Over a year ago, I received this email from an MG reader-

I really enjoy reading the blog.  It is a daily “must read” for me!  I was hoping you, as well as the other girls, might consider doing posts on how you got started with your businesses and what some of the goods and bads have been of being your own boss.  I would really like to read about your paths to success.

Thanks so much!

Rachel

It wasn’t the first time MG had gotten an email like this.  The emails are usually from design students wanting to know how we broke into the design world after we graduated or from young professionals who are looking to start their own business.  If the person is local, I’ll often go out to lunch with them or invite them over to my office to chat about the biz.  But to tell you the truth, I always feel a little strange giving people advice or guidance at my age (and often wonder if they know that I’ve only had my own business for four years), but either-or, I figure that all I can do is share my story in the hopes that they can take something useful from it! And if not, well, hey, we had a nice lunch and I made a new friend :)

I’ve had Rachel’s email saved from last March, and had always thought that it would be so great if each MG blogger could share her own “professional journey” (especially for those gals who aren’t local to take out to lunch :) ).  So today is the start of this ten week series, dubbed “This is the Story…”.

This week, “This is the Story of EJ Interiors“- includes how my design business came about, what it’s like to be my own boss, and the pros and cons of owning a business.  The rest of the gals- Rebecca of Rebecca Soskin Interiors, Julia of Buckingham Interiors + Design, Jill of Jill Seidner Interior Design and Lauren Haskett of Lauren Haskett Fine Design will chit chat with you about the stories behind their businesses in the weeks to follow!

Enjoy!

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The story of EJ Interiors….

CHAPTER ONE: “The year of Craig’s List”

A lil background for you- I went to college at OU in Norman, OK (Go Sooners!).  I graduated with an interior design degree, moved back to Dallas and started looking for my first “real” job. I ended up working for a home theatre design firm and about a year later, decided that it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, so….. I quit.  I can’t say that this was the smartest move I’ve ever made, but I wouldn’t be where I was today, if I was still there organizing leather samples.  I went on to work part-time for a few local residential designers and then with a commercial movie theater designer, for the next couple of years, while I started to launch EJ Interiors.  How in the world I ever got the guts to start my own business at twenty-four years old, is still a mystery to me. I came from a family of lawyers who all worked for big firms and had steady jobs, so the idea of little ole me starting a business in my apartment, with no startup money, business plan, or clients, scared my parents just a tad.  It was my fiancee-to-be that encouraged me to set up my business, start a blog, and begin taking on clients in 2007.

In April ’07, I posted an ad on Craig’s List which I’m embarassed to say, was entitled “Design on a Dime…or Dollar”.  The ad listed my services, rate, etc.  I even went door to door in Uptown apartment complexes and stuck my EJ Interiors’ flier on every apartment door (is that even legal, dad?) I apologize if your apartment was the victim of this solicitation!  About a week later, I got my first call from a client who wanted to meet to discuss his project.  We set up our first meeting at Starbucks and needless to say, I was terrified.  Luckily, this client didn’t know he was my first client so I played it cool, just like any other designer off Craig’s List.  And the rest they say is history….

{The totally embarrassing flier that I put on every apartment door…}

{For my first project, my apartment complex let me “design” their model home…what a sad sight this was! My mom was my “workroom” on this project and made the drapes (don’t ask me how I got her to do this).  The budget ran out quickly, so accessories were sparse. This is another “what was I thinking photo?” but was good project experience at the time}

CHAPTER TWO: “The Year of Organization”

Eventually, I got to the point where I didn’t need Craig’s List anymore.  I created a website via Network Solutions (goodbye My Space website!), started a blog (which at the time was called Dear Designer), registered for a tax ID number, set up a business name and even hired my first professional photographer who took photos of my apartment for the website.  He charged me a whopping $25 for the entire shoot- can you imagine?

I realized pretty quickly, that my business would not survive on hand-written Invoices, so I purchased Quickbooks and hired someone off Craig’s List to train me in it. I also realized how much easier my life would be if I had AutoCAD (a pricey purchase, but essential).  I honestly didn’t have very many start-up costs for EJ Interiors aside from these computer programs, portfolio pictures, a domain name, business cards via Vistaprint, and website hosting.

I knew I also had to get fabric books, paint fans and catalogs to start building my sample library.  I contacted local reps who helped me accomplish this (at no cost).  I also set up trade accounts at local showrooms in the design district and at the World Trade Center. I started amassing my vendors and building relationships with tradesmen such as an upholsterer, sewing workroom, painter, window treatment installer, etc and purchased a big Rolodex that have since been filled with their business cards.

For the client side, I knew I needed a Letter Agreement for projects, so I begged my brother in law to draft up one.  I then created a questionnaire that I give to clients to fill out before we meet (which I still use to this day)  Things were moving along nicely but I was still taking on contract projects for other interior designers on the side as I built my business.

{My old Network Solutions web header…}

{My Residential Design Questionnaire…}

CHAPTER THREE: “The Year of Clients”

The best resource for my business has been my fiancee, Ben.  He was in Public Relations when I first started, so he helped tremendously with the set-up of EJ Interiors.  I couldn’t have done it without him.  He suggested setting up Google Sponsored Links which is a pay-per-click type of advertising via google searches.  That, I have to say was my number one way for acquiring new clients.  Everyone seemed to find me through Google, so those links were well worth what I was paying.

Along with this web addition, I ended up ditching my Network Solutions website and upgraded to a custom designed site by a local Dallas web designer.  This was around the time that I started doing more commercial projects- specifically dentist offices.

I also decided it was time to start using a real accountant, so I contacted Joanne of Balanced Act and she has been a dream to work with ever since!

I next realized that along with getting professional room photos taken, I also needed professional headshots for my site (no more of those grainy “Facebook profile” type photos!)

{My old EJ logo…}

{Our constant edits and updates to the website copy…}

CHAPTER FOUR: “The Year of Expansion”

I’m sure you can guess what was next- it was time for another new website!  I discovered that so many of my designer peers were using BluDomain and I can honestly say that this website was one of the best things that I ever did for my business to date.  I love how I can update it on my own in the middle of the night and the cost of the website, is beyond affordable.  With the new website, I also got a new logo, designed by Emily Ley Paper (who created Lauren’s logo).   As the blog grew and referrals happened, I saw my business grow. My family had an intervention with me and said that I needed to hire on some extra help for my business, so I started with summer interns, and then in the Fall, hired on my first employee.

{The new logo…}

{EJ Interiors first photo in the paper…}

To finish off this post, and at Rachel’s request, here are pros and cons I’ve discovered in owning my own business-

PROS-

  • Flexible Schedule- you can make your own work schedule and have unlimited vacation days (but in my case, I unfortunately rarely take a vacation)
  • The people- I meet new people every day.  Whether it’s a rep, a showroom manager, a new client, or intern- meeting fresh faces is always enjoyable.  Also, getting to know your vendors and building friendships with them, can make the work day a lot more interesting.
  • The office- I do love working from home!
  • Projects- I’m trying to get better about handing off work (I can be a little bit of a control freak), but I must say that getting to participate in a project from initial stages to completion (and make all the decisions yourself) can be pure bliss, in my opinion.
  • Products- In essence, designers have a pretty fun job- who wouldn’t want to be around beautiful fabrics and amazing furniture all day? You also get to see the newest products as they come out and have access to all the sample sales, trade discounts, etc.

CONS-

  • Hours- I pretty much work around the clock.  My day starts once at 9 am and then again at 6 pm, when I come home to blog, do paperwork, etc.  There is always something to be done!
  • Health insurance- If you were a single gal like me, getting your own insurance (with an incredibly high deductible) is a complete drag!
  • “Miss Everything”- When you own your own business (at least until you hire on employees), you are “Miss (or Mister) Everything”. Not only was I the interior designer/owner, I was also the marketing department, accounting department, PR department (OK Ben did have a part in that one), and my own secretary. You find yourself having to learn about every aspect of the business (and quickly!)
  • Problem Solver- There are so many “fires” to put out in interior design, it’s not even funny.  My old boss used to tell me that’s the reason why she doesn’t do residential design, and now I’m starting to understand what she meant by those “fires”.  Fabric mills will suddenly have problems with their yarn colors, goods come in damaged from shipping, dye lots will end up varying tremendously, and a tradesmen could suddenly make a mistake on a job (the possibilities are endless).  Most of these problems are out of your control, and it becomes your job to fix them in any way possible.

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11 Comments to 'This Is The Story of the MG Bunch….'

Allison 29 Mar 11 at 11:29 am

How have I been reading this blog for a year and NOT realized that you and I were in the same sorority at OU? I was a few years behind you, but I certainly remember seeing you around the house when I was a freshman. I should have known the stylish author of this blog has Kappa in her :)

Have a fabulous week, congrats on all your success!

Jessie 29 Mar 11 at 11:35 am

I love this post! Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights about starting up your own interior design business, Emily. Your guidance, I am sure will help many people who aspires to start up their own business.

Wishing you a continued growth and success in your business!

Jessie from http://www.mixandchic.com

karla 29 Mar 11 at 11:49 am

wow! thanx so much for sharing your story! and tips at the same time..

Baylor Love 29 Mar 11 at 12:52 pm

How very brave, honest and generous to share all of this information. Although you have more creativity in your pinky toe than I will ever have, I’m sure there are many others reading this that wonder how in the world they could start their own design business. Too many bloggers would never dream of helping them out in this way. Thanks for being so great!

~Lauren

MaterialGirls 29 Mar 11 at 5:17 pm

Hi Allison- that is too funny!! What is your maiden name? I stopped by your blog and you look so familiar- I’m sure I’ve seen you at the house before (and/or studied your picture during Rush week :) )! I honestly wasn’t at the house that much after Junior year, interior design studio took over my life haha. I am so glad you left a message- it’s so nice to hear from fellow Kappas and OU grads! Thanks for your kind words and definitely keep in touch!

Thanks so much Lauren, Karla and Jessie for your sweet comments. I’m so glad you thought it might be helpful for someone…what started as a very short post, soon became a very long post- I was worried that I might have started rambling and telling a little too much!

Julia-Chicago 30 Mar 11 at 9:23 am

Emily,
You are such an inspiration to anyone seeking a career in our crazy and yet wonderful interiors world.
Your vision to become one of the first round of design bloggers has revolutionized our industry!
Glad that a little old Pi Phi like me has been able to be a part of the magic :)

MaterialGirls 30 Mar 11 at 9:38 am

Thanks J! I didnt know you were a Pi Phi…. :) Love it!

travelkate @ travelmoon 30 Mar 11 at 10:12 am

This was very interesting! It is always inspirational to hear how one starts their own business!

Elizabeth B. 30 Mar 11 at 5:44 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. As a recent college graduate I feel like I’m definitely in “the year of Craig’s List”, but very inspired!

Meghan 31 Mar 11 at 5:06 pm

Roomie, I’m pretty sure that I was the one who helped the most with the inception of “Design on a dime…or dollar” – on your apartment patio, over several bottles of wine. Please amend your story to include me :)

Jacqueline 03 Apr 11 at 10:14 am

Thanks for sharing. You’re story about getting started is sounding like the path I have taken this past year. I started my business at 23 and a lot of what you have said are things I did/planned to do!

I love your blog and I can only HOPE to be as successful as you one day.

1 Links to 'This Is The Story of the MG Bunch….'

[...] of work but it’s worth it.  The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is like no other.  Emily put the list of pros and cons perfectly.  Unfortunately, there are cons to every job, but if [...]

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