business advice | May 12, 2020 |
Should I try to get published to get my business off the ground?

Hi, Sean.

I am a full-time corporate employee moonlighting as an interior designer, first and foremost for myself, but also for family and friends. I’m working on building up a design business, but I cannot afford to fully transition until I have enough clients and the business is profitable. One of my goals in this process is to be published. As I think about reaching out to publications, are there considerations I should take into account given the current pandemic?

Seeking an Audience

Dear Seeking,

Great content is great content. No editor of any publication, digital or print, is going to move away from wonderful images of powerful work, pandemic (and attendant budget cuts) or not. My question to you, though, is why you think you need these publications to leave your corporate career for design in the first place. In other words, why are you waiting to be picked instead of picking yourself?

I am a business consultant, not focused on marketing or public relations—I am the person you want to work with to define your business starting the second a client shows up at your proverbial door. That said, my work is impacted by marketing and public relations, because in this business, who shows up at your door is everything.

With that worldview in mind, I would never say that third-party validation by amazing shelter publications would not be of great benefit to you. But I would question the urgency of that goal on your priority list when today, you have the opportunity to create your own audience and have them decide if you are the right fit for them. What do I mean by that? If you are hoping to just put up some portfolio images on social media with a pithy comment, you likely won’t get far. Sure, the content will be terrific and beautiful, but there is already a lot of terrific and beautiful content out there, and you will not be able to scream louder than those with the prime position ahead of you (i.e., those with more followers and articles already under their belt).

The best thing you can do is to decide why your story and content will be compelling enough for clients who care to leap. To paraphrase author and former dot-com executive Seth Godin: Talk to the smallest viable audience to give them permission to leap, for you to create joy for them. This means that you have to dig deep to discover why you are compelled to design, what story makes you feel alive when you create for yourself, family and friends. But this story has to be unique; if you use words like beautiful, charming, chic, cool or colorful, you are wasting time. Why? Could you ever use the words ugly, really ugly, boring, drab or dull to describe your work? Of course not, but that first round of adjectives also doesn’t describe what makes your work so singular. They are a vocabulary that is intrinsic to all designers and specific to none. You must be much better than that if you hope to get anyone to care.

Everything in life involves a risk. There will be no safe entry into your design business. You cannot hope to have a third party, even the most respected design magazine or website, smooth those waters for you today. Pre-internet, maybe, but even then the work was always up to you, one client at a time. My best advice is to think long and hard about the four P’s: passion (what is going to get you out of bed in the morning); philosophy (what you want to share with the world and why); platform (what will be your stage—commercial or residential, large or small, style and so on); and process (how you are going to accomplish the first three P’s in every moment of your business).

I first wrote about the four P’s back in 2010. The difference between then and now are the infinite possibilities for sharing stories and the universal acceptance of those platforms—podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, not to mention your own blog and website. Sure, if you are looking for the universe, telling a story only one person can hear is pointless. Then again, if you are speaking to the whole universe, no one will hear you—including your ideal audience.

If you tell a compelling enough story, the right people will pay attention, one person at a time. Show up every day, dare to be radically authentic and believe fully in the power of your gift and your willingness to share it. The alternative is to wait around for someone else to tell the world that you are good enough to create joy. The choice is yours.


Sean LowSean 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.

Homepage photo: Shutterstock.com

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