Interior Design Business- Tips for Getting Productive & Reducing the drudgery

Thanks so much to everyone who commented & sent emails about the last post & the "glamour" of interior design. 

Something that came up was different programs designers can use for accounting, project management, etc.  In our office we use Quickbooks.  There is NO WAY in the world we could function without a program like this (& our accountant!!)  There are lots of options out there but Quickbooks works really well for us.  It's great for making estimates for clients, then turning those into invoices, and also for placing purchase orders, writing checks, viewing profit & loss statement, etc.  While Quickbooks works for my interior design business, it isn't perfectly tailored for the type of interior design software we're looking for.  I'd like to find something that assists more in creating design plans and also in the implementation of them.

{A system we tried a while back of having every client's To Dos on the blackboard...  We started getting lazy and not filling in the sheets on the board & just doing ones in our client binders instead.  We may go back to this... I'm not sure.}

As many of you know, when you get into a design project, there is a lot of work of course involved in coming up with the design, but a HUGE amount of the work is actually in implementing & managing the project & keeping it going when there are hiccups & product delays.  (And there always are.)  There is a timeline you need to work from and every little thing needs to fall into place at the right time.  SO much effort & time goes into this process, and you really need to have it nailed down in order to run things smoothly for your clients.  I find this to be the most challenging part of this business because you can have everything in place and then something doesn't come through for you & it's your responsibility to make it right.  Right now we do all of this manually, which is extremely time-consuming. 

Here are some tips we received from readers, along with some of my thoughts on them:  (and no more pictures, sorry!! )

-A few people wrote in about strictly defined hours.  I couldn't agree with this more.  We work 9-5 and if you own your own business, I think you need to impose rules on yourself.  Now, if you do own your own business, you clearly know that you don't work a 9-5, but I think at least trying to enforce the rule makes it better than not doing it at all.  When you work from home (the way I do) it can be really difficult to shut your office down at the end of the day & on weekends.  I have been really good about the weekend rule lately & it makes my familly much happier.  I think most successful business owners probably have workaholic tendencies but -especially if you have a family- to lead balanced & happy lives, I think we need to fight those tendancies a little.    I used to meet clients at night & on the weekends & realized not only was it hard on me, but that it was hard on my family.

-Delegate!--- This has worked out really well for me.   At first, delegating & handing over responsibility can be like teeth-pulling (from yourself!) but once you can learn to let go & give some resposibility to others and learn what jobs you should & shouldn't be doing, you will be waaaaaay more productive & you can handle more projects & clients.  I would never be able to go back to life without my assistant (Meghan) and finding people you trust is key.  Think of everything in your business that requires you and only you, and attempt to delegate the rest.  From a strictly business point of view, you should try to delegate almost everything that isn't directly bringing money in the door.   Spend your hours doing billable things that include important decisions like designing and meeting with clients and finding the perfect piece for a room.  (not that I do this at all, but it is my goal...  It's very easy to get sidetracked and start doing things that you should be handing over :)

-Accounting-  We have an accountant and my husband does the bookkeeping.  Again, there's no way we'd be able to take the workload we do without this help.  (this sort of goes back to delegating)

-Virtual Assistants-- has anyone had any experience with this?  My friend Amy Meier loves the company she uses, Designer Advantage, and they do A LOT.  It looks awesome.

-Outsourcing Floorplans--  I think this is great.  One of the first things I hired my assistant for originally, was to do floorplans.  You can still decide where everything will go, but have an assistant draw them out for you by hand or in some type of CAD program.  This saves everyone time & benefits your clients because it takes less of your time/ costs less.

-Filing & doing paperwork every day VS Letting it Pile up-  There seemed to be two categories of people here.  It seems that some people actually like having it pile up and doing it all at once while others like to do it a little at a time.  In our office, we try to do a little every day, but of course that doesn't always happen and it can pile up.  I really never like for it to pile up over a weekend though because I hate being greeted by a mess on Monday mornings. 

--Katherine wrote in "Before you shut the door each day, make a list of what you need to achieve the following day & definitely tidy up / put everything back in it’s place so you feel refreshed when you return in the morning."-- I think this is a GREAT idea,  I try to do this but it doesn't happen every day.  I feel much better on the days when I walk into an office that's ready to work than one that's littered with our mess from the day before.   I like having a To Do list for the next day ready & waiting for me.

-After reading my last post, my dad wrote my a {super-long} email about his "spiral notebook" of To Do lists & notes.  I'm a bit old school like that too, like I mentioned, I always have a clipboard with my current To Do list on top of it with important info behind it.  It keeps me on track.  I even write To Do Lists for my assistant (which I'm sure she loves;) to help me clear my own mind. 

-Eileen @ A Creative day wrote in that in her office they normally try to block out at least one day a week from client meetings to stay in the office and get paperwork done, so they can stay on top of it and not get buried! --- I think this is SO important.  At our office, I feel like we need a good 2 days in the office (at least) to get everything handled properly.  Your meeting & shopping days are your busiest with running around, but I find that we really get everything handled & do the majority of our work on office days.  (the work sweats days...  ;)  They are the most productive.

-Scheduling is one of those things that can end up taking a lot of time.  Sometimes there's a lot of back-and-forth when trying to coordinate dates with contractors or clients so we've been working on me doing less of that in our office so I can be freed up to do other things. 

-Sarah from Sarah's Fab Day wrote that "One thing that always worked for me and kept me on track was keeping on top of those crummy "easy" jobs (you know the ones that aren't so easy when you let them pile up?). I would always dedicate a time block to those jobs in the morning and then my afternoons would be free to tackle the jobs that would take a good amount of time."  --- We do this in our office every day.  The real design work typically never happens until after 12 or so (on a good day) because I like to get all of the little thigns & loose ends out of the way so I can concentrate on the big stuff.  (A while back, I realized I really needed help & better systems when I wasn't getting into the real work until around 4 or so... Then I'd end up working all night & it just wasn't fair to my family.)

-Katherine also wrote in that she believes the most essential thing to a successful business is making your workspace .. well .. “you” .. surround yourself with things you love & you will feel like you belong in the space = you will be sure to succeed.   --- I think this is to true too.  Most of us are in this business because we believe that our surroundings have a huge effect on us.  I'm much happier working (or doing anything really) when I like my surroundings.  I feel more productive when everything is organized & has a place to go to.  Also, if you do work in an office with other people, everythign being in its place is key to staying on track because everyone needs to know where everthing is.
-One reader (Allumer Decor) recommends buying & reading THE BUSINESS OF DESIGN by, Keith Granet and she loves it.--  I definitely want to check it out.  I have a few business of design-type books but can't think of the titles right now.

List of software/programs that can help:
-Studio Webware
-Design Manager
-Specify-- This is the one I'm trying out right now.  Has anyone used it?  When I figure it all out, I'[ll be sure to post.  It has a monthly fee vs. a one-time fee.
-A few people wrote about Google calendar. They can add others to their calendars so they're all on track ----- Oooh I'm definitely going to try this!!

ps- when I mentioned my office looked "lovely,"  what I meant was that it never looks that good :)  On any given week day, there's stuff EVERYWHERE.  It was made to look "pretty" for the photoshoot.  (I do put it all alway on the weekends though.)

The paint color is Midwest Spring by FreshAire Choice, the No VOC paint brand @ Home Depot. 

..As far as all of the design software programs go, I would love to do a roundup post one day with people's thoughts on the different programs.  This week is crazy but I will try to do that soon.

**UPDATE-  Just one more thing to add-  If you're a newer business and you're not using Quickbooks or some type of accounting software or service, switch over to one ASAP.  Your business will start to grow quicker than you can imagine and you will need that system in place for when you're really busy!!  (It's much easier to learn & convert over when you're a smaller business than when you have lots of different projects going on.)  And, even if you plan on taking things smaller, it will free up a lot of your time.  :)

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.


Shelly said...

Lauren...seriously you couldn't be touching on this subject at a better time for me! I'm still a small design biz but I need a way to track my sales BADLY!!! I'm not even using Quickbooks! Nutso huh? I'm just about to hire an assistant to help with floor plans and such as well. That is definitely a time sucker.

Elizabeth said...


Once again a great post! It is always great when successful bloggers and business owners tell the truth about owning and running a business. Bottom is a LOT of work! And because you are the owner and responsible not only for yourself but for your employees the pressure is sometime tremendous, especially in a bad economy.
I work for my families leather manufacturing business, and have since I was 18, even though I left to persue and education and a career I came back. There is something about working and building something that you have a stake in. That being said, our work in never done, there is always a problem or something that needs to be discussed or handeled, or taken care of. The rewards though outweigh the work, most days.

Thank you for ALWAYS being honest! That is my favorite thing about you, you always tell it how it is and that is inspiring in this world.

I am sure that your honesty and suggestions are going to help a lot of readers.


Bliss Designs said...

Hey Lauren & Shelly,
This is good info for me also. I am not using anything like Quickbooks either. It seems so intimidating, I tried it years ago got frustrated and never returned to it. Keep us in the know on good programs.
Cindy Miller
Bliss Designs, NC

Jill said...

Thank you so much! This is exactly the kind of information I need and exactly when I need it. My business is growing and I can't keep it all in my head. I just got Quicken and plan to implement it next week. I have been curious about project management and you have given me some great places to start looking. I can;t afford an assistant yet but hope to have someone (eventually) to delegate things to.

This was very timeley and extremely useful.

Unknown said...

I love your work table and it appears to be just what I need for my home office/work space! Would you mind sharing the dimensions and where you found it?


bevy said...

this is really great advice. I often left myself a to do list at the end of the day for the next day's work. It was sometimes that more detailed on Friday afternoons 'cause I know how foggy Monday mornings can be, haha.

Anonymous said...

Really appreciate you taking the time to blog on this topic! Very helpful and great timing for me! - Rachel

DANIELLEidd said...

This was such a helpful post! I am in the process of starting my own interior design company and it is so great to hear about likes and dislikes all in one place. I would love to hear more about how you started your business. I have a handful for remodels under my belt but now have to really buckle down the business side of things. I would love to be able to hear some of your trials of starting Lauren Liess. Did you work with a firm/ designer before branching off into your own thing? Any history of your company would be extremely helpful and motivating! Keep up the hard work!

Jenny Castle Design said...

Excellent post Lauren! So many things you touch on make sense and are essential in this crazy business! I'm soon implementing quickbooks and know it will be so helpful!! I love how you face the realities of this industry to help others out like me :)

Christa Delgado Design Inc said...

Great info. I have been in business for over 15 yrs and it is always challenging to make it all work!

Anonymous said...

You mentioned my name... Allumer * Decor ... thanks so much!!! Very informative post with some great tips such as ... impose rules on yourself, like only working 9-5 and weekend rules. I love the goal of finding balance between a happy life and successful business. Thanks again!

Karena said...

I am not an Interior Designer, although I could be... however this information is great for anyone in the creative fields.

Art by Karena

Nancy said...

I love Quickbooks and couldn't run a business without it. It is so great to be able to email a file copy to my accountant for taxes, it saves an unbelievable amount of time. So I use it for home expenses too, and boy was it a rude awakening to find out one year how much I spent on Starbucks! So I quickly stopped that expense . The REPORTS reveal your spending habits and can really keep you organized. Thanks for your post.. I want to try the Studio software...looking forward to your next report on the subject!
Nancy @

Sarah said...

Great post Lauren and I would love to learn more about the Virtual Assistants since this is so big right now. Have a great weekend and relax!! ;-]

Holly said...

Thank you. Every little bit helps and this was certainly helpful!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much editing all the input you received and sharing with us. It's great to hear about everyone's best business practices. Really enjoy your blog!

vgosh Interior said...

Thanks for the nice post. that we are office Interiors in chennai, home Interiors in chennai and Interiors Designing in chennai .That I will inform about your post to my friends and all the best for your future post..

Kendra said...

Lauren -
What about the orange color on the door above the stairs? Love it.

I'm not a designer but one thing that I have learned is to really respect and work with my personal energy flow in business. I am naturally so much more creative in the morning, and it is just fighting nature if I try to do something like paperwork early in the day; however, I really struggle if I put off the creative tasks until the afternoon. I think it is important to find what works best for you personally and respect it as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lauren,

You're so right, as a designer you need systems for everything. I have a design business Dandelion Interiors and Minutes Matter. Minutes Matter has many products, one of which is Studio. Studio is a graphic design software dedicated solely to Interior Designers. A good graphic design software has the ability to totally WOW the client. Who doesn't love technology and instant visualization?

Debbie Green

KellyB said...

I am just about to finish school for Interior Design and plan to start my own business in the next 6 months...even though I've been in the business world (before I made the decision to change careers) this type of information is SOOOO valuable and I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. Love your blog and your design aesthetic...thank you!!

LiveLikeYou said...

Like all these ideas. I like Google docs for a to-do-list for my assistant and one for me, we can both review and update. And I'm now using google calendar which sends e-mail reminders of meetings. Quickbooks, I have it, not using it to all it's capacity. My silly problem with it is the ugly invoices even customized they bother me. So stupid...I know! Have a book keeper starting Tuesday sure she will put me straight!

The Kramer Angle said...

Thank you for a great post! I love the creative aspect of my business and struggle with the "business" aspect of it, so every tip helps!

Laura Casey Interiors said...

HI Lauren- I am going through some of what you are too. This post was good for me to read- thanks. Last year I switched to Studio Webware which I love and can't imagine going back to QB and also we have started using google docs to keep track of projects, to-dos. Hope all is well.

AB HOME Interiors said...

Yes owning and operating a design business is hardly glamourous. (Despite what most people think.) So glad to see that you wear sweats. I often wear fancy sweats, and little make-up unless I know I am meeting a client. When ever I run into "old school" designers in town I just have to laugh...them in their St John outfits. But they were apart of a design world when it was really really lucrative and possibly glamourous.

I have two accountants. One who helps me with the day to day and one that helps me with quarterly and yearly taxes. Every state is different but it is very important to run a legitimate business. Make sure all of your city, county, property etc taxes are in order. And make sure you pay your sales tax on time.

Another word of advice make sure you have all your legal and insurance in order. Even if you dont need them now always have them lined up. Get to know ones that you like so if the situation arises you are ready. Liability insurance is often the number one thing that designers dont have and it can cost you everything if dont have it and you get sued.

A Lifestyle Thing said...

Great post Lauren. Amen to all of your suggestions! I would love to learn more about the virtual assistants too.

Hope you have a great weekend!


Michelle said...

so great that you are sharing in your knowledge Lauren, I agree, not always so glamorous! My car is always a mess, and I have boken things, shoving them into my SUV...and don't even get me started on traffic! lol...


Anonymous said...

I just started using Studio webware. it's cloud based so it syncs with your phone, puts meetings on your calendar, etc. I couldn't agree more about Quickbooks! Since I've only just started with studio web ware, I'm not sure if I will still need it... We'll soon see.
This is a GREAT post! The only thing I would add, is to join (or start) a network of other designers in your area. The group I am with uses google docs to post all of our favorite resources - you have to be ok with doing that though! We meet monthly and discuss everything from productivity to blogging, etc. Hugely helpful to have these gals when I need something hard to find in a pinch!

suzanne said...

Lauren -
Love all this. It is so very helpful. So, question to throw out there is,
How does everyone handle all the design magazines?! I put small stickies in the pages I like for inspiration but oh how the mags are filling my baskets! Would love to figure out a system for them that makes them an easy resource.

Sarah's Fab Day said...

Thanks for the shout out Lauren! One more thing, I agree that using software that is designed for your industry is key. You can do payroll, charge things to certain accounts, keep track of everything going in and out according to your jobs. I worked in the construction industry and this is invaluable! It's worth the money to purchase it because it pays for itself in making sure the numbers for each job is correct.

thanh said...

Suzanne - you should check out Pinterest. It's a great tool for creating virtual inspiration boards. WSI wrote a great blog entry about Pinterest for designers:

Shoshana Gosselin said...

Came across you today and will be back! You are a fabulous designer and so thoughtful with your words. I have incorporated Freshbooks into my business. We are a smaller design agency and it makes tracking time and invoicing easy.-Shosh at loveyourroom

Bose said...

Hay Lauren, am have just started my career into interior designing and this was happy with the education we are receiving, and hope you keep updating us!@bose
Accounts Clerk Job Duties

Cathy Walker said...

I just got Quicken and plan to implement it next week. I have been curious about project management and you have given me some great places to start looking.

Italian Porcelain

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog! Thanks for sharing the post! interior design in chennai

Tiffany said...

I have stumbled upon this Blog post while looking for reviews of Studio webware vs. Quickbooks. Thanks for the great post Lauren. Organizational advice is always appreciated! I'd love to hear from anyone who has made the switch from Quickbooks to another design planning and book keeping type of software!

Anonymous said...

Quickbooks Professional Services seems like it only captures billable hrs and not resale of products. Retail or Manuf/Wholesale takes care of the mark-up on products but not billable hours. How do you commingle these two functions in QB?

aamphaa seo said...

Its really great idea for business next few years i am started the business so its really helpful for your blog thanks for sharing informition

Meghan said...

Hey Lauren, I was googling interior design project management and this post came up...would you mind if I emailed you a few questions regarding this? Would love some more info from you -I am bonkers busy now for a one woman show, and feel like I'm working 24/7. I've got to reel it all in (I do accounting, bookkeeping, ordering, designing...literally everything). Need some advise on whether to seek advice! : )

Meghan said...

Lauren, would love to ask you a few questions via email about this. What is your email?
I was actually googling interior design project management and this post popped up!

Thanks! Meghan Shadrick