DEVELOPING AN INTERIOR DESIGN TEAM AND HOW TO CREATE A SUCCESS OF IT
Let me tell a story about my Interior Design team and how it all started in 2007.
I have worked for than ten years in the interior design and property business, I have had a ton of bad and good moments. Ups and downs where I wasn’t prepared for them, especially for the downs.
During the first three years, every time where we had a problem with our company, we struggled to find the most appropriate way to deal with the problems.
They were all sorts of problems with our Interior Design team, the performance we had, the contractors, building control or fighting client’s objectives and arguments.
This is how I decided to put a system in place. For six months, I did research on all levels of our work.
I had to find a way of managing the whole design studio, all employees, and projects while being profitable in very shaky financial times while always on the side of our clients.
I still remember the date, the hour, and the year brightly, when we had an extensive project with a healthy budget where we hit the brick wall right before the end.
Yes, it happens.
We almost lost control over the entire project just in a day because of many aspects. After that moment, I realized that we were missing a critical point of our business, and that was the moment to build – an ultimate management system for our design and contractor teams.
HOW DO INTERIOR DESIGN FIRMS OPERATE?
Interior design firms typically operate by providing a range of design services to clients who are looking to improve the aesthetic and functional aspects of their homes or commercial spaces.
The specific services offered by an interior design firm can vary, but they may include the following:
- Consultations: Many interior design firms offer initial consultations to clients, during which they discuss the client’s design goals, budget, and any specific needs or constraints.
- Space planning: Interior designers may help clients plan the layout of their space, including the placement of furniture and other features.
- Selection of materials and finishes: Interior designers may work with clients to choose materials such as flooring, paint colors, and finishes for fixtures and surfaces.
- Sourcing and procurement: Interior designers may help clients find and purchase products and materials for their project, such as furniture, lighting, and accessories.
- Project management: Interior design firms may oversee the entire design process, coordinating with contractors and other professionals to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget
Most interior design firms charge for their services either by the hour or through a flat fee or percentage of the total project cost. Some firms may offer package deals that include a range of services at a fixed price.
INTERIOR DESIGN BUSINESS MANAGEMENT REQUIREMENTS
TLDR: Developing a successful interior design team requires establishing an effective management system, choosing team members with specialized skills, and fostering open communication.
Key roles like project manager, marketer, and receptionist must complement each other. Planning ahead for staffing needs, using independent contractors as needed, and keeping the team motivated will lead to the best outcomes. With structure an
Aside from the Owner, the most valuable asset of each interior design firm is the team. So much emphasis is put on buildings, properties, dealerships, or lines; what is sometimes forgotten is that the quality of your support team contributes to your success or holds you back.
When you begin your interior business or consider any growth or restructuring, carefully review what part you plan to play in that growth and what kind of staffing you need to help you accomplish your goals. Staffing your business with the best quality of people should be your design firm’s highest priority.
The nature of the projects you have scheduled determines what kind of personnel you will need in the future.
This forecasting is easy when you keep an ongoing list of each project you have, the type of staffing required for each project, and the hours of work that you anticipate will be needed from your staff during the next twelve months.
The information on these forms can be done on the computer or your phone, as they are all online.
INTERIOR DESIGN MANAGEMENT SOFTWARES (review)
Here are a few very niche and specific to interior design firms that we found out worked for our workflow. Bare in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, but pure from our standpoint and experience.
DESIGN MANAGER FOR INTERIOR DESIGN PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Design Manager has tools as Project Management, Purchasing sheets, Accounting part and Industry-specific reports.
Pros: Very powerful cloud version and compact stand-alone. It has a chat-based client portal.
One of the Pioneers of the management solutions we have tried.
It has the same tools as the rest. The only downside at the time we were using it was that it was limited to USA’s market only.
Pros: Very powerful RFQ with an interactive Pdf viewer, where purchasing takes 3 seconds. Vendor portal.
IVY SOFTWARE – NOW PART OF HOUZZ PRO
Another great tool recently acquired by Houzz. Very sophisticated and friendly. It has Online Integration and Payments.
Pros: Good user-friendly and beautiful UI
Check out their walkthrough video.
It’s worth checking all of them if you plan to improve the quality of your work and be more profitable.
A setup of such a system would help if you revised it every month; use a separate list for your staff to list their individual projects, their estimated hours of work the next month and the months to come, and any other job responsibilities that they have, such as marketing, work meetings, etc.
Keeping these factors up to date will help you to analyze which projects you can accomplish in a given period.
What matters is that you institute a system of planning that You understand.
You should be able to see at a glance the work to be done and the financial flow to be generated from that work. This is part of what makes a company profitable.
In day-to-day business, it is easy to assign projects and then forget what a given person is doing and how much time it ought to take.
Fortunately, business is not static; but in taking on additional priorities, you can sometimes forget about your staff’s previous commitments. These forecasting sheets on the staff members and their projects tell you where they are going and how frantic their schedule is.
With a system in place, you can see, at a glance, whether a project needs additional support or can be handled in-house by reapportioning the workloads. Although you should try to plan for a twelve-month period, realize that you will have to make some adjustments to the plan.
That plan should become your guide; it should not be carved in stone, as there will be ups and downs all the time.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to bother so much with the implementation of a system like that, where you have to hire a person to manage just the system, there are alternatives such as general project management software. Here is a short list of those out there:
THE EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT IS FOR DESIGN TEAMS OF ALL SIZES, EVEN A SINGLE-PERSON STUDIO
Employee scheduling sheets can also be valuable aids in forecasting the income from current projects.
They indicate which projects should be completed in a particular time and what the compensation from them should be.
Before considering hiring anyone, analyze the project. Outline the direction in which you see your company going, and determine what is financially practical for you to do. In analyzing the job, you should check the following:
- What is the work to be accomplished?
- Do I need additional help to do it, or Can I use the staff that I have working overtime or extra at some point?
- Is there any freelance staffing available?
- Could I hire a specialist or outsource help for this period?
- Am I going to need the kind of person who can do this work on a continuing basis?
- What kind of experience should the person I hire have?
- What type of skills is necessary to do this job?
- What is the labor market today?
- Can I get the type of person I want; if not, can I modify this job to fit the kind of person I can find?
- What am I able to pay?
- Will this job remain attractive for the person I hire in the future?
- Will the person I hire be able to develop his or her career here and perhaps still fit into other parts of my interior design firm?
LIST OF INTERIOR DESIGN STAFF ROLES
When planning your business, you need to consider not only the size of your team but also what types of experts are necessary for your studio’s scope and goals.
Chief Executive officer (CEO)
Often this is the owner, acting as a Senior Interior Designer who starts the company and runs a significant role in success. A chief executive of a successful and growing firm often works at least 80 to 100 hours a week. The CEO has a substantial investment in the firm emotionally, physically, and financially. Working more than 65 hours per week is not recommended. It short-changes your family and kills your creativity.
Because the performance of the firm as a whole is so dependent on the CEO, there need to be some safeguards in place to keep that CEO stimulated and excited about the work. It is all to easy for a CEO to burn out because of the stress of various administrative problems. Therefore, efforts must be made to keep that person enthusiastic if everyone else in the firm is to continue at a high-performance level.
In many Management, books are stated that the chief executive has a lot to do with the performance level of the corporation. I find this even more applicable in design firms. It is not just the CEO’s design talent and design excitement but his or her enthusiasm for business and ability to use the tools of business that generate success.
Every successful design firm has at least one bad habit.
Some of the most successful design firms do not have a formal structure within the group. In these firms, CEOs have hands-on involvement with all of their key people. These interior design firms work as a team, and the senior/owner usually refers to the firm as “we.” These designers have a vision that they can share with their staff and their clients.
This intimate involvement and excitement are what make these companies successful up to some point.
Design Managing Director or Business manager
The managing director or business manager is responsible for the management of the company, whether the firm has three or four people or as many as sixty-five. In a small company, this is often a partner.
The business manager is responsible for coordinating schedules, processing and expediting orders, managing finances, and handling any business management problem that arises.
This person usually has the authority to fire and hire. He or she deals with most of a company’s consultants, such as accountants, attorneys, and other business professionals.
Although a business manager usually has very little to do with the design end of a business, he or she can assist in setting standards for mark-ups. Typically, the business manager should be a person with a business management background rather than one in interior design.
If we want to have a firm financially successful, we need different outlooks on a job. It is essential for this person to be familiar with current business vocabulary because most interior designers are short on business education.
Marketing Director or Business Development
Most design teams find it necessary to have a director in charge of developing a business. Most design firms that are successful (running close to their total potential productivity) have one or more people doing marketing or business promotion for them.
Marketing and sales are usually part of every staff member’s responsibilities. However, a good marketing program requires a primary person on the staff to devote his or her complete attention to this area.
While marketing is done according to principles, someone has to keep the program on schedule and assign tasks that do not have to be performed by the firm’s principal. The marketing director has a great deal of control over the general direction of the company; therefore, the authority endowed in this person is considerable.
A marketing director should be a person who enjoys developing and creating a business-a person who likes to sell. This kind of personality is a great benefit to any firm. Finding a good marketing director can be difficult.
Most studios hire a person who has design experience but prefers to be out there selling and developing business. The salary or income of the marketing director is usually very high, which is why this position often attracts other staff members.
Human Resources Manager
This manager was formerly known as the personnel administrator for some years. In a small firm, the human resources manager job may be handled by the principal, but in a firm with twelve designers or more, this job requires a specific employee. This may be either a staff member or a consultant.
Today, the position of human resources manager goes far beyond what was the typical manager 15 years ago of hiring and firing, and establishing a personnel structure. The human resources manager is now asked to build a unified, productive workforce that is motivated to achieve the company’s objectives.
This person needs to be a results-oriented individual, willing and able to develop a workforce to fit the diversified need of a design firm. Both small and large firms realize that staffing can significantly increase or inhibit the quality of a company’s growth.
The functions of this position are mainly staffing, personnel-program administration, and planning for future staffing needs. Most firms can’t afford to have this type of person on contract full-time. There are consultants or specialists available to handle this for you on an as-needed basis.
You can add this requirement as part of your business development program. Sometimes, we are close to people that we don’t notice some of their unique abilities. Having someone else interact with your staff is often valuable to both you and the design studio.
Human resources managers are involved in many different areas, including the following:
- Staffing. They ensure that roles are filled with qualified individuals who have trained appropriately and can meet the company’s objectives.
- Training and organizational development. They can devise programs, procedures, and a methodology to improve the performance of individual staff members. They can develop a training program, bring in consultants, and introduce new equipment that will elevate the staff’s productive capabilities so the studio can grow and be more profitable. The team will have the opportunity to do better work, advance, and gain a better income.
- Salary and benefits program. They organize the total compensation programs of the studio as a whole, as well as individual salary situations.
- Employee relations and communications. They create an environment that helps the company and the individual workers be more productive. They help with overall structuring and decision-making to develop a feeling of teamwork among the staff. They establish communication programs that are necessary for employees.
In most design firms, the receptionist and the person who answers the phone are the same people. This person represents you more than any other person in your firm, and the quality of his or her interaction with clients is critical to the client’s attitude toward your interior design studio.
A good receptionist requires knowledge, control, grace, and courtesy. Find someone who knows all the people in your design studio, what their strengths are, and how the firm operates.
Then place that person in this vital position and pay him or her well. Make sure that you have someone who is a “greeter”- someone who has courtesy and charm. It makes for pleased clients’ and helps keep your day’s schedule workable.
Other staff positions
Depending on the size of your design firm, you may want to hire various different types of team members, including the following:
- Assistant Interior Designer. This is a trained designer who works with a more advanced design professional. While this person has a formal education in design, he or she may lack the necessary experience, creativity, or drive to be in a position with more responsibility.
- Administrative Assistant. This position requires management, bookkeeping, and client communication skills. In general, this person must be a practical partner to the creative person.
- Bookkeeper. This person records business transactions in an orderly fashion.
- CAD or BIM Expert. This person draws plans or sketches. He or she usually has special training in architecture and design.
- Installation specialist. This person is responsible for all the details of actual installations. His or her skill and ability to handle problems on-site keep the work moving. An installation specialist also knows how to present a project with great showmanship. The closest analogy is “magician”.
- Librarian. This specialist manages a design firm’s library. He or she may have a formal design education or merely a long-term experience with the firm. A secretary or member of your design support staff could be trained to handle this function.
- Project manager. This role manages the resources and activities necessary to achieve a set of objectives on a project within a specified time.
- 3D Visualization specialist. This is an interior designer or illustrator who creates drawings. Photorealistic 3D images are called renderings of interior design or architectural work, usually while the work is still in the conceptual stages. *I have written a great inside article on that topic here: The architectural visualizations – 5 basic myths
- Salesperson. This person sells design services or products
- Secretary or Personal Assistant. This person handles correspondence and manages routine office work.
- Staff Interior/Furniture Designer. This is a person with a design education who works for a design firm or department. The necessary qualifications and responsibilities for this position vary according to the designer’s abilities and the firm’s administrative structure.
SHORT-TERM STAFF IN EVERY INTERIOR DESIGN TEAM
If you have a special project that you know is going to last only two or three months, you should see if you can either hire a freelancer or borrow a staff person from another firm.
Interior Design Freelancers. The interior design field is full of freelancers who are available and willing to work with you on specialized projects. In hiring a freelancer, it is essential to define the parameters of the relationship. When your project is confidential, for example, you need to be careful in hiring freelancers.
The person you hire should be asked to sign an NDA statement to the effect that he or she understands that this project requires confidentiality. Freelancers are an excellent resource, and if you use these people regularly, you can hire them as independent contractors, which relieves your firm of some overhead expenses.
This is where we have created a service to solve that part of the equation. Check this link if you are interested: Architectural & Interior Design visualization
Virtual Interior Designers; it is possible for a virtual interior designer to be part of a design team hired on a contract basis.
Virtual interior design involves working with clients remotely, using online tools and communication methods such as video calls, email, and messaging to discuss design ideas and collaborate on projects.
In a team setting, a virtual interior designer may work alongside other designers and support staff, collaborating on projects and sharing ideas and resources. Depending on the size and structure of the design firm, the virtual interior designer may report to a project manager or lead designer and work closely with other team members to ensure that projects are completed on time and to the satisfaction of the client.
Virtual interior designers may be used as part of a design team in a variety of settings, including residential design firms, commercial design firms, and in-house design departments for businesses and organizations. Working as a virtual interior designer can be a flexible and convenient option for professionals who are looking for the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects from the comfort of their own home or office.
Borrowing a staff person. We all know designers working in other communities. It is often possible to borrow a worker from another firm for a week or two to get you through a particular project.
This is a good way of bringing an expert into your firm. You have the benefit of knowing the standards of the design studio that they come from, and they can often gain new perspectives from being in your studio for a while.
Interior design teams that work closely together can easily borrow and exchange staff members, which gives them the flexibility of being able to do large projects without the encumbrance of a larger staff.
Independent Contractors vs. Employees
Today, the majority of design firms use as many independent contractors as possible. By hiring independent contractors, firms pay for services as they are rendered, saving on staffing costs.
With the substantial fluctuation in design work most firms experience, using independent contractors helps them keep overhead down. Among the independent contractors an interior design team might use are the following:
- A person trained and skilled in one of the many art processes, such as painting, who may carry out or develop the artistic portion of the design project.
- A skilled mechanic in a manual occupation. This person is more highly qualified than a tradesperson or craftsperson.
- One who practices a trade or manual occupation with a certain degree of skill that separates him or her from tradespeople.
- A person or company that undertakes to perform work, usually for a specific project at a specified price within a certain time limit.
- A worker in a skilled trade such as plumbing, carpentry, or electrical wiring. This person is generally not as highly skilled as a craftsperson or artisan.
What are the differences between an independent contractor and an employee?
You must take care of maintaining the records that prove the legitimacy of these independent contractors in the case of a tax and insurance examination. Here are a few guidelines from tax experts that will classify whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee.
- Are paid for each project
- Offer their services to other companies or people
- Have their own tools and equipment
- Quote companies a contracted price, which means that they are subject to both profit and loss.
- Establish, usually in conjunction with their employers, the scheduling of work to be done
- May work in more than one location
- Set their hours
- Collect and hire their support people or assistants.
- Have a regular paying relationship.
- Work for one employer
- Can be fired
- May quit without any liability
- Usually, receive reimbursements for expenses
- Are a part of an organization
Acknowledgment of Independent contractor
Suppose you are taking on an independent contractor and want to be sure that you will not be responsible for taxes and other liability issues. In that case, it is essential to acknowledge the independent contractor’s status. Either use an agreement or have your solicitor write up one for your specific situation.
You will also want to document the types of insurance that your contractor will have, noting any liability issues relating to your company. You need a document stating exactly what kind of coverage they have.
It is advisable to list the type of policy, the liability limits, and the company with which he or she is insured; show this list to your insurance agent to be sure that the coverage is appropriate.
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