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Designers’ Advisor Polly Williams of Camberyard, an award-winning interior design business development consultancy, returns to Decorex for the third year in a row. She has invited four members of her thriving Camberyard Collective – Sarah Bullen-Webb, Henrietta Holroyd, Laura Keith and Lizzie Tovey – to share their wisdom on the interiors world ahead of their not-to-be-missed panel discussion this October.
If you want to know your USP, ask your clients.
Finding your particular niche or USP is usually an organic process that evolves over time as you gain experience and develop and hone your approach or craft. If you’re struggling to articulate it effectively, turn to your clients, mentors or colleagues. An outside perspective from those who know your work well can give you insight into key aspects of your particular style – what makes your design or brand yours.
Design school provides a key opportunity to make professional contacts as well as lifelong friends.
Building a strong support network is important to your growth as a designer – and design school is one of the best ways to kick-start that process. The placements, the visiting designers and suppliers, student exhibitions, and the jobs advertised through the school offer different ways to learn and open doors in the industry, all integral to future success. Maintaining friends from that time can provide valuable support as well as lead to new work or collaborations across the world.
Clients do not usually fit a perfect mould (although it can happen!).
You may have a picture of your ‘ideal’ client, from where they live, to the style of their property, their values, even down to the clothes they wear and where they hang out. And you may get clients who fit that image exactly. More often, however, you will simply share a sensibility or vision with them, or you will have a very clear-cut market within a certain area of interiors from which you draw clients. Most new business comes by referral, which can both consolidate and widen your ‘ideal’.
‘Don’t give them what they want, give them what they need’.
While especially pertinent to commercial interiors – where interior design is about improving the client’s business in some way and creating a space that not only looks great but is hard-working – Laura’s motto can equally be applied to residential clients. It’s the designer’s job to see beyond what their client thinks they want, push boundaries and give them an opportunity to create something magnificent, something that will reflect who they are while making a positive difference to their lives. To achieve this, it is imperative to do the groundwork; understand how the client lives, their ideas for the property, favourite colours, etc., as well as to create clear sketches, plans or models. It can be as much about the psychology as the design!
Instagram tops social media charts for brand presence.
Offering the ability to mix personal and work images, share behind-the-scenes shots and making-of videos, as well as being a platform that is first and foremost based on visuals, Instagram is the go-to social media outlet for interiors brands and designers alike. It is a great way to communicate your style and vision, especially when you’re starting out and trying to create a strong brand presence. While excellent for establishing your brand, for commercial interior design it’s not always the best platform to connect. Twitter can be useful for studio updates and kick-starting conversations with the right people in the business world.
You, as the designer, are the product, so get out there, be your own marketing.
Go to every industry event (especially ones where you know your target client will be) and get talking – it’s you you have to sell. Support this with a professional website that has show-stopping photography and clearly communicates who you are and what you do – your style, values and services. Many projects come in by word-of-mouth, and your website will likely be these potential clients’ first port of call, so it should express the quality of what you can offer, getting them excited and feeling confident about making the initial contact. And if you really want to challenge yourself, get on a stage at an event or behind a camera for a TV programme or a YouTube channel – connecting with an audience verbally and collaboratively can be exhilarating and inspiring.
Mentors help grow your ideas, challenge you and hold you to account.
Having a mentor in the interiors business is like discovering a series of short cuts to your destination – someone there to help you achieve your goals faster and even lead in new directions. Mentors are especially valuable if you run your own business or work with a small team. Whether it’s Polly from Camberyard or someone else from the industry, a good mentor can help build confidence, challenge you, provide contacts, allow you to bounce ideas off them and, importantly, ensure you stick to your deadlines and do what you say you’re going to do!
Look outside as well as inside the design world for inspiration.
Observing the design process from a new perspective – through series like Abstract and a Chef’s Table – can make you think differently about your own approach and help unlock new ideas. For brilliance within the design world, the panel mentioned New York-based architect Oliver Freundlich and the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, as well as the Joseph Walsh Studio in Ireland, who create striking sculptural pieces (often from wood) bent into organic forms.
A week in the life …
For boutique interior designers or brands, each day is different as they attend to all aspects of the business. From computer-based admin, social media communications and hands-on workshops, to studio design time, visits to new clients or suppliers, placing orders and project installation, running your own business requires a varied set of skills. And there’s still the creative or ‘me’ time to fit in! It’s a challenging yet exhilarating mix.
If you could have given yourself one piece of advice starting out, what would it be?
Get connected into Camberyard! Polly can provide endless contacts and the Collective is an amazing support network. She will also help ensure you take care of the essentials, like getting your operations and systems in place – it’s a business and you have to approach it like one. Perhaps counterintuitively, do not take on too many clients too early; far better to take on fewer clients and do a fantastic job than to take on too many and underdeliver. And don’t compare yourself to others – you may find inspiration in others’ work but let that fuel rather than hinder your own creative development!
Left; Sarah Bullen-Webb – Iluka London – Handcrafted Lighting, Furniture & Accessories https://www.ilukalondon.com/
Right; Henrietta Holroyd Ltd – Residential Interior Design & Property Development https://henriettaholroyd.com/
Laura Keith – Nine Yard Club – Commercial Interior Design https://www.nineyardclub.com/
Lizzie Tovey – Studio Houghton – Residential Interior Design http://www.studiohoughton.com/
Polly Williams, The Designers' Advisor will be on a panel discussing So you're a Brilliant Designer...but do you have the Skills to Launch and Grow your Own Design Business? At 12pm on Wednesday 9th October.
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