If given the opportunity to go back to square one of launching your design firm, what—if anything—would you do differently? That’s the question we posed to interior designers Marie-Christine McNally, Nicholas Moriarty, Meghan Hackett-Cassidy, Josh Hildreth, Erin Shakoor and Bradley Bayou in this week’s edition of Trade Tales. While their responses varied, one thing held true: Nobody gets it perfect their first time around.
“I wish I had invested in the future of the business sooner. I spent too much of my time in the beginning stages stretching myself thin. I was doing it all—designing, billing, managing clients, etcetera. I needed help and instead of slowing down to weigh my options, I took on more and more projects. My wheels were just spinning! I really didn’t have the bandwidth to do everything the way I wanted it done and ultimately, I wasn’t being the best version of myself for my clients. Looking back, I should have paid closer attention to the gaps in efficiency and hired a business manager to help keep me on track. This is definitely something I suggest to others now. I would have had more time to consider growth opportunities like building my portfolio. It wasn’t until I on-boarded my business partner that I photographed projects for the first time and built a website. I really regret not building that foundation sooner!” —Meghan Hackett-Cassidy is the founder and lead designer at Hackett Interiors, which is based in Bronxville, New York.
BUDGET FOR BRANDING
“If I could start from square one again, the single thing I would invest more time and money into would be personal branding. It may seem intuitive, but when you start a new design firm as a sole practitioner, you’re so concerned with drumming up enough work to keep the lights on that you often send branding to the back of the queue. Establishing the ‘who you are’ of what you do is so critically important in our industry. A clear vision of the changes you want to see within the industry and a point of view that pushes boundaries and shakes the very ground you walk on are key branding quandaries that separate those who rise to the top from the rest of the field. Know thyself and you can effect the change you want to see in the world.” —Nicholas Moriarty is the owner and principal designer at Nicholas Moriarty Interiors in Chicago.
CALL IN THE EXPERTS
“I have learned too many financial lessons the extra-hard way simply because I was green or too trusting of my attorney or accountant at the time. If I could do it all over again, I would take a class on business finance basics! Instead of trying to create my own marketing plan, logo and content, I would get a business coach to instead identify my vision, strengths and weaknesses. Then I’d hire a marketing expert with a portfolio and experiences aligned with my vision to help establish a powerful industry presence from day one.
“I would also use a project management tool, like Studio IT or Ivy. The sheer number of product images, specs and CFAs can be completely overwhelming when handling it via email or hard copy only. Those tools and services are invaluable to an emerging or established designer. They go a long way to help us look professional and polished in front of clientele. I can recall (on more than one occasion!) furiously flipping through hard copies of images in front of a client, only to find what I needed was not in my folder, but in theirs!” —Erin Shakoor is the design principal at Chicago-based boutique design firm Shakoor Interiors.
“I have been slow and methodical in building my business, but wish I had spent more time identifying and outlining best practices and processes. Having everything clearly and concisely spelled out creates consistency within our organization and streamlines the onboarding process for employees. Today, we have a detailed employee manual that outlines roles and responsibilities, expectations and processes. My next big effort will be to convert to a totally digital office!” –Marie-Christine McNally is the owner and lead designer at Manhattan–based residential interior design firm Marie-Christine Design.
BE ON LOCATION
“It is critical to be on-site throughout the design process to ensure each detail is executed perfectly, so if I was starting my firm from square one, I would consider a central office location to reduce travel time, ensure my clients unparalleled oversight and increase my work-life balance. And while we’re on the topic of the office, I would invest in more space for my sample library. I’m constantly inspired by new collections and product introductions, but there are perennial favorites I go back to season after season.” —Josh Hildreth is the principal designer at Josh Hildreth Interiors and Design Management Group in Reston, Virginia.
MASTER THE NUTS AND BOLTS
“While they aren’t sexy or exciting, I have learned that bookkeeping and organization are just as important to my firm’s success as good design. Having worked in a number of fields, from real estate development to fashion, I know that these two elements are vital across any creative field. Clients hire you for your eye, but having a business-savvy approach and system is all the better. Just like laying out a room, these are key components you need to think of at the beginning.” —Bradley Bayou is the founder and principal designer at Bradley Bayou Design, based in Los Angeles.