How to be a Kick-ass (Interior Design) CEO

Running an interior design business?  Then you're the CEO!  Learn how to be the best one possible #interiordesignbusiness #cktradesecrets #interiordesignceo

It is impossible for me to get through an entire book without thinking how it can apply to my work and the work of interior designers.  Inspiration comes from all types of books, not just non-fiction business books.  

Of course, I also read a lot of business books of all types, because I think looking across industries and fields helps me see possibilities I wouldn't by staying within the confines of interior design.  This allows my business to develop and grow and allows me to help you in more original ways.  

Last month I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and despite 4.5 star aggregate review, I had to really wade through some irrelevant (to interior design) stuff to get to the gold.  

But here are 8 things I learned from The Hard Thing About Hard Things and can help us all be kick-ass CEOs.  This author now runs a venture capital firm and is writing about his experiences as a CEO of tech companies and internet start-ups, but I think these tips span all industries and are relevant to every CEO (even you!).  

Take Ownership

You are in charge of your business.  You are at the top.  You must take ownership of your service, your business, your job, your employees, your subs, of every aspect of business.  "Every problem in the company was indeed my fault." says Horowitz, without this mindset you will be looking to others while they look to you because, "some employees make products, some make sales, the CEO makes decisions."  You are the decision maker.  If you can't take ownership of what you are building, don't start a design business, or as the author says, "If you don't like choosing between horrible & cataclysmic, don't become CEO."  

Develop Courage

There will always be uncertainty in business.  Building your kick-ass interior design business has never been done before, so why are you looking to someone else to show you how?  I think this is the hardest things to convey to designers who are running businesses.  Many of them have not stepped into their role as CEO and look under every corner for the magical answer that will reveal all (you know who you are).  Horowitz puts this so eloquently, "What’s the secret to being a successful CEO? Sadly there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes.”  Does this make you feel just a teensy bit better? Here is another, “There is no formula for dealing with hard things, there is no recipe for challenges. These are complicated, dynamic situations.”  Put that on a post-it.  

Courage is not the absence of fear, it is just the ability to move forward despite it.  “I never once felt brave. In fact, I often felt scared to death. I never lost those feelings, but after much practice I learned to ignore them. That learning process might also be called the courage development process.”  This is Ben Horowitz's advice for courage and I couldn't agree more, you have to ignore the scary feelings and learn to ignore them, developing courage. 

Don't Be Afraid of Failure

Failure is inevitable, everybody makes mistakes.  I think we need to give others the grace to make mistakes and in turn ourselves.  It's a practice.  Running an interior design business means that you have to make lots and lots of decisions.  You have to try lots of things to find out what works.  If you're afraid of making a mistake you won't be able to move forward and it'll stall your success and growth.  Again, realize there isn't a magical answer to these decisions.  As the author says, “You must make hundreds of decisions big and small in the course of a typical week. You cannot simply stop all other activities to gather comprehensive data and do exhaustive analysis to make that single decision.”  Go ahead and make a quick decision, if you could have made a better one, you'll do it next time on the next try. 

Treat people fairly and with respect.  Be honest and transparent.  

Run your business with integrity, 'nuff said.

Hire Good People

You can't go it alone.  Even if you're not hiring employees, you still can have a team - a bookkeeper, a virtual assistant, your workrooms and subcontractors - your company is only as good as the people who work for you (ahem remember take ownership).  Horowitz says to hire people for their strengths not for the absence of weakness.  So hire people because they can do something great.  The tipping point of when you should hire is “when adding people into the company feels like more work than the work that you can offload to the new employees you probably need to start giving ground grudgingly.” Horowitz says.

Don't Lie to Yourself

Pulling the wool over your own eyes is not CEO behavior.  Same goes for looking the other way or ignoring situations.  This will not help your company.  Here are some ways you may be lying to yourself.  The clients hired the other designer because they were cheaper.  Despite the project being behind now, we'll still make our deadline.  The contractor will show up Friday.  I can make Quickbooks work for interior design.  I'll just answer this one email on Sunday.  

Pause for a moment and think of ways in which you may be lying to yourself.  I'll wait.  Now stop lying to yourself.    

Training is Important

You know what CEO's do a lot?  Read.  They also never stop learning.  You want to encourage the people who work for you to do the same.  And if you are the only employee, then don't skimp on training for yourself.  Horowitz says, “Take your best people and encourage them to share their most developed skills. Training in such topics as negotiating, interviewing, and finance will enhance your company’s competency in those areas as well as improve employee morale.”  If you are the only employee write down the areas you could use improvement and start looking for training in these areas.  I knew when I was interacting with so many designers I wanted a better foundation for helping them, so I got a life coaching certificate.  I'll probably take a course on negotiation next.  If you'd like to improve your business, improve yourself.  

Implement Processes

You know this is one of my favorite things.  Imagine me with an Oprah-yell, "I LOVE SYSTEMS."  This makes it so much easier on me and my business.  I love not having to make decisions and think about things - this is what processes and systems can do.  Horowitz says that you should focus on the output, that you want to know what the system should produce.  Should it produce more clients, a streamlined social media, more money.  I think that your systems should be solutions to your problems.  Learn more about Designing Business Systems.  He also leaves us with this advice, “While that varies depending on your situation, keep in mind that it’s much easier to add new people to old processes than new processes to old people. Formalize what you are doing to make it easy to onboard people.”