business advice | Jun 15, 2021 |
I have the chance to do a top showhouse or a magazine shoot. Which is better for business?

Dear Sean,

File this under good problems to have: A high-end local magazine has reached out and wants to feature my work in their next issue. They would like me to do a styled shoot for the article—any one of my most recent and favorite projects. One of the most prestigious showhouses has also been in touch and wants me to be part of their next house. I wish I could do both, but I just cannot swing it financially—or, more importantly, manage the necessary time commitment. Which should I choose?

Spoiled for Choice

Dear Spoiled,

First, I don’t find you spoiled at all. Congratulations on hitting your stride. Clearly, your work is resonating, and people—not to mention the right people—are paying attention. Of course, if you could do both, you absolutely should. But as you say you must make a choice, let’s discuss. (For the record, your goals play a role here in landing on the best path. I’ll assume for the purposes of this column that you are focused on growing your residential business—but if your aim is to gain a licensing deal or delve into areas beyond client-based design work, that might change the calculation.)

I would choose the showhouse. Here’s why: While both the magazine and showhouse are validators of your position in the market, the magazine is static—it features work you have already done and celebrates your completed vision. The showhouse, on the other hand, is your chance to do couture work and show off how you think as much as the final result.

I firmly believe that clients increasingly care about how and why you meet the challenges you face as a designer—and that they will care about it as much, if not more than, your ability to execute fabulous spaces. A showhouse gives you that stage in spades, and you can celebrate the journey with those real fans that will come through.

Yes, all of the other metrics matter: what other designers are involved, what space you have in the house, and so on. But at the end of the day, your ability to tell the story that matters to you and the space will be evergreen. It is also dynamic. You will be able to engage with people on a level of creation that is just not possible when they are admiring work in 2D.

Again, please do not mistake my comment for a dismissal of print and digital media. Far from it—these publications are, and will always be, tremendous marks of a journey well-earned. I just believe that a showhouse at the highest level lets potential clients live in your head for moment (or two) and offers a window into your creative process in ways that a magazine cannot achieve.

The bigger point, beyond the showhouse-versus-media debate, is expectations. While clients might come from either source—or your own social media, for that matter—it is most certainly not a straight line, and definitely not an instant one. I have never experienced a client who said, “Hey, I saw your article (or showhouse, or social media post) and have to hire you now.” It is more of a cumulative and relational understanding: “I love your work and how you talk about it, and I think I would like your help.”

Fundamentally, I am about building a story of both your art and your business, moment by moment. There are no silver bullets and nothing to keep it going if you have had the good fortune of being noticed previously. Rather, the effort is to share what happens underneath, what your promise is beyond beautiful work. What will make your client feel alive as you travel your creative path with them? Given the choice of spreading seeds or strengthening roots, I am always about the latter.

Today, your ability to shout the loudest is next to impossible, and if you are shouting to find 10 amazing relationships, it seems like a ton of wasted effort to me. Better to dig in to allow those to see the story you choose to tell every day. It means showing up and creating something that those who enjoy it would dearly miss if it were gone. So if the showhouse is your choice, let it be the start of a conversation rather than a statement. Good luck!

Homepage photo: ©Hoda Bogdan/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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