Last week on Design Create Inspire I talked about how I started my business and what I wish I knew when I started. This week I'm going into what you can do to start your own business. Six tangible tips that you can get working on today. As always, listen to or watch this week's episode where I go deeper into the topic.
Develop your brand
Who is your target market - your ideal client? Develop your brand based on them, not you! What colors, fonts, and overall esthetic do you want your brand to convey? I wanted my brand to feel timeless, sustainable, efficient, and clean. So, I use neutrals with pops of green for my color palette and sans serif, modern fonts. You want your brand to shine through everything that comes out of your "office". So, even your contracts want to have an esthetic that fits your brand. Developing this from day one helps create cohesion between all your deliverables.
Determine your Ideal Project
Start creating a portfolio (website/Instagram) with these types of projects. For Instagram, it can be inspiration photos at first while you build your portfolio (always give credit if it’s not your work). You can also start creating concept sketches and renders for your ideal project for your online portfolio. This will attract the clients you want (listen to Episode 4: The Ideal Client for more info on clients).
I love EntreArchitect’s 60 Minute Business Plan. It helps you focus on goals, the future, and finances. I have a degree in business, so I have developed many business plans, but, the 60-minute business plan is my favorite method. You can do it in one sitting and develop the plan as you grow.
When I first started my business I made a 10-year plan and every few years I revise it and write out what has actually happened in order to compare the two. It’s fun seeing the progress I’ve made and where I was then vs now. It also helps me push towards those goals.
I am a big believer that once you put something out there, it will happen. Just by writing it down as a goal, you’re setting it out as an intention, and you’ll subconsciously (and consciously) be working towards that goal. It’s the most simple, yet powerful way to grow a business.
There are legal logistics too, like a business license, DBA (if your company isn’t your own name), and professional liability insurance. So once you have a name, you can get your business license. Once you have a project you should get liability insurance. Also, don’t forget, ALWAYS have a contract in place even if the project is for a family member. Contracts are so important.
In California, it is not required for architects or interior designers to have professional liability insurance (sometimes referred to as E&O insurance), but I highly recommend you get it. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and in this industry, they like to say “it’s not if you get sued, it’s when”. Also, make sure you get whatever other insurance is required. Commercial, auto, workers comp, etc.
It's important to develop a toolkit that consists of deliverables that you use. Workflow and systems develop over time, but it's smart to start this toolkit from day one. When I went to give my first big proposal, it took me days to just develop the proposal. I ended up not getting the job and felt frustrated that I spent so much time organizing the proposal, figuring out fees, etc. Then I realized I was developing my systems and each proposal would be easier and more refined. My proposals and contracts are always developing - even 6 years later, I just made edits to my contracts yesterday! But now, I have a great template that I can send out easily with a few modifications rather than it taking days to organize. So remember, these things come with time and each deliverable that you work on for a client becomes a template for the next one.
Spread the word
Start telling anyone and everyone what you’re doing. Get it out there. You never know what aunt’s cousin’s neighbor is looking to start a remodel. That’s how you can get your foot in the door. Don’t be afraid of starting, everyone has a first project. Every successful architect had to start somewhere.
Now some last words of wisdom:
Do not compare your business to others who have been in business for years.
It’s easy to do, but it is detrimental to your success. Use businesses that you respect as a goal and case study, but not as a comparison. Someone who has been in business for years has put in countless hours behind the scenes getting to where they are. Know that slow growth is sustainable. You will one day be the business leader that others look up to and wonder how you got to where you are.