It's been almost *cough* twenty years since I graduated college. It seems like such a lifetime ago. There I was, this chick who felt out of place, unsure of my abilities and afraid of my classmates. The design school suggested we dress for success when we went to class. So the first day I spied a bunch of chicks and dudes in their power suits. I didn't have a power suit. I wore what I still wear today, jeans. And my Docs. Those who wore their power suits the first day ditched them after seeing the upperclassman in regular clothes. I was glad I didn't waste my money on said power suit.
The teachers were, let's say, interesting. One of my teachers was the Lint Lady. Another constantly had migraines. Then there was one I called Monkey Man. At the time I thought they had all the answers.
I thought the time I did in design school was necessary to becoming a successful interior designer.
And yes, I learned the basic skills to become an employee. I'd go and work at all sorts of different places before I started my own business. I remember thinking back to those different jobs and thinking that they were a complete waste of my time, sometimes. I wasn't always designing interiors and when I was doing commercial interior work I felt like I was doing time in a loony bin. Now, I look back and see each job as something I was meant to do because there was something for me to learn. None of which I learned in design school.
I worked with the people who spoke execu-babble exclusively and I gave my best computer face when I was playing a game of Literati with my co-worker. I learned working hard for da man didn't get me far and loyalty wasn't a word at the office that was embraced.
When I got laid off from the loony bin, I realized I had a problem. A problem with authority. Okay, well... I didn't have the problem, but they did. They had the authority and I didn't respect them.
When I finally did start my business, I was clueless.
I was chasing bright shiny objects all of the internet trying to figure out how to start a business. I became a buysexual when it came to online courses. I was sure each course I found was the right one that would answer all my questions and get me on my merry design empire building way. Each course got me one small step closer to where I needed to be, but nothing out there was the be all end all.
When I did think I had found the "magic solution" I'd be like a lot of the designers out there you will still encounter to this day. I would bogart the info I learned for fear my "competition" would learn the secret and one-up me.
All of that was bullshit.
There's not one course out there that answered every question I had. There isn't one coach out there that could clearly communicate to me what I should be doing. There is no magic solution.
When I started my design business I didn't know...
You had to hustle. You can't just put up a website and expect people to flood your inbox with their undying adoration and kissing your feet that you decided to save the world with your interior design services.
You have to market yourself everyday. It's not like you can slap up some motivational quote on Facebook and expect that to motivate people to buy from you. You have to remind people all the time that you're alive and ready to design... when they are ready.
You have to get used to the word "no". Getting a "no" sucks when you first start your business sucks, but you get used to it. You just need to stay the course and know that with every "no" you get you're getting closer to the "yes" you've been dying to hear.
You have to wear a bunch of hats. You are the designer, the bookkeeper, the scheduler, the marketer, the web designer, the graphic designer, the secretary, and the gopher. And more. The bitch of it is that you need to learn how to do these things for yourself (bookkeeping? shoot me) so when you're able to hire out you will be aware if the person you hired is screwing up.
You have to sell. If you wanna make money, you gotta pimp yourself. People don't just throw money at you. At first it will feel awkward. You might come away from your first sales call feeling like you just had sex with Screech and want to shower. It gets easier, trust me.
You have to learn how to market and do copywriting. It's something that I never thought I would ever need to learn but if you need to get the word out about your business you better study up on it and learn it. When you make more money you could hire it out, but when you find out how much fun it is you might just continue to do the bulk of it yourself.
Everyone is guessing. Nobody knows it all, so don't ever feel like other designers are better than you because you think they have it all figured out. They probably don't. I guess every day when I come up against something I haven't done before. Just go for it, just don't do anything illegal.
Be yourself. If you're the power suit wearing kind (which I'm sure you're not) go for it. If that isn't you, they don't do it. Wear clothes that make you feel good and anything can be made to look professional these days. Professionalism isn't really about what you wear and how you talk (thank God!). It's about how you do your work, how you make your clients feel, how you show up consistently and are someone to trust. The rest of it is superficial bullshit.
You have to believe in yourself. You will have shitty days and shitty clients. You will have projects where everything turns to shit. You will have clients who one second seem like they are your best friend only to turn into client-holes the next second. No matter how others treat you, you need to treat yourself right every step of the way. No one will do this for you.
To be honest, sometime building a business feels like dragging balls.
It will take time, and it will take a really long time until you get intimate with your business. Like real intimate. There is no overnight success. The key to being a success sooner is buckling the fuck down and putting in the hard work every day.
Oh, I forgot to mention that you can't do it alone (easily). You will need to reach out for help along the way, because you do get farther faster when you get help. Every person you hire to help you with your business will have golden nuggets to share with you that if you pay careful attention to will add to your knowledge you'll use everyday. But, the key here is you have to pay people. There aren't very many golden hearts out there that will help you for free. And just like you don't expect to work for free, they don't either.
The good news?
You're strong and you can do it. You're a hustler and you know you were born to do this. That determination alone is what's going to keep your head held high.
Alycia Wicker is an interior design business coach specializing in online marketing strategies.Her clients land more of their own dream clients and make more cash, period. Celebrity gossip whore. Elvis-obsessed.