Being your own boss in interior design is not as easy as you think. If you work by yourself and generate enough income to support your basic self, live the life you want, save for a rainy day and, yes, save for that retirement that willy-nilly will come, then you’re good.
If you have what CRA calls a “small firm” – which, by the way, is defined as having 5 to 99 employees -then you probably infused a bit of HR hierarchy into your workflow to manage the 40-hour week efficiently.
However, most firms are sandwiched in the in-between in what is called a “mini-practice.” According to CRA, mini-practices have 2 to 4 employees and take up almost 80% of the interior design practices in Canada. This is huge! So how do the owners of these firms manage to cover what is needed, and do they indeed live the good life that everyone thinks they do? Because if you want to own your firm, it is statistically likely that this is the kind you will have.
Fun fact! 🧐
Do you know how many interior design firms in Canada are medium or large? ZERO. All of them are mini or small. In the broad tapestry of occupations, our stage is in the little leagues.
SO WHAT IS THERE TO DO OUTSIDE DESIGNING?
Because if you’re the boss of a mini-practice, it is likely you do it all.
Let’s look at what an interior design business needs aside from delivering on projects:
It needs someone to…
- get jobs
- deliver on the jobs
- figure out tech support and troubleshoot
- cover business admin and operations
- do marketing (which more often than not is naively reduced to advertising or worse, social media or even worse!!… Instagram!!)
- get our there and do PR (yes, it is different than marketing and advertising)
- secure future job spin-offs from the existing jobs\
- deal with HR, because the second you have staff, there are staff-related tasks
and the one that most owners forget:
- grow the “baby” that the business is. Shape its personality, values, and skills, get it out in the world and make it shine. Build a robust and recognizable asset that can outlast you. That is the ultimate business success.
A newbie has their priorities pretty much set in the order I’ve placed them☝️. The last two don’t even cross one’s mind until you have staff and some of the other items are running smoothly.
More often than not, the first staff hired is in design, not in any of the auxiliary duties. As design staff builds up, interactions within the firm start to slowly occupy more and more of the owner’s available time:
As a junior or assistant designer does their tasks, they want to review the progress with the owner. By the time one review is over, another staff has their tasks ready to be reviewed, and so on. Many are the days when all of a sudden, it is 5 pm, and the firm’s owner did not cross off much of their own to-do list because all they did was give input to others to complete their own tasks. All this falls under the third item in the list above, and it’s the most common mistake designers make when they have staff: they over-spend their time managing it.
At the other end of the spectrum are the ones that do not manage the staff at all and give them free rain to do everything. While that works great when you have someone you’ve trained and who has been with you for a long time, it really does not work with someone new.
No matter how you look at it, things get complicated when hiring starts, and you go from one to two. This is the moment when so many think, “heck, I’m better off at doing it myself!”
And while this may be true in the short term, it is not in the long term. For a very simple reason: the week has seven days, and each day 24 hours. Even the most efficient, calculated, fantastically focused designer cannot fulfill the productivity of 2 good people, let alone that of 3, 5 or more.
Having a partner from the get-go may alleviate this since, from the beginning, you’re working in tandem, and once the third person is hired, it’s not as big of a jump as going from one to two.
Stay put for part 2: best priorities switch-up list and how to manage it all.
This article first appeared in My 2 cents on design
how to curate a better lifestyle through design
part of POWER \\ a DOCHIA FOCUS monthly lifestyle series
🗞 Coming up next:
Do you own your interior design practice? Where do you focus your attention and what do you prioritize? part 2
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