September 25, 2007

Design Success System Workshop

FREE Preview Teleseminars
Listen Here

"How I Turned My Struggling 7-Day Workweek into a Thriving Successful Design Business (where I work only 4 days a week, make lots more money, and enjoy my life more than ever!)"

Call #1:
The 3 Most Improtant Things I Did
to Bring My Design Business to the Next Level

Call #2:
Designer Success Stories:
Meet designers just like you
who have used simple ideas to create wild success
(and see how you can, too!)

You can listen right here
by using the audio player above!

Details on my Design Success System Workshop, which is being held on October 12 and 13 in NJ, are at:

Can't wait to see you this fall!

September 20, 2007

Get Out of Your Overwhelm!

I know the feeling too well. I wish I could say that I don't, but I am prone to feeling overwhelmed. As designers and business owners, with so many external and internal factors to deal with - the economy, the housing market, our families, our own homes, the demands of our clients, backordered and discontinued fabrics...(oh my gosh, I am feeling anxious just typing this list!), we are bound to feel overwhelmed and stressed sometimes.

So what should we do?

Here is what I hear from the 'experts': Take a bubble bath. Get a massage. Read a book. Take a walk. I usually get an urge to punch those experts.

When I am in a state of overwhelm, the thought of taking time off to relax makes me more stressed. I have too much to do! I don't have time to take a silly bubble bath.

But this is what I have learned: When I am too stressed and too busy to take even a little time for myself, that is when it is absolutely critical to do so! Getting away from the situation is the only thing that will help prevent future overwhelm.

Just get through Friday

I used to think, "Let me just get through Friday, and then I can relax." Then Friday would come, I'd relax for about a minute, and it would start all over again. I was always "just getting through."

Without taking what I call an Intention Break, you will never get your business out of overwhelm. You may get some small relief once in a while, but you never seem to get ahead.

Taking an Intention Break

If you are feeling
- overworked
- stressed
- overwhelmed
and it seems like you are always working hard but not getting ahead (personally and financially), then you need to take an Intention Break. Here's how it works:

  • Step Away from the situation that is overwhelming. If it is work and clients, get out of the office. Go outside. Drive to a coffee shop. Plan a trip! (I know - you're too busy to do this! But you can NOT stop the ongoing overwhelm if you do not physically step out of the situation. Take one day to save yourself years of stress.)
  • Reflect on your goals, remember your priorities, think about your dreams. What is your intention for running a design business? What did you want to get from this when you started? Is it financial f*r*e*edom? An easygoing lifestyle? To make the world more beautiful? To be known for making a difference? Write your intentions down, and keep this paper with you always. Post it near your desk, place it near your bed, keep it in your wallet.
  • Go back to your regularly scheduled life.

Yes, it's actually as simple as that! If you are continuously reminded of your business intention (reading it when you wake up, glancing at it from time to time as you work, saying it to yourself over lunch), you will make choices on a daily basis that bring you closer and closer to your goal - and further and further away from overwhelm.

Do you need an Intention Break today?

September 14, 2007

Do More in Less Time

It really is possible!

By Nika Stewart

When I had my first baby almost 2 years ago, I quickly understood the plight of the working mother. The stress, the lack of sleep, the constant demands for your attention. Is there actually enough time to get everything done? It didn't seem possible to me. The available time I had to work on my business was cut way down to about 8 hours a week - and that was adding up all the little "bits" of time I stole when I could. (While she's taking a half-hour nap, I place a quick order. After she goes to sleep, I call a few customers. If my mom can watch her for an hour, I run to a design consultation.)

So what did I do about my lack of time? I complained. I don't have time for anything! I can't get anything done. I can't run a business and raise a baby. Everything is going to fall apart!

Then one day, when Ellie was about 9 months old, my friend said to me, "Wow, you just had a baby. How do you find the time to get so much done?" And I thought to myself, "What is she talking about? I'm not getting anything done!"

But I decided to take a look back over the time since Ellie was born, and I was amazed. With much less time available, I actually did get more done than I had in any previous year in my business! How did that happen?

I found the answer to that question recently in an amazing book (The 4-Hour Work Week), and now it seems obvious: When you have a limited amount of time to get something done, you can get it done in less time.

For example, if I gave myself a week to place a large order, I would always take the full week (often waiting until the end of the week to really get started). But because I no longer had that time for myself anymore, I had to get the order done in the one hour I could find. It had to get done, and so it did.

This is true for every part of my business and my personal life. When I give myself a small amount of time to achieve a goal or task, it gets completed. And so that it what I've decided to continue doing.

Today, I have a babysitter for two hours, and so I've decided to write this ezine, email several clients, design a new cover for one of my books, and create a template for a new "Sales for Designers" program I have coming out. Previously, it would have taken me a whole week of working full-time to get this all done. But I don't have that luxury anymore.

Thank goodness! The sudden, enormous cut in my personal time made me even more efficient and productive.

Why don't you try working just two hours a day for the next week? Decide what you need to get done, and then do it. You might be amazed at how little you actually have to work!

To your blissful, joyous success!

September 13, 2007

Improve Your Portfolio - Improve Your Sales

Your probably know that your professional portfolio is an important selling tool, and that a great one will put you ahead of the competition. But have you made yours the absolute best it can be? I've seen and heard of too many lost sales due to poorly designed, unorganized, or even no portfolio (gasp!).

When your portfolio shows you off as a talented professional, you not only turn more consultations into sales, but you start feeling more confident and proud of what you deliver to your clients. Your confidence leads to more sales, which helps you feel even more confident...what an exciting cycle to get caught up in!

Here are some quick tips and ideas to improve your portfolio:

  • Make sure all your photographs are the same size.
  • Use large photographs - 8x10 or larger. Small snapshots tend to look amateurish.
  • BUT, do include small "before" snapshots next to your finished work when you can. These will add to the impact of your beautiful designs.
  • Hire a professional photographer. My business took a giant leap when I finally hired a photographer. One more sale could pay for the expense!
  • If you're not ready to lay out the expense of a photographer, make sure you at least learn a few tips for taking the best photographs you can. Even if your designs are incredible, poor photography will make you look like a less professional designer. My friend (and personal photographer), Barbara Lane, wrote a great book on how to photograph interiors - especially for people like us (I could never seem to take a good interior photo until I learned some of her tips). You can see info here.
  • Include clippings from any press articles where you are mentioned.
  • Update your portfolio on a regular basis (every 6 months or so). Replace jobs from several years ago with fresh, new ones.
  • Limit your photos to about a dozen. Use only your most impressive work. Small, modest jobs can be kept as snapshots in your briefcase to pull out when necessary (if your client needs to visualize a certain style or example).
  • If you are computer-savvy, create a digital portfolio. Pulling out your laptop to show your designs can make you look very current and knowledgeable.

Remember: When your portfolio is well-maintained and professional, selling is a whole lot easier.

To your increased sales and confidence!

September 12, 2007

Model the Successful- and you will be successful, too!

by Nika Stewart

"If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you'll achieve the same results."
- Tony Robbins, bestselling writer and motivational speaker

In other words, if you want to run a successful design business, copy what successful designers are doing, and you'll achieve the same success.

Sound good? Are you interested in modelling successful designers? Great!

So, what are successful designers doing? How do they work, think, act? Here are 3 traits that are common to successful designers:

  1. Successful designers have systems
    What do you do when a call comes in? When you measure a room? When you hire a contractor? Do you have specific steps to follow for every part of your business? Or do you wing it? I used to! But I learned that "winging it" leads to chaos and confusion, and you certainly can't grow from there. Successful designers handle each part of their business the same way every time. They follow a system for everything: marketing, selling, setting up consultations, etc. Systems lead to consistency, organization, and effectiveness.
  2. Successful designers study marketing
    Unfortunately, being a terrific designer doesn't necessarily make you successful. In order to succeed in business, we need to be super marketers. Successful designers are either great at marketing, or they hire people who are. The most lucrative design firms actually spend more time and energy on marketing than they do on studying design.

The trick for those of you who don't enjoy marketing is to learn some fun, creative ways to market your business. Once you do this, you will have more fun with marketing - which will lead to more success.

  1. Successful designers are detail-oriented
    This may seem obvious, but are you doing it? Successful designers take care with every detail of the business - from all aspects of office work to each element of design projects. This doesn't mean they do it all themselves (in fact, profitable design companies delegate a lot of the details), but they always make sure that every part of their business - down to the smallest details - supports their exceptional image.

What's interesting is that once you have systems in place, details and delegating become so easy! So the better it gets, the better it gets.

September 11, 2007

Who Is Your Ideal Client?

By Nika Stewart

When asked who their ideal client is, many designers respond:

Owners of expensive homes or Rich people or Anyone who has money and is willing to pay

Here is the problem with believing that wealthy people are your ideal clients: It is an ineffective target because it is too broad. Choosing "high-end homes" or "wealthy homeowners" as your target does not give you a specific target. And without a clear, defined target, your design business will be less successful.

You must aim all of your marketing at a clearly defined target. Why?

  • Marketing becomes SO much easier
    When you know who your audience is, you know how to find them. You know what they read, what stores they frequent, and what events they attend.
  • Marketing costs go down
    Instead of promoting your business to everyone, you can target your advertising.
  • More word of mouth referrals
    Your unique ideal client is thrilled when they find someone who specializes in their interests and needs, and they will share you with other members of their circle.
  • Competition goes WAY down
    When you have a very specific target audience, you become a special, sought-after designer. Those without a target are a dime a dozen. But a decorator who specializes in the needs of an exclusive group of people is one in a million!
  • You get to design your business - on your own terms!
    My favorite part of choosing my own ideal client is choosing what works for me. I choose to target people whom I love to work with - those who are creative and easygoing, and want to work with me because they see me as the expert.

Try this "Ideal Client" Activity:
Sit alone and begin to imagine your ideal client in as much detail as possible. Keep in mind your goals for business and lifestyle. Write down a clear description of this client (this is your Ideal Client Intention), and place this paper in your office where you can see it everyday.

September 10, 2007

How I Tripled My Design Business

By Nika Stewart

Do you want to know the biggest secret to increasing your home fashions business? It’s sending a regular e-mail newsletter – an article or simple tip that your potential clients will find useful. If you can write an e-mail, you can dramatically increase your success.

Writing an e-mail newsletter helps you:

Achieve expert status

Increase sales

Gain new clients

Improve customer relations

Get more referrals

Make More Money!

It’s true. Writing just one simple e-mail, as little as twice a month, can do all that for you. But here is the challenge: It has to be done right, or you won’t see these spectacular results. It took me several years – and thousands of dollars – to learn the most effective way to launch a successful e-mail newsletter campaign. And within one year of doing it the right way, my business tripled!

Instead of making you spend all that time and money, I’m going to list some basic tips to assure that your e-mail newsletter helps boost your business quickly.

  • Send your newsletters regularly. Once a month is okay; twice a month is better. Weekly mailings are ideal, but the most important aspect of a successful e-mail newsletter is being regular. Stick to a schedule!
  • The main part of your newsletter – your article or tip – needs to be useful information for the reader. You should certainly put in some promotion about your company, but keep this to about 20 percent of the entire newsletter. Any more than that will turn off readers and cause deletes and un-subscribes.
  • Use an e-mail service provider. If you try to manage your e-mail newsletters from your regular e-mail account, you will get very frustrated. The one I use gives a free 60-day trial, and they have loads of great templates that make it so easy to get started:
  • Keep It Simple! Multi-column newsletters – with many articles and loads of photos – may look pretty in print, but an e-mail newsletter is easier to read when it is short and simple. Studies show that you get more sales when your newsletters are concise. Stay with one column, and use just one or two photos to get your point across.

    The most common reason that designers stop doing an email newsletter (or never get started) is they make it too complicated. Don’t fall into that trap. The simpler your newsletter – the more effective it will be.

Some of the secrets I’ve learned seem to go against all of our instincts as designers and business owners, but please believe me – they work! When I began to use all of this advice, my sales went through the roof. I know it can work for you, too.

Can e-mail newsletters work for the wholesale workroom?

Absolutely! If your main target is designers, write tips for them. As a designer myself, I know I would really appreciate weekly or monthly tips from my workroom! Here are a few ideas for your articles:

· 3 easy places to up-sell trim

· The quickest way to calculate yardage for a slipcover

· How to choose the right lining

If you start sending tips to your designers and other potential clients, you will quickly become the expert, go-to workroom! And don’t forget to subscribe ME to your newsletter.

If you’d like a step-by-step guide to launching a powerful, profit-boosting e-mail campaign, check out

September 06, 2007

Release, and It Will Come

By Nika Stewart

Imagine this:

Bill Gates gets up at 4:00 a.m. to drive to work. Upon arrival, he checks his e-mail and sees he has 43,224 new messages since last night. As he starts to answer the first one, the phone rings. It’s a woman from Colorado. She is having trouble with the new Vista operating system. Bill gives her a quick solution and gets back to his e-mails. One down, 43,223 more to go. He quickly checks his sales orders and sees that another 8,907 copies of Microsoft Office sold the day before. He gets out a fresh CD and starts to burn a copy of Office. While the CD is burning, Bill fields another technical support call. The call is finishing just as the CD is done burning. Bill affixes a label to the CD, places it in a box, inserts a user manual, and then prepares the package for shipping. One order down, 8,906 to go. His cell phone rings. It’s Melinda. Bring home cheese (Melinda loves cheese). Back to the phones …

Of course Bill Gates doesn’t run Microsoft all by himself (he has at least three other employees!). But my point is that it is impossible to run an ultra-successful business by yourself. And you don’t have to be as big as Microsoft.

As designers, we would prefer to spend the bulk of our time doing the things we love to do (designing, client consultations) and the things we need to do to grow our business (marketing, networking). These are the activities that require our direct involvement and should take up a vast majority of our days. Not the “other stuff.”

The Other Stuff:

Bookkeeping, vendor orders, inventory control, appointment scheduling, e-mail writing/answering, sample orders, returning phone calls for minor issues, minor troubleshooting, buying office supplies, researching telephone carriers, website maintenance, sorting mail, sending mail …

I’m exhausted just typing that list! How is it possible that we can grow our business and concentrate on our design work when we are so bogged down by the Other Stuff? The answer is: we can’t. It is essential that we learn to delegate. Why is it so difficult for us to let go of these tasks and hire someone to do it for us? From discussions with many designers, I’ve learned that it boils down to two main reasons:

  1. “It’s too expensive”

    Yes, it’s scary to pay someone to help in your business, especially if you feel you aren’t making enough to justify it. But the interesting fact is that small business owners begin to make more money when they let go of those tasks that are not only depleting their energy, but taking time away from doing the work that will really bring more money in. It is actually too expensive to NOT pay someone to take those money-sucking, energy-draining jobs from you.

If you consider how long it takes to do the Other Stuff on a weekly basis, you will see how much time is being wasted on activities that do not contribute to the growth of your business. By hiring someone, your time is free to focus upon design work and marketing your business.

  1. “I can’t give up anything / I am a control freak / I need it all done my way”

    I know, I know. I’ve been there, too! So here are a few suggestions:

    1. Take baby steps: Give up just one thing this month. Can you allow someone else to file your folders? Organize your books? Answer your phone? As time goes on, you will get more comfortable letting tasks go. Practice makes perfect.

    1. Set up systems: The next time you do any of your non-design tasks, write down all of the steps you take, one by one, as if you are writing a detailed system for someone who will be taking over this task (because that’s exactly what you are doing!). This will take you a little extra time, but within a few weeks, you will have systems documented for all of your business chores. With these procedures, you can be more assured that an assistant will perform tasks the same way you would.

I know what you’re saying: “Sure, sure, Nika. I’ll be happy to hire someone and delegate responsibility as soon as my business grows a bit.” Please don’t fall into that trap! Your business will grow if you learn to delegate – not the other way around! You absolutely can not become ultra-successful if you do everything yourself. Just think about poor, exhausted Mr. Gates. For the sake of you and your business: Release, and it will come.

Wealthy Decorator Action Assignment:

Write down all of the tasks that you can delegate, and choose one to release in the next month. Post your choices here on the blog so you can share ideas!