January 19, 2012

Interior Design Business- Tips for Getting Productive & Reducing the drudgery

Thanks so much to everyone who commented & sent emails about the last post & the “glamour” of interior design.

Something that came up was different programs designers can use for accounting, project management, etc.  In our office we use Quickbooks.  There is NO WAY in the world we could function without a program like this (& our accountant!!)  There are lots of options out there but Quickbooks works really well for us.  It’s great for making estimates for clients, then turning those into invoices, and also for placing purchase orders, writing checks, viewing profit & loss statement, etc.  While Quickbooks works for my interior design business, it isn’t perfectly tailored for the type of interior design software we’re looking for.  I’d like to find something that assists more in creating design plans and also in the implementation of them.


{A system we tried a while back of having every client’s To Dos on the blackboard…  We started getting lazy and not filling in the sheets on the board & just doing ones in our client binders instead.  We may go back to this… I’m not sure.}

As many of you know, when you get into a design project, there is a lot of work of course involved in coming up with the design, but a HUGE amount of the work is actually in implementing & managing the project & keeping it going when there are hiccups & product delays.  (And there always are.)  There is a timeline you need to work from and every little thing needs to fall into place at the right time.  SO much effort & time goes into this process, and you really need to have it nailed down in order to run things smoothly for your clients.  I find this to be the most challenging part of this business because you can have everything in place and then something doesn’t come through for you & it’s your responsibility to make it right.  Right now we do all of this manually, which is extremely time-consuming.

Here are some tips we received from readers, along with some of my thoughts on them:  (and no more pictures, sorry!! )

-A few people wrote in about strictly defined hours.  I couldn’t agree with this more.  We work 9-5 and if you own your own business, I think you need to impose rules on yourself.  Now, if you do own your own business, you clearly know that you don’t work a 9-5, but I think at least trying to enforce the rule makes it better than not doing it at all.  When you work from home (the way I do) it can be really difficult to shut your office down at the end of the day & on weekends.  I have been really good about the weekend rule lately & it makes my familly much happier.  I think most successful business owners probably have workaholic tendencies but -especially if you have a family- to lead balanced & happy lives, I think we need to fight those tendancies a little.    I used to meet clients at night & on the weekends & realized not only was it hard on me, but that it was hard on my family.

-Delegate!— This has worked out really well for me.   At first, delegating & handing over responsibility can be like teeth-pulling (from yourself!) but once you can learn to let go & give some resposibility to others and learn what jobs you should & shouldn’t be doing, you will be waaaaaay more productive & you can handle more projects & clients.  I would never be able to go back to life without my assistant (Meghan) and finding people you trust is key.  Think of everything in your business that requires you and only you, and attempt to delegate the rest.  From a strictly business point of view, you should try to delegate almost everything that isn’t directly bringing money in the door.   Spend your hours doing billable things that include important decisions like designing and meeting with clients and finding the perfect piece for a room.  (not that I do this at all, but it is my goal…  It’s very easy to get sidetracked and start doing things that you should be handing over 🙂

-Accounting-  We have an accountant and my husband does the bookkeeping.  Again, there’s no way we’d be able to take the workload we do without this help.  (this sort of goes back to delegating)

-Virtual Assistants– has anyone had any experience with this?  My friend Amy Meier loves the company she uses, Designer Advantage, and they do A LOT.  It looks awesome.

-Outsourcing Floorplans–  I think this is great.  One of the first things I hired my assistant for originally, was to do floorplans.  You can still decide where everything will go, but have an assistant draw them out for you by hand or in some type of CAD program.  This saves everyone time & benefits your clients because it takes less of your time/ costs less.

-Filing & doing paperwork every day VS Letting it Pile up-  There seemed to be two categories of people here.  It seems that some people actually like having it pile up and doing it all at once while others like to do it a little at a time.  In our office, we try to do a little every day, but of course that doesn’t always happen and it can pile up.  I really never like for it to pile up over a weekend though because I hate being greeted by a mess on Monday mornings.

–Katherine wrote in “Before you shut the door each day, make a list of what you need to achieve the following day & definitely tidy up / put everything back in it’s place so you feel refreshed when you return in the morning.”– I think this is a GREAT idea,  I try to do this but it doesn’t happen every day.  I feel much better on the days when I walk into an office that’s ready to work than one that’s littered with our mess from the day before.   I like having a To Do list for the next day ready & waiting for me.

-After reading my last post, my dad wrote my a {super-long} email about his “spiral notebook” of To Do lists & notes.  I’m a bit old school like that too, like I mentioned, I always have a clipboard with my current To Do list on top of it with important info behind it.  It keeps me on track.  I even write To Do Lists for my assistant (which I’m sure she loves;) to help me clear my own mind.

-Eileen @ A Creative day wrote in that in her office they normally try to block out at least one day a week from client meetings to stay in the office and get paperwork done, so they can stay on top of it and not get buried! — I think this is SO important.  At our office, I feel like we need a good 2 days in the office (at least) to get everything handled properly.  Your meeting & shopping days are your busiest with running around, but I find that we really get everything handled & do the majority of our work on office days.  (the work sweats days…  😉  They are the most productive.

-Scheduling is one of those things that can end up taking a lot of time.  Sometimes there’s a lot of back-and-forth when trying to coordinate dates with contractors or clients so we’ve been working on me doing less of that in our office so I can be freed up to do other things.

-Sarah from Sarah’s Fab Day wrote that “One thing that always worked for me and kept me on track was keeping on top of those crummy “easy” jobs (you know the ones that aren’t so easy when you let them pile up?). I would always dedicate a time block to those jobs in the morning and then my afternoons would be free to tackle the jobs that would take a good amount of time.”  — We do this in our office every day.  The real design work typically never happens until after 12 or so (on a good day) because I like to get all of the little thigns & loose ends out of the way so I can concentrate on the big stuff.  (A while back, I realized I really needed help & better systems when I wasn’t getting into the real work until around 4 or so… Then I’d end up working all night & it just wasn’t fair to my family.)

-Katherine also wrote in that she believes the most essential thing to a successful business is making your workspace .. well .. “you” .. surround yourself with things you love & you will feel like you belong in the space = you will be sure to succeed.   — I think this is to true too.  Most of us are in this business because we believe that our surroundings have a huge effect on us.  I’m much happier working (or doing anything really) when I like my surroundings.  I feel more productive when everything is organized & has a place to go to.  Also, if you do work in an office with other people, everythign being in its place is key to staying on track because everyone needs to know where everthing is.
-One reader (Allumer Decor) recommends buying & reading THE BUSINESS OF DESIGN by, Keith Granet and she loves it.–  I definitely want to check it out.  I have a few business of design-type books but can’t think of the titles right now.

List of software/programs that can help:
-Studio Webware
-Design Manager
-Specify– This is the one I’m trying out right now.  Has anyone used it?  When I figure it all out, I'[ll be sure to post.  It has a monthly fee vs. a one-time fee.
-A few people wrote about Google calendar. They can add others to their calendars so they’re all on track —– Oooh I’m definitely going to try this!!

ps- when I mentioned my office looked “lovely,”  what I meant was that it never looks that good 🙂  On any given week day, there’s stuff EVERYWHERE.  It was made to look “pretty” for the photoshoot.  (I do put it all alway on the weekends though.)

The paint color is Midwest Spring by FreshAire Choice, the No VOC paint brand @ Home Depot.

..As far as all of the design software programs go, I would love to do a roundup post one day with people’s thoughts on the different programs.  This week is crazy but I will try to do that soon.

**UPDATE-  Just one more thing to add-  If you’re a newer business and you’re not using Quickbooks or some type of accounting software or service, switch over to one ASAP.  Your business will start to grow quicker than you can imagine and you will need that system in place for when you’re really busy!!  (It’s much easier to learn & convert over when you’re a smaller business than when you have lots of different projects going on.)  And, even if you plan on taking things smaller, it will free up a lot of your time.  🙂

xoxo, Lauren

If you’d like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

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