Anyone else in the middle of a really busy season? I'll catch myself not getting much sleep, working on project after project, hiring new team members, working out of our new office, and thinking, "wow, this is all actually happening!" The thing I wanted so many years ago is actually a reality now. As much as I am so grateful to be able to say all of that, there are a few things I would have loved to have known back when I started out on my own years ago.
If you're just starting out in your own design career, or are just curious what my top 5 lessons have been over the years running my own business, have a look below!
01. Use a time tracking software.
If you bill hourly like we do, tracking time for projects is absolutely essential to ensuring you are being completely truthful about how much time it takes to complete a design project, both for your clients and for yourself! As a business owner, I would bet that I lost thousands of dollars in my first year by not being diligent about tracking time with an app that was easy to implement into my daily routine. Back in my first year, I would spend a full day every month trying to sift through emails and trace my trips out to job sites, trying to rebuild my schedule enough to create invoices to reflect all of the work that had happened.
Also keep in mind that the more accurate you are with tracking your time, the more transparent and completely accurate you can be with your future clients about how long design projects of a certain size may take. It also is necessary simply to know how much time is actually spent on a project, so you can better schedule and plan out future jobs. If you invest in learning and implementing anything in your first year, this tip is my #1!
02. Don’t be afraid to hire a team.
Like most designers I know, I had control issues with doing all of the work. I still want to be the one touching everything, doing everything... It's my baby, it's my name, it's all of those things. But there comes a point where you physically cannot do all of the work, and having other people is critical to growing your business and providing the best service to clients.
Hiring is hard, first and foremost - it's hard to find the right fit. But I've also enjoyed investing in other people. I know that they may not work with me forever, but I've tried really hard to create a good working environment for them. I'm still figuring stuff out too, so it's not perfect, and I have had to ask for a lot of grace from them. But at the beginning, you're probably hiring someone that doesn't have any expectations either as they are starting their own career. Because of that, they've given me a lot of grace and I've given them a lot of grace as we figure out this whole thing together!
Giving up control is how you grow, and it will be uncomfortable. But none of what I have now would be possible without the team I have and the work they've done day in and day out, whether in the office or remote.
03. Find design people that get you.
Community is, and will continue to be, the most important thing I have found in this last year.
Last February, I invested in Design Camp to work on my branding and website (have a look here). What I didn't realize I would find is an unbelievable group of ladies that have seen me through the darkest days and the highest highs of running an interior design business. The timing was perfect, as just a few short weeks after meeting them, the world changed tremendously. It would have been easy to feel isolated during all the trials of the last year, but I had them to lean on through it all.
As much as I love my husband for the time he takes to listen to me and try to understand the nuances of the business, he's not in it 24/7 like these ladies. Having people that understand the hard days, the delays, and fantastic reveals for my clients are few and far between, and I'm so thankful to be able to share in all of that with them in our group chat. Invest your time, energy, and funds into finding community as soon as you can, because business building can be a lonely place in the very beginning!
04. Be proud of yourself in each moment.
You will see other designers who have been doing this longer than you have, and it's easy to get into your head about how big their projects are. Building up to larger projects takes time, and I am definitely talking years here. In the beginning, those small jobs teach you just as many lessons as the big jobs will. Each job is a stepping stone and getting to the next one is just as exciting as the last.
All you have to focus on is doing good work for your clients, treating them well throughout the process, and after you've wrapped up too. Be proud of every milestone, big or small, because each one is another chapter in your autobiography that will push you forward!
05. Taking care of yourself is the most important.
Taking care of yourself is the most important lesson I've learned in the last few years. In the last few months, I have been so excited to be getting more inquiries, and I've taken all of those projects on because of that excitement. Everything comes at a cost, so I don't spend as much time with Brian or my family and friends as I want to, but I do need that balance. I'm not saying that I have it right now in this season... so I guess I should say this is the lesson I'm currently in the process of learning. Long story short - Don't let work consume your entire life. Design is important, but there is so much more to life, and you'll be a better designer if you aren't constantly in it all the time.
Thank you being here for my self-imposed TED talk :) I hope this helps someone out there who may be feeling alone or discouraged in building their business up. We've all been there and I encourage to keep going through those hard days! Drop me a message here if this helped you at all - I'd love to hear from you!