Designer Spotlight: Tobi Fairley
Designer Tobi Fairley is known for her bold, colorful interiors that mix large-scale prints with classic furnishings. But she's also a gifted teacher who views educating clients and colleagues as a mission.
"Not only do customers need to know which sofa to buy, but designers need to know about the best marketing tools for their business," says Fairley.
How did you become interested in design in the first place?
I always had an interest in design but it wasn't an obvious career path when I was growing up in Arkansas. So I majored in accounting and then went back to school for a degree in design as well as an MBA.
Why business school?
My first strength is really in business practices, followed by creative work.
Tell us about the various programs you offer to help designers build their businesses.
Our Design Camp A to Z is geared towards design professionals and design lovers alike. This is a 26-step process that includes hands-on design time with me. Then we offer a Designer MBA Camp for design professionals (or really anyone with a small business) who is looking to grow, needs help with planning, financials, website and social media. We also offer a yearlong mentorship called Mastermind Consulting Group that helps designers build their business through on-site visits and frequent-contact coaching sessions tailored to help their business grow. I’m a big believer in working with others.
You’ve been blogging since 2008. What inspired you to start a blog?
My friend, LA designer Mark Cutler, first exposed me to blogging. I decided I'd try it out as a hobby and a journal but it quickly became much more than that.
How has it evolved?
Within two months of starting the blog I was getting contacts from publications like Traditional Home and Southern Living asking to photograph a party or project I'd mentioned. I realized that the blog could be a portal to media coverage in a way I'd never imagined. It has become a real tool for all aspects of my business including designer services, courses and licensing.
What advice would you give designers who are interested in starting a blog?
The most successful blogs have an authentic voice. You can hire a ghostwriter, but you'll get the most out of blogging if you start by writing it yourself. I have staff members that help write some of my posts now, but out of the 1000 posts on the blog, I wrote the first 500 myself. That helped define my written voice and set a precedent for my staff to follow. Also, don't let your posts get too wordy. A picture really does speak a thousand words and keeps readers interested. It's all about the "eye candy." And finally, know that it takes time to maintain a blog. I estimate that each blog post takes 3-4 hours to execute successfully. It can be a full time job on top of your full time job if you decide to post daily. It's a challenge, but it's also a really valuable tool.
How else do you use social media to build your business?
Social media has become so instrumental to my design business. I landed a project on the cover of House Beautiful through a Facebook contact with an editor. My fabric line developed from a contact on Twitter. I communicate ideas to clients through Pinterest. I would say that over 90% of my business is now derived from social media. It's important to learn how to use this tool in a strategic way.
Top photo: (left) Photo credit: Nancy Nolan; (right) Photo credit: John Magor.
About Tobi Fairley
Tobi Fairley is a nationally-acclaimed interior designer based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Named by Traditional Home Magazine as one of the Top 20 Young designers in America in 2009, Tobi's work has graced the cover of House Beautiful and been published in Traditional Home, Southern Living, and At Home in Arkansas numerous times. Tobi recently launched her own fabric line and will release several other products lines in 2012. Her DIY design service InBox Interiors and her Design Camps have been wildly successful. Tobi recently launched Tobi Fairley and Associates, a consulting group dedicated to helping firms with the business of design. She also blogs at Tobi's Blog.