I’m seriously considering making a big move halfway across the country. I don’t have any leads in my new city, and I’d like to keep taking jobs in my current city while I build up awareness for my business there. How do I keep servicing my existing clients (and make them feel good about the transition) while trying to make inroads in a new place?
Making a Move
Dear Making a Move,
The real question is how you have established your value as a designer—as a local, accessible creative with deep contacts in your city, or as a person who can envision the life your clients wish to live and help them in that transformation regardless of your physical location.
I have worked with many designers whose projects are spread all over the country, if not the world. I have also worked with many designers whose projects are all within 20 square miles of their office. Needless to say, there is no one right way to operate—but if your value proposition is about being around the corner, you must evolve before a move halfway across the country. Fear not: It can absolutely be done.
The key is to get clear about what it is you do, what requires your physical presence—and what does not. To get there, acknowledge that your primary role is in the formation of a relationship and the basis of trust through design. Your role as chief creative should never change. But beyond the formation of the design itself, there is room for someone else to lead that charge (or if there is no one else, you do not need to be physically present to lead it). Here’s an example: As the trusted creative visionary, your role is to come up with the idea of using an antique mirror in your client’s project, and to determine where it goes. But in that scenario, the exact antique mirror might be found or installed by someone else.
Even if you are a one-person band, you need to clearly define the roles you play relevant to each stage of a project. Then you need to find a way to practice being clear about who you are in the room at all times. For instance, if you are going on a site visit to see the state of a tile installation, and at the same time to choose a wall color, you are playing two roles. You are in production for tile installation and design for wall color. So how, exactly, are you going to define your role when it literally changes by the minute? Think of it as changing hats—wearing a hard hat for tile installation and an artist’s beret for the paint color.
When you really hone your ability to define what role you are playing at any given moment of a project, that’s where you will find leverage to move away from being the designer around the corner, and towards being the design business capable of executing a project regardless of location. You will be able to define when a role requires your physical presence, and when someone else can step in.
Zooming all the way out, you have to realize that you are not really in the design business at all—believe it or not, no designer is. Instead, you are in the information management business. You provide information to clients (for example, what their home is going to look and feel like), you receive feedback, and then you manifest the decisions made all the way through to installation. If you are providing that information in-person or based on proximity, you are communicating like the old kid’s game with a can and a string. And truly, there is no issue with that, if it is working for you as it has. But in order to move physically, you must move into a digital realm and must embrace all that that means.
One more word of advice: Please make this change before you make your move. Otherwise, you will literally have to reinvent yourself in your new market—and as fun as that might seem, it is a daunting amount of work. Instead, enjoy the reinvention of communication now. I have complete faith that it will be a magical ride and take you to opportunities you cannot yet see.
Homepage photo: ©Denisismagilov/Adobe Stock
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.