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Lessons from Five Years In Business

FIVE YEARS IN BUSINESS! I can't believe I'm typing that, while also collectively feeling all five of those years in my bones. For our business anniversary, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what we've been able to do in that time, and give new designers a realistic look behind the scenes. As much I love it, building a business is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and if I can add some truth to the non-linear journey of building a design business, I'm here for it!

As it does for most of us, my design business started in this home office with me, myself, and I working (and Brian doing the heavy lifting and emotional support). We started out offering interior design services, as well as floral and event design. It took one windy outdoor wedding at 107 degrees to decide that wasn't the best way to steer the business!

Every time that I placed flowers on a table, it was burning to a crisp or blowing right off! We were supposed to attend the wedding as well, and we missed the first part of the ceremony so Brian and I could go and get ready. We changed at the gas station, attended the wedding, and then we got home to find our air conditioner had frozen up and it was leaking and dripping through our drywall! I ended up with heatstroke with no AC - I literally laid on our sofa all day on Sunday with ice packs on me. And I said never again. Never. Again.

I really prefer my stress to be drawn out over the course of a project versus all resting on one day. I still enjoy doing flowers, so I'll bring flowers that I've put together for installs, but my wedding floral career stopped very quickly!

I don't know why I started including other hobbies, but that's a lesson I would love to pass on - not every hobby or passion has to be part of the business you create. It may be tempting as you gain your footing running your own show. Even if you try it, it's ok to stop offering something you did previously (we still get inquiries from word of mouth referrals) and say that you no longer offer that service.

Five months into starting the business in 2017, I went through my spinal fusion surgery to combat injuries from a car accident a year and a half prior. To give myself proper time to recover, I slowed down a lot - I didn't advertise or market for a year, and only worked on projects for people that knew me personally while I was healing.

This home was my first full paid project, which was for my dad and stepmom. Since it's in the family, I actually spend a lot of time in this house, and it's so funny to see what I would do differently now, even though it turned out beautifully!

At the beginning, the biggest learning curve for me was figuring out exactly how my projects needed to run. I was a project manager for years previously, but still didn't always know everything that needed to happen for things to progress seamlessly. Now with my own name attached to every project, it felt like a whole new ball game. I didn't know about trade vendors and purchasing wholesale - design fees were not enough to cover everything. I spent so much time developing systems and processes to keep clients informed from inquiry to the final care packet, and am still working through those things to this day!

Luckily, they gave me a lot of grace throughout that first project, and we are starting on a new project with them now! They are building a home in Santa Ynez, and we get to collaborate with my brother, who is an architect, on the project! I love that we get to work on this together, building a family legacy, and I love that they get to see firsthand the improvements in our process.

Anyway, back to the beginning...

Once I felt good enough to dive back in after the surgery, I started posting randomly on Instagram thinking that someone would hire me - crickets. My oldest brother actually does SEO (search engine optimization) for a living, so he started working his magic and gaining a little traction. But I have to be honest - the second year in business was terrifying to me and I almost gave up. I started searching for local Interior Design job postings because I hadn't landed anything of consequence and we obviously needed two incomes. We owned our house and things were getting very, very tight.

After hours and hours of work behind the scenes, and months of anxiety hoping for the best but not seeing the fruits of my labor... I actually started getting inquiries and got the shot of confidence I needed to keep going and stay the course.

I hired my first employee in year three, and she was with me until COVID hit. I also invested in my first big design conference at the beginning of 2020, and met a group of designers that I still talk to daily about the constant obstacles that come up in our businesses (and all the fun life stuff too). That conference led to completely revamping our branding and website (you can check out that process here) right around the same time.

When the world shut down, my first employee decided to move out of state, and a few big projects pulled out right at the start of COVID. I was nervous I wouldn't have enough work to keep her on when everything shifted, so that whole time almost felt like it was meant to be.

There I was, back to the home office by myself, wondering what was going to happen and stressed about gaining momentum, to then be completely shut down along with the rest of the world.

And then right around May 2020, everything just blew up! A lot of people were stuck at home, looking around and contemplating renovations, or making decisions move houses and update that new space. We were getting more inquiries than we had bandwidth to take on, and it made sense to expand our space and team!

By the end of 2020, we were in an office space and I had two new girls on my team. We then outgrew that office in about six months, and moved into our current office at the end of 2021 (final installations and permits still pending!). These offices have seen us work on out of state projects for the first time, open an e-commerce shop with handmade designer pillows, complete fully new builds, small furniture and decor projects, and many projects in between.

I'm so grateful to my family and my team for being the rocks in my life, and for all the work it's taken to get here, to the office in transition you see below. It hasn't been easy, but it's hard to explain how good it feels to see what can be built with resilience, refusal to give up even in the darkest of times, and a big vision.

If you're in the middle of your beginning in design, or really any dream, I'm here to tell you to dig your heels in and make it happen! None of us are ever really ready for anything big in our lives - you really just have to start, hold on to hope, and work your butt off to create the vision you have!

And if that dream has to happen down the road, that's completely okay. I had five years of experience working in another firm, and I'm really thankful for that. I couldn't imagine going straight from school into my own business (but not saying that it wouldn't work for you!). I learned a lot of the realities of design, timelines, permits, and team dynamics from my time there, both good and bad, and that frame of reference has been invaluable to decisions we make every day.

I think I've talked enough today, but I wanted to end with a huge thank you to all of the clients that have trusted us to create beautiful homes for them, to our team and their hard work day in and day out, our online shoppers and readers (that's you!), and all of our trade vendors that deliver quality work and furnishings to our clients. It takes a village, and I love mine.

Cheers to many more years!



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