April 1, 2014

A Career In Design

I didn’t start out knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up…  at all.  I majored in Communication in college and when I graduated, I worked in PR for my dad’s business.  It was while decorating my first apartment that I realized how excited I was about making my apartment a home.  It was all I thought about and I realized that I wanted to have that same passion about my career, so I decided I would try to become a decorator.


{Our project on the cover of Luxe}


Today on One Kings Lane’s Blog, I’m part of a story by writer Kelly Lack on Career Transformations, which shares thoughts and advice on starting a business and making a major career switch.  To read it, go here.

I get lots of emails from people asking about how I did it…  At least one or two a week… so I think there are a lot of people out there considering making a career switch into design.  Here are a few of my thoughts and some advice:

1.  I don’t think anyone who switches to a career they’re passionate about regrets it.  Doing what you love makes you happy.

2. It’s not easy.  Yeah, I know it goes without saying, but I have to say it anyway.  Nothing will be handed to you and you might be broke for a while.  You have to have extreme confidence in yourself and really believe that you can do it.  And you have to be scrappy.  There’s no glamour in it.  Seriously.   (Or at least I haven’t found it yet 😉  Sure, maybe you’ll go to fun cocktail parties and meet glamorous people, and maybe even design glamorous spaces, but the job itself is work.   I joke that there’s no “lunching” in decorating.  I’ve always wanted to be someone who “does lunch” but in order to keep my business running, I can’t be.  (And by no “lunch” I don’t mean we don’t eat lunch- we do- I mean I don’t socialize with people during lunch on a normal weekly basis.)

3.  Getting a business is going takes a lot of late nights & weekends.  It’s so different from going to work somewhere else and it consumes you.

4. I’ll say it again, be prepared to pinch pennies for a while.  Save up and know that it takes a while to get things going.  Yes, there are the overnight success stories, but I’ve noticed that typically many of the overnight decorator success stories are people who travel in very wealthy circles or themselves are fairly wealthy and that first launched project is incredibly good and expensive so it lands immediately in a high-end magazine.  If you’re starting from scratch like I did, it takes time to build up to that project and time to get your name out there.

5. “P” to the “R” is key.  PR!!!  When I look back, I’m really thankful that I did concentrate in PR when I was in school because I look at my business differently than I think I would have if I’d studied interior design.  I try to think of every little thing and how it can help get our business out there and to differentiate it from other similar businesses.  It’s about your brand, your story, your look. There are different clients for different decorators, so if you can effectively communicate who you are and what you do and put it out there, the right clients will find you.  I am constantly trying to re-evaluate what we’re putting out there and what it’s saying about us.  And it’s always evolving.

6.  Have your work professionally photographed.   I can’t stress it enough.  When I first started out, I took photos of my work and put them on my website.  And no one called me.  🙁  I visited successful designers’ websites and compared mine to theirs and saw that they all had professional photography and of course, mine didn’t.  We saved up and hired a photographer and almost immediately after loading the professional pictures of the same projects, I started getting calls.  I don’t do advertising but I do put a considerable amount of time and money into having some of my work photographed.  My photographer, Helen Norman, whom I met a couple of years after that first first time I used professional photography, has become a good friend and has really helped us launch our business and communicate what we do through pictures.

7. If you like to write and share (like I do!! 😉 then start a blog.   I wouldn’t advise starting a blog if you don’t plan to do it regularly or you don’t actually like to write because then it’s just putting more work onto your plate, but if you think you’ll enjoy it, then do it!!  By sharing your work and writing naturally, you’re communicating who you are and what you do to people who are interested.  (Visiting a blog is a choice so if people aren’t into what you’re writing about, they’ll leave, and if they like it, they’ll follow along and pass it along.)  I’ve always had a journal so writing a blog became my new outlet.

8.   If you’re thinking of starting your own design business, remember you’ll be a business owner first and foremost.   There’s not as much actual designing in design as you might think.  Running a business and keeping clients happy, working with manufacturers, handling paperwork and details takes more time than actual designing.  Hiring other people to help you with some of the other tasks is helpful and I’ve been able to squirrel away more design time by doing this, but finding enough time to actually do your work is a constant challenge.  

9. While insanely satisfying, decorating is all about other people.  It’s about making your clients’ happiness the top priority.  You have to love meeting people and bonding and getting close with people.  I don’t think egos work in this business.  At least I can’t imagine the process being enjoyable with a big ego in the mix.  You have to walk the line between asserting your opinion and style while making sure you’re being respectful and meeting your clients true needs and wishes.

Bottom line: if the decorating itch isn’t going away and you can make it work financially, you should go for it.

To read the One Kings Lane article go here!   To read more design business thoughts, click the on the business advice tab on the sidebar under “categories.”

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1 year ago

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11 months ago

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