Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

10 Tips for the Most Effective Emails

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There is one thing that I think is critical to the best customer service, and that’s communication! Clients want to feel like they’re being heard, that you’re working hard on their project, and that you are being an effective steward of their money. The best way to let them know that is to tell them exactly how things are going.

My team and I send weekly emails to all of our clients to keep them up to date on every detail of their project. We want them to know that we really care about them and that we want to deliver the best result possible for them, every single time. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that there are great emails, and then there are emails that can cause communication to break down. So here are my top do’s and don’ts for getting the very most out of your emails:

1. DON’T write too much. People do not have time to read a novel via email, so tell them everything they need to know, but keep it concise and to the point.

2. DO get to the point quickly. Put the most important info at the top – it’s human nature to stop reading after a paragraph or two. People notoriously now have shorter attention spans than a goldfish (it’s true!), so be sure that you let them know the most critical things quickly.


3. DO use proper grammar. It matters – it really does. So be sure everything is spelled correctly, that you’re using appropriate language, and that your email has a greeting, full sentences, and a conclusion.

4. DON’T get cute. Do not – and I mean don’t ever – use emoticons, funny fonts, garish colors, or any other “cutesy” items in your emails. You are a professional businessperson and there is just no place for all that in a business email. Also be careful with abbreviations.

5. DO reread before you hit send. Be sure you slow down and read the email several times before you hit send. Is it clear? Is it spelled correctly? Does it make the points you need it to?

6. DON’T cut corners. Email is notorious for creating misunderstandings, so be very careful about being abrupt or too terse. That can be perceived as being angry or irritated.


7. DON’T deliver bad news. If something has gone haywire or off the rails, don’t use email as a crutch. That type of news should be delivered via phone, no matter how hard that can be. It’s unprofessional to use email for difficult conversations. And please don’t fire off an email when you’re mad – stop and let it simmer for a while before you hit send.

8. DO keep a record. If you are having important conversations on the phone or via text with a client, it’s equally important to have a record of that conversation. Use email to recap any points or decisions made on the phone. People can remember things differently, so it’s good to be sure everyone is on the same page.

9. DON’T send email after email after email. If you haven’t heard from a client after sending an email that needs a reply, you can send one more reminder email. But don’t annoy them by sending a flurry of emails one after the other. That’s the time to pick up the phone.


10. DO reply. There’s nothing more irritating to a client than to send an email and hear crickets from you. They will fill that silence with all sorts of ideas, and I can promise you they won’t reflect well on you. Reply as soon as you can, and certainly within 24 hours. If you’re out of the office, have someone else on hand to take care of replying to your clients.

Hopefully these tips will help you be a fantastic email communicator! Let me know what you think in the comments section below!







Introvert, Extrovert, Ambivert – Why It Matters

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I have a confession to make – I am not what I seem. Oh I’m definitely an open book for my business and life, but I just discovered something that should have been clear to me all along. I’m not actually an extrovert, I’m really an ambivert! There’s been so much in the news lately about who is an introvert and who is not, that experts are finally recognizing that there are people – like me – who may have some tendencies on both ends of the spectrum.

For example, I do get really energized by being around people, which is a classic sign of an extrovert. But after being at one of my events for a week, or at a market, or at social events for several days running, I need to be alone to recharge my batteries! Preferably in my jammies with a stack of books by my side. And that’s an introvert through-and-through. So when I read the definition of an ambivert, I felt like shouting out: “That’s me!”


There’s a serious side to all of this talk of introverts and extroverts, though. Knowing where and how you get your energy, what you need to help you recharge, and how to communicate effectively with others is critical to your life – and your business. Early in my career, I let the extrovert side of me dominate in business. I would often get so excited about presenting my ideas to clients, for example, that I might not actually have listened to them as closely as I should have. Especially if I was dealing with an introverted client. I’ve learned to tamp down that extrovert enthusiasm and be a great listener for my clients.


And an introverted designer – which is not the same as a shy person, by the way – needs to remember that silence is not always a good thing, either. They could be perceived by someone else as agreeing to something that they actually don’t even want just because they hold their thoughts to themselves. Sometimes introverts also forget to ask for feedback, which can also be a problem when working with clients.

Learning how to be a better communicator is so important for each of us, and it is critical in business where one wrong word can cause a potential deal to crumble. And we need to recognize what type of communication our clients need so we make them feel heard, too.

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For example, if a client is quiet during or after a presentation, it may not mean that she hates it or that she thinks it’s all fab. It could be that she just needs time to process it on her own or to get feedback from others. And that’s ok! On the flip side, an extroverted client may throw ideas out there, but doesn’t necessarily want you to take action on all of them. She may just be working through her thoughts verbally, which I should know extroverts love to do!

Misunderstandings can lead us into all sorts of issues – so knowing what your style is, and knowing how to adjust, can help you be a master at talking (and listening) to others. Do you know if you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert like me? Let me know in the comments section below!







How Are You Unique?

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Clients and customers have a lot of choice today, whether they’re looking for an appliance, a new car, or a service provider. There is so much choice out there that many people become overwhelmed. That means any brand that can stand out in a crowd is going to really have an advantage. So if a client is shopping around for designers in your area, how do YOU stand out? Do you know?

All of us are unique, but most of us don’t know how to put it into words or how to turn that uniqueness into a selling tool. For example, I have an MBA. Am I the only designer in the world who has an MBA? Of course not – but there aren’t many of us out there. And it’s a selling point for me because I will be a great steward of my client’s investment in her home. I’ll watch those numbers like a hawk and make sure she’s getting the most for her money. See what I mean? Something that sets me apart can be the thing that makes a client choose me over another designer.


So I’ll ask it again – what sets you apart? It could be a special degree or a talent that no one in your area has – maybe you’re an amazing artist or you know a lot about construction. Or it could be that you have developed specific systems that help you complete a project faster than any other designer. Time is money for most people, so you can see how that could be a major selling point.

Or maybe you had a previous career in another field that gives you a unique perspective or different skill sets that you use now. You could even have a very specific design style that’s hard to imitate. Whatever it is, make a list right now of any talents, experience, or skills that you have. Again – I don’t expect you to the only person in the world who has that talent. But the sum total of your background and abilities is definitely going to set you apart.


Once you’ve written that list, start thinking about how each thing on the list could apply to your business. Write that down next to each item on the list. And then start to write out how you would explain that to a potential customer.

The more you can identify what makes you unique, and the more you can describe that to clients, the more you’re going to be able to sell your services with confidence! You’ll be able to shine among that field of competitors. So be sure you use your uniqueness to define your “About” page on your website, and your descriptions of your services. We are all individual – we just need to be able to stand out in a crowd!

Let me know what you think about your unique abilities in the comments section below. I love to hear your thoughts, too!







5 Ways to Keep the Cash Flowing

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If you’ve ever attended my business events like Designer MBA, or taken any of my online courses, you know how important I believe cash flow is to small businesses. It’s the one thing that can make – or break – your business faster than any other! But how do you keep your eye on that cash ball while still trying to run your business? I’ve got 5 tips for you:

1. Make realistic projections. Too often we get excited about a new project or idea and we make very generous projections for the amount of income we think it will generate. And if you also plan your expenses against those overinflated numbers, you may find yourself coming up short in future months. I like to project income conservatively and my expenses higher. That keeps me on a worst-case-scenario outlook that allows me to plan for every contingency.


2. Don’t shop. I’ve said this so many times – there are a lot of things that you really don’t need to run your business, like fancy stationery and office gadgets. When I started out over 17 years ago, I spent way way too much on branded tissue paper. And I still have a good supply of it. Keep those purchases to a minimum and think about a cost-benefit ratio for every single thing you consider buying. If it’s going to help you make money, then it’s more likely to be worth it.

3. Make cash (flow) king. You have to have a cash flow budget and you need to watch it like a hawk. I meet every single week with my bookkeeper to go over income, expenses, and cash on hand. If you’ve hit a rough patch in your business, it may not be fun to look at those. But I promise you it’s the only way to get control of your business and correct any issues. And it will keep you out of hot water if you’re company is in good financial health. I consider this one of the most important things I do for my business.


4. Check your payment system. One thing that can completely derail a business is if your clients don’t pay their invoices on time. I can’t tell you how many designers I’ve consulted with who have had this happen to them. And I get it – it’s tough to run down a late-paying client. You don’t want to insult them and possibly ruin a future business deal, but you also need the money they owe. One thing that I always advise is to get paid before delivery. Otherwise, it’s much more difficult to track down the payment. I always receive 100% of my design fee by the time of the presentation. And I never ever buy any furnishings unless I’ve been paid for them. Have a system for payments – and stick to it.

5. Cushion any fall. Every business should have some sort of emergency cushion – a sum of money set aside that can help you when there is some sort of setback or issue. I know it’s hard to build one of these when you’re just starting out or you’re struggling, but any amount you can set aside for a rainy day is a good idea.

Use these tips to keep your cash flowing and your company in the black!







PS – If you’d like to learn more of my business strategies and ideas to help transform your business, join me this fall for my live two-day Designer MBA event, held Nov. 2-3 in Dallas at the Stoneleigh Hotel!

Have You Taken a Vacation Yet?

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It’s August 1 – have you taken a vacation this summer? If you’re like over 50% of small business owners, the answer is no. Too many of us think we just can’t afford to take a vacation, or that things will completely fall apart if we aren’t around to handle them. And, if you’re a single-person operation, there may not be anyone to “mind the store.” But I’m going to prove to you why time off is critical for your business – and for you!

First, according to a Gallup poll, if you don’t take a vacation you’ll be less likely to even like your job. Your frustration level will rise, and you’ll wonder why you’re working as hard as you do. Dumping vacation time also means that you’re going to feel like your work/life balance is completely out of control, and you’ll end up resenting your business and even your clients. Not good.

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Did you know that vacations actually make you MORE productive? They do! According to major studies, you can increase your productivity by a third after you have some down time. On top of that, vacation time of at least a week has been shown to give you a more positive outlook, decrease your chance of heart attack, and gives you a more satisfied and happier life. I hope by this point you’re clicking on some vacation planning websites!

So now you want to take a vacation, but how? All it takes is some planning. The key is to be sure that you’re taking at least a full week off – a day or two can help, but a full week let’s you really unplug the way you need to. I always book next year’s summer vacation when I am leaving the beach the year before. I do the same with spring break. And I also sit down with my calendar at the beginning of the year and mark off additional vacation time. These tactics make vacation non-negotiable. And it allows me to plan other obligations around these days so I am sure to stick to my R & R goals. Plus if you work as hard as my husband and I do (and I am sure you do), one week a year is just not enough to replenish the toll that stress and a hectic schedule take on us. We are at our best with at least 2 week-long vacations and a few mini-trips and long weekends throughout the year. Some just the two of us and others with family.


You can start to see how this will work. Once those dates are set, you can be sure that you don’t set any major deadlines just before, during, or just after a week away. And you can prepare your clients and employees – telling them that you won’t be around on those days. Managing their expectations should help you avoid any major issues while you’re gone.

It’s up to you whether or not you check your email while away. My preference is to completely check out and disconnect for at least 2 weeks of the year. But you get to decide if it’s ok to check your email while you’re gone. We recently took a vacation with another hard-working family that are dear friends of ours. Both spouses checked their emails and worked from the beach, even taking calls. They love it that way and they feel rested while also getting things done.

I am just the opposite. When I check out, I REALLY want to check out. It is frustrating to me to check emails or take calls while on vacation. And I feel resentful when I get home and like I didn’t really have time off, if I am working even a little bit while I am away. My husband is somewhere in the middle – a little work and a lot of play.

I suggest if you do check email and take calls while away, at least have some rules. Maybe you can only check your email once per day and during a set time, and you are not allowed to answer anything that is not a real and true emergency. Period. But if you are like me, this is almost impossible. And even if I don’t respond to all those “other non-emergencies” I can’t turn them off in my mind and they interfere with my family fun or all those books I am trying to reach on the beach. And that’s all the more reason for me not to even know those emails or messages are there. But we are all different, so I suggest deciding ahead of time what your “vacation work rules” are before you leave and be committed to stick to them.


So what are you waiting for? Put that out-of-office message on and get out of there! You’ll come back happier, healthier, and ready to kick your business into high gear! And on that note, I am heading out on my second beach trip of the summer in just a few days. Counting down the moments until my toes are reunited with sand once again. I feel more relaxed just thinking about it.