As the Divine Hustler, I hope to inspire all women who are making our way to greatness in this divine hustle of work and life, AND I have particular wisdom to share for my younger companions on the business of Interior Design path.
Hint: Running a successful Interior Design firm is an “Inside Job” — pun intended.
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A Letter to My Young Designer Sisters and Brothers: If You Think You Might Want To Start Your Own Business…
When my husband and I became parents, we often remarked on how surprising it was that NO ONE told us how freaking hard it was going to be to have and raise children. I love a challenge and I love to grow. Being a parent has provided me with endless challenges and wonderful, powerful moments for painful and exquisitely fulfilling life experiences.
I feel similarly about becoming an interior designer and owning my own business.
No one told me… so many things!
This is why I feel called to share my perspective with you.
If you take the path of being an interior designer or decorator, and turn it into your own business, my wish for you is that you enter this beautiful, messy, fun, and sometimes painful world with eyes wide open.
Let me say at the start, I am happy to be of support to anyone who aspires to be an interior designer and it is not my intention to dissuade you. In fact, as I mature as a business owner I am feeling more and more called to support younger designers like you. I want to inspiring and empower you to be the best, most brilliant version of yourself, so you can rock your business and your life.
If you are called to this work, I have to tell you a secret: You are a healer.
Interior designers are beauty makers. We are hand holders and problem solvers for our clients, people who want to make a change in their spaces that invites them, and the people who enter their spaces, to their highest and best selves. (Hence my company’s tagline: #comehometoyourSelf)
The world needs us.
The world needs more interior designers who understand the impact that our work has on people’s emotional world.
In order to do this important work, we must provide the ground. With our knowledge, skills, and grace, we shepherd those who don’t know how to do what we do towards living a more beautiful and fulfilling life.
Reaching a place of grace, gaining knowledge and skills, all of this is The Work. And some of that work is surprisingly hard.
I share my experience here in the hopes of sparing you some of the countless hours of agony I suffered through in my early years as a young designer embarking on the journey of starting my own business.
Personal empowerment coach Tony Robbins says to find someone’s shoulders to stand on, and from there, you can leapfrog over ten years of growth by learning from their mistakes.
So, climb on up, and witness a few of mine…
Interior design looked so glamorous to me in the beginning — and that was long before social media turned up the dial and gave us the smoke-and-mirrors of insta-filters. Nowadays with dozens of apps at our fingertips, we can turn what might once have been a mediocre living room install shot into a vision of perfection. Instagram and Facebook create a showcase for celebrity designers like Nate Berkus, Kelly Wearstler, Ken Fulk, and more. Their feeds make this arduous, challenging career look so easy and glamorous.
And it is.
Some of the time.
And, if you are starting your own interior design business, be forewarned: stepping into being an entrepreneur comes with a significant number of challenges. While this industry may appear to be all breathtaking moments, behind the scenes it takes guts and grit; bravery and braun; sore feet, messy messes, neglected personal obligations, and countless sleepless nights.
Most of us in this industry work our asses off. We hustle. A lot.
For example, in one week I installed not one, but two projects complete with four carloads of flowers, art and accessories for client holiday parties, followed by a construction walk-through over the weekend for a new project — a rarity since I will hardly EVER work a weekend these days — followed by transitioning from work boots to heels for those two client parties, holiday shopping for my own family, and writing the first draft of this article.
Did I also take time for a green smoothie? A workout? Meditation? Yes.
I even stayed up a little late one night to spend some much needed time with my supportive, wonderful husband (who has grown into the man I always wanted to be married to — but that’s an entirely different article).
And that is how I get it all done. Extreme self care.
This is why I have my alter-ego, my inner superhero; I call her the Divine Hustler. She is my guide. She is spirit-powered and she kicks-ass. Honestly, she runs my business. She reminds me how to be the best version of myself.
In this business, we all need an inner Divine Hustler, because the work never ends.
There is so much to do! We get the wonderful adrenaline rush in getting all of the tasks done; the pushing, striving, researching, meetings, all of the effort and stress, and then the reveal — the supreme pleasure of accomplishment, of fulfilling my clients’ dreams and my own desire for creating beauty in the world that makes others’ lives better, that brings out the best in who they are, that invites community, connection, comfort.
On those days when nothing is being delivered on time, when nothing comes in the right color or size, when the item is delivered broken, or not at all, while your contractors are standing around, wondering what to do next, you will need courage.
Courage enough to deliver bad news in a way that provides the perfect balance of taking responsibility for getting it fixed, mixed with empathy for your expectant client who can’t understand why you didn’t choose the perfect vendor to deliver their perfect piece of furniture in perfect timing.
This is why we have to learn the practices that enable us to master our interior world. Of coming home to our Selves first. Then we can be the grounded, level-headed, emotionally-intelligent Divine Hustlers our clients need us to be in the face of construction and install madness.
I have learned to finesse theses situations by keeping the client happy and solving the issue as quickly, efficiently, and gracefully as possible without throwing myself on my sword and overly taking responsibility — the result of many hours of meditation, listening to Abraham Hicks on YouTube, working with my rock star life coach, Anna Scott, and receiving Network Spinal Analysis care (the work of Dr. Donny Epstein) from Dr. Liz Dobbins, conveniently located across the hall from mine. All of this, meditation, inspiration, physical, emotional, energetic, and spiritual supports and practices, I highly recommend, to designers and, really, all entrepreneurs.
As a business owner, I learned that I had to master the art of refraining from making excuses; plus the art of being willing to swallow my ego (a huge undertaking for someone with a big ego like mine!) when I am blamed for something that is out of my control. Because, whatever the cause, the result is not the client’s problem. It’s mine.
Not to mention the incidences when my employees have unwittingly revealed their shortcomings to clients, and then I do double-duty coaching them to encourage their growth one one side, while caring for the client on the other.
I have learned that I can “make” the process more effortless by practicing “The Art of Allowing.”
The Art of Allowing for me means not being too attached or controlling about my perspective but instead being open to allowing other perspectives and the force of the universe to wield creativity through me — if I step out of the way of my own thinking and my attachment to the outcome.
That is the sweet spot where magic happens.
Addiction to certainty is the kiss of death.
When I “allow” things and people to be as they are, I appreciate the good, I see clearly what I can change, I allow the solutions to fall into place, and I allow the things that I can’t change to be as they are. This is not easy. It takes practice.
I have learned that self-care, spiritual practices, integrity, hard work, and taking responsibility where appropriate is the winning strategy, rather than being defensive or failing to follow through.
I have learned that keeping the focus on serving the client, taking care of them without punishing myself and making it right in the end is what builds a solid, profitable, and pleasurable business.
I have had the opportunity to discover through pain of making mistakes that when I let go of perfectionism, and trust, then, with enough determination, integrity and compassion, everything always works out.
Even if that means lovingly holding my ground when a client wants to return furniture they agreed to purchasing, or advocating for them when I think the vendor should take responsibility, or owning it and making it right when it’s me or one of our designers at fault. And even paying rush fees to get things on time, and tending to my own emotional landscape through all of it.
Consider the time I ordered a giant sectional that was so giant, we later discovered, it couldn’t be carried through the house to its intended destination!
To get it down the stairs and around a tight corner, we had to have it cut in half and then put back together and reupholstered so we could assemble it once it arrived in its final destination in the media room downstairs.
And yes, I paid — in time, money, and extra coaching sessions — to deal with what happened and what came up for me; to address my own frustration with myself, and with the clients calling and yelling at me when I was already beating myself up.
What a gift! Because of what I learned from that experience, how it helped me grow into the bad-ass boss-lady I am today.
Another learning experience: When unwitting clients overstepped my personal boundaries countless times by calling my cell phone during off-hours and shocking my reptilian brain into agitation, with fear and concern over their dissatisfaction with the wallpaper that was just hung, or their worry that the chandelier is too big.
How many times have I had to say, with a deep breath and complete equanimity: “Wait till all the furniture is in. Trust me. It’s going to be perfect.”
I have realized over time that people treat us how we teach them to treat us. We train them.
If you don’t want to work weekends and nights, then train your clients to respect that.
My family is the priority. They need me. The paint will wait till Monday. Then, I will show up filled-up and ready to rock their world with my color magic. The gift in learning the art of setting boundaries is that it works in all relationships. With my family, friends, vendors, and colleagues.
Add to these people-skills and self-care-skills the constantly changing ups-and-downs of business growth, networking, and employee management — the necessary components of keeping the project pipeline full. And the marketing. The cost of time and money needed to invest in marketing; don’t even get me started.
But, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.
These lessons are gems that give me tools for my life. In becoming a designer and a business owner, I found out who I am, what I’m made of. I have learned how to be gracious, loving and thoughtful, for me AND for my clients. The self care I now know to implement and guard fiercely grew out of the pain I experienced on the journey through the sleepless nights. Because I learned how painful it was to carry upset with me into my own home, my own family time, and on vacations, I decided to do it differently.
If personal growth and taking responsibility for choosing and feeling your emotions and others doesn’t appeal to you, if working hard, being a schlepper, therapist, coach, problem solver and Jill (or Jack) of all trades doesn’t sound fun, then close the heavy, gilded custom-built door now and walk away from owning your own business.
In that case, the game is not over.
Consider working for someone like me. Because I love being a boss and a problem solver and I love hiring and managing talented young designers.
Entrepreneurship is NOT for everyone — and that’s ok.
There are countless design firms who need talented designers to get the job done. There is no way I could be the business owner I am if it wasn’t for the incredible talent of all the lovely beings that have come through these doors to join my team over the years.
For them, for this journey, for the clients, for all of it, I am eternally grateful. Just like parenthood, it’s been hard, and messy, beautiful, transformative, filled with moments of wonder and grace, and completely worth it.