trade tales | May 3, 2024 |
Who was your first hire?

Deciding who to hire first when you’re expanding your firm can be a daunting task. This week, we asked nine designers—Rosanna Bassford, Joni Burden, Katie Davis, Paul De Andrade, Amber Guyton, Lindsay Lucas, Valerie Peña, Claire Staszak and Melinda Trembly—what position they prioritized when growing their team.

Who was your first hire?
Lindsay LucasCourtesy of Lindsay Lucas

Photography is Key
“Our company is in its third year. About a year and a half ago, I started to realize the hats in my ‘hats I wear closet’ were starting to burst open. I also realized my iPhone shots were not quite capturing the quality of the work I was delivering. I was starting to really feel like my business was growing, so I reached out to a local photographer I followed on Instagram, Kristin Leitten, known as Made by K. The beauty of her photography skills blew me away. We arranged a discussion to talk about where I was in my business and how she might be able to assist me. Kristin had just been considering a career change due to lack of work consistency in her client pipeline. She looked at my website and my Instagram feed (photographed and managed by me). She was not too impressed—she told me she would suggest a rebrand, as well as going back to reshoot my portfolio. When I saw her finished work compared to the real-life finished work, I was smitten. Finally, I could show people what my designs really looked like. Kristin wanted a minimum of a three-month commitment when we started. I agreed. As we worked together, I noticed she had a beautiful eye for design, stunning layout and graphic design skills, and a killer instinct for business organization. It’s a year and a half later, and now we refer to [the two of us] ‘The Wonder Twins.’ She’s my right hand.” —Lindsay Lucas, Lindsay Laine Interiors, Pittsford, NY

Who was your first hire?
Melinda TremblyCourtesy of Melinda Trembly

First Mistake
“My first hire was for a design assistant, but that ended up being a mistake. I quickly realized I was spending more time training and less time being productive—which wasn’t fair to the clients or the assistant. I reassessed my needs and hired an operations manager and a drafter. It’s been the best decision. I’m a true believer of creating a team where everyone has a superpower to bring to the table. Our operations manager is a spreadsheet and systems genius. She helps get everything out of my head into a system to communicate to the team. She keeps me on track, our projects run smoothly and our clients are happy. Having a drafter has freed up my time to focus on the design direction and details, while keeping the projects moving.” —Melinda Trembly, Rincon Road Design Studio, Carpinteria, CA

Who was your first hire?
Amber GuytonCourtesy of Amber Guyton

Freed-Up Time
“Aside from external roles like my CPA and bookkeeper, my first hire was a virtual assistant. As most of my projects are e-design and I communicate with many of my clients electronically, my virtual assistant was able to come in and assist with most of my clerical and CRM needs, such as managing my Honeybook (where I keep client communication, questionnaires, contracts and invoices), graphic design for business and social needs, and various tasks that can be executed without my supervision or involvement. This has freed up my time to spend with clients, focus on the creative process, create content as an influencer and explore other interests and streams of income.” —Amber Guyton, Blessed Little Bungalow, Atlanta

Who was your first hire?
Valerie PeñaCourtesy of Valerie Peña

From the Start
“When I launched my interior design firm, the first thing I did was hire an accountant as well as my good friend who is a junior designer for part-time support. Initially, there were many hats to juggle, but having her by my side from the start made the stress of starting a business more enjoyable. As the business expanded, she transitioned to a full-time role with a primary focus on design. Her evolution within the company has been pivotal to our success, ensuring that our operations run smoothly and efficiently as we continue to scale.” —Valerie Peña, Valerie Peña Studio, New York

Who was your first hire?
Paul De AndradeCourtesy of Paul De Andrade

Admin Whiz
“My first hire was my administrative coordinator, who helps me with everything from purchasing to scheduling to liaising with clients. Since the role was quite broad, it took a few months to get her properly onboarded and familiar with all the different tasks—but once she knew the ropes, it freed up dozens of hours per week for me. On a daily basis, she helps with things like coordinating certificates of insurance for contractors and deliveries; cataloging inventory I’ve sourced for projects; helping put together invoices for clients and purchase orders for vendors; overseeing the entire purchasing and logistics process; scheduling meetings and on-site work; and managing deliveries. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her.” —Paul De Andrade, Studio Kestrel, New York

Who was your first hire?
Katie DavisRachel Alyse

Flexibility First
“My first hire is still with me, our director of operations. She leads our purchasing and logistics team. She’s worn quite a few hats over the years. For me, it was crucial for my first employee to be someone who was hyper-organized and flexible, and less of a design mind and more of a marketing and business mind. I couldn’t have done it without her!” —Katie Davis, Katie Davis Design, Houston

Who was your first hire?
Joni BurdenCourtesy of Joni Burden

Rule of Thumb
“When I acquired the company with investors 37 years ago, I focused on scaling back our team and keeping on the most essential employees. From that point, my first hire was an assistant for projects and management reasons. It was important for me to delegate tasks to ensure I was focusing on the highest priorities and on things that were the best use of my time. This was a rule of thumb for every hire we made—to have a clear job description and expectations, and to enable each person to make the best use of his or her time. As we continued to grow, we made sure that delegation and focus were key pillars of each role.” —Joni Burden, J. Banks Design, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Who was your first hire?
Claire StaszakAimée Mazzenga

Back of House Priority
“I first hired an operations manager/lead designer. She was incredible at both design and operations and was a big blessing to an entrepreneur like myself. I am first and foremost a creative thinker and people person—I needed back of house organization more than anything! After three years with the firm, she actually started her own business helping designers get organized.” —Claire Staszak, Centered by Design, Chicago

Who was your first hire?
Rosanna BassfordCourtesy of Rosanna Bassford

Outsourcing Assistance
“I’m a solopreneur, and I realized pretty early on that I needed help with functions that I am neither good at nor have the desire to do. Part-time bookkeeping was the first outsourced position I made. It saves me both time and mental energy not to have to reconcile books, file sales taxes and other related activities. It allows me to focus on the design [part of] the design business.” —Rosanna Bassford, Memmo Interiors, Campbell, California

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