As Leslie Murchie Cascino neared the end of her design education, she faced a choice: Seek work at another firm or start her own. She had already spent enough time climbing the corporate ladder (first in publishing, then in finance) and longed to execute her own creative vision. Still, her courses hadn’t fully covered the practical and business aspects of design, and there was a chance the knowledge gaps would show.
The solution she landed on? Go it alone—but not completely alone. To stress-test her process, she tackled her own renovation first. “I tried to approach that first project as a learning experience to observe how the architects, contractors, subcontractors and all those vendors work, but then also try to work collaboratively, ask them questions and let them help guide some of my decisions,” Murchie Cascino tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast.
What started as an early-career strategy soon solidified into the guiding light of her business, as she began to seek out build partners—and especially clients—who prioritized the same sense of collaboration throughout every step of the process. Even when her workload as a solo designer became nearly unmanageable, she leaned into her ability to both lead and be guided by others, spinning a crisis into a chance for brand-new design offerings and new potential for her firm.
On this episode of Trade Tales, Murchie Cascino shares how she brings her build partners into the design journey, why she’s now offering consulting services for small-scale projects and how she escaped burnout by focusing only on the projects she found most fulfilling.
Crucial insight: Operating as a solo designer means working with a limited quantity of creative energy. To maximize your business without burning yourself out, it’s essential to spend that energy wisely. For Murchie Cascino, that meant switching up her design offerings: reducing the number of full-service clients and introducing a new scaled-back design consulting service. “It’s taken me a little while to work through and figure out, but this is the way that it has to work for me in order to not feel like I’m pulled in a thousand different directions,” she says. “It’s forced me to look at my business in terms of what kinds of projects motivate me to get out of the house and spend time on. What’s the best use of my skills? And what do I find most fulfilling?”
Key quote: “If I feel like a client just wants to hire me and doesn’t want to participate, that’s not a client who works well for me. I’m not sure there’s any amount of money I could charge where I would want to be on that project. I would like to produce work where the clients and the contractors feel like, ‘I would love to put that on my website’ or ‘I’m really proud of that because we worked together to make that happen.’ That pride happens when you have ownership.”