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Industry insights

Squeeze your buttocks

And 5 other things we learnt from this year's eporta Masterclass

insights x eporta

eporta was joined by over 110 designers from across the UK, along with some who'd flown in especially, for an afternoon Masterclass. Delving under the covers to discuss the business of Interior Design.

Filled to the brim with insightful conversations led by industry leaders, such as Daniel Hopwood, Charu Gandhi and Steve Cocoran discussing the ins and outs of setting up a creative business. Alongside 'Pitching to win' with Brian Woulfe, Harriet Forde and Lisa Hinderdael. We were also lucky enough to be joined by thought leaders from outside the design world too, such as the show-stopping keynote talk from Robin Kermode. Who taught us how to turn networking into a labour of love.

Concluding a wonderful afternoon of learnings were a series of peer to peer roundtables, where designers got down to the nitty-gritty unspoken topics of running a design business. From good accounting practices to knowing your intellectual property rights, through to creating watertight contracts, we covered it all.

With so many insights to share we've distilled our takeaways to just 6 for now, paired with videos from each session. So without further ado...

Robin Kermode, keynote speaker and founder of Zone 2
Robin Kermode, keynote speaker and founder of Zone 2

Clench those buttocks

How do you control your nerves? Whether you’re pitching, networking or meeting a client, nerves can creep in and take over. The familiar signs of sweaty palms, desert dry mouth and the shakes are all just a natural response to the fight or flight mechanism our body puts into action when it's scared. Your heart rate fastens to provide oxygen and adrenaline to your muscles so you can run. Your eyes widen looking for an escape route, making you stare intensely. Your voice-box switches off so you can’t be heard, and if you don’t run your muscles shake with adrenaline. The solution- clench your buttocks. Yes, you heard me right, squeeze your thighs and bum to cut the circuit. As Robin said:

Designated zones

Robin’s company is named Zone 2 for a reason, this is where we are most comfortable, where conversations convert into business. According to Robin, humans have three zones of interaction. Zone 1- not connected, the leave me alone zone. We've all been in or seen zone 1, for example walking into a shop and going "I'm just browsing" when asked if we want help. As designers we may be used to being in zone 2, confidently ready to converse and connect, only to be faced with zone 1 clients that aren't ready to commit yet.

Then there is zone 3, arrogant, cocky, loud and in your face. They don’t want to connect yet, instead, to reach a level of comfort they need to be adored first. With zone 3 comes the struggle of how to make room for yourself in the conversation. Robin lays out easy ways to transition effectively between the three zones, and importantly, bring people with you to zone 2. Find out how by watching Robin’s keynote below.

The C factor

“I’m creative, I find it really hard to understand my true value so I’m always pitching too low on a project. Something that I find really easy, the creativity that just flows, I struggle to know why someone would pay for that as a service.”- Daniel Hopwwod. Sound familiar? Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, acknowledging it as a valuable skill is one thing, acknowledging it's worth and charging for it is another. This discussion around value is highly topical, as we saw in our pricing debate, many great designers struggle to charge enough for their time and ability. Having the confidence to charge appropriately and proportionately is critical to growing a successful interior design business.

Starting a creative business with Steve Cocoran, Daniel Hopwood and Charu Gandhi
Starting a creative business with Steve Cocoran, Daniel Hopwood and Charu Gandhi

Hire up

With interior design, you have to be good at so many things, taking on the skillsets that you don’t have can be an effective way to balance out your weaknesses. For example, Dan and Charu discussed bringing in an accountant early as half the battle with an interior design business is cash flow, so having an eye or two on the books can be invaluable. Steve Cocoran went one step further when describing the House of Hackney approach to hiring as “building a family”. It's important for workplace well-being that your team are harmonious, but also for the impression your brand gives to clients. Every team member is a reflection of what you value.

That’s not to say that hiring should be cookie cutter, and like with most families, each sibling will do something better than the other. Charu says “Nearly everyone in my team is better at me in at least one thing if not more. I’m not scared to hire people who are better than me, one of the best things that can happen to me is when someone in my team says something far more advanced than me. I think to myself, I’m winning here.” Hiring for the skills you don't have but need, then giving individuals room to flourish will only help your company to succeed.

Know what you’re walking into

Every pitch is different, not just in content but in format. Brian Woulfe suggests getting off email, and calling a potential client to gain a greater understanding of what to expect from the meeting. For example, is it a tender situation, do they expect a full design proposal... there are a lot of potential scenarios. All three panellists agreed that knowing who will be in the room is critical so you're ready to answer any questions that may arise.

This also includes acknowledging cultural differences when pitching internationally. For example, Lisa from Design Haus Liberty has found that meetings in the Far East are a social gathering, occurring over dinner, where the client introduces you to their family and colleagues. Wherever you are in the world though it comes down to one thing, relationships. Doing what it takes to foster the best one possible in a short amount of time will win you the pitch. Standing your ground and clearly laying out expectations for the initial meeting will make that relationship transparent from the offset. Proving to the client that you are capable and trustworthy enough to deliver their project.

Win every pitch panel with Lisa Hinderdael, Brian Woulfe and Harriet Forde
Win every pitch panel with Lisa Hinderdael, Brian Woulfe and Harriet Forde

Background check

In the same vein, don't just research what the meeting entails, but get to know your potential client too. Surprise them with your knowledge and understanding of their project. You won't always have much to go on so it can feel like a stab in the dark, however, gather whatever information you can. Brian Woulfe suggests visiting properties for sale in the area to understand the locale. Or in the case of a property developer look at any project, they have on the market to gauge aesthetics. Utilise your networks, ask colleagues in the industry if they have worked with them before. If so, ask them to share their learnings from the experience and their knowledge of the client's likes and dislikes.

But the background check works both ways. A discussion point that came out from both panel discussions is turning down work. Whether it’s a niggling feeling that something isn’t right or your suspicions are confirmed by others in the industry, question if the client is right for you and your brand too. The most commonly cited red flag is around money and clients perceived ability to pay for works. Don’t risk your reputation or your company on a client you have doubts about.

Filming by: Stage 3 Films

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