thing about mindset is that it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both deprivation and abundance are fueled by expectation (ahem, the photo shoot). Do not let the cycle of scarcity continue to dominate your design business. Instead, why not let this lull afford you the opportunity to redefine your voice and attitude? It is incredibly scary to put yourself out there in a wholly new light, so doing this is remarkable in itself. Scarier still is the idea of staying true to your initiative and giving it the best chance to thrive when the inevitable roadblocks come your way, as they have now.

Choose to use all that you have accomplished in the past to have different conversations with those who really care. You know who these people are, I am sure. The question is not how to find them; it is how to speak to them with a sense of abundance first, purpose and conviction second. If you cannot believe you are the very best in the world—even if your world is three square blocks—why should your potential client believe it? Abundance means you know it is your gift to share for everyone’s benefit. Can you live there?

However, just because the world wants and needs what you have to give does not mean it will be easy for you to give it. The fight to get paid for the beauty that rests between your ears will be made all the harder by those who are unaware of its depth. It is beyond time for you to reveal the power of this beauty that only you can create for your clients. What happens from there will be its own reward. Keep going.


Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.

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