Welcome to Abby Manchesky Interiors!

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! 

**Do the work.
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!

**Put words to your dream.
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!

**Don't begin until you have a budget.
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.

**Ask questions.
Really. There's no shame in asking others how their process works.  Every shop and showroom have different programs for designers. Just ask!

**Share your work!!
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.

**Keep going.
 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.

**You are not an island. Immerse yourself in the field to grow your craft.
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.)
-Facebook groups
- B O O K S

**Failure is feedback.
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!

**Get your $ in order. 
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.

**Make checklists of your process and edit them.
 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.

**There's enough room for all of us.
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!

**Find people (even if it's virtually) who are killing it in your field.
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. ;-)

**Trust your talent but keep growing. Your clients hired you for a reason.
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.

**Decide what tools work best for your and learn them!
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.

**Be prepared to say no.
-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

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. 
Know that I'm cheering for you! We can cheer for each other. xo

What tips am I missing? Was this helpful?
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  1. Definitely! Though I am not an interior designer, your advice here is right on the dot for anyone willing to take on their dream! I don't think I have anything more to add here Abby, you've written this very well and very truthfully! Thank you!

    1. Thanks Vel! I agree, these ideas can apply to so much more than interior design. xo

  2. Thanks for this, Abby! This week I started working my dream as an interior decorator and I'm so excited and so nervous too. I can't wait to read your post on podcasts! And I'll check out these books--I've only read Daring Greatly and the Marie Kondo one so far. I love these quotes especially the one about the peach, I always think of that one when things don't work out. Next time you are in my area (East Lansing) we should definitely get a cup of coffee, my treat! :)

    1. Oh good! And don't worry, working with someone who doesn't like peaches would be a nightmare. ;-)

  3. Absolutely love this post! I agree with so much and theres still a lot I have bookmarked because I need to learn more! Can't win to check out Paperless and you are the second person to mention the Kondo book to me this week!

  4. Best.post.ever.
    Abby! I LOVE what you wrote here. And yes, the share your work shouted out to me ;-)!! Your take on all of this is great, and I am hooked on your quotes. So glad you wrote this and that I read it!!

    1. Thank you! Obviously your my friend in the post that "gets it." xoxoxoxo

  5. Great advice, Abby! Especially the part about showing your work...design can take SEVERAL weeks so that by the time it's actually finished, I don't have any photos. I think I may show progress photos. LOVE all your quotes. So inspirational.

    1. Thank you Mary Ann! I, for one, would love to see your process and more photos of your work! Thanks so much for reading. xo

  6. This post was really great I always love hearing other people's journey! I went to school and got my degree in liberal arts then took a 18 month program and became a paralegal thinking I'd eventually be a lawyer for the same reason as you I thought my parents would tell me what I really wanted to do was not a real job!!! Again love the post and love your work!!!

    1. Laurie! Thanks for sharing your story! I know, the elusive "real job"...If only we knew then what we know now. Blogs didn't even exist back then, at least not in the same life-changing way they do now.. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! xo

  7. What a fabulous heartfelt post Abby. I have loved watching you grow over the last few years and thank you for sharing so much. I am one of your biggest cheerleaders and wish you the best! Xo Nancy

  8. Abby! Awesome post and great advice. Seriously the pep talk I needed this week because....I want to quit whales and do interior design. So far I'm at the "my house is my design lab" stage but I keep telling myself to be patient, do the work, keep going, keep working, etc. Thanks for the shot in the arm. :)

    1. Erin, Thank you for sharing! And remember, there's always another ORC coming up, which can totally give you the traffic boost everyone wants. Cheering for you, xo

  9. This was totally helpful and full of great information! Even for someone who has been doing this for a few years! I have loved your work and your design vibe for quite some time and I love learning what other designers do/use/love to help them. I'm going to have to check out FreshBooks and that app you suggested. I'm constantly feeling like I need to reevaluate, learn and put into action all that is swirling in my head :) Great advice! ~gina

    1. Thanks Gina! I feel the same way. Always so many thoughts swirling around! I think that's why I finally wrote the post. I had to get it out. ;-) Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. xo

  10. this is a tremendous help and very generous of you to share! and timely, i am getting overwhelmed in my relatively new practice. like all creatives i disdain paperwork & spreadsheets, you have provided a light to this dark tunnel of billings! thank you abby

    1. Thank you Debra! Then it was worth writing the post. ;-) Best wishes with your practice and tackling that paperwork. Abby

  11. Abby--I am so honored that you included me in this post. I have loved watching your business grow and your talent (and heart) shared. Wonderful advice.

  12. I thought I commented....but I think it was on Instagram. I am thrilled to part of anybody's favorite list but from you it is even more meaningful:) I think we started blogging around the same time and you were so helpful to me! I have said this before but have so enjoyed watching you take risk in your design and get to the level you are now....I expect big things so hang in there with all of your multitasking, raising children and trying to have a family life! You have loads of talent my friend xoxo Sherika

    1. Sherry, Thanks for always being my cheerleader. xoxoxo

  13. Great post Abby! And thank you for the book recommendations. I'm going to have to start digging into all of those!

    1. Thanks Sarah! Start with The One Thing. Well, they're all good. ;-) xo, Abby

  14. Abby, this is fantastic, but I'd expect nothing less from you :) All of it is really useful...I remember when you first went in the design direction and I love seeing your business grow!
    And that part one about cool kids at the conference and you're not...you're absolutely right that you just march on.

    I always wanted to go to school for design, but similar to you, I was held back. I'm ok with it now, because life has a way of working out and things come to you at the right time. But now that I'm home with my daughter it's on my mind again . . .and I think of you and how you did it later on, so surely I could too! Maybe in a year or two. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Oh, thank you Jane!

      Yes, life totally has a way of working itself out. And the good news is we all have time to figure it out year by year. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! xo

  15. Abby! This post spoke volumes to my heart. What beautiful, raw, & profound advice you shared. I also loved the quotes. I feel the need to return to this often, as am in a season now with the kiddos being so little that there is SO much I want to do more & make more time for (like blogging for a start) that I just get so flustered and overwhelmed thinking how I can even start. I know God has a wonderful purpose and plan for us all, and sometimes I struggle with what mine is outside of motherhood. I know I will continue to find the answers though. And at the same time I want to learn to relish in the season I am in because I know you as well as I hear how fleeting the years of raising children are. Thanks again for opening your heart & sharing this. It is relatable on so many levels. You surely inspire that is for sure!!

  16. Great post!!! I'm so curious into the accounting software since I need to keep better track of my time for billing. There is so much room for all of us, design really has a large scope and not playing the comparison game to others always keeps me in perspective!!!

  17. Hi Abby! This is a great list with a ton of great advice for anyone looking to start a design career. It's also always helpful to hear how other designers do things. I have a few friends locally who have inquired with me about how I got started and I'm going to pass your article on to them. Have a great weekend!

  18. Loved your posts!! Have been in the creative world for 5 years (2.5 trying to blog about it) BUT reading your posts totally rejuvenated my senses. THANK YOU!

  19. I love this post Abby, I will definitely bookmark and come back and read it again - and again! The part about not comparing yourself to others and just diving into the work rings so true to me. Turning a passion into a real job that can actually pay the bills is a huge leap and requires a lot of intention. So glad to read how you made it to where you are now. I have always loved reading your blog and following along on the process of your design work! Thank you for not only sharing your talents but also sharing how you became successful doing what you love.

  20. Terrific post and just what I needed to hear! Thank you!

  21. Such a great post. Lots of good info. Thanks!

  22. Do you know of any interior design podcasts? I was looking for some a few weeks ago and came up empty handed.

    Jen Gilday

  23. Abby, I can't thank you enough for this post. Your blog is a wonderful resource. I have dreamed of having my own design business for years. This was insightful, thorough, and the gentle kick in the pants I needed! xoxo

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. A person who is not in love with a particular idea per se, but in love with the idea of entrepreneurship itself. So the bottom line is this: Whether you love a certain profession or just love an idea, pick a business that you will love. Easy business to start


Abby Manchesky Interiors is a boutique design firm based in Grand Rapids, MI. Combining the new traditional, vintage and a dash of the unexpected is her ideal. Contact Abby Manchesky Interiors for more information on available interior design services for clients near and far. abbyminteriors@gmail.com | 616.719.9400


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