Building a thriving business takes hard work, planning and grit—especially for interior designers tasked with providing both a creative vision and an important service for their clients. Designers often feel overwhelmed with financials, staffing, expediting orders, processing invoices, client services, and much more. These obligations can often neglect the creative and artistic aspects of the profession. How do they run a successful interior design business and have the time to nurture their creative side, explore inspiration, and focus on design?

Several years ago, Keith Granet wrote The Business of Creativity to remind creative professionals the true purpose of their work and how to build the right team for success. Everyone needs to make a living, but interior designers have the privilege of getting paid to work a skill that also has creative opportunities with each and every design project for their interior design business.

He often advises to designers that if they take the time and plan carefully in their business, they can reserve ample time and energy to focus on design. This “design time” may include but is not limited to brainstorming, envisioning, finding inspiration in art and design, traveling, networking, education, sourcing products, attending trade shows, and meeting fellow creatives.

Here are three ways that will help designers make business and staff decisions for their interior design businesses so they can make space and time for creative, skill-building pursuits.

Delegate Responsibilities

Three people working together

As a design professional, you should always be in the process of exploring the unexplored to nurture your creative mind, hone your talents, and deepen your knowledge. To grow as a creative leader, however, you must delegate certain responsibilities that you know you can’t do as well to others. In the last chapter of The Business of Creativity, I go into detail “Why We Need People” and shared my thoughts about great leadership. Great leaders know a little about many things, mentor their staff, and allow each of them to specialize and become an expert at a specific skill.

As a leader in your interior design business, it is important to establish a positive company culture by leading by example. You set the tone and path for your staff’s projects and careers and then you can delegate day-to-day management of firm operations to managers and staff members who are skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced to ensure that projects and careers move forward.

Great leaders recognize their strengths and understand their weaknesses and should consequently seek out employees for their interior design businesses that can offset them. You should encourage team members to strengthen their skills in their respective areas so that the entire team operates at their fullest potential for a cohesive and strong team.

Empower The Everyday

Three people analyzing the project

Beth Farb, a business consultant, theorized that a designer’s work life is an onion and the goal is to peel your way to the core by taking off the work layers that can be better handled by someone else. (See Chapter 6 of The Business of Creativity for an in-depth description of the onion analogy.)  If you ensure that all aspects of your business operations are staffed by a skilled and productive individual, you can be confident that time can be set aside for creative thinking.

In peeling this metaphorical onion, the ultimate goal is to get to the core skills that present the best use of your time, skills—and most importantly—work you genuinely enjoy. Once you define the tasks you truly enjoy and the ones that you do not, you can make plans to either delegate the less enjoyable tasks to staff members who are talented in those areas.

What does it take to find someone to whom you can delegate tasks? You need to thoroughly assess your current staff and learn if there are any holes or knowledge gaps to fill. You can hire new people, but a more effective way is to train your current staff—who have already adapted culturally to your interior design business. And remember to surround yourself with strong people whose talent and skills you admire because it will make you stronger.

Define Your Vision

Couple consulting with the interior designer

When you become your own firm principal, you should define the unique value you bring as a creative with a successful interior design business. It is important to define and express your point of view in your work. What makes you passionate about design? How does this come across in your work? Why did you become an interior designer? Ultimately, what sets you apart from your fellow designers so that a prospective client chooses you?

Ethnographer and author Simon Sinek has a compelling TED Talk titled “Start with Why” that is a great inspiration for people searching for true meaning and purpose in their career. Simon urges people to go beyond the “what” and “how” as he suggests that they are secondary to the “why.” Consider your passion for the trade and what motivates you as a creative entrepreneur—and then define how your designs make your clients choose you over others. If you offer a compelling point of view, it attracts clients who buy into your vision whether it is a specific aesthetic, the way you do business, or your ability to translate clients’ needs into a satisfying living space.

A well-defined point or view will allow you to build a distinctive aesthetic or notable talent that becomes your ultimate selling point for your interior design business. Not only will this lead to a robust client pipeline, but it could lead to high profile opportunities like magazine features, showhouse room designs, and even product lines with significant brands. If you have a unique style that clients praise and come back for repeat business, the more likely a notable brand will want your personal style reflected in a product line with your name on it. If you are fulfilled on both the business front and the creative side, you can confidently chart a path to success.

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Studio Designer is the leading digital platform for Interior Designers managing and growing their design businesses. Featuring fully integrated project management, time billing, product sourcing, and accounting solutions for the interior design industry.

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