Hi all! I often receive emails asking how I got my start in interior design.
Do I have any advice for new designers?
How can they get their foot in the door?
I find this surprising because I still think of myself as working on getting my foot in the door. :-) I'm not a classically trained designer. I went to MSU for a degree in International Relations because I was just sure I wanted to be an attorney. And if I'm honest, I was afraid to do what I really wanted because I thought
I might disappoint my parents. Silly, but true.
I've put together a list of what I've learned along the way, because you've asked.
This post applies to anyone chasing down their dreams, not just to designers. I hope you find it helpful and possibly inspiring!
You have to start somewhere. Most of the time that's with your own home or apartment. Great! It may mean working for free with your first client, just to build your portfolio. If that's the case, try to find someone with a style/vibe you enjoy so you're excited to share the finished product. Don't wait for anyone to seek you out and give you permission. Thanks to the internet, for better or for worse, the gatekeepers in this world have nearly disappeared and if you want something, you can go out and do it. No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself!
Start telling people what you're doing and sharing your dreams. Put words to your vision and give it life. There are many spiritual components to this (both biblical and new age-y) that I won't get into, but give your dream legs and start talking about it. If nothing else, you'll begin noticing who is supportive and who is not!
People don't like talking about money, but as a designer, it's impossible to get started when you don't have an accurate picture of the client's budget. Are you sourcing a $10,000 sofa or a $1000 sofa? They are paying you for your time, and you don't want to waste it looking at options that were never an option in the first place.
Really. There's no shame in asking others how their process works. Every shop and showroom have different programs for designers. Just ask!
I know designers that never share what they've done because it's either not finished or not good enough in their eyes. Design is a process and takes time. If I waited until everything was always perfect or my ideal, I would never share anything! And possibly never have any clients. When I look back at old posts I cringe. But it's a journey and if you want new work then share what you've done.
Consistency builds trust. It means you keep going when your family doesn't really understand what you do. It means you keep going when your friends think it's cute you have a hobby. It means you keep going when someone you know and love hires someone else. It means you keep going when the friend that did hire you doesn't follow your advice. If you're feeling discouraged, find a friend who gets it and can support you. They do exist.
Find designers you look up to and follow them on social media and their blogs. There are so many ways to be constantly learning.
-Podcasts (I'm writing a separate post on podcasts, because I'm addicted and they're amazing.)
- B O O K S
You will make mistakes. We all do! The key is to move forward and do what you can to make it right. Think of it as feedback that what you were doing wasn't working and now you have the opportunity to change it!
I highly recommend FreshBooks cloud accounting. They don't know I exist, I just love them and want to recommend them! I had been hearing about FreshBooks from many freelancers, and it's a dream for designers. What I love best is the "time tracking" and "project" options on the app; perfect for someone who bills hourly. It gives me a very accurate picture of exactly how long I spend on each task for the job, and allows me to bill separately for those tasks. This also helps me provide more accurate estimates for future jobs because I know how long it typically takes me to finish a room. Plus, I despise numbers and spreadsheets, and this software is very intuitive so I actually enjoy it. Crazy!
**On that same note, people value what they pay for.
If no one is listening to you or taking you seriously, it's possible you're not charging enough.
For example, what exactly happens once a client signs up to work with you? Make a check list. If you know your timeline then you can schedule backwards every meeting and your clients know what to expect. I'm still learning and tweaking this process. An app I recently discovered and has been a game changer for me is Paperless. I'm a pen-to-paper kind of gal, but I don't always have a notebook with me and sometimes I need to get that idea down as quickly as possible. This post was basically written in the Paperless app and then I emailed the list to myself. Get it. You'll love it. I now have a list for everything.
**Pick which social media works best for you and use it.
No, you don't have to do EVERYTHING and be totally overwhelmed. It makes the most sense for me to be heavily invested in Instagram and Pinterest because our business is so visual. This is also why I blog! You will find your people and quickly discover which marketing works for you. Let the rest go.
Your work will not look like mine. My work does not look exactly like those designers I adore. (cough, Sarah Richardson also self-taught) That's the magic of this field! There are clients enough for all of us. I've learned that the best clients are the ones that hire me because they like my work, not because they know me from five years ago or someone told them to. Your ideal clients want what you have to offer, and if they aren't a good fit then there is another designer out there just for them. That's the beauty of this biz!
I have designers I look up to: Lauren Leiss, Emily A. Clark, Tobi Fairley, Sherry Hart, Amy Vermillion. I watch them. I follow them on social media and learn from them! And when I'm feeling the pangs of comparison (like all the cool kids who started blogging when I did are at a conference and I'm not) I stop my negative thoughts, and ask myself if (insert inspiring designer) would care about that. 99.9% of the time the answer is no. And voila, I feel better. They are not busy comparing themselves to other designers, they are getting s*%# done. So get back to work and knock it off. ;-)
There will be a moment when your client is freaking out. For example, you might receive a frantic text or email that the lighting you selected arrived and is too big. (It's not.) This has happened to me more times than I can count. When a client calls you panicked, trust your talent. There's a reason they hired you. Most of the time that's because they can't see or achieve the finished project and they are nervous it's not coming together. So there's this muddy middle part of the process when everything feels awkward, but it all comes together in the end! You are part counselor and part designer.
There are so many tools and software options out there to make your life better and communicate your vision to your clients. I use Olioboard to create my design boards, then I upload the finished piece to Pickmonkey to add labels and branding to the image. I also create a custom Pinterest board for each client so they can see each piece on its own, followed by a spreadsheet that shows where we're at with the budget. This is just me and every designer should do what they feel most comfortable with and then nail it.
-You'll quickly learn what isn't your jam. Maybe you love new construction and remodels make you want to poke your eyes out. Good! Then say no to remodels. There's a different designer for that.
-You need to give your dream TIME and commitment. This means saying no to wine night, or book club, or the fun play date at the museum. Block out a chunk of time every day to put towards your craft. Eventually the time and consistency adds up and you'll be surprised where they've taken you.
**Books I wish I would have read years ago.
This goes back to always learning, but there are some books I wish I would have read when I first started. Here's my list! They may surprise you but I guarantee they're worth the read. Yes, these are affiliate links but they are books that have changed me and how I work. I wish we could sit and talk about them over coffee! In the meantime you can always leave a comment or reply to this post via email.
The One Thing by Keller and Papasan
Success Principles by Canfield
Daring Greatly by Brown
The Artist's Way by Cameron
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Kondo
Next on my list that everyone has raved about is Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Vanerchuk
Next on my list that everyone has raved about is Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Vanerchuk
If you are reading this and wishing you were already a successful photographer, a designer, a maker, an entrepreneur, then ask yourself what one thing you could do today to make that happen.