Jaime Bako

All interior design firms need to start somewhere, and generally, that somewhere is as a small business. It's an equally exciting and nerve-racking time, as you put it all on the line with the end vision of leading a profitable, sustainable new company and designing all things beautiful.


It's this beginning phase that really can make or break a business; those who get the foundations right can watch their business soar. Equally, however, mismanagement or failure to put the right systems in place can hinder a business's ability to grow and fulfill its potential.


As an organization that has been helping businesses of all sizes succeed for over ten years, at DesignDocs we're here to help your interior design firm achieve everything that you'd ever hoped and dreamed it would. Here are our five tips for running a successful small business.

DesignDocs Case Study - Interior Design Firm Profitability - Building Blocks to the Big Picture

1. Provide exceptional client service

Without clientele, you have no business. Therefore delivering them a first-class customer experience throughout the entire life of their project is paramount if you want to run a productive and long-lasting design firm.


While many interior design firms deliver excellent customer service to their clients, they can be heavily focused on the final product. Many firms don't think about how important the administrative side of managing their project is to their clients. Having streamlined and efficient back-office processes means you can easily manage client budgets and expectations. You can keep your clients up to date on the costs of their project, take their payments on time, and issue invoices without delay. 


The better the process, the more likely you are to send error-free reports and bills, including up-to-the-minute costs and correctly applied deposits and retainers. This is an integral part of the customer experience that will ensure your clients feel confident in your design firm's services and refer other customers to you.


2. Keep good accounting practices

Establishing and following solid accounting practices is important to get right from the outset when running any small business. Poor financial practices now can lead to headaches and problems in the future.


While tracking all of your expenses, no matter how trivial, might seem more of a chore than it's worth, the truth is that these practices are part of a good accounting process. If you're not tracking expenses efficiently, how will you know if you're over budget on a project until it's too late? If you're issuing invoices late or failing to track payments, you could end up seeing a whole lot of red on your bank statements or a lot of overdue invoices. For any business, especially those that are small, this is not just something that can easily be absorbed. Not doing the little things will cost you more time and money in the long run.


Furthermore, your business can't grow and run smoothly without a defined trajectory. A financial plan is crucial because it is the basis of every decision within your firm. Draft a business plan; set clear revenue and profitability goals. If you're a user of DesignDocs, then be sure to take advantage of this inbuilt suite of reports that make it easy for you to monitor, track and assess your firm's profitability and so much more.


3. Understand your biggest industry threats and develop a strategy to overcome them

Small businesses have different needs, as do interior design firms. Mix the two together, and you have a multi-layered, complex ecosystem that can make it all the more difficult to succeed in. However, if you understand your biggest industry threats and develop a strategy to counterbalance them, you have a better chance of running a business that will stand the test of time.


Some things to get you thinking about this point more detail include:


1. Complete a SWOT analysis – Determine what sets your business apart from others and capitalize on these unique features. Don't leave potential clients wondering why they should choose you over the competition. By sitting down and working through a SWOT analysis, you'll be able to pinpoint any weak points or areas you need to focus on and give a little more care and attention.


2. Market your firm intelligently – Make sure your company branding is succinct across all channels - be it online or in print. Do your website and social platforms clearly communicate your business' values and strengths? Could your firm benefit from running some paid advertisements or print campaigns? Consider where your target audience frequents and put in place a strategy for how you can reach them and engage them.


3. Attend events – The interior design industry is built on networks, and building strong relationships is so important, especially when your business is in its beginning stage. Stay up to date with events in your local area as well as those afar and attend all that you can, both in person or online (as long as they're relevant). You never know who you might meet that can be a defining factor in the success of your business. And remember, a good networker's agenda is not solely focused on how someone can help you; it should always be a reciprocal relationship. In fact, if you forget your agenda and go in there with the attitude of how you can help others, you'll end up establishing stronger, more mutually beneficial relationships in the long run. And sometimes, networking is all about the long game.


4. Establish a healthy work-life balance

Whether it's just you running your small business or you're backed by a team, encouraging a healthy work-life balance is essential for igniting and sustaining that creativity and talent your customers come to you for.


Getting your back office in check with sophisticated software like DesignDocs is a great place to start when establishing this balance as it will take unnecessary stress off your team. Plus, when it's time to bring new staff on board, you'll benefit from reduced training time to get them up to speed if you already have a robust business management software like DesignDocs in place.


Having software like DesignDocs implemented in your firm means that as new staff are hired, there is a history and process they can easily learn from. They’ll be consistent procedures throughout the business and therefore clarity about what's needed to be done.


Plus, you can feel confident in the support and training that is available from the DesignDocs team in helping to bring these new staff members on board. Both new and existing staff will breathe easy seeing that your firm is well organized, and you'll be able to have upfront and clear conversations with them about the firm's growth trajectory and potential roles that are on offer should they also want to grow with your firm.


5. Invest in an integrated project management and accounting software like DesignDocs to see your business thrive.

There's nothing more frustrating than using software that doesn't meet all your business needs; the last thing you need is multiple programs, when one should be able to do the job. It complicates the process and decreases organization—not to mention increases costs and time spent managing your finances.


What you need is business management software that integrates all monetary duties into one place. From financial reports, tracking employee hours, client billing, and vendor management, all your financial needs can be easily managed all from within one system.


So, how does this benefit a small interior design firm?


When you own a small business, you oversee many tasks and have dozens of responsibilities. Your business management software should make project management and money management easier, not a burden. With a system like DesignDocs, you'll be able to complete all your interior design firm's tasks from one place, helping you to run every aspect of your business as efficiently as possible. It reduces the risk of errors given that it minimizes the amount of information you have to enter - the system automatically pulls data through to pre-populate everywhere it should. Simply sit back and smile when you see item costings, flat fees and margins flow through from client proposals to invoicing to purchase orders, vendor invoicing, receipts and finally the accounting and financial reports.


As all the important data and documentation is organized and readily available via a cloud platform, this means key information is accurate and accessible no matter where you are. Giving you and your team, no matter how big or small, the tools it needs to succeed.



Jaime Bako

As Business Development Manager, Jaime specializes in working with small to medium-sized design firms. By helping to implement DesignDocs into their daily processes, Jaime helps interior design business owners improve their firm's productivity and gain stronger financial insights.
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