How do you build a successful luxury design business? That’s what Holly Hunt, Maria Pinto, Carrie Nahabedian, Aaja Corinne and I discussed in honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day this year (it’s November 19 annually). Middleby Residential Showcase Galleries organized a talk in their LuxeHome showroom, and I was thankful to be part of such an impressive lineup (and thrilled to attend such a lavish event!).
For Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, Maria Pinto, Carrie Nahabedian, Aaja Corinne and I participated in a panel discussion about building a successful business. (Image: Therese Niedbala)
But I was thankful for so much more once I started thinking about what I was going to say (it’s so ironic that the event was held right before Thanksgiving). That’s because when I Googled “how to build a successful business,” every article (and there were millions) talked about all the rules, steps and strategies you need to follow, and I never set out to build a business by following tricky plans or hard and fast rules.
Instead, my business evolved naturally and came from a desire to do what I wanted to do. I hired my first employee when I had so much work I couldn’t see straight, and moved into my first official office when I outgrew my “borrowed space.” Both these steps were huge for me at the time—I remember how nervous I was about the responsibility of salaries and rents. So for me, there was no magic recipe for success, but rather some basic principles I followed to build my luxury interior design business. These are my top four.
Jamie Laurita, who wears three hats as a celebrity chef, designer and now creative director for Middlebury, delivered quite a spread for the event. (Image: Therese Niedbala)
1. Take small steps. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. It took me months to hire my first employee. And as my business grew, so did my infrastructure. Today, we have a set of best practices in place that clients tell us are extraordinary, but we developed them in response to their wants and needs. For instance, the collateral information we give our clients when we finish each project has evolved from simple files to a full-blown, thorough (and quite attractive) binder that includes every iota of information about a project’s fixtures, finishes and furnishings, right down to paint numbers and cleaning instructions for everything in their homes.
2. Focus one what you want to do. Rather than having plans to expand or add services, I’ve always known what I want to do and focused on it—and carried that through to JLI. That means JLI isn’t the right fit for every job, and we help people find designers that are right for them when we are not. And if we can’t meet a project’s deadline or produce the kind of work it requires, we are honest about it. It's a matter of ethics and delivering a product that meets our standards of excellence. In retrospect, this principle has turned out to be our own iteration of a strategic business plan and brand building, and it has led our team to build something we believe in.
3. Build your team carefully—and treasure them. Your team is your greatest asset. Without them, you can’t execute and don’t have a business. Experience has taught me to interview carefully, cut our losses quickly and build a collaborative team. This may sound radical, but it isn’t. For instance, someone may have a stellar CV but can’t pull all the pieces of a job together. Or they don’t have the right aesthetic standards or aren’t team players. Both qualities are essential. We hold our work to an incredibly high standard, and collaboration is key. More ideas lead to better options and outcomes for our clients. So it’s critical to build an open, respectful and cooperative culture in an office.
4. Support former staffers when they start their own businesses. Just as I learn from my team members, they learn from me—and grow and leave to start their own gigs. The first time it happened I realized it’s like launching children: you train them and they reflect you. And most importantly, there’s a lot of work out there, and you can’t do it all. For instance, we’ve reached the point where we can only do jobs that are a certain size. So we refer projects to our former teammates all the time, and are proud of their accomplishments.
05 Dec 2018