How to Recession Proof Your Interior Design Business

If you make your living as an interior designer or decorator the current economy has got to be hurting your business. When the economy is slow, many people who might otherwise hire an interior designer or decorator are forced to move such a ‘non-essential’ service to the bottom of their priority list. If you haven’t felt the pinch yet, brace yourself as your business could take a drastic nose-dive during an economic recession. Nobody really needs interior design services, especially in have-not times.

There’s also the fact that so many of your days are spent on the business-side of design; negotiating with contractors, waiting for deliveries to arrive, billing, gathering quotes, and so on. This is all time that doesn’t directly generate revenue for your interior design or decorating business, and when client billings are already meager, this can really hurt your financial situation.

Maybe you’re one of the many trained interior decorators who have ended up working in retail for a 100% commission. If the economy gets worse and you’re working purely on commission, where does that leave you? Even in good times, if you work for 100% commission you might as well be your own boss and have the freedom to market yourself to new clients rather than being tied to any one store.

When I decided to take the reigns of my life back and do something that would allow me to profit from my creativity, I considered a career in interior design. I struggled with that option countless times across a 20 year period when I was unsatisfied in my work. I researched, and even interviewed, many interior design schools in my "former life" but for some reason I never took the step to enroll. I decided with my BA, MBA and a couple decades of experience in business, being in a classroom for two to four years with kids 20 years my junior was not something I wanted to do.

Never mind tuition costs and the tremendous loss of income while you’re a student. Then who knows how many years of working experience as a designer or decorator would be needed after graduation to really start earning money. I wanted to unleash my creativity and love for decorating, but I definitely needed to start making money as soon as possible. So, I started my own home staging company.

As soon as my business was launched, the money was coming in. Within my second year as a home stager I was making up to $10,000 per month. Compare that to the median annual salary of $36,150 a year for an Interior Designer according to this year. I’m very happy I trusted my instincts!

If you’re an interior designer or decorator and you aren’t making enough money, consider adding Home Staging to your service mix or switching to a more profitable career as a Home Stager altogether.

Here a few ways a home staging business can be more profitable than an interior design business:

• As a home stager you get the opportunity to work with different types of people than you would as an interior designer. Generally, only very high income individuals hire interior designers, which limits your target market. Home stagers work mostly with clients in the middle to upper income level which gives you a much larger percentage of the population to market to, and increases the number of projects available for you to work on.

• Home stagers enjoy a higher volume of projects than interior designers because each one is so short in nature. One interior design project might take months to complete (especially when you factor in the wait times to have upholstery done, or furniture delivered), but the average home staging project takes only a few hours or days. There’s no way I could have decorated hundreds of homes within a couple of years as a new interior designer, the way I did as a new home stager. With such quick projects, a home stager is able to complete (and get paid for) a significantly higher number of projects per year than an interior designer who often has client work on hold through no fault of their own.

• When the economy is slow, people eliminate the non-essentials. Interior design or decorating isn’t really high on the "essential items list" especially when choices need to be made about what to give up, and there’s no real deadline to redecorate or renovate a room. In uncertain times, interior design moves way down on the priority list, while home staging move up. No matter how slow the economy is or how much the real estate market has declined, there will always be people who absolutely have to sell and move by a certain date. Divorce, job relocation, job loss, mounting debts, a death in the family or a birth often get people to put their house on the market even if it isn’t the best time to sell. When a homeowner is desperate to sell their house, a home stager will often be involved since the seller stands to make a handsome profit from their services. When people have less time, less money or less equity in their house, they need a home stager so they can get whatever they can out of the sale of their home! As a home stager, your creativity and talent for decorating will serve you well in slow economic times and slow real estate markets.

I especially love the amount of creative freedom I get as a home stager. Because my clients know I’m decorating their home to sell and not for them to live in, I am able to execute my creative vision without their interference or taking their taste into consideration. I can’t imagine wasting hours sitting with a client who can’t decide which color they want for their bathroom, or which fabric to pick for their drapes. My clients don’t care what I choose as long as their house will sell quicker because of it. Besides that, my home staging business is extremely profitable which every entrepreneur wants.

If your interior design business isn’t doing as well as you hoped, it’s not too late to make a change towards living a more creatively fulfilling career that is also more profitable. Do some research into the home staging field. It’s a career that is virtually "recession-proof".


by Debra Gould
Image by StockSource


Internationally recognized home staging expert Debra Gould is president of Six Elements and creator of The Staging Diva Home Staging Business Training Program with 900+ Graduates worldwide. She is the author of Staging Diva Ultimate Color Guide: the easy way to pick colors for home staging projects, and Staging Diva Ultimate Guide: Creating The Perfect Portfolio to Sell Your Home Staging Services. Debra also offers a Directory of Home Stagers to help homeowners and real estate agents locate home stagers who will decorate homes to sell quickly and for top dollar. To learn more visit

Top 10 Ways to Fire the Client From Hell

Clients are the lifeblood of any business. Without them, your venture simply doesn't exist. On the other hand, some clients are so bad that your business, not to mention your personal sanity, is better off without them. So what do you do when you have a client that pushes you to the brink? You fire them! Here's how to give 10 of the worst offenders the pink slip without burning bridges.

1. The bargain shopper:

As a general rule, the client who pays the least will expect the most. The words "I need this done cheap" should strike fear in your heart, not because of profit margins, but because this client will nickel-and-dime you within an inch of your life for extra work, support and other nuisances that were not in the original scope.

How to get out:

This one's simple: Raise your rates, if only for this particular client. The bargain shopper will move on to the next firm that offers a better price, as he's concerned only with the bottom line, not the value of your work.

2. The client who can't make deadlines:

This client wants you to set his project at top priority because he’s on a tight schedule and needs to get something produced right away. You agree, assuming that you’ll have all of the information you need to get it done quickly. Unfortunately, your client drops off the face of the earth, ignoring your requests for approvals and other correspondence until your previously agreed upon due date comes around. At this point, you’re both blaming each other as the reason that the project’s not done, and it’s not pretty.

How to get out:

Before this client makes you miss the deadlines of customers who can keep up with you, let him know that no, you can't deliver on your deadlines when he misses his. Push back his deadline and stick to it. Instead of setting a concrete date, make it contingent upon receipt of information, such as a certain number days from the signed approval date. Don't accept any future work from this client, as his habits are not likely to change. Instead, tell him that you're experiencing a high volume of work and offer to refer him to another firm.

3. The client with a not-so-small project:

You get a call out of the blue from a new customer who wants you to complete a small, simple project. He thinks it should be easy and uncomplicated, so he's only willing to pay a small fee. You agree that this is fair, until you realize the client is going to make this small project a major pain with endless changes and additions that were not a part of the original budget.

How to get out:

If you agreed to do a certain amount work for a particular price, deliver it and do a good job. But if this client pushes boundaries, clearly inform them that extra work will cost extra money. If they refuse to respect your rules, invoice them for any unpaid work and stop the project in its tracks. Give them what you've produced up to the point when you severed ties, but only if they've paid for it.

4. The one who's never satisfied:

Even if you come in under budget and overdeliver, this client just isn't happy with your work. He may have something in his mind that he just can't communicate to you, and when you don't deliver this idea that lives in his head, he's disappointed.

How to get out:

Ask the client to clearly describe or sketch out what he's looking for, or even send you an example. He may want a product that looks like his friend's, but he's afraid to say so. If you're already done with the project and you've done a great job, don't sweat it. Make it clear to the client, citing any agreements that you've made, that you conformed to the scope of the project and delivered exactly what he asked for. You don't want to have him bad-mouth you or stiff you on an invoice, so consider offering to do additional work on this project if he can be more clear with his desires. If he hires you for more projects after this one, you may want to tell him that your business has gone in a different direction.

5. The client who wants you to be something you're not:

Some clients have a clear idea in their heads of what they’d like to see from your work. Often, this is good news, but if their specifics don’t line up with the way you like to operate, you may end up butting heads.

How to get out:

To reason with this client, you can explain why you prefer to do things the way you do. After all, you're the expert. If he simply doesn't understand or refuses to accept your methods, it's time to cut ties. Explain to him the problems that his requests create for you and let him down easy. If you can, refer him to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what he wants. A referral is key, because you don't want him to be unsatisfied and claim that you can't do your job.

6. The one who expects you to deliver more for the same price:

This client just doesn't understand the concept of an estimate. You've laid out what is to be done and agreed to a fair price, but at every step of the way, this client has "just one more little thing" to add that may seem like nothing to him but in reality takes a lot more time and effort than you originally agreed to.

How to get out:

When faced with a client who nickel-and-dimes you with extra work, there's only one way to fight back: Nickel-and-dime him with invoices. Of course, let him know it's coming before you do it. Tell him that your two-hour support call today was free, but any ongoing extraneous work will be billed at your standard hourly rate. If he tries to send work to you in the future, tell him you're too busy and refer him to a competitor that you feel like torturing.

7. The know-it-all:

The know-it-all thinks he understands how to do your job because last weekend, his cousin showed him the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, he doesn't realize that he needs your expert skills to use this tool to do the things he really wants to do. He'll tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, turning you into a production house instead of letting you do what you do best.

How to get out:

First of all, do your best to remove any references to your name or company on work you've done for this client. Why? Because he'll probably try to tinker around on his own and completely mess up your work in the process. Then, stop the project, get caught up on invoices and give him whatever you've done so far. He'll probably hand it off to his cousin to see if he can finish it.

8. The next-100-days client:

This client doesn't pay until he's good and ready, or worse yet, until he's been paid by his client. For anyone running a business, this is just not acceptable. You have bills to pay, too!

How to get out:

If it's worth your trouble, send this client to collections for any unpaid debts. That should send a pretty strong message. In any event, refuse to take on more projects until you're caught up. Either set up a strict payment schedule in the future or inform this client that you've moved in a different direction.

9. The one who wants your home phone number:

If your client calls you after hours or on weekends to relay ideas or just check in with you, you have a problem on your hands. This client does not respect boundaries and is likely to expect round-the-clock service, no matter how frivolous the request.

How to get out:

Unless it's a true emergency, don't field calls from this client when you're not available. If for some reason you end up in a conversation with him outside of your normal working hours, stop him firmly but politely before he can even start. Offer to pick up the call again on the next business day, then do it. This client really just wants to know that you're there for him, so be there, but do it on your terms. If he continues to push his way into your personal time, let him know that you're raising your rates, astronomically of course, to make up for the high cost of maintaining your relationship. The cost to continue working with you will prove to be too high, and he'll bother someone else. Or, you'll make loads of money.

10. The one with 100 lawyers:

This client is always threatening to sue you for some reason or another. That time you made a typo, even though it was directly copied from the material he gave you? He's going to sue you for that. You were two days late on your deadline because he dragged his feet getting you what you needed? He wants you to discount your invoice by 50 percent, or he'll get a lawyer involved.

How to get out:

This abusive client is bad news and a major pain. You don't want to actually go to court with him, because even if you win, it looks bad to other clients who may find out, and he'll definitely bad-mouth you to everyone he knows, win or lose. He's almost certainly all talk, but it's irresponsible to test him to find out if he can back it up. As much as it may drive you crazy to give in to his threats, do what he wants, within good reason of course, then slowly back away. Given that he's argumentative, it's probably not a good idea to let him know exactly why you're breaking it off, so just tell him that you're moving your operations to Yemen.

By The Awesome & Insightful Inside CRM Editors
Photography by Chenko Anton



Auditioning for HGTV: Insider Tips for Becoming a Star

HGTV Audtions: Video Tips & Instructions

1. Keep videos under 5 minutes. Don’t make the tape any longer than that. Casting directors want to see your personality from the moment the video starts rolling.

2. Attire: Do not wear clothing with any visible trademarks, logos or other copyrighted material that you don’t own and control.

3. Be sure no photographs or other artwork is in the background of your shots.

4.  Have someone other than yourself run the camera. Make sure it’s someone with whom you feel very comfortable and who knows how to run a video.

5. Try not to be more than 10 feet from the camera if you're not using a microphone as the sound will be too faint.

6. Turn off the TV, radio, air conditioning, ceiling fans or heating units. This will reduce the hum of additional electronic that could distract casting directors from your talent and personality.

7. Do not chew gum or have candy in your mouth.

8.  Avoid sitting in front of a window or lamp as this will create a silhouette.

9.  Show your personality! This is the key to having a great video. Emotions – both happy and sad – make for a compelling video. Have fun with it!

10. Introduce yourself (name, age, hometown, etc.)

11. Talk about your design background (How long have you been a designer? How did you get started? What other fields have you worked in? What inspired you to become a designer? Schooling?)

12.  Sum up your design style in one sentence and elaborate on what it means to you.

13. Tell what do you love about designing? Why is it your passion?

14. Show off and talk about one of your favorite designs.

15. Tell why you want to be on HGTV and why you should be chosen.

16. Show  HGTV casting directors part of your life. Introduce them to your home, your family, something important in your life. They want insight into your life!

17. If you are mailing in a video, use only mini DVD and/or DVD. Make sure your dvd plays in your DVD player. Even though a DVD video plays on the computer, it may not play in the DVD player.

HGTV in the past has required the followwing addtional documents:

1.  Include two recent photographs of yourself. Clearly labeled the back of each with your name clearly printed, in the following format:  

John Doe (1)

John Doe (2).

2.  Include three examples of your work or a link to your website. If you are mailing your submission, ensure that photos of your work are clearly labeled.

3.  Include proper identification. One legible photocopy of either of the following documents will suffice:

►  your passport
►  your driver’s license
►  your state ID card, clearly labeled.

4. Complete your participant application and save as a PDF. Upload with your video to the designated web or email address or print out and mail with your video submission.  If you are not applying for a particular show

How to Submit Videos

Each HGTV casting director generally has a unique email for their shows which they make public during casting season. Design Star's casting team, for example,  created addresses for each city they held open casting  calls in to help identify candidates by city.  A few examples of the addresses they provided  are, and 

Casting directors also create general mailboxes like, in which to recieve submissions for applicants applying without being linked to a particular city holding a casting call.

The above guidelines can serve to set you on your way to stardom. Good Luck!

Sign up here for HGTV & Scripps Networking casting dates, locations and information!

The Interior Design Resource Agency
Photography by Young Sun Teh


10 Mistakes Designers Make When Growing Their Practices

In design school designers are taught design but not how to run a practice. They often start their practices with no business knowledge and no idea what skills and systems are required. Many have been successful in building a good practice by learning the basics on their own. Often however their practice reaches a plateau and they are not able to grow their revenue. The following is a list of common mistakes these designers make. Even one of these mistakes will interfere with the success and growth of a practice.

1.  They have no written business plan.
Most designers have thought about how they want to run their practice. The ideas are in their heads but rarely written down. Because these plans float around in their heads they are subject to change frequently and goals are nebulous. Having a written business plan is the first step in having a successful practice. (If the designer is an associate in a design firm, it is very helpful to work as though he/she has his/her own business. The associate can write a plan for what he/she are going to contribute to the firm during the year and work the plan.)

2.  They have no marketing plan.
A marketing plan is part of a business plan and should be written down too. Whether the designer is in a firm of his/her own or working for someone else the designer needs to have clients of his/her own. How does the designer plan to attract them? What will he/she do during the year and on a weekly basis to develop the practice? How will the designer know what type of marketing works for him/her? By having a marketing plan and following it the designer will know exactly how he/she wants to market him/herself and will be able to track what is effective for him/her and what is not.

3.  They don't use the marketing plan (if they have one) and/or only do business development when their practice is slow.
Erratic marketing will not provide a steady flow of clients that an designer needs to have a growing practice. If the designer is working in a design firm that steady flow can lead to a million dollar plus book of business which makes the designer attractive to other firms and to his/her own firm. Erratic marketing means the designer cannot track his/her success rate in one particular type of marketing because he/she hasn't done it enough to have valid data. There is a chance the designer will continue to do marketing that is not effective because there is no data to indicate that a change is needed.

4.  They give up networking after only one or two tries.
Establishing a relationship takes time. If the designer meets someone who seems like a good referral source or potential client, he/she will need to follow up frequently to insure that he/she is top of mind with the prospect or referral source. Networking means meeting people and working to establish a relationship. That relationship may take several meetings, phone calls and emails to establish. Sometimes a person an designer met years ago shows up when he/she least expects it because over the years he/she has stayed in touch. It is important to stay connected with people.

5.  They believe they must do everything themselves.
Early on in a practice startup funds have to be managed carefully. This often means doing everything by him/herself. Later designers continue to feel they must do everything themselves rather than hiring anyone to do the work for them. The more non design work a designer does i.e. typing documents, fixing computers and loading and learning new software, the less time he/she has for design work, practice strategy and marketing. In their practices designers need to do the work only they can do and delegate the rest.

6.  They allow frequent interruptions from people, phones email etc.
Design work, marketing and practice strategy takes time and concentration. To do it successfully a designer needs a block of time that is uninterrupted. Every interruption slows the work down for the time the interruption takes plus the 10 minutes it takes the designer to get back to the place he/she was before the interruption. Interruptions are often stressful and may impact an designers’ health.

7.  They do not differentiate themselves from other designers.
It is important for the designer to be able to articulate his/her uniqueness. What does he/she offer that other designers with the same specialty do not offer? With so many designers in a geographical area and practice area, competition for business is keen. To insure that clients choose the designer over others, he/she must differentiate him/herself. Potential clients are looking for a reason to hire someone. It is up to the designer to give them the reason!

8.  They do not send out their bills regularly.
Cash flow is important in a design practice and when bills are not sent out, funds do not come in. This is a problem because it may prevent the designer from paying the necessary fees for a client case, buying some necessary equipment or software, and/or paying employees or themselves. Clients don't like it either because it means they will get a very large bill rather than several smaller ones. In addition if a very long period goes by the client may have forgotten the details of the matter the designer worked on and question the time billed or the entire bill.

9.  They don't use their bills as a marketing tool.
A bill must be clear and understandable. Bills with only one entry with no detail are the ones clients are likely to question. Additionally there are events that the designer may choose to write off such as phone calls or emails. Showing the client these items on the bill with the normal fee and then reduced fee, lets the client know that he/she has been treated fairly.

10.  They don't cross market or refer to others.
To maximize their time designers should use their time on the phone with clients to cross market (discuss other services offered). Clients are often unaware of these services. Designers can also refer work to other designers or professionals if the client has needs that the designer cannot satisfy him/herself. If an designer wants to receive referrals, then he/she must also give referrals. Talking to the client about all his/her design needs can often yield leads for the designer him/herself and other designers.
By Alvah Parker
Photography by  Abdone
Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website and receive a values assessment as a gift. Work becomes more meaningful and enjoyable when you work from your values.


Gaining Trust: 10 Tips for Getting More Design Clients

10 Tips to Build Trust in Your Business

Trust Builds Confidence
The single most important thing you can do in starting and building a business is to get people to trust you. Trust needs to be earned and takes time, although you can lose it in a second. Telling people to trust you doesn't cut it. In fact, when people I just meet tell me to trust them, my antennae is up to watch my back.

The benefits of being trusted are enormous. People have confidence in those they trust. Confidence leads to wanting to do business with you. Employees want to work for trustworthy bosses and are more highly motivated when they do. Customers are more likely to write orders with people they trust. Investors and lenders will not write the check to anyone they suspect is not high on the trustworthy ladder. A great deal of client due diligence is in finding out your trust score.

Many people differ on what is right or wrong in a business situation. Most people know the difference but are compromised when money is at stake. Others instinctively do the right thing.  

It takes lots time to build trust. You should always do the right thing. Here are 10 specific trust building ideas to get you thinking in the right direction.

10 Tips to Build Better Trust in your Business

1. Listen to people you deal with.

2. Admit mistakes right away.

3. Pay bills on time. If you can't, call and tell why and when you will pay. Give a date
you can meet or beat. [ Rumors of you running your business poorly will discourage clients from wanting to do business with you. Keeping a clean reputation with the people you owe will make you less likely to become the talk of the town -in a bad way.]

4. Acknowledge what you don't know. Don't BS.

5. Don't duck or procrastinate dealing with a problem.

6. Demand quality.

7. Don't over promise.

8. Move quickly to correct mistakes no matter the cost.

9. Keep your promises.

10. Never betray confidential information.

By Bob Reiss
Photography by Smilla

Bob Reiss is the author of Bootstrapping 101: Tips to Build Your Business with Limited Cash and Free Outside Help. Bob has written a 22 page E-Guide to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Sales Reps. Click HERE for more details and to order your Free copy. To read more tips for small business success­, entrepreneurs can follow his weekly blog. Bob Reiss has been involved in 16 start-ups, is a three-time INC 500 winner, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Business School, and the subject of two Harvard case studies. He is a frequent speaker at university entrepreneurial classes.