Updated: May 12, 2020
What I love about the interior design world is that, if done well, it can be a very low-cost-high-reward industry as a business owner. If you're someone who hears that and says, YEAH RIGHT, let's talk about a few ways that staying small - with your space, your budget, your team - can allow you to play BIG.
1) To Rent or Not To Rent?
For the past four years, aside from a two month stint working out of a co-working space, I've operated Lauren Figueroa Interior Design completely out of my home office (and coffee shops...of course). There are of course arguments for renting studio space - visibility, work-life balance, too much STUFF, appearing professional - but I haven't found any of these to be a solid enough argument to justify another monthly rent payment.
Yes, it sounds dreamy to have a cute little studio space on a main drag in a hopping downtown area. But the overhead that comes along with renting that studio space could be better spent on so many things: awesome marketing tactics or - better yet - a vacation to Ireland!!
My current operating budget, including one part-time employee, is less than $2,500 a month. I know!! That's CRAZY tiny for a business. Even in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I would essentially double my monthly budget if I were to rent a downtown studio space. Sure, I could find office space cheaper in a less awesome spot, but at that point, I wouldn't want clients meeting me there anyway, and I'd rather just work from home!
I operate almost solely in the residential design sphere: high end homes, condos, and apartments. And for 90% of those projects, we meet with our clients in those spaces. None of my clients have ever been to my office, nor asked to, and for the few presentations where it didn't make sense to meet on site, there are plenty of local co-working spaces and conference rooms for rent that I can access for a fraction of the cost of renting my own space.
Visibility can be attained in so many ways, especially now, with the world wide interwebs and social media platforms. And to get local visibility, you can join a local chamber of commerce or another networking group to get to know your area business owners - without a brick and mortar space - and for a much smaller price tag.
2) Take Advantage of Your Local Resources
You don't need to have a brick and mortar show room with floor models, a huge design studio, and endless sample library to be the best of the best. In fact, I think it's smart to let someone else invest in that setup and then YOU reap the benefits. For example:
For furniture, pillows, and accessories, our firm works almost solely with a local design center that caters to interior designers. It's a beautiful location - 15 minutes from my house - with amazing lighting, big tables for working, and a fantastic design library, and they handle all the ordering, shipping, receiving, and delivery of items for my projects. They work with hundreds of manufacturers, so there's pretty much never a time when I can't find what I'm looking for, and their sample library is always up to date (something I don't have to worry about).
There are benefits to having your own design library and your own accounts with manufacturers, but the discounts we receive through our design center are basically the same as we could get through direct accounts with manufacturers, plus they handle all the logistics of receiving/storing/installation. In so many ways, they are like additional members of your team that aren't on your payroll. It's amazing!
Another benefit is that because they work with so many designers, they know the product SUPER well. I can say, "Hey Becky - I'm looking for a sofa in this style around this price point with these options," and she'll send me to the right manufacturers to find those pieces.
Additionally, with so many resources online - specifically, your manufacturers catalogues - it's incredibly easy find the pieces you want while working right from your laptop. Once I've selected all the pieces for a project (via the internet), I plan for one day where I bop into the design center to choose all my fabrics and finishes and order additional samples if needed.
2) To Hire or Not to Hire? My Love Affair with Outsourcing
Up until two months ago, I was a completely solo design firm. Now, that doesn't mean I didn't have a team, but I was the only person on my payroll.
If there's one thing I LOVE, it's outsourcing. And that doesn't have to mean you're outsourcing actual design work. You can outsource blogging, social media, photography, admin work, bookkeeping - you name it!
When you first get started, it's a good idea to try your hand at all aspects of the business to get a feel for where you shine, as well as what tasks are not your cup of tea.
As you build your network of local businesses and fellow creatives, you'll also begin to find people you want to work with. I've always found that working with another small business - usually where the owner is involved in the project - means better service. The reputation of a business is always on the line when providing customer service, and no one is going to be as passionate about a business or providing the best possible service as the owner of that business. It's hard to find that in an employee (not impossible, but hard). That's why I say, outsource first!
Outsourcing also gives you flexibility. You can outsource on a project by project basis, or try out several different vendors, without ever having to "hire" or "fire" an employee - which comes with a LOT of expense and additional admin hours.
Here's a list of the services I've outsourced over the past four years:
Admin (via virtual assistant company)
3D Drawings and Renderings
Delivery and Installation
On-site assistants on installation days
Outsourcing also gives you the flexibility to chance directions very easily. If you hire an in-house CAD designer, and suddenly you decide it's not cost effective to be providing drawings for every project, well, now you have an employee whose skill set doesn't match your vision. Instead, find a local CAD designer you can work with, and factor that cost into your proposal.
Schedule a Coaching Call
Ready to talk more about staying small to play big? Have other questions or topics you'd like to address about your interior design business? Schedule your on-on-one coaching call here.