magazine | Mar 28, 2019
7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms

Developing systems and learning how to manage workflow takes time—not to mention experience. Get your highlighter ready as some of the industry’s best share the skills they wished they’d learned as students and what they’d change if given a do-over on launching their own firms.

Real Talent

7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms“Starting out, I would interview people, skim their portfolios and think, ‘She’s so nice! She’d be fun to have around.’ I was not focused on the skills I needed. Once they were on board, I’d realize it wasn’t exactly a good fit. I needed someone who was great at picking fabrics, and instead I hired someone because she had a lovely smile. Now I ask myself, ‘Can they do the job? Will they do what I need them to do? Are they like-minded in where I want my business to go?’ You want to hire people who not only enhance what you’re doing, but help you get better and grow, too.” —Brigette Romanek, Romanek Design Studio


Value Experience

7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms“If given a do-over, I might have worked for another firm for a bit longer. I had only been in the industry for three years when I started my own business, and I would have benefited from seeing all the mistakes to look out for. My advice for emerging designers who want to go out on their own? Know all of your programs! AutoCAD, SketchUp, Photoshop and PowerPoint are important to know, and so is a designer workflow manager like Studio Webware. You also need to have a good lawyer, bookkeeper, insurer and accountant—and your first client!” —Cara Woodhouse, Cara Woodhouse Interiors


Bill of Health

“If7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had with other interior designers about billing! There are so many approaches to billing—not to mention confusion around how to make your business make money. Most people begin firms because they want to express their design vision, especially if they have worked for years executing the designs of others. The reality, though, is that while the creative part may be the most inspiring aspect, you cannot realize that dream if you don’t have a handle on the nuts and bolts of running a business.” —Danielle Colding, Danielle Colding Design


Hit the Target

7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms“One of my very first marketing mistakes was offering ‘free services’ at a charity auction, which paired us with a client who would never have otherwise hired us—a partnership that left both parties feeling less than satisfied. Now, I think about our target clientele before offering our services or investing in a sponsorship. For us, it was about sitting down and determining what our brand means and staying true to that—and then making sure everything from our business cards to our marketing materials reflects the luxury experience we are striving to provide.” —Kate Lester, Kate Lester Interiors


Open Book

7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms“If we could roll back the clock, the one thing we would’ve implemented earlier is our open-book management practice, which we adopted from the book The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham. There’s a lot of fear about opening the books—people worry about showing salaries, but it’s not that at all. You’re showing the company’s revenue, cost of goods, gross margin and expenses. Now, our team understands how the business makes money, and how everyone plays a role in that process. We meet weekly to forecast revenue, gross profit and net profit; each team member puts together a budget and reports on the actuals. There’s more ownership and a sense of caring— something they don’t get when it’s ‘just a job.’” —Elizabeth and Anthony Wilder, Anthony Wilder Design/Build


Form & Function

7 designers on what they’d do differently if given a do-over on starting their own firms“I wish design schools would teach more of the behind-the-scenes aspects of design. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be able to sketch to convey your idea—not just showing photos from Pinterest or tear sheets of furniture pieces. I also tell our young designers to make sure they learn the interior architecture of a project, from the proportions of the rooms to the profiles of moldings or panels. Often, I see work with pieces that have nothing to do with the architecture; that could be prevented if interior designers knew more about the big picture of the project.” —Kazuko Hoshino, Studio William Hefner

This article originally appeared in Spring 2019 issue of Business of Home, Issue 11. Subscribe for more.

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