Here at Gabby, we love to see our clients succeed––scaling their businesses and filling their portfolios with dream projects––which is why we jump at opportunities to promote ongoing education and meaningful conversation. Last month at High Point Market, we invited LuAnn Nigara, host of top-rated podcast A Well-Designed Business, to moderate a panel on interior design business tips, growth and development. Flooded with positive feedback, we want to share the event’s juiciest insights and lessons! Below, we’ve rounded up twelve of the most poignant takeaways for transforming you interior design business from this design-centric discussion.
Meet the Panelists
Known for her classic aesthetic and no-nonsense approach, Rachel Cannon, founder of Baton Rouge-based Rachel Cannon Limited Interiors, effortlessly balances her creative spark with business savvy.
One of Nashville’s hottest designers, Lori Paranjape has earned an amorous audience of over 74,000 Insta followers, who flock to her page for fresh inspiration and humor. View her dazzling digital portfolio at Mrs. Paranjape.
Interior Design Business Tips:
1. Grow with intention. “You can always turn a small ship around,” says Rachel Cannon, urging designers to pace themselves and shoulder less risk. A low-risk business model also works for Lori Paranjape, who contracts five senior designers while maintaining creative control.
2. Design clear processes. Cannon had a business epiphany while her friend gave birth–– “I need to run my business like a hospital,” she thought. Now, every task, order, and client interaction is well-documented, leading to more streamlined projects.
3. Focus on messaging. Niche marketing won’t limit your business––it will convey your expertise in a specific market. “When you know exactly who you’re talking to, you know the message that will resound with those people” explains Cannon. So, study your ideal client, then fine-tune your marketing efforts to reach them.
4. Manage client expectations. Paranjape points out, “We are servicing a luxury industry…You would never walk into a 5-star restaurant and ask them about the prices on their menu.” Be clear and unwavering in your communication about fee structures, processes, and project timelines. Paranjape adds that her clients are always “happier when they understand what the expectation is.”
5. Negotiate carefully. Inexperienced designers may feel pressured to reduce their fees or provide free services. Both panelists ask designers to remember that negotiations should always result in a win-win. Your reward might be a referral, testimonial, or additional paid work––but it should always be something of value.
6. Don’t forget to delegate. Paranjape works with a talented team of contractors. This tag-team approach has been important to her success––she can oversee multiple projects while her design team digs into the smallest details of each home. But principal designers should never forget to “flirt” with their clients, reminds Paranjape, conveying
that they are still present and invested.
7. Document everything. Ensure an indisputable “paper trail” by documenting every client meeting, order placed, and delivery date. Cannon updates a live, shared document so her clients can check on progress whenever they would like. Reserve time to update your documents, and be sure to share them with everyone involved, including architects
8. Don’t repeat the same mistakes. After a particularly detrimental lighting order, Paranjape announced that her team was “ done making this mistake” and set an expectation for triple checking scale and sizing. When issues arise, address the mistake with open communication and set a plan for similar scenarios.
9. Hold all deliveries. “This was a game-changer in my business,” Paranjape announces. Now, all deliveries are secured in her warehouse until the entire order has been fulfilled. When everything has arrived, she asks her clients to vacate the space, leaving her crew to “descends upon the home” during installation day. She underscores the importance of the reveal: “You cannot show it to them until your vision is complete.”
10. Delay the “final” payment. Chances are, you will need to add something during installation––a vintage rug, potted plants, or a serving tray. Paranjape insists on reserving a “slush fund” for these necessary additions. If possible, hold the last invoice until you are completely satisfied with the design.
11. Host a big reveal. Whether you’re designing one room or an entire home, don’t skip the final reveal. Cannon says this “HGTV experience” is absolutely indispensable. Play music, serve appetizers, pop champagne, and let your clients bask in their gorgeous new atmosphere.
12. Prepare an exit interview. Great designers learn from their feedback. Allow your clients to offer compliments, comments, or suggestions with an in-person conversation or online form. Within your design team, evaluate every process from client consultation to billing. Ask your team, “What can we improve upon next time?” and “What did we execute well?”