Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

5 Productivity Tips That Changed Everything

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I’m asked ALL the time: “How in the world do you do everything?” And on some days, I wonder how I’m going to get it all done, too. It’s especially hard in a creative field where you have to switch from thinking with the right side of your brain as a designer to the more business-oriented side as a company owner.

That really isn’t easy. In fact, scientific studies have proven that you need some time to make that switch to be your most effective and efficient, so switching tasks over and over isn’t actually a great way for you to work. I have a few tricks that have really helped me boost my productivity so much in the last year or two! And they include an idea to keep my brain on the right track, no matter which “side” I’m using. Try these out for yourself and see how much more you can get done in a day!


1. Keep TWO to-do lists. Yes, I hear you. It’s hard enough to keep up with one, right? But hear me out. I have one long list with everything on it that I need to get done, categorized by project. That helps me avoid dropping the ball on anything that I need to do. But my second list is just for things that have to be done TODAY – only 3-4 things. Because it can be really intimidating to have to look at a 15-page to-do list every single day – and really discouraging, too. You feel like you never get anything done that way. Being able to cross things off a list, and actually finish a list each day, keeps me feeling productive and motivated!

2. Block your time. This was THE game changer for me. Instead of just taking on whatever hits my desk next, or allowing anyone and everyone to bring me yet another task or issue whenever they want, I block my time each day. This allows me to set aside blocks of hours that are exclusively and ONLY for design, for example. Or I have several hours blocked out just to work on my client outreach or financials. The understanding in my office – and the promise I keep to myself – is that I won’t take on anything else during that block other than what I’ve set it aside to accomplish. It really keeps me focused and boosts my productivity into the stratosphere! Try this yourself – I promise you it will make you more productive.


3. Turn off your phone. You read that right – turn it off. If you’re over 30, I know you remember a time when you couldn’t be reached 24/7. And we all lived through that, right? So you can live without your phone for an hour or two. Because your phone isn’t just a phone anymore – it’s email, Facebook, Instagram, news, texts, weather, shopping, photos, cute dog videos, etc., etc., etc. It is a MAJOR distraction and you need to shut it down. The world will not end because you check out and focus on a project for two hours. Trust me.

4. Stick to your systems and processes. Remember those processes you defined for your business? The ones that you were going to follow to the letter? Well cutting corners and dropping steps are what get you into productivity trouble. The reason is because you usually end up having to take 15 more steps to fix problems you created when you didn’t follow your process. If you don’t have processes and systems – and these can be for client experience, for client outreach, for project management – then create them now! They really do act as a reminder of all the things that need to get done for a smooth and efficient project.

5. Take a break. That one probably surprised you! But if you read this blog, you know how important I think it is that you are operating at your very best. The only time that I am my absolute most productive self is when I’m healthy, well rested, and rarin’ to go! If you’re tired and stressed, you are never operating at peak productivity.

Use these 5 tips to squeeze every single productive moment out of your busy day! It takes discipline and commitment, but it also helps you get it all done. Good luck!







The Stress of Running a Small Company

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Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for years, you already know how stressful owning a small business can be. Not only are we the creative talent, but also we’re CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and COOs. We have to handle the financials, the employees, our brands, our home life, our well-being, and try to fit some creativity in there, too.

It can be a lot of pressure to own your own business – and that stress is not healthy for any of us. In fact, many studies now show that stress is a huge contributing factor to shortening your life span. Not good. Mental toughness is necessary for small business owners like us. We’ve got to have the capacity to respond positively to multiple and sometimes conflicting pressures – and we have to be able to handle stress, which is WAY easier said than done!

One of the techniques I use is to reframe negative thoughts. For example, one thing my team and I always say is that when clients get difficult, we have to say something nice about them…out loud…right then. It’s a joke in our office, but it really does help keep the stress level down. If we took all of our clients’ decisions personally, we would have been OUT of this business by now. It’s essential to realize that you have a choice about the way you think and that all negative thoughts can be reframed into more constructive ways of thinking.

Self-care is another BIG way to preserve your sanity as a small business owner. Stress can result in both behavioral and physical symptoms that can be hard to manage. If you’ve already scheduled your monthly spa day, use some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation breaks, to help you make it to your appointment. I use lots of great meditation exercises and apps including some from Gabrielle Berstein and the Deepak Chopra and Oprah series. They really do make a huge difference.


One of the quickest ways we get stressed is worrying. We worry A LOT. Half the time we are worrying about things we can’t control: Did the vendor ship that table? Did our painter finish that floor in time for the delivery we have coming tomorrow? Yes, we can push our vendors and make contracts with our painters but we cannot control them. Make space for worrying about the things we CAN control to relieve some of that pressure instead of worrying about the unnecessary things.

And you know what you can control? Your creative work, your customer service, your presentation skills, your financial habits, exercise. You CAN control those. Don’t allow them to control you!

You’ve also got to maintain focus on the business things that matter. Distractions happen to all of us. Some of us are parents who get nonstop texts from our kids about homework, friends coming over, or (like mine) wanting to get out of dance class even though she loves it when she gets there! Top performers can deal with these distractions while maintaining focus on the things that matter. Maybe it’s learning to turn off the phone, or letting someone else in the family deal with the distraction, or setting rules about when you can be “bothered.” Whatever it is, keep your focus.


Delegation is another way to deal with some of the pressures of being a business owner. As business owners (particularly women) we have the tendency to try to be in control of everything. As we build our businesses, this may be a necessity, but once you reach a point where you can hire help, DO IT! You cannot and should not do everything. The only things that should “live” on your schedule are tasks that make you the most money because they are 1) the work you are deeply passionate about and 2) demand a particular and exceptional skill of yours that cannot be done by anyone else. That’s all. Everything else on your task list is costing you money.

Over-delegating creates the opposite problem. If you take everything off your plate (including all of your passion+skill tasks) and become the Final-Word-Only kind of boss, you’ll see that in every product and service you’ve created the vision becomes murky and watered-down. Everything is “OK,” as in, it passes inspection, but it’s not YOU. What we are selling as creative businesspeople is our unique expertise and guidance, so it make sense that if we hand off the most essential parts of our work, the result is that it’s no longer uniquely us, no longer inspiring to us, no longer innovative and compelling. So the trick is keeping the parts that are you in your sweet spot and that fill you with joy and delegate or eliminate everything else!

And don’t be confused about what is important and what is only urgent and ultimately should be eliminated. Many things that stress us every day are things we shouldn’t even be doing at all. And neither should anyone on our team. So take a hard look at the tasks on your firm’s list because I suspect at least 30% if not 60% of what you feel is urgent should be totally eliminated because it’s not making you money or moving you closer to your goals. Arianna Huffington says in her great book Thrive that she made her life immensely better and less stressful by just eliminating tons of things from her to do list and even from her bucket list that she realized weren’t really important or priorities to her. Like her longterm goal to learn to ski, she said she just took off her list. Done! Can you do the same? Are there personal or professional goals and tasks on your list that if you are honest with yourself you don’t really even want? Or at least maybe you used to but you don’t want them anymore? Then let them go!

At the end of the day, life in the dynamic and unpredictable small business world means that sometimes things will not go according to plan, but in order to succeed we have to keep our motivation and our passion alive. We have to prioritize what we really want and what makes us money. And we can’t do any of this when we’re constantly stressed and worried about failure. So find your own best ways to cut out the stress – TODAY.

Good Luck!








10 Obstacles Holding You Back from Success

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-An obstacle is often a stepping stone- (1)Designers: What’s holding you back from your biggest success? What obstacles are you putting in your own path? Too often, we are our own worst enemies, so I want to give you an idea of how to avoid the Top 10 issues that can keep you from realizing your best success, and better profits for your business!

Obstacle 1. Commoditizing Your Services. Do not commoditize your services. What does this mean? It means there isn’t a going hourly rate for all designers like there is corn, or chickens, or soybeans or any other commodity. We are all different and we each offer a different experience and expertise to our clients. You must be sure that you’re offering services that have a lot of VALUE  to your particular group of clients – and that includes your customer experience. You should also think carefully about charging an hourly rate that can set up a comparison between you and another designer purely based on your hourly rate, not your experience, not your signature style, not your level of service, and not your uniqueness. Consider moving to a fee-based structure or maybe a block system for hours that will remind your clients that you are a creative consultant, not an hourly worker.

Obstacle 2. Not Requiring Up-Front Payment for Service and Merchandise. Are you a sofa salesperson or a creative consultant? Your clients need to pay you for the time you invest in creating their design, and that means an upfront payment or at least a retainer for your creative concepts and intellectual property. And they absolutely have to pay you before you order one stick of furniture. You are not a lending institution and you are a not a furniture store. They have to pay you for the goods before you order them. Period. And a 50% deposit really isn’t enough.

Obstacle 3. Maintaining a Costly Facility/ Overhead and Large Staff. This is the age of lean-and-mean business. Do you really need that large office? Or any office at all? Do you really need five employees? Can you use outsourced help rather than full-time employees? Are there some jobs that you just don’t need to do at all? Find your sweet spot between being overstaffed and understaffed, because going too far to the other extreme (i.e. taking out the trash and running errands yourself) can also really hamper your profitability. Ten years ago I wanted my business to be BIG BIG BIG, now the only thing I want to be big are my profits!

-An obstacle is often a stepping stone-

Obstacle 4. Not Knowing Your Current Financials, Client Pipeline, and Earnings Goals. If you don’t get your financial house in order, then you aren’t going to ever be profitable. You have to know how much money you have coming in and going out each month and if all you have is one type of design service where you wait for the phone to ring from a new clients, it’s going to be REALLY difficult to project your revenues for the months ahead. And you have to know your markups and margins and which services you offer (because hopefully you have several) are most profitable and which you should even stop offering. Plus you have to have financial goals and one eye on future business. Planning for future growth and profitability is the key to less stress and more financial and time freedom.

Obstacle 5. Not Investing When Necessary to Grow in Profitability. As I said in #3, there is a fine line between paying too much in overhead and expenses, and not paying enough. Understand the difference in something that really is just an expense, and something that is an investment that can help you truly grow your business. This can include key hires, consultants/coaches, marketing/PR, professional photography, web design, and more.

Obstacle 6. Working With Non-Ideal Clients. A non-ideal client can actually cost you more than she can pay you. If you have a difficult client, or a client that doesn’t pay well, that one person can drain you creatively and professionally, taking you away from other clients and from the work you need to do to get more business. Ask yourself if that person is really worth it. If you spend hours in stress that you could be marketing and networking or you spend hours chasing down payments that you could be creating an effective business development system, then the client is not worth it. So stop telling yourself you can’t afford not to take every client that comes along. The truth is you can’t afford to say yes to them!

Obstacle 7. Inconsistent or Non-Existent Design Procedures. What is the #1 best quality in an interior designer? It’s the ability to LISTEN, really listen to the client. That should be the first step in your design procedure, but you also must have a good, organized plan that will keep you on track. A solid process, an organized schedule, and a detailed task list will keep you on track, no matter what challenges are thrown into your path.


Obstacle 8. Not Listening to What the Public – or Your Existing Clients – Want. Again, it’s all about listening, whether it’s to what is happening out there in trends and new ideas, or listening to your clients and what they need in the way of service and experience. Keep your ears, and your eyes, open.

Obstacle 9. Never Taking Action. Take Action! Many people have no problem imagining what they want their business to look like or run like, but they never get there because they don’t put the process of HOW to achieve it on paper. All great success begins with the first step, and any action is better than inaction.

Obstacle 10. Fears that You are a Fraud or a Fake. The idea of Impostor Syndrome has been a hot topic recently – it’s the idea that you are going to be unmasked as a fake, as a person who doesn’t know her business. This is such a self-destructive idea that women in particular feed themselves over and over. Don’t do it! It will undermine your professionalism, your confidence, your commitment to your business and your ability to sell yourself or your design visions. Of course you don’t know everything. No one does. But listen up! You are NOT a fake – you are a professional who deserves respect – and that includes respect from you!

So are you putting any of these obstacles in your path to success? Make it a goal today to clear out those obstacles, even if you have to work on them one at a time. Print this list, hang it by your desk and knock out all 10 of these obstacles this year. You’ve still got time to make this happen in 2016. But only if you make it a priority. Taking even a small step to knocking these challenges out of the way will make your business stronger and more likely to survive the inevitable changes we will continue to see as small business owners.

You can do it!







PS – Too overwhelmed to tackle these obstacles on your own? My Designer MBA  event can help put your financial house in order, get your fees in place so you’re charging what you’re worth, and will talk you through my sure-fire design processes! It’s set for May 10-11 at ADAC in Atlanta and I’d love to see you there! Click here for more!

Confidence (REALLY) Counts

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When I meet with my consulting clients to talk about challenges they’re facing in their businesses, there is one single core issue that’s at the heart of almost any problem. And that’s a lack of self-confidence. It keeps people from doing their best work, from reaching out to the perfect prospective client, from charging what they’re worth for their services. It holds them back from success!

We all struggle with our confidence at times, but it’s how we respond to those moments that really makes the difference! Do you feel like I am talking to you? Let’s do a quick quiz to see where you are on the confidence spectrum:

Do you do what you think is right, even if others mock or criticize you for it? Or do you make a lot of your decisions based on what other people think?

Are you willing to take risks? Or are you too afraid of failure to move out of your comfort zone?

Do you admit your mistakes and learn from them? Or do you try to cover up mistakes and hope no one notices?

Are you comfortable telling others about your skills and strengths? Or do you wait for other people to point out your accomplishments?

Are you great at graciously accepting compliments? Or do you start protesting or downplaying the compliment?

I think you see where I’m going here. If you identify more with the second question in each paragraph above, you have confidence issues – and I’ll guarantee it’s impacting your success at work.

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After all, how can you “sell yourself” to someone and convince them that you are the perfect person that they need to hire if you can barely recognize your own skills and specialties? How can you take the risks required to get your business to the next level if you don’t have the confidence to make the first move? And how are you going to ever be happy – with yourself and with your life – if you can’t stop worrying about what others think?

Part of getting into the confidence zone takes some practice and role play. Some would call this the “fake it till you make it” idea. But I don’t think it’s fake. You are talented. You are unique. You have something to offer. And by pushing yourself to “play” confident until you start to really feel more confidence it’s really fake. It’s more like practice. Rarely is anyone good at something without a lot of practice, right? And most people haven’t been “practicing” confidence. So you have to put your shoulders back, hold your head high, and pretend you’re wearing a crown! You have to stride confidently into a room, look people in the eye, and act like you are the world’s best at what you do. It’s an odd thing, but even just projecting confidence will actually make you feel more confident about yourself. It just takes practice. It’s at the core of the book Presence by Amy Cuddy, who says that taking those “power stances” gives you a hormonal boost that makes you feel more confident!


But you also have to stop fearing failure. You have to be willing to try new things and to take risks – even small ones. Because you will learn new things as you fall and get back up. You will have successes too, and both things will give you more confidence! So today, write down 2 things that will get you out of your comfort zone, either personally or professionally. And then make a commitment to do those 2 things right now.

We also need to stop thinking we have to be perfect at everything. There is a difference in excellence and perfection. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards. But there has to be a point where we really believe we tried our best and our outcome is not only good enough, but that it’s actually great! That’s not arrogance. It’s important for happiness, joy and fulfillment. We have to be able to be satisfied with our work. Too often we won’t try something unless we believe we will do it absolutely perfectly. Well that’s just not going to happen in every situation, so get over that perfectionism and get out of your comfort zone! That’s where the good stuff is – where the great new ideas come from.


Finally, and this is probably the biggest thing you can do, you have to get rid of that inner “mean girl.” You know the one – she’s constantly telling you that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t have what it takes, that you’re stupid, and really not worthy of success. Would you let anyone talk to your daughter or your best friend that way? Then why do you allow that voice to talk to you like that?!? It’s the worst form of self-abuse and you have to commit to stopping it today.

That inner voice also tends to whisper to you what others think of you, too. It’s a complete waste of time to worry over what others think of you or what they say about you. Often they aren’t even thinking or saying anything about you, they are too busy being a “mean girl” to themselves. Trust me on this one. And yes there are a few out there who really do think or say negative things about you. So what! I am perfectly aware that I have people out there who may not like me or believe in me. We all do. And if you are putting yourself out there, leaning into your potential or taking risks to be your best, somebody is not going to like it. But my favorite saying for situations like that is that “What people think of me is none of my business!!” They are entitled to their opinions but I don’t have to hear them!  Everyone and everything has detractors, but it doesn’t make any sense to pay attention to them. We have to remember that we are each on our own paths and we can’t let others knock us down or push us off the path or we will never become all we were meant to be!

Instead of hearing those naysayers, focus on your cheerleaders and supporters. They’ll help remind you of why you’re so special, unique, and fabulous. Because YOU ARE! Now get out there and show the world what you’ve got!

Confidently yours,







Why You Have to Pay Yourself…Today!

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If you read that headline and you are NOT a small business owner or an entrepreneur, you probably just said “Huh?” Because not receiving a salary for your hard work seems illogical and crazy, right? But that’s exactly what so many small business owners do, and they think they’re making a smart move for their company.

If you are one of those small company owners, particularly for a creative business like interior design, some of you may be saying: “Pay myself? Really?! I can barely pay my bills!”

But let me turn the questions around to you and ask: “Who is your most valuable employee?” YOU are your most important and most valuable employee, and you need to treat yourself just as you would any other staff member who’s important to the success of the company. And I feel pretty confident they wouldn’t work for free? So why are you? And really, if you never make any money in your job, what’s the point of doing business at all?

This is what separates the people who are operating their companies as a hobby versus of as a real business. Not paying yourself a real salary and just assuming that you will use whatever profits are left at the end of the year is a very dangerous game of smoke-and-mirrors. Because if you are just making enough to pay your bills, or fooling yourself that the $10,000 left over at the end of the year is a job well done, then you don’t have a good grasp on your financials and you don’t have a clearly defined path to profitability. Basically, you don’t have a sustainable business model.


If that’s the way you’ve been operating, then you’re just one income issue away from disaster. Not good. And if you are one of those many people that think “one day” I will have the money to pay myself, you’re wrong about that too. That magical moment of “now I have enough” will never come. If you don’t value yourself and your business enough to pay yourself today, you will find all sorts of other reasons (excuses) that you need the money you are earning for growth or employees, or expansion or other. So trust me…Today is the day to pay yourself.

Still not convinced? Here are my top reasons that you absolutely have to pay yourself, and how:

1. This must be a business, not a hobby! This is worth saying again. If you’re subsidizing your business by not paying yourself, then your company isn’t in good financial health. Too many small business owners think they should be the last to get any money when they’re starting or growing a business. But that isn’t true! You have a better chance of starting on the path to a real and profitable business if you have a salary included in your overhead from the very first day of business and you make a plan to cash flow your operations including your salary.

2. You can’t ever hire if you aren’t paying the ONE employee you have now! That would be you. Think about everything that you do for your company – all of your responsibilities and tasks. Wouldn’t you pay someone else to do all that work? Exactly. But it’s going to be tough to add someone to your overhead and come up with the money to pay them, if you’ve been just “volunteering” for your company all this time to complete those same tasks. You have to be able to afford employees as your company grows, and you can only do that if you have a budget line for salaries. If you haven’t been paying you, I doubt you have money earmarked and ready to pay others.

3. You have to pay yourself in order to keep the passion for your business alive. I’ve already asked this, but if you aren’t making anything out of this business, then what’s the point of doing business at all? No, really, what’s the point? Running a small business is hard. I know from experience that if you haven’t already, you will soon find yourself managing people and tasks and you will have very little time to do the thing you started this business for to begin with. And if you are working for free doing these tasks you don’t love it’s even worse. You’re going to burn yourself out and you’re going to be angry and resentful about your business and lack of funds. That isn’t exactly a great mood to be in if you want to attract more clients and more business. And it’s just no fun. Your dream was to do what you love AND get paid well for it. And if you aren’t paying yourself for that work today, (I’ll say it again) you never will.

4. It’s a great incentive. If you do want to attract more clients (and I know you do!), then what better way to motivate yourself to work harder than you already do than to give yourself a paid incentive to bring in more money. If you’re really being disciplined about your finances, then you know exactly how much money you need to make each month to meet your overhead. And you should then know how much more you need to make in order to give yourself a raise. And realizing all the things you can do with that money from taking your family on a vacation to saving for your kids college funds, can be a real reason to work even harder and put some more of that money in your own pocket.  A great incentive, indeed!


Okay, so now HOW do you pay yourself? I’m not saying you should start out with a $100,000 salary (unless you really are doing that well financially), but even just paying yourself a few hundred dollars a week can help. And of course you can give yourself a raise as your revenues increase. So I suggest mapping out what it would take in revenues to cover your business overhead AND pay you what you want and deserve and reverse engineer that into your sales goals.

The way to make more money is to bring in more business, and/or to raise your fees. Most of you are NOT charging what you’re worth, which is a whole other conversation, but that’s probably your biggest challenge to paying yourself. So you need to get a strong handle on your finances so you know exactly what your overhead expenses are, what your revenues are, and what you need to be making every month to not only stay in business but earn a profit. And you need to be absolutely sure that you’re charging enough for your services to hit these numbers.

I know it’s tempting to not pay yourself when you are afraid you can’t pay your bills or your employees. But if you ever stop paying yourself, it will be almost impossible to start it back again. So I suggest instead of cutting your salary as a payroll savings, spend your time and energy increasing your revenues and launching diverse revenue streams that will help you afford yourself and your business. Again, it’s really the ONLY reason to stay in business.

I know getting serious about business and making money can be tough, especially for creatives, but it’s critical to getting your company into great financial shape and operating it like a real business should so it can afford you your dream life. So get out that checkbook and write a check to yourself TODAY! And leave me a comment below and let me know if this is one of the things you struggle with in your business and if you’re willing to make the leap towards valuing yourself as the key part of your business right now.  You can do it!







PS – If you want my help in getting your financial house in order, and learning to charge what you’re worth, check out my online business courses in Tobi U! There are specific modules on those very topics, as well as ideas for attracting your ideal client, putting together a winning marketing strategy, and MORE!

And a few weeks ago we asked you to enter to win a FREE semester of Tobi U – and the winner was Angela Palmer! Congrats, Angela! I know Tobi U is going to rock your world and your business!