Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

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,

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5 Tips for Dealing with the ‘Messy Middle’

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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,

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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.

quality

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,

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5 Productivity Tips That Changed Everything

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focus

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!

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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.

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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!

xo,

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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.

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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.

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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!

xo,

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