Prepare for a Better, More Professional Design New Year

By Jay Johnson
Prepare for a Better, More Professional Design New Year

Design Resolutions for your interiors business for 2013.

Was 2012 a good year for you, professionally speaking? Did your business grow? Did you recover lost ground from the recession? Are you getting the word out about your design business and showing off examples of your work, getting more traction with potential clients? Are clients giving you referrals to their friends and family?

And how was the year for you personally? Did you experience good health? Did you spend quality and quantity time with your family and friends? Did you enjoy being an interior designer this past year?
It's the ideal time to set goals, creating New Year's resolutions to add more enjoyment and better health to your personal life while filling your professional cup to the brim.

If you research New Year's resolutions, you'll discover that they're steeply rooted in all cultures throughout history. Babylonians pledged to the gods pay off all debts and return all borrowed items at the start of each year. Romans made their start-of-the-year promises to the god Janus (he's the namesake of January). Major religious groups parallel the observation, teaching the importance of reflecting on personal shortcomings and making improvements.

Try making your own short list of New Year's resolutions. Keep your list to a maximum of five goals. Some of them can be easy no-brainers, while others can be tough and difficult, yet important resolutions to seriously consider. Here are our firm's New Year's resolutions for the coming year.

  1. We're not going to ever, ever, ever get sucked into recommending lesser contractors to our clients for the sake of saving money on their budgets. They never work out well. We may be saving a client from $30-$100,000 on the bottom line by going with a lesser contractor, but you get what you pay for. We earn less commission and have to work harder to fix faults, cajole poorly disciplined workers, and speed up and compensate for less professional work.

  2. We'll change our record-keeping, inventory, billing, and accounting system over to a cloud-based program that's easier and more intuitive for our staff to use and our clients to understand.

  3. Last year saw our business jump back far ahead of pre-recession days. We're thankful for this great growth trend, but we'll need to adjust by carefully adding some admin and support staff in key spots. We don't want to sacrifice good service for the increase in business, and we want everyone's phone calls and emails promptly returned and all issues addressed in a friendly, professional way.

  4. Do we limit the time our clients can get in touch with us? Right now, they can reach us 24/7, and we'll likely respond to them by phone and/or email—even on weekends. Do we draw boundaries and make holidays and weekends off limits for clients? It's difficult balancing professional life and our goal of providing attentive, high-touch service with a personal life and recuperative downtime.

  5. Having more business and larger client projects means that we should learn to say "no" a bit more in the coming year! If budgets are too small, expectations are too unrealistic, or if there are too many red flags ("I've already had five designers quit the job!"), we need to be polite and firm in walking away from the opportunity. We're used to working with the impossible client to help them achieve their design goals. But now it's better to be attentive to the good clients and enjoy the design ride as opposed to strapping ourselves to a problem client's booster rocket, forced to travel with them as they keep orbiting Planet Crazy.
Prepare for a Better, More Professional Design New Year

Arrange your list of resolutions in a logical order, such as immediate priorities and emergencies first or dividing the resolutions into a group that take action to achieve and those resolutions (like our item one above) that don't require any work on our part except for a firm resolve to take certain action whenever appropriate (in our case, when it comes time to recommending contractors, we'll put three top-level firms into the bidding rather than throw in a low-end, less-expensive ringer).

The University of Bristol conducted a study of 3,000 people regarding New Year's resolutions, and the results may be disheartening. Eighty-eight percent of resolvers ultimately failed to achieve their resolutions, even though 52% of the participants were confident at the beginning of success (Richard Wisemen, 2007). Men got a bump in success when they set small measurable goals to help them achieve their resolutions, e.g., losing a pound a week to help them along in an overall goal to "lose weight." Women got a success boost when they made their goals more public and shared their resolutions with friends.

Take a cue from the Bristol study and share your goals with friends and family, and also set small measurable goals to help achieve the resolutions that are most important to you. I know one designer, for example, who's always disorganized and hopelessly outdated with her notes from client interviews and job site meetings. She could set as a resolution, "I'd like to be a better organized interior designer in the New Year." That's a bit broad, however, and the sweeping nature of this resolution could easily set the stage for failure if she didn't break it down into smaller manageable action steps.

  • I need to color code my client files so I can look them up faster in my office. Small incremental steps I could take: purchase colorful file tabs; start with one client and re-label their files with these color tabs; re-label other client files, starting with my most active clients first and working through the list.

  • I need to create a system of better notetaking, hopefully maximizing my sketches with some kind of electronic filing system. A small incremental step would be to research systems online, coming up with a solution like the popular Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine (take notes, write, sketch, or draw in the notebooks; take a photo of any page in the book with the Evernote Page Camera app on your smartphone; and organize and file digital records of your work).

  • I need to move away from manual interior design recordkeeping and explore larger online enterprise solutions for my interior design business, like Design Manager.

  • My office has become messy and unmanageable! I'll take a day to focus on office de-cluttering. If I don’t use a book, catalog, sample, or other item, I will give it away, sell it, recycle it, or trash it.

My design partner Irwin Weiner and I realize that when you run your own design business, you’re busy almost all the time. Taking stock of your professional and personal life requires quiet moments of reflection, and you may not have that luxury. But consider the alternative: by default, your business will dominate and control your professional and personal life if you don't actively visualize the kind of business and everyday life you'd most like to have, and take action to make improvements.

What are your resolutions for your design business this year?

In November 2006, Manhattan-based blogger Jay Johnson and his partner Irwin Weiner, ASID applied the popularity of watching videos on the Internet to the house-and-garden arena. The idea for Design2Share was born. On D2S, they share their insight, tips, and strong opinions about how people design and decorate their homes, entertaining over 300,000 visitors a year; their syndicated original videos had over 22 million video views in 2010.

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