Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

Are Your Subs Sub-Par?

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You could be the very best at what you do – the master of customer service, of creativity, and of quick delivery – and your entire project could be destroyed by one sub-par subcontractor. It’s scary, but too often the power to make or break our best clients isn’t actually in our control.

If you’re in a business like mine, who you choose to work with or to partner with, can really be critical to your company’s success! I work with some of the best subcontractors in the business – and I really reward them so that I will be able to work with them for years to come. In fact, I often tell people that I would rather get rid of my brand new house than my drapery guy! That’s a joke, of course, but it does let you know how important that person is to my business. He’s not just important, he’s critical.


And it isn’t just about providing a great product to you and your clients, it’s about reflecting your business’s values and branding, too. For example, you can provide the highest level of white-glove service, but if your art installer shows up in dirty clothes that barely fit and smelling of cigarettes, that’s also going to be a reflection on you! Maybe that doesn’t seem fair, but that’s how it is.

Because whoever you choose to partner with must represent your best, too. So if you have painters entering a home you’re designing, they must be professional, courteous, and look professional. Or if you are a photographer, your assistants must be well groomed, on-brand, and in the background.


The best advice is to be sure you spell this out upfront before you start to work with a sub. My letters of agreement and contracts spell out what my expectations are – that I expect the same level of professionalism that my own company provides. I even talk about personal grooming and presentation. That may seem over-the-top to some, but it’s the best way to protect the hard work I’ve put into building my brand and my customer experience!

And I once even had to ask a person to leave a job site when they showed up with sloppy clothes and a really nasty attitude. I also called the company that sent that person out, to be sure they understood what the issue was. Again, not the most fun thing to do, but I would rather have a few uncomfortable conversations with subcontractors than to lose a client or future business!

So be sure you do the hard work of vetting companies and people that you want to work with – it could save you a lot of headaches in the future. And when you find that perfect partner, be sure you treat them like gold! They’re worth a lot for your future success!







Too Much Information

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A few weeks ago, I told you about the importance of turning off the noise, which would be the constant bombardment of emails, Facebook, news, and phone calls. You’re far more productive if you don’t have that continuous interruption. But I want to go even further this week and tell you what that TMI (too much information) is really doing to you and your company.

We’re lucky enough to live in an age where we carry the world’s greatest libraries, weather station, information tool, television, mailbox, and phone around with us everywhere. It makes us more knowledgeable, but it also can be overwhelming. Having access to nonstop news, to people feeling that they can get an answer from us immediately and at any hour, or to an overwhelming tide of info about other people’s lives – that can make us feel like we’re drowning in information. And that’s not good.

We’re being bombarded by irrelevant information – things that we really don’t need to know to get through our workday or to run our companies. And what is that doing to us? It takes our attention and energy away from what’s REALLY important.


For example, if you have business news on in the background as you work all day, then you’ll see a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs in the stock market. Or if you click on CNN on your computer, you’ll be hit with horrible events and tragedies from around the world. That can only increase your sense of worry – especially over things that make no difference to your business.

That news can also increase your fear, making you less likely to take risks or to try new things in your company. Studies show that seeing all that scary news has a negative impact on our mood and our sense of well being. And even if you are just checking Facebook, you’re seeing those articles and news flashes as your friends and friends-of-friends like them or respond to them.

Checking email, texts, and Facebook obsessively can also make you feel like you’re being pulled in 20 directions at one time. And the sad thing is that more than half of those things aren’t important at all. But it’s almost a reflex to respond to them in some way now, and that’s a very bad habit.

All of those distractions are keeping you from being your most creative and idea-generating self! They’re keeping you and your company from getting to your goals more quickly, to finding the success you crave. And you’re allowing them to have that power over you!


Two of my favorite authors have recognized this scary trend and have talked about solutions that work. First, Tim Ferris, who wrote 4 Hour Work Week, says we need to put ourselves on a Low Information Diet. We need to turn off all the noise and only pay attention to information that helps us do a better job, or to news that will truly impact our company.

And in Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he says that we need to focus mental and physical energy only on things we can control – so we have to forget about obsessively checking the weather, or worrying about traffic before we even get in the car.

So how do we put ourselves on that Low Information Diet? You already know the answers if you think about it. If you work with a TV on, turn it off. You’re taking in that information, even subconsciously, so cut off that flow.

Eliminate all irrelevant information by taking all those bookmarks off your browser. It’s too easy – and tempting – to just click a button and check the news quickly. Or to see the score on a game. Don’t make it easy!


You should also turn off ALL notifications on your phone and/or tablet. And I mean all. You do not need to know that someone liked your Instagram post, or that a tweet mentioned you, or that someone responded to you on Facebook. That is not important to your job or to your company, so shut it all down.

On your computer, make it a habit to log off from your email and Facebook once you’ve done a check for the day. Force yourself to have to log back in to get any of that info – if it takes you longer to do it, it gives you more time to consider if you really NEED to do it.

Use your Do Not Disturb function on your phone. That will screen all of your calls when you’re trying to be creative or work on your cash flow. You have to be able to focus on your work without distractions. That will make you more efficient and will help you get through your tasks more quickly and with a clear mind.

And if you work with others in your offices, shut the door. Make it a can’t-break rule that you must not be disturbed when the door is shut.

If you set these rules for yourself, and stick to them, you will be able to get more done in a much shorter amount of time. And you’ll keep yourself focused on what needs to be done. I guarantee it will make you more creative and better at generating new ideas, too!

So what do you think about the Low Information Diet? Let me know in the comments section below!








Give Your Clients Something to Talk About

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If you’re “of a certain age,” you probably remember that famous Breck shampoo commercial that showed a woman who loved the shampoo so much that she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on. At the time, I just thought it was a cute commercial. I didn’t realize that it’s one of the best examples of how advertising really works.

What do I mean? Well studies by top advertising and research companies like Ogilvy and Nielsen show that 84% of people trust recommendations about products and services from family, friends, and acquaintances more than they do any other form of advertising or marketing! In fact, that’s almost double the percentage who are influenced by the next most influential channel. It really shows the power of people, doesn’t it?


There’s even a term for it now that’s being taught in the top business schools: Word-of-Mouth Marketing, or WOMM. And it is critical for the success of YOUR small business. You can throw all the money you want into advertising and marketing, but if you’re ignoring your client’s experience and the customer service you provide, that marketing isn’t going to do a thing for you.

You would be better off spending more money ensuring that you have stellar systems in place, that you are meeting every deadline, and that you’re handling any issues quickly and professionally. You would influence more people if the clients you’ve worked with can only say “That business is one of the best I’ve ever worked with!”


So what do you think your clients – past and current – would say about you right now to their family and friends? Because studies also show that you’re only one degree of separation away from your next great client! You want people to have something great to say about you – not something less-than-flattering.

Take an honest look at your client experience. Map out every point of contact you have with your clients and decide where you can do a better job of communicating with them, or where you could provide a WOW moment that will knock their socks off. But be prepared – because you then have do that same amazing job for every single client, every single time!

If you provide amazing customer service, consistently and effectively, you’re really going to give your clients something to talk about! And that will help you grow your client list better than anything else you can do!







Get It In Writing!

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If you’re in a small business that works with clients – like mine with interior design – do you have contracts, or at least a letter of agreement? Many people don’t operate with them, seeing them as too much of a hassle. Sometimes they’re just too embarrassed or timid to ask their clients to sign a contract, or they don’t want to be held to an agreement themselves. And sometimes they think they just don’t have the time to sit down and iron out the details for a contract that the client will sign. But that’s just flirting with disaster!

Having a contract protects you and your business just as much as it holds you to specific standards. For example, you can cover return policies for products, you can specify that you have the write to promote a successful project, that you must be paid for out-of-town or out-of-state travel, and more.

verbal contract

Even more critically, your contract can spell out your fees, payment schedule, and retainer policies. It can cover liabilities and warranties. The contract is the place to spell out all the parameters of the job and any issues that can come up later. They minimize risks – for you and for the client.

And this has to be created with a lawyer – period. Don’t think that you can just type something up and use it as an agreement. You want to button up any possible future issues, and that’s what a lawyer can do for you. It’s worth the money and the time that you put into it.


I can hear a lot of your creatives out there saying: “Ugh, Tobi. I know I need one, but it’s intimidating to sit down with my clients and try to make them sign a contract.” I hear you, I know this isn’t fun. But you HAVE to do it. It’s non-negotiable. What I tell my clients is that this protects THEM, too. Because my company will also have to uphold everything that’s spelled out in the contract. It keeps the relationship running smoothly.

And I always sit down with my clients and go over the contract together, in person. That allows us to talk about all the details, like why I have to be able to photograph their homes for my business. And they actually appreciate that I want to protect them as much as I want to protect myself. It professionalizes our relationship – and it shows them that I really mean business. Too often, creatives bootstrap their businesses to the point where their own clients almost don’t consider them a “real business,” and this is one area where you can really change that.

So I hope I’ve convinced you how important contracts are for your business and your clients! Let me know in the comments below if you have a contract and how it’s working for you.







Must Read Business Books

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biz books

I love to read! I have my Kindle out on every trip and at just about every free moment. And my go-to books are almost always selections that are empowering and about business, or about personal growth. I’m asked so often about my favorite business books and there are so many that it’s hard to name just a few. Plus each year as I read new books, I add more and more to my list of favorites.

But just in case you’ve missed reading any of these, I thought I’d give you a list of a few of my “must reads”. Let’s take a look.

Start with Why,
by Simon Sinek. This is a book that I refer to constantly in my courses and live events. It gets right to the core of each one of us by asking a simple question: Why? Why do you want to go to work? Why do you want to own your own business? Why do you get out of bed every day? The answer can’t just be money – it has to be deeper than that. There has to be a passion, a deep reason that we each decided to do what we’re doing. If you recognize what your “why” is, and you keep that constantly as your focus, you will succeed!

weWorth Every Penny, by Sarah Petty and Erin Verbeck. This isn’t a book that you just go through once and then put on a shelf – it’s the type that you’ll refer to over and over again. It lays out exactly how you can (and should!) charge what you’re worth. And it focuses on the idea that you should never compete on price, but instead should offer something unique and make your customer service completely over-the-top and consistent. A must-read for any small business owner.


Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. There’s a reason why this book by Facebook’s COO got so much attention – it’s a game changer for women in business. Sandberg reminds women that we need to lean in instead of pulling back in business, that we need to stop thinking it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, as powerful (or more) than men. And she says that women must raise our expectations of what we can achieve! This is an honest and straightforward book that redefines what and who women can be in the business world.


Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. You may not think of this as a traditional business book, but for me, it really is. Brown writes about failure in a different way than most books and blogs have. She not only recognizes that each one of us has failed, but that we will fail again soon. But it’s how we react AFTER failing that’s the key, she believes. She points out that we all have to be brave to fail – that we have to have the courage to try something new before we can fail at all.  Once we see that, it takes the fear out of failure and shows us we can “rise strong.”


The 10x Rule, by Grant Cardone. I’ve used Cardone’s “massive action” approach to really propel my own business, so I know it works. The idea is that you should apply 10 times the effort to whatever your goal is. You have to move beyond normal action to separate yourself and your company from everyone else! You must set big goals – 10 times bigger – and then increase your amount of action and effort to get there. Most people settle for less, and that’s why they don’t achieve their dreams.


The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about confidence – I really believe that it’s a problem for so many in business, and it’s really holding people back from getting what they want–particularly women. This is a practical guide that tells women how we can up our confidence quotient through less people pleasing and perfectionism and by taking more action and risks, and by failing. Because through all of that, you learn that you can survive, and thrive!

What are your favorite business books? What do you read that inspires and empowers you? Let me know in the comments section below – I’m always looking for something to read!