Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

Accentuate the Positive

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positive (1)

There’s a saying that has become popular because it’s so true: Stuff Happens. Okay, sometimes there’s a different word instead of “stuff,” but you get what I mean. And in business, the fact that Stuff Happens is the only guarantee we have. Things will go wrong, employees will leave, ideas will go bust, and clients will be mad. That’s just how it goes.

The worst thing you can do? That would be to turn a negative into an even worse negative. In other words, how you react to the “stuff” is where you’ll really show what you’re made of, and how successful you’re going to be.

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We’ve all know Negative Nellies in our lives – and have tried to avoid them as much as possible. They’re the ones who walk around like Eeyore, always seeing the cloud instead of the silver lining. And they can bring you down with negative talk.

With all the politics, social media trolls, and economic dips, we have had our fill of negative vibes bombarding us. It’s hard not to lose a positive outlook with all that coming at you. And the worst part is, once you get sucked into that sad spiral, it’s hard to get back out of it. In fact, studies by Johns Hopkins show that negativity is actually a habit, and it’s not easy to break.

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Negativity can take your focus off of what needs to be done, which can lead to procrastination and dropping the ball for your clients. It can also keep you from finding solutions to problems, or from coming up with good ideas to improve the bottom line. And we all know what a bad attitude can do for your customer service. This is one place where you really can’t fake it, either. That negative outlook will show through, no matter how you try to hide it.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a Pollyanna about everything either, but having a positive outlook is a proven strategy for success in business. So how can you keep your sunny mood intact? Well first of all, don’t let others rain on your parade. If you have an employee with a bad attitude, they either need to change or they need to go. And that goes for other people who are sucking the energy out of you. Avoid them at all costs.

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Remember what you’re doing this for. Remind yourself of what you feel passionate about in your business, and think about how all your hard work will pay off for you and your family. And feel gratitude for what you have, even the smallest things. I keep a gratitude journal every single day so I can stay focused on how much I have, rather than on what I don’t have.

Do whatever it takes to keep that positive attitude once you have it. Harvard studies have shown that positivity in business can reduce stress, spark new ideas, make you super creative, improve your time management, and help you make sales. Isn’t that what we all want in business?

So turn off the news for a day, stop reading those offensive comments on Facebook, and smile at someone you don’t know. You’ll be surprised at how good you feel!

Cheerfully yours,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

Dealing with Burnout

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the load

Pop Quiz: Are you feeling a little snappy (or a lot) with friends, family, and (ack!) even clients? Are you exhausted every day? Do you feel like you’re running in circles for hours, but aren’t getting anything done? If you answered yes to these, you’re probably suffering from business burnout. A Gallup Survey says that 45% of people who own small businesses like ours say that they are very stressed, and that’s 3 points higher than any other profession – including police officers and fire fighters. Whoa.

When you’re an entrepreneur – or even a solo-preneur – this can cause huge issues in your personal and professional lives. If you’re in a creative business like interior design it’s even more of a problem because studies show that creatives lose motivation quickly if they are worried or burned out. That can put you into a tailspinning emotional cycle of worrying about business, then losing motivation, then stumbling in your business, which causes more worry, and on and on.

So what can you do? First, recognize the signs. If you’re burned out, you’re going to be exhausted, not just tired. You’ll feel negative about everything, and you’ll feel like you’ve lost your passion for your business. You’ll probably have trouble sleeping and getting anything done, and you’re probably not in a great mood. And the worst part is, you won’t be able to turn off your brain as it worries and worries and worries. Yep, that’s burnout.

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Here’s what you need to do, even if you feel like some of what I’m going to suggest is counterintuitive: You’ve got to stop everything. One hour. One day. One weekend. Give yourself some time to stop the madness. If you’re worried about how your business might survive, you’re probably saying “yes” to everything, including a lot of things you should say “no” to. Don’t let fear drive your decision making. That is only going to add more stress and pain later.

You need to delegate more. And yes, I can hear you saying that you can’t afford it. But really, you can’t afford NOT to delegate or outsource. You can’t do everything – it’s impossible. So even if it’s just handing your invoicing off to an accountant, or having an intern run errands, you need to get some help. And take it a step further and just eliminate a lot of things altogether. Be honest about what really can go, because I know there are a LOT of things on that list that you and your business will survive without doing or delegating.

Then you need to get a time management system in place. I’ve talked about this a lot in this blog – it’s critical that you get yourself organized, and use your time very effectively. And lately I have been realizing that it’s not just time management but energy management that is key. So as you plan your schedule, do your most important and profitable things first BEFORE you get tired and stressed each day.

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Are you seeing a pattern yet? I’ve just given you three ways to get things off of your plate to give you the space and time to take that hour, day, weekend, or (even better) a week to stop and get your energy back. It’s impossible to feel passionate and excited when you’re actually mad and resentful of your business. You will never be at your very best if you’re exhausted, unhealthy, and depressed. That’s a fact.

Running a business is hard work. Really hard work. It’s almost like running a marathon, and you would never do that without being sure that you’re in the best health you can be, would you? No. You have to have your head in the right place, too. You won’t be able to think strategically or to plot a great course for your company when you’re tired and stressed.

I want you to put that phone down, shut down your computer, and go outside and play. Literally, if that’s what you like to do. Go breathe some fresh air, or go to a museum and enjoy the gorgeous art, or go have a glass of wine with friends and laugh. Or be calm and read a book or get a massage. Whatever your heart desires!

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Even if you imagine the very worst thing that could happen in your business, it really isn’t that bad. Some of the most famous and respected people in business have failed miserably – sometimes over and over. Face that fear and then let it go. The world won’t end if you allow yourself to step off the hamster wheel and have a day off to deal with your burnout. After all, you started your business in the first place to allow you to live the way you want to. But you aren’t really living if you’re nose-to-the-grindstone 24/7 every single week of the year, are you?

Be kind to yourself! You’re doing the best job you can do with the tools you have today, and that’s huge. Recognize that and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Ask for help if you need it, get some exercise, rest and recharge. It’s really worth it to take that time.

Now I’m going to take my own advice. This week I am taking a little “stay-cation.” I’m getting my family and our things organized before we move back in our home soon, I’m relaxing a bit to keep burnout at bay, and I’m having some spring break play dates with my daughter right here in our own town…fun!

So until next time, xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

The Worst Thing You Can Do for Your Business

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insecure

There is one thing that ruins relationships faster than anything else, and it can also ruin your business. Do you know what it is? Jealousy. And really, in most cases it’s jealousy of something that isn’t really there. Too often in my business consulting sessions, a client will tell me that they want what another designer has. Or that they are sure they’re doing something wrong because another designer seems to have everything.

Looking over that fence to see how green the grass is on the other side will ruin your business! I mean that. And there are three things you need to understand so you can avoid that jealous behavior.

1. The grass isn’t any better over there. Social media really allows us to show our best side to the world, doesn’t it? We polish up (and filter up) our photos, we post our excitement when we have amazing news, and we showcase our best work with fun captions. There’s nothing wrong with that. Who wants to read a Debbie Downer’s constant posts about how the dog threw up in the car, your child threw a tantrum, your client threw your best idea out the window, and you look like you got caught in a wind tunnel?

-Comparison is the thief of joy.-

But let’s remember that what’s on Instagram and Facebook isn’t the ENTIRE truth. Comparing yourself to someone else’s perceived success just through posts and hearsay is insane. Many a designer has posted photos of fabric and tile selections for non-existent clients – not to be fake, but just to show what you could do if that prospective client would only say yes. That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily rolling in dough and clients. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in social media, no matter what business you’re in. We just tend to forget that when we’re looking at everyone else’s photos.

We all need to show our best face to the world – especially when it comes to promoting our businesses to prospective clients. No one would hire us if we showed the sometimes-crazy reality behind the scenes, would they? But seriously, you can’t judge someone’s success based on what you THINK they’re doing.

Where this is a truly big problem is when a consulting client tells me that they just know they can’t charge more because a competitor “is doing it for less and is really doing well.” I always ask “How do you know they are doing well? Have you seen her books?” Yes, she may be charging less, but she also could be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. You just never know. You need to run your business so it’s profitable for you, and that means charging what you need to in order to cover your overhead and make a profit? Is there a certain price the market will bear? Probably, but that depends on the great value you provide and your ability to sell your services, not what someone else charges. You likely aren’t apples to apples, you may be an orange! So never base your business decisions on perceptions you have about someone else’s business.

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2. You’re taking your eye off the ball. When you’re looking over that fence, you aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in your own yard. You’re wasting time and energy that you could be spending on your clients, on business development, and on adding value to your services.

It’s ok if you occasionally look around to see what others are doing – it’s good to know what advances and ideas are being introduced into design and business or to see what others are NOT offering, in case there’s a place in the market you could get a competitive advantage.  But that should never be an excuse to compare your business and your success (or your lack of it) to someone else. I want you to stay in your lane – meaning keep your business unique and authentic to you. That will help you continue to deliver great services and products.

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3. There’s room for all of us to have success. Why do we have to be angry or upset when someone else has something great happen for them? Why do we have to think that someone else’s success means we are going to fail? There isn’t a small bowl of success that we all have to draw from. There is an infinite amount of opportunity for all of us! We’re all different – with unique ideas for services, products, and content.

Your success doesn’t take away from mine. In fact, I think that the more success we all have, the better our industry will do as a whole. It’s the theory of a high tide lifting all boats. I celebrate the successes I see in our industry! I am THRILLED when I see a designer who has a stunning project in a major shelter magazine; or when someone signs a great licensing deal; or when a smart colleague decides to offer a class on design practices. It’s good for all of us and doesn’t take away from our own celebrations.

So drop-kick that jealous monster to the curb! It’s keeping you from making the most of what you have and what you can do. I’ll be right here applauding you as you succeed!

xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

5 Tips for Dealing with the ‘Messy Middle’

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messy

When you start a project, there’s that magical feeling of excitement and possibility. You feel super-creative and full of ideas and energy – it’s amazing and so much fun! And at the end of a project, you have a sense of accomplishment, and you can’t wait to unveil your fabulous design or solution to your clients and to the world. But then there’s the middle of a project

That’s the tough and messy part of our business – that middle part where you’re dealing with headaches and issues. You’re slogging through what seems like a mountain of problems, and feeling completely chicken-pecked by your staff, subcontractors or collaborators, and your 5-mile-long To Do list. Ugh.

The middle is tough. It’s hard to keep up your excitement level, or to be motivated to tackle everything with enthusiasm. It’s like the shiny part wore off your favorite toy. But that is exactly the time when you need to kick things into high gear. In the middle, you have to communicate even more so your clients don’t wonder what’s going on. You have to keep your momentum going so your staff doesn’t lose their motivation, too. And you have to keep juggling everything so it doesn’t all come crashing down on you. The middle is messy, but so very important!

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The middle is also a key part of your career as a creative professional. When you start out, you are starry eyed with the possibility of amazing clients and incredible projects, ready to show the world how amazingly creative you are. At the end of your career, you hope to look back on a fulfilling and long creative path, full of happy clients and dazzled editors. But the middle is where you can lose focus, or worse, lose all your motivation. Have you been there? Or are you there now?

Call it burnout, call it a mid-life crisis, or call it stress – the result is the same. You are exhausted from running your business, you feel like you wouldn’t recognize anything creative if it hit you in the head, and you struggle just to have your head down slogging through your To Dos. We all hit this wall in the middle of our careers, and we have to recognize it and deal with it, otherwise it could be the end of our businesses instead of the middle.

So how do we “deal” with it? Here are 5 tips for dealing with that “messy middle”:

1. You have to take care of yourself. This isn’t me being all “woo woo,” it’s a simple fact. Entrepreneur magazine has hundreds of articles that talk about how self care is absolutely critical for small business owners – and that’s you! You need to slow it down, get your rest, exercise, and eat the right things. Stress is literally a killer, and you need to make yourself healthy enough to deal with the stress that comes with the job. After all, you are the most important thing in your company.

2. Deal with your emotions. Are you scared that your company might fail? Are you angry at a vendor (or two)? Are you nervous that clients aren’t coming your way? This is all normal – every CEO from the biggest company to the smallest has these feelings. The key is to recognize them and address them instead of shoving the emotions down where you don’t have to look at them. Facing your worst fears and saying “what is the worst that can happen” is the best thing you can do. You’ll find that even if the worst case scenario comes true, you can deal with it. Doing that takes a lot of the sting out of the fear and allows you to stop blaming yourself. You can also then come up with a plan to help you keep those fears from becoming reality.

3. Ask for help. We ALL have to to do this at some point – and sometimes more than once. No single person on earth can do every single thing all alone. Whether it’s moral support, financial support, coaching, or additional employees or contractors, ask for the help you need. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your future success. Even if it’s as simple as hiring someone to help with your financial paperwork, or getting advice on how to handle time management, do it today.

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4. Rediscover your passion. Too often it’s the business of doing business that wears us down. I ask my consulting clients this a lot, and I want you to really think about it now: Why did you get into this business in the first place? Whatever it was – creativity, wanting to help others, creating gorgeous interiors – how can you get back to focusing on that more? There is no reason at all to be in this business if you aren’t enjoying any part of it – and trust me, everyone from your clients to potential partners can tell when you’re burned out and lacking excitement. Here’s a big secret about being a small business owner: You are in control. So find a way to put the passion back into your company. Stop doing the things that drain you and start doing the things that ignite you!

5. Smile, laugh, and have fun! This isn’t brain surgery – it’s a creative business that’s supposed to be enjoyable. You need to have fun, to laugh, and to create joy for yourself and others. That is what life is all about! Smile more – it’s infectious and will be contagious. Have a laugh with your clients! Spread joy in your office! Think I’m off my rocker? Well would YOU rather do business with a stressed-out grump or with someone who makes you smile? Exactly. Even if you have to fake a smile for a bit, I promise you it will become genuine in no time. Life is meant to be enjoyed!

Try these tips to help get you out of that messy middle rut that we all fall into. Give yourself permission to take steps to reduce the stress that comes with our jobs. If you’re happier, I promise your clients, your team and your family will be happier, too!

xo,

Tobi-Signature

 

 

 

 

PS – If you need help dealing with any part of your business, then my Business for Creatives: Designer MBA course is for you! From financials to time management to client outreach, I’ll show you how to transform your business into a lean, mean, money making machine! You can learn more here, or you can join me for a FREE telecall at 3pm EST on March 15. On that live call, I’ll tell you why Designer MBA is a can’t-miss event for creative business owners not just interior designers. Click here to register for that call right now!

10 Ways That You’re Making Your Jobs and Clients More Difficult

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I’m lucky to work with fantastic clients – but we’ve all had those clients that weren’t so great, right? If you’re in business (any business for that matter) you’ve had to work with those challenging people that we all love to talk about, but don’t like having to deal with. Even the nicest people can become stressful and more demanding during the design process. After all, they’re spending a lot of money, and it’s for something very personal and important to them – their homes.

But I want to throw something out there for you to think about: Maybe you’re enabling their behavior. Now before you roll your eyes or tell me I’m wrong, give me a minute to show you 10 ways that you just might be giving your clients permission to be difficult. And these tips don’t just apply to design clients. No matter what business you’re in, these ideas can help you make your relationship with your clients better than ever! Even the nicest people have their limits.

1. You aren’t setting boundaries. If your client starts calling, texting, or emailing you at all hours of the day and night, what do you do? I’m not talking about an emergency situation, but just general questions. If you answer those calls and texts, you’re saying that working at this hour is right for you. We want to provide the very best customer service experience to our clients, but not at the expense of our personal lives. Remember that you’re a professional, and what professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher) responds at 11pm on a Saturday unless it is truly a life-threatening emergency? You should have something in your “welcome packet” that spells out exactly when you will be available to the client and then address this verbally with the client in the very first meeting after they have signed the contract. That way you’re setting the expectations from day one. And the first few times they contact you after hours, you have a few options. You can respond with a “Thanks, I’ll get back to you with an answer tomorrow/Monday.” That will help set the tone and will train the client that you don’t work 24/7. But you also run the risk of offending them and making them feel stupid for texting you. I think it also works well to not answer the text after hours and then respond with an email or text first thing the following morning, then you can answer their question or set a meeting time for finding a solution to their problem. If the client continues to text, call, and email after hours, you can sit down with the client and explain that you love working with her, but that you need time with your family, too. But again, I think if you set boundaries personally and you aren’t checking your texts and emails after hours, then it will take care of itself. Either way, set those boundaries and stick to them. If you give in, you’re giving people permission to contribute to your lack of balance.

2. You’re acting like a friend. Let me explain that – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly, but you aren’t friends with your clients. At least not at first. Yes, there are a few clients that become my close personal friends, but they aren’t all that way.  And the ones that are my dearest personal friends are great at respecting our personal/professional boundaries. I think it’s important to remember that these amazing people are your customers first and foremost and you are their service provider. You don’t need to get so close with them that they are oversharing about their personal lives, and you shouldn’t be doing that, either. You can get into embarrassing situations that way. And you can also start blurring lines with boundaries, or bending your rules. For example, you might start thinking that you want to “help them” or give them a “deal” by not charging for all of your hours. Or on the flip side, you might start relaxing your standards or customer service because they are your “friends” and that isn’t appropriate either. They paid you for a professional service and that’s exactly what they should get, including deadlines that are met and you keeping your word. This is business and you are in it to make money and they are engaging you to get their money’s worth. Remember that. And if your client happens to actually be a friend of yours, try to separate the two relationships in your mind as you work with them.

3. Your contract isn’t clear. Everything that could be an issue should be spelled out ahead of time. How many revisions will you allow to the design? Exactly when will you get paid? Do they owe you a commission or fee if they shop for their own products? Anything that could be an issue in the future should be addressed in the contract. And you should go over it line by line with them before you both sign. I know this is a pain, but it will save you from the major challenges and disagreements in the future.

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4. You aren’t disciplined. So you have the contract, and everything is all spelled out. But did you let something slide because you didn’t want to confront your client with an issue? Or did you let your own processes drop because you got behind? Did you miss a deadline, or three? You have to be so disciplined in this business and you have to stick to your guns (and your deadlines). It isn’t fun or easy, but it’s part of being a business owner or at least a successful business owner.

5. You didn’t own your mistakes. We ALL make mistakes, it’s just the nature of the business. But it’s how you deal with those mistakes that makes or breaks your company. Communication is absolutely a must here – you need to admit to the mistake immediately, and offer an action plan to make it right. This is hard, but it is critical. And if you have to buy that sofa that came in the wrong size, so be it. Because the way you deal with mistakes is going to decide if your client is reasonable, AND how they are going to talk about you in the future…to other prospective clients! It’s that important, so always make it right.

6. You’re not communicating effectively. How do you communicate with your clients? It’s so important to constantly keep your client updated on the progress of their project and what you’re doing to keep everything rolling. You should have a scheduled weekly update via email, and then regular phone calls, too. Clients just want to know that you’re doing everything you can to make their project a success. If you don’t tell them how things are going, they’re going to think you aren’t working enough or that you have dropped the ball in some way, or that you have taken all their money and you are using it to vacation and drink fruity cocktails on a beach somewhere! Not communicating with your clients is going to add a lot of stress to your relationship and there is enough stress in this process already, but some of it is totally avoidable if you communicate consistently and clearly.

7. You’re texting with your client. Speaking of communication, be careful about texting with your clients. You want a record of any decisions that are made, any explanations, and any issues – and it’s hard to have that with a text. If your client is addicted to texting (or you are), great. But be sure you regularly (as in after every session of texting and at least at the end of every week) send a wrap-up email that reviews any decisions or conversations made by text. That way, you can put that email in your client folder and save it for any future issues that may come up. If you don’t have that record, it’s just a she-said/she-said problem that will make you both insane. I also take pictures of texts if there is ever a time that clients approve things or send important information by text so I have a copy of it for future reference. I email those images of the texts to myself and put them in the client file as well. And this isn’t just to protect myself. It’s to protect the client, too. There have been times that I agreed to something by text and then remembered it differently. Having images of our text exchanges actually held me accountable.

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8. You didn’t really listen. We’ve gone over this before, but sometimes we listen to our clients (sort of), and sometimes we really hear them. Did the client tell you what her budget was, but you thought “she’s definitely got more money than that”? You didn’t listen. Did he tell you that he has four dogs and then you presented a stunning silk sofa? You didn’t listen. The key to having a satisfied customer is in listening and delivering on what you heard.

9. You got angry. Yes, clients can make us all mad, but we have to be the person in control in any confrontation with our clients. They are already stressed and uptight about spending money and allowing someone else to have control in their homes. So they probably aren’t going to react the way they normally would in any stressful situation that comes up. You have to be the calm, cool, and collected person, even when you want to scream. So do whatever you have to do to stay calm – count to 10, step outside for a second, think about fluffy kittens. If you get angry, it will only escalate the situation and that isn’t going to help the craziness at all.

10. You took it personally. So the client didn’t like your selections, or she said that your subcontractor didn’t finish the cabinets correctly. That’s business, not a personal attack on you. Yes, you sweated for hours over the selections and you love every single one, and maybe the subcontractor is your favorite cousin. But the client isn’t saying you’re an idiot by pointing out a problem or saying they want something different. It’s just the nature of this business, not a judgment on you as a person. The less you take things personally, the more you’ll be able to guide your client to the right thing.

So what do you think? Are there ways that you can help avoid the crazy in your projects or help your clients be less challenging? What do you do to control the stress and issues that come with running our businesses? Let me know in the comments section below!

xo,

Tobi-Signature