5 Key Lessons I Learned from Starting my own Interior Design Business

5 Lessons I Learned From Starting my own Busines

Raise your hand if you’re currently working your dream job.

Anybody?

If you are, how did you get there? Did you always know what you wanted to do? Did you work your way up and pay your dues or did you easily fall into the position you’re in? Or maybe you started down a different path only to realize it wasn’t for you. The trial-and-error approach, if you will.

For those of you who don’t already know, I used to be a teacher. Actually, I’m still working as a part-time teacher. While some of my favorite people in the world are teachers, and I’m so grateful for these professionals and what they do every day, teaching is definitely not MY dream job. For now, it’s helping to pay the bills and I’m grateful to work in a district that is so kind and accommodating to me and my family. In addition to teaching, I’ve been tweaking with this interior decorating business for two years now. Almost three come to think of it.

Starting an interior decorating business, with no design degree or business background, has had it’s share of ups and downs. I’ve made money, paid money, and learned a ton. My father-in-law, who is also one of my biggest fans, told me when I started, that this “thing” was going to take me where it wanted for awhile. I didn’t have the experience or know-how to run away with it on my own accord. I was headed into a field with no partner or mentor to help me with decisions. All I had was a lot of passion and some undeveloped talent.

Here I am almost three years later, and this is what I’ve learned:

1. Confidence is key.

When you do anything by yourself, you have to be your own cheerleader. There is a LOT of self-talk that goes on every day to remind yourself that you can do this and you’re doing a great job.  As someone who doesn’t really like teaching, I can tell you this: I’m good at it. I really know middle school math and I’m really good at communicating that to students. I also am fair and loving, even to moody adolescents. I think getting my degree in education and another one in math, along with frequent observations and evaluations that were all positive, all led to a confidence that is for the most part, unwavering.

But passion alone wasn’t enough to give me confidence in my interior design abilities. Great feedback from clients went far, but one piece of negative feedback would set me back for days and sometimes weeks. There wasn’t a degree or years of experience to combat those negative thoughts.

Looking back at the work I’ve done over the last few years, I can definitely see growth and improvement in my abilities. It’s so cool to see what happens when you work a skill over and over, just like working a muscle- it gets better and stronger. And in terms of business, I’m able to spot bad potential clients much sooner than before, and I value myself and my time enough to not get into a project with them.

2. People can be crazy.

While I’ve been blessed with some of the BEST clients who have had me back time and time again, I’ve also had some run-ins with truly crazy people. Ones that try to get something for nothing, ones that can’t make a decision to save their life, and ones that have full-blown arguments with their pets in the middle of our initial consultation. Um…red flag? These people are not worth thinking about. You can’t let your experience with them dwell in your thoughts or you’ll get paralyzed there. Their opinion of you is not one you should listen to because like I said, they’re crazy.

3. Taking every job is not always worth it.

Yeah, you gotta pay the bills. But one thing I’ve learned is that entering into a project with clients that have red flags usually end up COSTING me money, instead of making me money. And more important than that, they cost me precious time away from my family and usually only lead to more gray hairs. I think even for people just starting out, it’s better to choose the right client for you, rather than take every job that comes your way. I definitely felt pressure to take everyone on and in the end, it always bit me in the butt.

4. Always feed yourself positive thoughts

Just because you don’t get your degree in something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn as much as you can about your passion. When I’m not teaching or taking care of my girls, I’m trying to digest as much as possible about things that will make me a better designer and feed my positivity. If I’m in the car, I’m listening to Christy Wright’s Business Boutique or A Well-Designed Business podcasts. Christy is incredibly motivational to women who run their own businesses, and how to do so while making smart money decisions. And Luann Nigara from A Well-Designed Business gives so much food for thought and understands the frustrations that come with the interior design business. Hearing the stories on her podcasts affirm for me that my experiences, both good and bad, are completely normal in this field. A lot of designers struggle with pricing and knowing their worth, and every business person deals with frustrating clients.

I also have a stack of great reads next to my bed that I’m slowly but surely working my way through. I just finished Capital Gaines by the one-and-only Chip Gaines. This book was a smack in the face to stop messing around and follow your dream already. Follow your dream, change the world, and figure it out along the way. I probably need to read this multiple times a year as a source of motivation and coaching to stop being afraid and just give it my best.

I also just got Get it Together by Orlando Soria who is freaking hilarious. His book gives obvious visual inspiration because I am a big fan of his style, but his light-hearted and carefree spirit reminds me to not take this whole thing too seriously. “If we screw this up, no one’s gonna die.’ We have to be willing to laugh about it, to play with it, and to make mistakes.” When you’re in business alone, you’ve got to find people to motivate you and encourage you, and digesting as much of these books, blogs, and podcasts as I can, along with engaging with fellow designers on social media, has really helped me through some tough times.

5. Increase your involvement slowly over time.

This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn, because I did NOT use this approach. When I left teaching the first time, it was because I was in a bad situation and I could not stand to work one more day in that school. I quit and the very next day, met with my first client. I should also mention that as a teacher, I was our family’s main source of income and my job gave us our benefits. But in that first year of business, I had no idea what to charge people, because they were taking a pretty huge risk on me. Whatever I did for them would be my first time doing it. There was really no way I could supplement our lost income from teaching on these first few clients.

Two years into my business, I got pregnant with our second child, and I worked straight up to her due-date. We were pretty poor by that time, and adding our little Logan did not help our financial situation. God handed me a lifeline when Logan was three months old and I landed this part-time teaching position I am currently in. We quickly climbed out of our debt and got back ahead of things. The lack of financial stress has really helped me gain perspective on my business. I got pretty burned out, and felt like I hit a wall. But now I can see some new options and perhaps a different way to go.

While I will keep working for my repeat clients as long as they will have me, I’m not sure client work is really my long-term desire. I have thought a lot about vacant staging for new builds or flipped homes. And I have really been thinking about flipping and investing in properties myself. I really like the idea of designing a project completely on my own for clients of mass appeal. I like to work fast, and efficient, and one of my least favorite things about working with clients is the waiting. My excitement about a project gets progressively less with each passing day I have to wait for a client decision or payment. Projects with fast turnaround and dramatic progress get me super excited.

 

What’s your dream job?

So if you didn’t raise your hand at the beginning of this post, what is holding you back from going after your dream job?  If I could say one thing about all of these hard lessons I’ve learned, I can say that I wouldn’t take any of them back and put myself in the same old job I started out with. I am such a better person now, even though I haven’t “made it” yet, and even though I’m still figuring things out and honing my skills. Through all of these lessons, my family has stayed strong and happy, and my daughter is watching her mom chase after her passion and learn perseverance when things are hard. We aren’t millionaires, not by a long shot, but I’m discovering a gift of creativity that God has given me and it is bringing me so much joy in the process. I know there are more hard lessons I will learn in the years to come, but with each hard lesson, I am becoming a better businesswoman, and a better designer.

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