Biz: A year in business

Last week I wrote a very long article about my business story so far to Abigail Ahern‘s new business column on her blog. As you will know by now I have two failed businesses behind me and a new business in its infancy. Most of those experiences and lessons, good and bad, I share with you here every Tuesday. But while writing it one notion kept nagging me in my mind. It was… “Things happen for a reason”. This is what everybody say to you when things don’t work out, right? Does it suppose to make us feel better? What is it all about?  When you fail at something, nothing will make you feel better. But as time goes by and you see your experiences in a distant past, you start to realise the REAL meaning behind this quote. And that’s what I discovered while writing the article.

I realised that my failures and the way I was running my previous businesses, the strategies I implemented, how I approached business deals and important business meetings, how I interacted with my trade and end customers, how I ran my marketing campaigns, how I managed my sales reps, from all that there are MASSIVE lessons that no school or degree could have prepared me for. I know you probably think it all sounds very cheesy but it’s SO true. Thanks to my failures I’m running my design business differently. My previous experiences guide me, they make me more cautious, more resilient, more persistent and more ambitious. SO THANK YOU TO MY FAILURES.

But this post suppose to be about my first year in business as an interior designer so if you are a student or anyone who wants to find out more about getting into the industry pay attention. Also, I think that if you are a newbie business owner you might find it helpful too.

Here is how I see it now. Getting a new business off the ground is hard. Getting into a new industry and establishing yourself and your brand is hard. Getting clients is even harder. Building up your reputation is hard. It all looks very glamorous but every day is super super hard and super challenging. Full stop. I’m not here to give you any illusions. The competition is tough. For example the London market is crowded. There are lots of clients, yes, but there are tonnes of designers too. The only good news is that each designer is different. They trade differently, their pricing and fee structure is different, their styles are different. So you’ve got a chance and that’s all you need.

Over the past year I worked very very hard. Initially I had some contacts and was very lucky to get some projects on my portfolio. What I was hoping for was referrals from those projects. Everybody in the industry is relying on referrals and everybody knows it. But what if you don’t have any projects coming in soon or no referrals either? How do you market yourself? How do you put yourself in front of the right/potential clients? I was searching for answers and researching a lot on this  but there is so little DETAILED information available that I struggled big time with this. Someone suggested leaflets, others say to network, then it’s industry media, PR, approaching mag’s editors might work, and you must be present on social media. All this advice but what does it mean to me, to my current situation? I don’t find it very helpful, sorry. I went to seminars and meetings, exhibitions to network, showrooms to “mingle” with “potential clients”. But the big fat truth is it didn’t generate me business YET! And the word YET is the key.

Getting into the interior design industry takes time. I thought that because I already had contacts it would be somehow easier, it would give me a head start but it didn’t. I have to build my business like I did my previous ones with the same attitude. I have to be super proactive and get the business myself. I have to find my clients myself. So here’s what I’ve been doing:

I have my website with my portfolio and my blog where I give tips FOR FREE, my inspiration, my design processes and projects. It’s where I share anything and everything that interests me and that you might find useful. It’s basically me in a “blog version”.

I mingle online! I make contacts on Twitter and Instagram. I speak to influential people on Twitter. I take part in discussions on Twitter. I make contacts on LinkedIn. I’m spreading the word about me on all social media platforms. Apart from Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook, Pinterest and Flickr and Google Plus. If you want to find out why, read this article and listen to the podcast by Grace Bonney from DesignSponge.

In between jobs this year I opened my online shop. I want to make design more approachable and reachable to anyone who likes design. So by designing my own collection of products, my customers can have a DESIGNER’S TOUCH in their home within their budget. Plus by purchasing from my shop, they are helping children who go through serious cancer illnesses! My shop is another way of promoting my biz. I have giveaways and competitions, discounts for my newsletter subscribers etc.

Forums allow me to get noticed but also it’s a platform where I can give free advice and help people with their current decorating dilemmas. I only discovered it last week and I’m so enjoying it. This is where I can show my potential clients that I’m an expert in my field.

Through my new virtual friends, I’m starting to collaborate. I’m creating WIN-WIN situations. More info to follow shortly on this but in the meantime think who you can approach with a “good deal” where both parties can benefit.

So how would I sum up my first year? I’d say it was more about learning, observing, discovering, playing and implementing different tactics and strategies rather than actually designing. Yes, I can call myself lucky that I had projects going on but overall it was more about website design, blogging, learning new programmes, learning about social media, learning from others, bringing my new shop alive, learning about myself from clients, from my blog and my family.

The things I want you to take away from this post are:

1. Be like a sponge and soak every information you need FAST! Study and observe.
    Your knowledge will give you an advantage over your competition. 

2. Network like mad. If you are like me with two kids who depend on you, YOU HAVE TO DO IN ONLINE.

3. Diversify. Find other ways of expanding your brand and branch out.

4. Keep focused. I’m still working on this. I keep coming up with ideas which lead me to loose my focus.

5. Work for free. This might apply to designers only. Be willing to execute a job at cost price.

6. Lower your expectations and embrace your achievements. Especially when it comes downs to the amount of projects,
your followers and income. 

7. Do not give up. Keep the momentum. Keep building your business foundations.

Did you find this helpful? Do you know anybody who you could find this helpful? If so, please use the social media buttons below and share. 

What are your business experiences? Let’s start a conversation. Please comment below. I read every comment I get and respond to all of you personally! So let’s learn from each other!

Karolina Barnes



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