I often get inspiration for these Business of Design posts from my monthly designer happy hour. A small group of independent designers get together to chat about business and ask advice from fellow business owners. I hear from these extremely intelligent and successful women that they have a hard time with boundaries, that they want to please to the point of sacrificing themselves, and that they feel a little ruled by their clients. They may not be saying these things in the words I have just used, but the message is the same. So here it is: you must treat your business like a business.
If you don't treat your business seriously neither will your clients. Your business is yours alone and you cannot let your clients dictate the terms and processes that you conduct business. This is really in everyone's best interest. Interior design is a luxury service and your customer service should reflect that, but it doesn't mean that you should be an interior design butler and be at a client's beck and call satisfying every whim.
I keep a very distinct line between business and personal. It's the way my brain works and I have a hard time surfing both realms concurrently. I'm either in business mode or personal mode. I would rather send two emails to the same person, the business "can we meet to review samples" and then a separate email for personal "how was your vacation" - that is how compartimentalized my brain is. I don't give business contacts my personal cell phone because I can be reached on my office number. I also do not use text for business. But this is because it doesn't work for me and I think it is an unreliable means of communication. These are the processes that work for me and help me treat my business like a business. While I think that it is important to draw your line between business and personal, how you do it should be what works for you.
Here are some minimum guidelines that I think are important to treating your business as such.
If you want to be taken seriously as a business, get an actual business phone number. There are many low-cost services that you can use to get a real phone number separate from your cell phone. You can even have the new office number routed to your cell phone if you don't want an actual office phone. It shows vendors and potential clients that you are professional and not messing around.
For my clients and vendors, I work normal business hours. I don't work on the weekends and I answer calls and emails and have meetings during office hours. It is important to establish this to again, be professional. If your clients get accustomed to you responding to emails at 9pm at night, they will expect it forever more. While the temptation is to respond right away to be done with that I suggest simply not checking your work email (because you have separate work and personal addresses) after hours. Design emergencies almost always can be solved the next day. Train yourself and your business contacts to respect the 9-5.
LETTER OF AGREEMENT
The letter of agreement/ contract/ design agreement protects you, protects your client, shows everyone that you mean business and are a professional business owner. You are not a friend doing a fun little side project, this is not a hobby. If you don't have this signed up front before you do any work for the client it will be exponentially harder to sign down the road. Learn more about the interior design agreement.
Remember when I mentioned pleasing the client, sometimes you want to please so much that you agree to do something you shouldn't do and it comes back to bite you and maybe even your client in the butt. Maybe you've agreed to install piece by piece instead of all at once and you're client over-analyzes and scrutinizes every piece that comes in without seeing the full picture. Maybe your client tells you that they will measure to save money and their measurements are wrong, resulting in an incorrectly scaled room. Maybe despite your rule to only use your own vendors, your client uses their own electrician and the fixture gets hung incorrectly. Figure out what processes it takes to run your business smoothly and stick to them. They are in place to make the whole design process go with minimal bumps along the road and to give your client the most pleasant experience you can provide. If they aren't willing to take your expertise on how you run your own business they aren't your ideal client.
Ladies and gentlemen, your clients are checking you out online. At minimum buy your domain name and put up a splash page with a single image, your business name, and your contact information. It can be expanded on and fine-tuned later. Get a freaking website. Put your new office phone number on it.
BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT
While it may seem that co-mingling funds is no big deal, it will be a big deal come April. It looks much more professional and give you instant credibility if you have your business checks - bonus if you print them instead of hand-write. Keep detailed accounting records, I love Studio Webware. Separate accounts keep your books cleaner, streamlines payments, and helps reduce accounting time and costs. Despite having a bookkeeper helping me, doing my accounting paperwork is the worst and it is so much easier for me to have two accounts than to spend more time on my accounting rifling through a single account and multiple transactions.
I think of Capella Kincheloe LLC as an entirely different entity as Capella. I put it in perspective by thinking if I was working for someone else than of course all of this would be separate. Of course that business would have its own phone number, contracts, bank account. You need to create this separation in the beginning to avoid issues down the line.
So... Are you treating your business like a business?