I can't believe it's been a year already since I left the stability and security of a full-time job and said goodbye to all my lovely colleagues. It wasn't an easy decision, but the timing felt right to take this exciting leap of faith - having worked for a number of design studios in London for many years, I was fed up off the commute, and running my own interior design business is something that I've always wanted to do.
I wrote a post about it at the time, titled "A Year From Now You'll Wish You Started Today" (a Karen Lamb quote) - now, a year later, I am reflecting on the highs and lows to running my own business - luckily, there have definitely been more highs so far! :)
The first few months were fun and busy - I developed my own branding and website, and carved out some space in the house for a studio space by converting my dressing room to a sample library and setting up a desk space. I networked - I met with architects, developers, suppliers, former colleagues, friends and practically anyone who would listen and take a business card.
To stay motivated, I read a lot of books on starting and running a small business (I'd really recommend Daniel Priestly's books "Entrepreneur Revolution" and "Key Person of Influence" and Simon Sinek's "Start with Why").
Slowly but surely, all the hard work started to manifest as I won one project, and then another, and then another... It was probably about 6 months in when it sunk in that I didn't have to 'go to work' anymore.
WORKING WITH MY OWN CLIENTS
I've been lucky and there have only been a few minor hiccups this year - my best advice for keeping things on track when dealing with your own clients are:
• Manage expectations: The best way to keep clients happy is to communicate clearly and often - keep your client informed so that they know what to expect from you and when.
• Put everything in writing: I keep a written record of every discussion and decision, and always try to follow up a phone call or a meeting with an email to avoid miscommunication.
• Professionalism - My motto is to always be friendly, stay calm and positive. Refurbishing is stressful enough for the client, they don't need attitude from the designer.
• Be Pragmatic and Solutions Driven - When problems occur, it's best to take a pragmatic approach and offer suggestions on how best to proceed - it's my job as the designer to find solutions.
Working from home is a privilege and I love it most of the time, but I was concerned how the change from working in a vibrant, dynamic studio environment with lots of collages to bounce ideas off of might affect me.
However, most days I'm either with clients, chatting to suppliers, or so busy glued to my laptop / designing that I don't have time to notice - and my studio assistant (Pepsi the dog) also keeps me company, and reminds me to step away from my laptop occasionally (for walkies).
I've also got the support of the amazing Interior Design Collective, a community of likeminded interior designers who I know I can rely on for moral support, advice and company - and contributing back to the IDC community feels just as good.
In fact, I've probably met more like-minded people and made more friends this year than in employment through networking and generally having more choice over who I work with. :)
IT'S MORE REWARDING
The most rewarding part of being a designer is undeniably a happy client and the sense of price from accomplishing a beautiful project. Yet, there is something additionally fulfilling about somebody choosing to work with you in particular - the relationship is richer because you've made a mutual decision to work together.
THERE'S MORE RESPONSIBILITY
The lows have been when unexpected problems occur on site or when there are disagreements with clients because I am directly responsible for what happens on my projects - I take my work very seriously and highly dislike conflict - but luckily, there haven't been many of these instances (Be Pragmatic and Solutions Driven).
On top of designing and overseeing projects, I am responsible for bookkeeping, marketing, accounting, admin, networking, placing orders, liaising with suppliers and builders etc - running a business is definitely more than a full time job - it's not always easy, but when you're doing it for yourself it feels worthwhile.
Certainly not one of the highs - I'm currently doing my own accounts.
In the short term, bookkeeping and company returns is something I want to understand how to do myself, so I'm putting up with my own tears and tantrums for now - but the future plan is to hire an accountant so that I can spend more of my time designing.
Freedom to plan my own time and achieve a better work-life-balance by ditching the commute were my main drivers for starting my own business.
Changing the 9-5 mindset was surprisingly challenging until I realised that instead of having to do all my work between the weekday hours of 9-5, I had 168 hours a week to balance my work and my life.
I have always found it hard to force creativity, so this new perspective has taught me to work smarter - I do my admin tasks in the morning to clear my desk, plan my day around my clients / projects / own errands, and design when I feel most inspired (usually at midnight). It may not be a schedule that works for everyone, but it works for me - and I'm the boss! ;)
I still need to work on keeping my work-life-balance in check, which nowadays is challenging for the reason that work seldom feel like work - I'm spending my days living my passion.
So a year from now, I'm glad I started a year ago - maybe I even regret not starting sooner. :)