My job here at The Interior Design Resource Agency has to be one of the best in the world. I get to speak to designers everyday and share resources and advice that will make a difference in their interior design businesses. To see designers implement the plans and ideas we’ve discussed and witness the positive outcome is very rewarding. One of my latest encounters involved speaking with a designer that went from prime office space with a staff of seven to working in her home. Needless to say, she considered this a huge step backward and was concerned with the stigma of working from home. I spent a great deal of time encouraging her and working with her to map out a strategy for maximizing her effectiveness right where she was. In encouraging her, I felt compelled to encourage all of you because I know there are so many more of you in a similar situation. Fear not. Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy!
The Good News
Home offices boomed in the early 90’s and the option to work from home began to crop up everywhere and in every industry from insurance to internet technology. However, long before then, designers ran their design studios from home. Because of the nature of the process whereby client meetings generally take place on site, designers realized they could do the real work in the design process from home. Conceptually, they were ahead of their time.
The benefits of working from home are undeniable: no commute, setting your own schedule, flexibility, low overhead, the list goes on. However, in the present economy designers are opting to work from home less for convenience but more out of necessity. Regardless of the reason, tips for being effective remain the same. Here are just a few for you.
1. Maintain a High Level of Professionalism
Realize that while design studios have existed in homes for years there is still a stigma attached to working from home, in some cases, but especially for designers. To combat this, I suggest cultivating a high level of professionalism in your interaction with clients. In most cities, even with a home occupations permit, business owners are not allowed to see clients in their homes, so think of where you’ll hold the rare client meeting that doesn’t take place on site. Everything that represents you needs to be superior. Your website, voicemail message, telephone presentation, business cards and brochures should be top notch. Your interior design clients should know that the quality of the product and service that they receive will not be less than the designer who’s situated on the 25th floor of the office building downtown.
2. Get Dressed
Studies show that how you dress can and does affect productivity. When you’re working from home, dress can help serve as a division of personal and professional life. If you haven’t already, make a company dress code and adhere to it. It will serve to keep you and your staff motivated and in some ways to keep you focused on the goal. It also contributes to establishing a corporate culture a maintaining a level of professionalism, even when working from home.
3. Run Errands to Meet Your Next Client
Here’s what I mean: Never leave the house in any state, that you wouldn’t want a potential client to see you. You are always representing your company and potential clients are everywhere. Even at the grocery store. Clothing is an extension of your identity and ultimately your brand. Before you leave the house (or open the door), ask yourself this question: “Would a prudent client look at me and say, ‘I want to hire that person?’” Sweatpants and a banana clip do not convey professionalism that is congruent with a luxury service. Even if you’re the designer who works with clients who are on a shoe-string budget, it’s in your best interest to present the most professional image possible. Small jobs lead to big jobs and you never know who you’re going to meet. Always present your best self as a representation of your company.
4. Develop Protocol for Your Business Phone
Set strict guidelines about anyone other than you or your design staff answering your business phone. If family members must take calls for you, ensure that they use the customary greeting that includes your company name. Don’t be afraid to give training or tutorials on the subject. After all, your business reputation is on the line. Make sure they know how to place a client on hold, take messages and end a phone call. Noise levels from televisions, radios, children and pets should be kept to an absolute minimum when making and taking phones calls. If you have rowdy kids or lots of pets, I suggest an office with a door. Clients will equate poor phone etiquette and presentation with the quality of your service- even if it was your kid who took the call. This could lose clients, and negatively impact your business.
5. Set a Schedule
Schedule everything possible: time to make and take phone calls, check email, time to meet with your staff, time for breaks and chores, even. Establish your work times around the hours you work best. If you’re energized in the morning, use those hours for your best work. If you’re energized at night, maximize the evening hours for work. Utilize high energy periods to get work done and be more effective. Having a good time management system such as a daily, weekly, hourly and monthly calendar or appointment software comes in handy. You can always make changes to your schedule as you see fit, but setting a schedule and creating a routine creates parameters for you to work within.
6. Minimize Interruptions
Let friends and family know what your work hours are. If you have scheduled a conference call or a client meeting via phone, make them aware of that. Hang a do not interrupt sign on your door, or meeting in progress sign to let family know that you should only be interrupted in case of emergency and define what an emergency is for you.
7. Delegate Chores & Other Responsibilities
Some designers have no problem working in an environment with clutter. Others intensely need cleanliness and order to function at maximum capacity. For these designers any ounce of disorder in your surroundings can send you into a cleaning frenzy. I strongly suggest employing a housekeeper or at least delegating chores to family members so that your work hours can be spent working. If you were in your office on the 25th floor of the Chrysler Building, you wouldn’t be cleaning. You’d be working. So make arrangements or schedule time to do that outside of work hours.
If you have kids or pets, you may want to arrange for care for them. If your little ones must be home and part of your office environment, I encourage teaching them to be respectful of your place of business. I heard a story from a business woman who created a space in her office for her children that included a desk and play phone as well as a little computer. It kept her kids occupied and engaged. It also gave them an opportunity to see what happens in a place of business and how they should behave- even if that place of business looks like home.
8. Never Eat Alone
One of our honorary advisory board members, Keith Ferrazzi of the Ferrazzi Group wrote a book a few years ago called Never Eat Alone. In it, Keith discussed the importance of cultivating relationships. He made a great point in saying you have to eat anyway, so why eat alone? Use that time to socialize, build relationships. If you need to rid yourself of the solitary confinement that sometimes running your design firm from home, I suggest you have at least one or two lunches with other designers or trade professionals to get out of the office. A lot of them work in small offices, alone or at home so you may be surprised at how grateful they are to spend an hour away from the office as well.
The interior design profession has always been one that has offered a great deal of flexibility in regard to where and how you work. Whether your interior design firm is starting up or downsizing, with a great deal of self discipline, energy, dedication and professionalism, you can see interior design business success. Pack away your fears and pull out your design swatches. Maximize the moment and seize the day!
By V. Carr
The Interior Design Resource Agency
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