Systems, strategies and tools
Designing Your Business
Welcoming Contributing Editor, Andrew Mitchell, director of MR. MITCHELL, Interior designer and founder of The Design Coach.
As designers, we’re constantly balancing the needs of clients, our business, our staff, and our own creative vision. How do we navigate these disparate forces while delivering fantastic projects and encouraging future growth?
In our new series, “Designing Your Business,” we’ll be exploring systems, strategies and tools built for the unique needs of interior designers, architects, and stylists. In this article, we welcome our new Contributing Editor, Andrew Mitchell, director of MR. MITCHELL Interiors and founder of The Design Coach.
Each month, Andrew will present a different topic, from client relations to project management, providing sound advice to help you stay in control while producing beautiful work that exceeds client expectations. Recently, we sat down with Andrew to learn more about his background, ask him about the challenges designers and architects face and consider the industry’s future.
Andrew Mitchell of The Design Coach & MR MITCHELL
These are all the “soft skills” required for running a small business; skills you don’t get taught at design school.
Thanks for joining us for this series of articles, Andrew. You’re the founding director of The Design Coach, but you’re also a practising interior designer. Can you tell us a bit about your design business?
AM: I established my interior design business in 2000. I predominately work in the residential and hospitality sectors. I’ve worked on small projects through to multimillion-dollar new builds.
I’m fortunate to have established strong relationships with clients and industry suppliers. Our mission statement is “connecting people through great design”. It’s all about people and how our designs contribute to their quality of life. So, as much as I’m about creating beautiful spaces, I’m more focused on how people live in those spaces.
What’s the most common mistake designers and architects make when running their businesses?
AM: A lack of confidence and reluctance to embrace their value often results in designers undercharging. There’s a lack of clarity and transparency in the industry about how we should structure our fees and margins.
As service professionals, time is our commodity. If we don’t charge for extras or out-of-scope revisions we’re giving away products for free! I help designers understand that their value and natural talent are worth charging for.
What inspired you to set up The Design Coach?
AM: In 2015, I felt burnt out in my professional and personal life, so I decided to have a break and travelled overseas. When I came home, I decided to get into teaching as it was in my blood. My mother and grandfather were both teachers.
At the same time, I worked as a design manager for a large online design firm. I managed and mentored about 90 designers. Many were recent graduates and designers with little experience in the industry. I mentored them in establishing processes to run a project and charge effectively.
By 2018, I was back to working in my interior design business, MR. MITCHELL. I realised that there was a massive gap in the education of designers. No one was teaching the skills required to run a successful business. I set up The Design Coach as a small side business and offered one-on-one coaching. I then launched my first face-to-face, half-day workshop about fees and margins. Four years later, we’ve expanded the course to be a full-day course, and now it’s available online. Students from around the world have completed the course.
It’s been incredibly rewarding to help other designers establish business practices to work professionally and profitably.
The Design Coach Byron Bay Retreat
Without a clear path forward, clients lose trust. That’s when problems like client indecision or micromanaging occur. Established systems also allow us to estimate and communicate our fees more effectively.
Although it might be a cliche, it’s true that experience is our greatest teacher. This is particularly true in business. What challenges did you face establishing your business, MR. MITCHELL?
AM: When I launched my business in 2000, I didn’t have any systems and processes and didn’t know how to charge. I was 100% winging it. That had dire effects on the business. After about three years, my accountant recommended I file for bankruptcy. At that point, I decided to take control of the business, take it seriously and learn how to operate professionally.
I started asking for help and getting advice from successful people in the industry. I established excellent systems and processes and worked my way out of the debt.
I now teach these systems and processes to The Design Coach’s members. Systems help us set and manage our client’s expectations. Without a clear path forward, clients lose trust. That’s when problems like client indecision or micromanaging occur. Established systems also allow us to estimate and communicate our fees more effectively.
How have you embraced those experiences to influence your current way of working?
AM: I was fortunate to learn not to repeat the same errors. Fixing these mistakes with solid processes was critical to the creation of my successful business. These processes help me run projects successfully and have also dramatically increased my profitability.
I choose to see a business problem or breakdown as an opportunity to learn and grow. When dealing with an unhappy client, I’ll ask myself “How we could do better?”. Then I update my systems and processes or create new ones to deal with that challenge. And that’s a never-ending, evolving process of business.
Great systems achieve successful project outcomes consistently, and that means consistently happy clients. They’ll come back to you and refer you to their friends, ensuring you’ve got work regularly.
How do you think the business of interior design has changed over the years?
AM: Today’s technology enables us to communicate our design intent to clients easily. Software helps with documentation and processes, as well as renders and 3D visualisation. We can create photo-realistic renders that express the emotional elements of our designs to clients. The client can visualise complex plans easily.
From an inspiration perspective, we’re connected to everything happening worldwide. Social media allows people to connect in ways we could never have imagined. It’s great to communicate with designers from all around the world.
Conversely, technology means that we’re plugged in 24/7, which can negatively affect us. We’re overloaded with images of perfection, which can induce issues with comparison and confidence. The pressure for achievement in our professional and personal life is high. People get burnt out and are experience serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
This incredible digital access and connectivity needs balanced management. That’s a big focus for us at The Design Coach. We encourage physical, mental, and emotional well-being whilst running a successful business.
What new opportunities and challenges do you see for design businesses in the future?
AM: We have so much to be grateful for. Anyone can set up a business and easily reach an audience. And it’s only going to get easier moving into the future.
The challenge now is that there’s a lot of competition. Finding ways to stand out from the pack is crucial. You need to be clear on your point of difference, business values, and mission. You need to communicate who you are to your audience clearly.
This should be done through more than just your design style. Another way of standing out is having an efficient, effective, smooth-running business. Great systems achieve successful project outcomes consistently, and that means consistently happy clients. They’ll come back to you and refer you to their friends, ensuring you’ve got work regularly.
What can people expect from Designing Your Business editorials?
AM: The series will focus on how to run a successful design business. We’ll explain effective methodologies for charging. We’ll highlight the value of transparency with clients to build trust. I’ll also give readers tips on setting and managing client expectations throughout the project. These are all the “soft skills” required for running a small business; skills you don’t get taught at design school.
Our next article from Andrew will be “Knowing Your Value”. This guide for designers and architects will share 7 tips for believing in the worth that they bring to projects, and will provide a framework for developing the confidence to charge accordingly.
To find out more about Andrew and The Design Coach:
Book a Discovery Call here.
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