I’m hearing something from designers lately that’s a bit troubling. It’s a self-deprecating, beat-yourself-up type of statement about not knowing how to run a profitable design business while having a life at the same time.
“I’ve been doing this for years and I should know how to do this, but I don’t. There is something wrong with me.”
That is NOT TRUE. You went to design school, not business school, so, of course, you don’t know. Nobody taught you.
I’ve been a designer for over 30 years, with almost all that time in my own business. But it took a very long time to learn how to run a profitable design business. I was forced to learn it as I had recently been divorced and was a single parent. I had to feed us and put a roof over our heads, so it wasn’t a choice.
I started out at a high-end furniture store because I needed a job. They were looking for a designer who knew Drexel Heritage furniture. I ended up bluffing my way through the front door. I knew that was a furniture line, and that was about it!
I got in there and hustled until I got enough going. It was a straight commission job, and luckily I was pretty good at it. However, it didn’t do much for my self-worth other than I could pay my bills.
During that time, I sat for the NCIDQ, which was important for me, and felt it would be a minimum competency test to validate what I was doing. Thankfully, I passed it. That gave me a lot of confidence and told me I wasn’t an imposter.
Then, I started winning design awards. My good friend in the studio happened to be the ASID President, who kept pushing me to enter contests. The result was that I won awards and was published, which led to the store picking up my work and using it in ads with my name on it. I was developing celebrity, which is an important piece to building your business and being the designer that everyone wants to work with.
Around that time, the furniture store announced that I needed to sell pink sleeper sofas (they bought too many), but I don’t like them, and my clients don’t need them.
I ended up going so sideways with the pink sofas that I quit!
I still had bills to pay, and maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I made it work.
I began the painful process of figuring out how to charge people for my time and put a price on what I was doing. It’s when I started to work with budgets and fees as well as the relationship between them.
One day I received a strange phone call where a woman asked me if I could produce three model homes in three weeks!
Yes, but I suppose I could, but that is a lot of fast work. It was for the opening of a new housing subdivision, but no one at the homebuilder had remembered to order for the models.
The budget was adequate, but I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t use my money to buy three houses of retail furniture. I told the builder I needed $100,000 in my bank account by Monday morning, and I would make it happen. The money was funded, the houses were finished, and the executives stated it was the best models they had seen.
The builder was so pleased with my work that they ordered more models (with correct timing), and that relationship created between $500k to $1M worth of business for many years. Not to mention that it opened the door for more model homes with other builders. It also opened up my studio into commercial design, where before, I had only worked with high-end residential design.
When all of this happened, I learned how to develop systems and teams to run the design business more efficiently. While it took 15 years to get to this point, it allowed me to create a design business that is bankable, send my daughter to college, buy commercial office space for my studio, buy ranch property to have my horses close by, and a house with “great bones” to remodel.
I was able to put all these pieces of my life together because my design business supported it. I was able to live a rich, full life and do things as a parent to provide for my child. It was a remarkable thing to see all of this come from my design business.
I tell you all of this not to brag, but to tell you that it is possible. If I can do it, you can too.
Watch the video above where I share the story of Roger Bannister, the man to run the first 4-minute mile. For several years, it was the glass ceiling that nobody had ever broken. In 1954, he ran the mile in just under 4 minutes and became famous because of it. And within the next two years, about five more people ran 4-minute miles.
Did people get faster in 1954, or did people realize that if Roger could do it, so could they? I want to share with you the idea that when you hang out with people who do what you want to do and know how to get there, they can pull you along the way.
Here at IDBA, that’s how we work. We have the knowledge of building teams, implementing systems, creating marketing plans, identifying clients, writing contracts, being fee-based, and standing for living a rich and abundant life. We stand for having it all, which is family, relationships, health, and spirituality, along with plenty of money that will allow you to do the things you want to do.
If you are looking for answers about what you don’t know how to do for your design business, give us a call. Schedule a free, no-pressure clarity call with one of our coaches. Tell us what you need, and we’ll share how we can help. You decide. It’s that easy!
Until next time, design something beautiful and get paid what you’re worth.