business advice | Jan 5, 2021 |
How do I rebuild my firm after a cross-country move?

Dear Sean,

Amid COVID this year, we’ve begun to reevaluate what’s important to us and where we want to live, and my family is mulling a move halfway across the country. But after spending nearly a decade establishing my firm here, I’m not sure I can afford to start over. I’m not even sure what to take into consideration as I try to figure that out! How do I start to make sense of the financial reality of uprooting what I’ve put so much effort into building?

Afraid to Uproot

Dear Afraid,

Your question is ultimately about the necessity of being geographically proximate to make your business run—to which I must ask, why? Deciding to relocate is most certainly a huge decision, and one that I am sure requires the due consideration you are giving it. But the pandemic has taught us that physical connection, while important, is but a single part of your work. Equally important is using technology to communicate ideas and the flow of a project like never before.

This, of course, begs the real question: Are you really ready to shift your business to embrace all that happened in 2020 and the opportunities that exist in 2021, or will you try to re-create what you have built in another location? Two pins to your balloon: First, what got you here will not get you there, and there is no guarantee that what will be required of you will be anything like what has come before, even if you were to stay where you are. Second, there is no guarantee that how you did things in the past will resonate in your new market.

The real challenge is: Are you willing to construct your business in a manner that does not require your physical presence and permits you to leverage your work no matter where you might live? Of course, if you are tied to a physical storefront and/or office space, maybe the challenge is insurmountable. However, I do not suspect this to be the case. Mostly, it is the idea that your value exists because you are right around the corner.

The last point is a reminder. The interior design business is a scarcity business. You do limited work for those who truly care. It is not a use-it-or-lose-it proposition like a hotel. I do not know many designers who want 50 clients, let alone a hundred. So ask yourself how much you would like to work and how you might engage with these select few. Does it really have to do with geography? Probably not. So then, what is your single greatest strength, and how will you get paid for that strength in our brave new world? What investments and sacrifices are you willing to make to justify the value you will demand of this strength? Why should your clients care?

I fundamentally believe that a designer’s work is not limited by geography, but rather by engagement and perspective. It is your narrative that your value is limited to your area, and you can certainly change that narrative. I know many designers who have chosen to relocate in 2020, and their businesses are stronger for it, in both their old markets and new. They look in the mirror and realize that their art is bigger than them and allow themselves to get out of the way so that value is communicated and honored as more than a physical presence.

If relocating will bring you closer to what you want for you and your family, then leap with eyes open, intentional as to what it can mean for the benefit of all involved. It might require an overhaul of how you do things today, but that work was always ahead of you, COVID or not.

Homepage photo © James Rice/Adobe Stock

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Sean Low is the 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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