eporta conference
Industry insights

How to run a successful design business

We’re delighted to have launched our Masterclass Series of events, starting with “How to run a successful design business”. The Series is dedicated to the business elements of interior design, an industry which boasts a huge number of small, medium and large business owners and contributes an overwhelming amount to the economy (over £71bn in the UK alone).
This event seeks to recognise and celebrate the entrepreneurial side of interior design and so we’ve spoken with some of our speakers for the day to bring you their top tips in each of their focus areas:

Professionalism & minimising risk


Susie Rumbold, Founder & Creative Director, Tessuto Interiors. Former President, BIID.

1. Your paperwork must be flawless. Everything must be accurately recorded. If your paperwork is professional then clients and suppliers will assume you are and treat you as such.

2. Risk occurs when misunderstandings arise. Be careful to manage your client’s expectations.

3. Robust fee proposals and contracts are essential for getting paid. Make sure you detail everything that is included, and more importantly everything that is not.

Understanding your market & growing your client base


Alice Barrington-Wells, Founder & CEO, Fine & Country Interior Design

1. Who you are as a designer will always influence the type of business you run. Try asking yourself some objective questions and be honest with yourself:
i) Who inspires you? – Take a look at how they operate and see if this feels a close connection to your business. If it isn’t, ask yourself if this person really is the right kind of inspiration.
ii) What to you is a priority for your clients – Project management? Ground-breaking design? A reliable pair of hands? – this will tell you what your strengths are and then you need to find staff to fill the gaps to make your team as strong as possible

2. Fees. Your proposals and fee structures should be easy to read. Get a friend (outside of our industry) to read a proposal and if they have to ask questions or don’t understand it then you need to simplify – avoid jargon there is nothing to be gained by sounding ‘clever’. If you are misunderstood, you could lose the contract

3. Communication. Decide on your tone; “friendly”, “passionate”, “crisp” and ensure this style of communication runs through EVERYTHING, from proposals, to Instagram, to emails.

Managing your client relationships


Charles Leon, Founder & Director, Leon Black. President, British Institute of Interior Design (BIID)

1. Stay as small as you can. As projects expand and contract, it's better to be under a little pressure than having idle designers. The same amount of fees will have to cover an on-going wage and overhead bill; a fee originally allocated to 6 months may have to stretch to 12 months. It's better to pick your clients and project carefully than have to take on work you may not want for the purpose of feeding the overhead, after all, the larger the practice the hungrier it becomes.

2. Be rigorous in the project stages. Discipline and process are difficult to hang onto when the pressure is on to get the design implemented as quickly as possible. Sign off each stage! Initial brief, design development, concept, production of information, tendering, construction and completion. When things get out of sequence it’s difficult to control the process, and signing off each stage means less arguments and greater efficiency (i.e. profitable).

3. Don’t compromise, hold onto the design! In every project there is enormous pressure to change or alter the design. It might be cost, it might be services, it might be the client’s opinion or the contractor trying to make their life as little easier. A design is a goal, a vision of a different future. Don’t let go of that vision. Get a clear direction in your mind of what you want to achieve, then you can be in control of prioritising the changes. (and there will be changes!).

Hiring & growing your business


Aneeqa Khan, Founder & CEO, eporta

1. Do a workshop, not an interview. It's hard to tell if someone will be good at a job from an interview. Some people are better at communicating what they can do than others are (and some are more honest than others!). The best way of figuring out what someone will be like on the job is to hold a workshop on an area, and act like they have the job.  If you ask the right questions you can start to see how the interviewee thinks through the problems you give them, and what they would actually be like to work with.

2. Don't settle, keep looking. When you have lots to do and you find someone that *could* fill the role you're looking for, it's easy to decide to hire even though they aren't exactly right. In this situation saying no is harder than saying yes.  Follow your gut if it's saying "this isn't quite right", and commit to looking more.

3. Hire to complement your culture. Teams that follow the same cultural values work well because they're in sync with each other.  Knowing what these cultural values are and hiring people who fit them mean you'll have a team that multiplies the efforts of any group of individuals.  Also, it's more fun!

Diversifying your business


Anna Burles, Founder & Creative Director, Run For The Hills

1. Fashion yourself as a product designer. As a designer, you most likely create custom designs for every project you do. Consider turning some of your favourite project-specific designs into a product line that you could market to retailers, whether boutiques, high street retailers or simply via your own online shop. Having a retail arm can be very useful when your design service business might be in a quieter patch. And when a product takes off and becomes a hit, then it pays back time and time again.

2. Move beyond your niche. Just because you’ve done some great work in a particular design sector, don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something completely new. If you have a personal passion for some other kind of design, go for it. Get a case study or two under your belt and before you know it, you might have taken your design studio in a completely new direction.

3. Tap into your team. You might also have some hidden talents within your design team. They might have past experience in a different design discipline. They could help you test the waters in a new field.

Design approach for the commercial sector; enhancing the customer experience


Gilberto Vizzini, UK Country Manager, Prisma Group

1. Choose your client carefully! Make sure your client understands the true value that well thought out design could bring to your business, otherwise they will ask you to cut corners and budgets and dilute your work so it can't be effective.

2. Make sure you fully understand the brand of your client, and even more important make sure that the client fully understands their own brand, and that the whole team is aligned.

3. Get right to the bottom of the end consumer’s needs. You need to think beyond the visual to the emotional and psychological needs of their client and then work backwards to work out how your design can meet those needs.

Getting press coverage


Kate Burnett, Founder & Editor, Studio

1. Target. Be clear about who you want to reach, and why - and find out the best way to reach them.

2. Imagery. Make sure you have beautiful images that show the best of your work.

3. Communication. Provide the key headline details about your project or product, but keep your communication clear and, importantly, concise.

Setting up your own practice


Emma Hooton, Founder & Director, Emma Hooton Ltd

1. Work on your USP. Have a USP (Unique Selling Point) at the heart of what you do.  This should be a reflection of genuine passion and focus which will form the platform for company growth and keep you headed in the right direction. Crucial to this is your 'Elevator Pitch' which you’ll need to have ready from the start to communicate your USP concisely, clearly and with passion to other people.

2. Be creative with your marketing. When you are first starting out there are lots of creative ways of connecting with others in the industry as well as potential clients.  For example, collaboration with brands you are aligned with can give your marketing a boost and meeting others who are working in industries parallel to yours can also be helpful as a support or referral network e.g. architects or landscape designers.  Attending industry events wherever possible will help to build your network organically.

3. Outsource to experts. For everything from finance to PR and social media, invest in as much outsourcing as you are able to, as early on as possible, so that you can focus on strategy and building the business.  Make connections with experts you feel understand your business and are as passionate as you are about opportunities for growth.  You’ll gain knowledge as you work with them as well as benefitting from an outsider's overview of how you are operating.

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