Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

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 your 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.

time off

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.







Not Everything Is an Emergency

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Have you ever had a client call you after hours in a panic to tell you something had gone horribly wrong with their project, only to find out that it was something minor or that could have waited till the next day? Of course you have; it happens all the time in business. But how did you respond?

Did you immediately answer? Did you promise to come up with a solution right then and there? Or, worse, did you then start calling others to get them involved in the drama? Because that’s the key – how you respond to those “emergencies” can make or break you and your business.

Yes, customer service is the keystone of any successful company – I talk about that all the time. But there’s customer service and then there’s enabling, and you have to understand the difference and know how to handle those non-emergency panic attacks.

lack of planning

Business is just a series of calm and crazy, especially when you’re dealing with so many players. And sometimes you’re working with people who just seem to thrive on drama. We can find ourselves getting absolutely nothing done because we’re putting out wildfires that didn’t really need our immediate attention. And there are two particular reasons for why immediately responding to a non-emergency is not a good idea.

First, you get caught up in the crazy – especially if you’re responding to all of those “emergencies” after hours. And sometimes, if you get caught up in the crazy, you can help spin it even further without meaning to. It can escalate in the heat of the moment. So it’s good to have some space, and allow things to calm down to a more rational point before you deal with it.

One thing you can try is to let calls from your clients go to voicemail after 5pm or 6pm. If it’s truly something important, you can call them back immediately. But if it isn’t, you can call them back the next day, during working hours. It sends the subtle message that you have a life, too, and that there are boundaries that need to be observed.


The second reason for avoiding those panicked non-emergencies is that they will take your eye off the ball. You can end up spending most of your time doing someone else’s bidding, not the important (planned) things on your to-do list, or the projects that are on deadline, or even REAL emergencies. In other words, sometimes we let other people’s agendas, poor time management, poor planning, and procrastination, take priority and control over our workday goals. And that’s not good.

Yes, plans rarely go exactly as planned, especially on interior design projects. But save your energy, your time, and your stress for real emergencies. For your own health, don’t let those faux panics wind you up, too. And be sure that the actual priorities on your to-do list get the attention they deserve. Sometimes, the squeaky wheel shouldn’t get the grease.







You ARE Your Brand

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When you’re a business owner, you know you need to focus on your company’s brand. So you spend a lot of time crafting it and ensuring that it is a fabulous representation of your niche and your company. But there’s one part of branding you may not be considering: your personal brand.

When you own a small company – or even a large company, for that matter – your personal brand is a parallel to your company’s brand. And it is really just as important. They have to complement each other, and they certainly can’t be in opposition.

So what do I mean by that? You have to review and consider every way in which you’re communicating with the outside world to be absolutely sure that those “touch points” enhance your business’s brand, and doesn’t do anything to hurt it. That includes your personal social media, your photos, your LinkedIn profile, and any other way that you appear online.


Here’s an example: You’ve built your business brand professionally and you’re really proud of how it represents what you want to achieve with your company. But your profile photo on your personal Facebook page is one of your dog. Or you just made a comment on a friend’s post that is hilarious to you, but kinda inappropriate. Those things can definitely impact your business’s brand.

I can hear you saying: “But Tobi, my social media accounts are private! I should be able to say and do what I want there.” Ah, but nothing is private about social media. Anything that you post can be found and seen by others. Social media is community-based – think of it like being outside in your neighborhood or town. That photo that in the past you would have shown in a photo album to just close friends and family is now being plastered on a billboard downtown. That’s what social media is really all about. And even if you told only your friends and family where the billboard is, it would still be out in public and could be seen by others.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be “you,” online. But you have to think more about having a personal brand that’s like the one you would present at a networking party. Still fun, still very much your personality, but still appropriate. Remember that every comment or tweet, every photo and post, can have an impact on how people think of you – and how they think of your business.


People want to deal with companies on a personal level today – they want to feel like they have a relationship with brands, so you’re even more fused with your company brand than ever before. That’s another reason why your company’s niche must be fully authentic to you personally.

So if your company branding says that you love working with children, and you’re then posting online in your personal accounts about how you can’t stand being seated next to kids in a restaurant, you aren’t going to appear authentic or believable to clients who might see that.

I know the idea of focusing on your personal brand as a parallel to your professional brand can be tough for some of you. But making them complementary to each other will really only enhance the relationships you want to build with your customers – as much as the ones you want to build with family and friends!