The combination of New Year’s resolutions and the new Marie Kondo Netflix show likely have you purging and reorganizing every inch of your life. If you’re an interior designer, you are likely turning your attention to becoming more efficient and productive in 2019 in hopes of saving time and making your business more profitable.
Good intentions in both our personal and professional lives aren’t always enough. You might find yourself totally on top of things for the first part of the year and then as projects stack up, you start winging it to keep your head above the water. That’s where processes come in.
Are processes for your clients? Of course. It gives them clear expectations about your services and timeline. Processes are for you, too, though—and in a big way. Processes can be what separates a hobby from a truly lucrative business. Here at IDCO, we live and breathe processes. If you have ever looked at our client load and thought, “How do they do it?” I’m happy to tell you that it’s a series of carefully constructed procedures that we do not stray from. Creating processes that work for your business is how you literally craft a recipe for success.
Before you work on client processes, sort out your business systems. The first step is writing down every single step of your business from start to finish. This will help you streamline and delegate tasks. Once that list is refined, it is also a fantastic foundation for an operations manual. Pairing that document with our brand guidebook will give new hires a real sense of your systems and values and will cut down on training time.
For day-to-day operations, we highly recommend time blocking. It will transform your daily routine. Essentially, you break your day up into time blocks and assign each block a specific task. When time is up, you move on to the next block, to stay on track and as productive as possible. I find this especially effective for creatives who tend to fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest and research for inspiration. Stop multi-tasking, focus on single-tasking.
To begin understanding your processes, and where your time is truly being spent, we love the Chrome extension TimeYourWeb Time Tracker. It automatically logs how long you spend in each browser tab. For example, you can track how long you spend sourcing products online, versus responding to emails, versus scrolling Facebook. Those first tasks will reveal areas that might be garnering too much of your time and energy that could be simplified, delegated, or eliminated. Think of the most efficient way to get the job done, commit it to paper, and stick to it.
Here are a few examples to get you started as you comb through your processes:
The number one reason that things sometimes fall through the cracks is confusion about whose responsibility it is. Make a clearly defined list of business tasks, both large and small, and assign them to the appropriate team member. Be sure everyone in your business receives a copy.
As our team continues to grow, clearly defining roles is imperative. When shifting from a solopreneur to a team it can be easy to pass off tasks as they come. As soon as you delegate roles (Instagram management, blog writing, client on-boarding, etc), the more efficiently your processes will run.
On- Boarding Clients
What communications take place on your end? Do you have email templates for first and second contact, outlining the process from their perspective? How do you document their information and begin the project?
Here at IDCO, we have a template library of over two dozen emails crafted for the emails we send most frequently. By having these emails templated, we not only save hours a week retyping the same message, I can also have anyone on my team send emails for me. Email Template Examples Include:
- Media Kit Inquiry Emails
- Day 1 Project Kickoff Email
- Meeting Request Emails
- Design Proof Emails
- Contract Delivery Emails
- Invoicing Emails
- Timeline Reminders
How and when you will return client calls and emails should be a consistent system. I know this seems unnecessary, but staying productive (and time blocking especially) is so much simpler when you set aside specific times to return messages and calls.
For instance, we respond to all emails twice a day, Tuesday-Thursday at specific times. 11:30am and 5:00pm have proven the most effective times to send deliverables and respond to emails for a few reasons. At those specific times, people are likely on their way out to lunch or wrapping up for the day.
While they may see your email come in, they’ll most likely take time to process the information, design plans, instructions, etc., AND process their response. Instead of firing off a quick reply or idea, their email back to you will be more intentional.Additionally, by only responding to emails in time blocks, the remainder of your time can be spent focused, uninterrupted, on client work, or date-we-say-it, your own business. This helps eliminate back-and-forth emails that feel more like a text convo than an email. Read more about how we schedule our work day here.
Speaking of those communications, they should all be documented. Sensing a theme? Figure out a way that works for you, whether that’s a designated folder on your computer or in a printed binder. You’ll need a system for writing, sending, and storing contracts, too. Catch up on our favorite productivity here.
Documenting Payment Processes
It is so important to have a consistent system for tracking invoices, proposals, and time billing. Have a clearly defined schedule for when payments are due and overdue and the consequences that follow. This is another area where an email template is super helpful. It’s not an efficient use of time to write a brand new email each time you need to send a client invoice. Save your creative energy for the actual project and important discussions.
Every single project should have its own folder, but they should be assembled the same. Therefore, there needs to be a process in place for how to put them together. For many businesses, a digital folder is enough, but for interior design, we recommend a physical file so that you can include vendor receipts, swatches, floor plans, etc. Keep things in order with Ivy, our favorite project management software for interior designers.
With interior designers in particular, it’s helpful to have a catalog of swatches, samples, and fabrics on hand. That’s only helpful if they’re well-organized and easy to find, though. We recommend writing out a system for sourcing, receiving, and storing your materials so you can grab them when you need them. Additionally, by documenting this process, you can easily delegate these frequent tasks to additional members on your team.
Writing down your procedure step-by-step will help you stay consistent across projects and spend less time thinking about what you need to do next. A well-designed system will keep you inside your timeline and give your clients a reference point so they aren’t wondering what you’re doing behind the scenes and asking for updates.
As with your internal processes, begin by spelling out every word of what a project entails, from start to finish. Once you’re finished, go back through that list and try to find any areas that you could streamline, delegate, or eliminate. Once you have a simplified but thorough written process, stick to it. And add a copy to the operations manual we mentioned above.
For more technical processes, like creating presentations, we like to use Loom to record our screen. It’s a free extension installed in your browser, so you can record a step-by-step tutorial. Copy and paste the link into your process binder so all team members can follow along clearly.
Pro tip: This is not the time to introduce new processes. This exercise is for improving and enhancing what you have already established through trial and error. Consider adding some apps or new software into your process (our updated list of favorites is here) to increase efficiency instead of reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch.
As you begin fleshing out your client process, use this checklist as a guide and adapt it to your unique procedure:
- Inquiry Process: How do clients contact you? Are there questions for them to answer upfront? How are those inquiries received and managed? Don’t forget the email templates we mentioned above for first and second contacts. Email templates are your friend! There will be plenty of time for authentic conversation with your client when you know what they’re looking for!
- Consultation: How do you set up consultations once you’ve reviewed the original inquiry? How soon should potential clients expect to hear from you? How are clients qualified?
- Proposal: Do you have a branded template for proposals? Do you have a process and timeline in place for drafting and sending them? How do you determine estimated expenses and timeline? How long does a client have to respond to said proposal?
- Coordinating Third Parties: How do you choose tradespeople? (i.e., Do you work with the same person for each project? Do you accept bids?) How do you manage and track communications with each third party? How do you schedule installations?
- Planning: How do you create and present your plan for the room? How do you assemble guides for finishes, furnishings, and decor? How do you execute the plan and how much involvement should the client expect to have? What is the process by which you collaborate with the client to make changes?
- Project Management: How are material orders placed and tracked? What is the order of installation? Who communicates with builders and/or tradespeople and how? How is contact information documented? Is there a schedule for following up on orders and labor to ensure you are staying within timeline and budget? How often do you update your client and how? Who will receive material orders and check for damages and accuracy?
- Site Visits: How do you schedule, coordinate, and conduct site visits? How often? Will clients attend? The other documentation you have prepared will make these visits so much more efficient by knowing when each step and delivery should be taking place. It will be obvious if something has gone awry, and you can quickly identify the problem and find a solution.
- The Big Reveal: How will you prepare for the final presentation? How much time for final repairs and edits will be needed? Do you hire a professional photographer for portfolio shots before the project becomes “lived in?” What final details do you need to settle with your client? (i.e., final payments, gathering testimonials, etc.) Do you present the client with your documented work so that they have sources for the future? Do you schedule a follow-up to ensure the clients are happy with their new space?
Writing out these processes seems daunting and time-consuming, but it’s the most effective way to take a close look at the inner workings of your business. Presenting an organized and professional facade to clients is of the utmost importance, but the real game-changer is the productivity you will find in your day-to-day work.
You might think that processes are the enemy of creativity, but that could not be more untrue! When we follow efficient and consistent processes, we give ourselves more time to prioritize the truly artistic aspects of our business without undone administrative tasks hanging over our heads.
I hope this guide helps you transform your working days in 2019—and as a result, your whole business!
For more tips for elevating your interior design or lifestyle brand, check out these posts:
- The Best Apps for Small Business in 2019
- The Best Hashtags for Interior Designers
- The Best Software for Interior Designers
- Optimizing your Interior Design Portfolio for Pinterest
- How to Get Your Work Published
- Branding Your Portfolio
The Identité Collective is a full service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.