business advice | Aug 9, 2022 |
How do I work less while keeping my business alive and well?

Dear Sean,

I struggled for a long time to be taken seriously as a designer. Through years of relentless professionalism, I have grown my business into a force that my community has come to recognize and respect. Now, though, I would like to ease up a little bit. I hear stories about designers who don’t work on Fridays or who make their own schedule, and that sounds like a nice change.

I’m ready to do the work to get my team to be able to pick up the slack if I’m around a little less often—but if I take a step back, will my clients start to question my commitment? How do I reassure them that I’m still here for them, even if I’m not in the office?

Dreaming of Downtime

Dear Dreaming,

The thing about martyrs is that, in the end, they are all dead. Doing all that you have done to establish your firm’s reputation is beyond fantastic. However, if you have built it by marginalizing those that work for you, you have created the monster and now need to fix it.

How do you marginalize your team? Likely, you have given your staff authority or responsibility for a task, but never both. For example, your production manager has the authority to purchase items for a project, but if something goes off, it all comes back to you. Or vice versa: They are responsible for creating purchase orders but can only execute them when you say so.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you create space for your team to step in, will you really let them? It’s so much easier said than done. Sure, if a project is going swimmingly, there’s an illusion of leverage to all that you are doing. However, when things go sideways—as they inevitably do—what then? My suspicion is that you will feed me the line that no one cares about your business like you do, and it is your name and reputation at stake. News flash: These thoughts are not true unless you make them true. Plus, that attitude makes it hard for your team to have any opportunity for both responsibility and authority.

I have an exercise for you. First, define your role and that of your team for your clients. Let them know who is responsible for what, why and when in any project. Then let them know that when they speak to anyone at your firm, that person is the one best able to answer the question of the moment. Then prepare to catch yourself.

It is far easier for you to answer a client’s questions than to defer to your team. Ego and expedience usually drive you to answer what is not yours to answer. But by doing that, you throw your team under the bus. If a client knows they can get you to answer their questions, why would they ever go to your team member? That lost interaction is a missed opportunity to develop your staff.

My presumption is that if someone works for you, they are uniquely talented at what they do, or else why are they there? And since your clients are paying quite a lot for your team, it is up to you to drive that value home by acknowledging the power of your team’s voice.

The reason designers can take off Fridays and even several months throughout the year is because they allow their team to have responsibility and authority. That way, your staff will have the client’s respect and trust if an issue arises while you’re not there. You will reinforce this notion and leave your ego and expedience aside.

When you make that happen for yourself, enjoy your Fridays at the beach.

Homepage photo: ©sellingpix/Adobe Stock


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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Marie-Christine Design
New York, NY
Marie-Christine Design
New York, NY