When I first started out in interior design 10 years ago, I knew that I had some work to do. I was ready because I was raised with the knowledge that you only reap true rewards with hard work. But little did I know what I was in for. The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride, the sacrifices, the financial turmoil, the spiritual discernment, the late nights, the rewards, the recognition, the financial freedom, the amazing clients and colleagues. I keep saying to myself that I should write a book, lol, but this blog post will have to do for now. The one thing I do know is that I would never change a thing about the last ten years, because I believe that my experiences, both good and bad, have helped to shape the person I am today. But if I had to go back in time, there are a few things I would share with the wide-eyed, full of hope and promise young girl that was me
So 10 years is really not that long ago. I have colleagues that have been in the game like over 30 years. A great designer whom I have gotten to know very well through ASID started her design business in 1972! That's the year I was born! But even though I have only 10 years under my belt, I have seen the growth of my business through all the hard work and sacrifices. Who knew that I would be chosen as one of The Top Ten Emerging Designers To Watch by Black Interior Designers Network? This is something I couldn't have dreamed 10 years ago
But here I am at a point where I am proud of my accomplishments so far, but know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to be done. So many dreams and aspirations I still have. So much learning I still need to do. And so much mentoring that I would like to do.
So while I dream, I will share with any young designers who are watching me, the 10 things I would tell my designer self 10 years ago
Chill Out! - Yes, I would tell the big dreamer and hard worker that I was (and still am) to take some time to chill and relax. Lighten up a bit. There is no real joy in getting to the destination if you can't enjoy the journey. I am telling you, I was intense. I would work a full time job during the day, and manage my business at night. Sometimes getting 5 hours of sleep a night during the week. My kids were 9 and 4 back then, so I had to juggle single mommy-hood as well. Looking back, I am not even sure how I did it with no help whatsoever, but when you have that hunger for what you know you want, you go hard. All good, but chill out a bit.
Be Confident - I was all kinds of timid and shy and an introvert. Not around my clients, but around other designers. I was intimidated from what appeared to be successful designers, while I was struggling to get one client to sign on the dotted line. I now know that some of their illusions of success were just that, "illusions". They were just like me. I would walk into a room full of designers and not only was I the only designer of color, but the conversations would center around "where did you go to school?". Well, I am a design school drop-out, and why are middle-aged women discussing where they went to school? Little did I know that it was just a tactic used to size each other up, to see who was a threat or not. School knowledge is one thing, but real life design and business experience trumps that any day - at least if you are trying to make money and run a profitable business. Let everything you do exude confidence. You are good! No need to prove that to anyone except to your clients. Just get up everyday and do your thing
Get A Mentor - In my defense, I did try to find a mentor. I called around to a few of the design firms in my area when I was first starting out and offered to work for free, but they all told me no. Back then designers were scared that they would train you to be their competition. Can't say I completely blame them. But if you think lack your results will be lack. Having a mentor is a great way to learn the ropes. You only learn so much in school - you really don't learn how to run a successful design business. A good mentor is invaluable. I provide mentorship to many designers; anyone who asks. If I know what they are asking, I happily share it with them. I give no thought to whether they will be my competition or not. Even better if they do become my competition, because that will keep me on my toes. Many designers are so grateful for the help and respect you for it, and they are not seeking to back stab you
Work For A Design Firm - Working for a design firm would have taught me some of the ins and outs of running a successful business. I did work for a design firm franchise called DOTI (Designs Of The Interiors) for a little over a year. They were very heavy on the retail side, but we still got to do design work for our clients. I learned a lot there. But I wish that I was able to work for a few more who weren't necessarily a design showroom first but were more focused on all types of design work - commercial, residential, hospitality, multi-family, healthcare, kitchen and bath, and even the construction side of things
Don't Compare Yourself To Others - Comparing yourself is the stealer of joy. I went through a period of time where no matter how hard I worked, there were no clients. I was leafing through a magazine one day and saw that a top designer in the country (I only knew her through magazines) just got her millionth feature (millionth is an exaggeration :-) ). While I was genuinely happy for her, and even proud of her, a part of me wondered why these things were just falling in her lap without her even trying, while I struggled to feed my kids. In my heart I knew that wasn't true. I knew that she paid her dues all these years and was finally reaping the benefits of her hard work. I wrote her an email that day with tears in my eyes. I congratulated her for her feature (I meant it), but I went on to say a few things that looking back now, I shouldn't have said via email, because they were grossly miscommunicated. I said to her "how is it that I work so hard everyday, and see no publications knocking on my door to feature my work, but you seem to get features so effortlessly?" She forwarded my email to an assistant in her office with this message "Ughhh, jealous much!" I guess I wasn't supposed to see that part of the email, but I guess her assistant overlooked it. Or maybe God meant for me to see it. I wrote her back and apologized and confirmed my genuine happiness for her. I felt it was not entirely inappropriate to send her that email - she is actually a design coach in addition to being a designer, and I had bought one of her programs before, so I was expecting a design coach's response. She chose to overlook the fact that I was screaming for help and interpreted it as me being jealous. I vowed never to let that feeling overtake me again, so I worked harder. Comparing yourself to others is dangerous. As I mentioned above, sometimes it is an illusion of success. People will try to make themselves look more successful than they truly are. But it is mainly wasting time that you could be using to focus on what you can do to grow your business. I am so careful not to ever overlook any designer who reaches out to me. So that experience certainly taught me a few things. Her assistant's email back to me had the quote "comparing yourself to others is the stealer of joy" I have remembered it ever since
Network, Network, Network - It is worth saying even more than three times. This is my least favorite business activity. As I mentioned earlier, I am an introvert, and I can honestly be awkward in social settings. I struggle with small talk and it is hard to find things in common with people. It is so weird that I am none of the above with my clients. I think because I am so passionate about my work, I am able to talk to my clients and empathize with them and find something in common with them immediately. Talking to people to develop business is hard, but it is necessary. I had to learn to develop my elevator speech, be genuinely interested in other people's stories, don't look at it as an effort to getting more business, but as just showing up. Being in the right place at the right time or just showing up is always a good thing! Choose carefully. Networking is actually quite expensive to do, so find a few that you are really interested in and attend those frequently. It is all about consistency as well. People will get to know about you and your business by attending regularly, and even volunteering in some capacity
Doing Charity Work Sooner - So I now run my own charity called The Solomon Project that I started earlier this year. But I also volunteer with the Houston Furniture Bank DIVAS, that I have been doing for about 2 years. I have always had the desire to give back to the community using my talents and skills as a designer, but it took the backseat the first few years of my business. I was in beast mode trying to not go out of business, and making a good living to support my kids. But I had made a promise to God that if He showed me what my purpose is in this life, I will use it to glorify Him. He was always very clear that He wanted me to be an interior designer, and I couldn't understand it. "How was that glorifying you? I am spending people's money for a living". But God reminded me that I was meeting people in their homes - this is where they feel secure and are open to conversations. While I am getting to know them, they are getting to know me as well. It was the perfect opportunity to share my faith, Not in a pushy way, but in regular conversations. A lot of my clients are just moving into the area and settling in, so I will ask if they have already gotten the kids settled into school, and then I would tell them about the awesome kids ministry at my church (Westland Baptist Katy). I let God take it from there, Because often times, the kids love it so much they tell their parents and then they start coming to church as well. But there was more to this ministry that God gave me, now I can help the less fortunate by providing a comfortable home where they are surrounded by beautiful things - all from donated items. I wish that I had started doing charity work much earlier than I did. It is a blessing to me too. It totally takes the focus away from the struggles I went through. And sometimes charity work can be a great networking opportunity to develop business as well. So it's a win win
Invest In Professional Photography - If you go to my website portfolio page, that is only about 3 to 4 years worth of work I have done in the almost 10 years I have been in business. That is because for the first 6 or so years, I never took professional photographs of my work. Those photo albums are filed away in an old computer, never to be seen again. I would finish a project, I am happy, client is happy, there is a big love-fest, then I would use my camera on my phone to snap a few pictures and then dumped them on a gallery page on my old website. Then I wondered why people weren't calling. I am so thankful for the wonderful clients who looked past the bad quality of the pictures and saw the beautiful spaces that they really were. But these days, bad photography will not fly. Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz have absolutely changed the game for us and we have to keep up. Professional photography can be quite expensive, this is why it took me so long to get on board with it. But I have learned that setting aside a budget to take pro photos after every project - big or small is hands down the best marketing strategy there is for a designer. It is a MUST. The bottom line is that you will not get very far without a good portfolio. It affects the quality clients you attract as well. I now use two different photographers - one who charges a small fee to do some great shots for my portfolio, and a second guy who charges a lot more but his shots are editorial ready in case I ever pitch a magazine for publishing a project
Always Be Marketing - So here is where we as designer get into big problems and often have the "feast or famine" cycle in our businesses. We stop marketing when we are busy! Wrong move! I would totally tell my designer self 10 years ago to keep marketing even when we have a full pipeline. You have to continuously market to keep the momentum going. Stay active in social media, push programs out there, create other streams of income (passive income) by creating something once that you can sell over and over. Treating our businesses like a business and not a hobby is an important aspect to being successful and getting to six or even seven figures in revenue. We should be focused on growth and the big picture and not just scraping by. Set goals, know your numbers and measure and analyze. Our business really is 80% business and 20% creative, so more time should really be spent developing business versus playing with fabrics. I learned that the hard way, because I wasted so much time years ago focused on the wrong thing. Seek advice from other successful entrepreneurs and see yourself as one; not just a designer. You are a business owner who happens to be a designer; not a designer with a business. Important distinction and it totally helps the mindset and attitude to look at it that way. 10 years ago, I wished I knew Kimberley Seldon and Mike Michalowicz. They would have saved me some heartaches and pain :-)
Get Help And ASK For What You Need - This month my big theme for my business is ASK. I went through almost 8 years of being in business as the lone ranger. No mentor, no one to run ideas by, no one to keep me on track. I thought that was the way it should be. I recently discovered a group of amazing designers on Facebook. We are about 650 members strong from all over the world. We are the most amazing, supportive and giving group of people I have ever seen in my life. Where were they 10 years ago? Lol. Through this group, I have learned that it is OK to ask for what you need. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. Seeking wise counsel is a good thing before making any major decisions. It makes you a better steward of your God-ordained skills and talents. I am also looking into getting help finally to manage the day to day operations of the business. I may hire some interns or look for an admin/personal assistant. I have already started to outsource my accounting and tax prep as well as my renderings. That has freed up a lot of time to get back to business development and designing. I am also finally building up the courage to reach out to realtors and home builders to ask for their business. I have developed some special programs, and I am literally getting on the phone to ask them to partner with me in business. That takes some serious balls! :-)
Join A Professional Organization - So I always like to give a little something extra so here's number 11 :-) . I did join ASID and IDS as soon as I was qualified to join. But at one point before that, I started to listen to folks who said it was a waste of time and money to join these professional organizations, and I almost didn't. I am so glad I did. You get out of any organization what you put into it, so if you get nothing, you need to check how much you are giving to it. Through the organizations I am a part of, I get to be a better designer and business owner. I was able to be a part of the 2016 ASID Holiday Showhouse and I am now co-chair of the 2017 Showhouse. I ended up getting the cover of ASID The Angle Magazine and a magazine feature in Houston House and Home for my room at the 2016 showhouse. There are definite benefits to being a part of a group of like-minded individuals. It helps you to grow personally and professionally. No question.
So, I was in fact a smart cookie when I started out, but I didn't know what I didn't know. I took the long route when I could have saved myself some of the trials. I learned a lot through trial and error. Not all bad, as long as you learn. My whole approach to life is constantly learning. I read a lot of business and design books, I do tons of webinars and conferences and I follow people who I am aspiring to be like. These are good business strategies and I am seeing the results as my business continues to grow.
I am now very confident in my future. I am now ready to move into another ministry that God placed on my heart, and it is to develop young designers and design students through mentoring, and special business development programs. I am in the process of creating a new website to offer mentoring, courses, live and recorded webinars and much more. I will offer these services at a very low rate, because I know they are just starting out and finances can be tight. Please watch for the new website VeronicaSolomon.Design coming soon.
I think my designer self 10 years ago would thank me for all these wonderful points!
Wishing You beauty And Inspiration!