There’s nothing wrong with designing interiors just for fun.
In fact, when you’re first starting out, it’s a great idea to do projects for friends and family as favors or for a nominal fee. That way, you can get a feel for what you like and how to structure your business before you make any big decisions or investments.
But at some point, most designers want their work to be something more than a hobby. They want to be taken more seriously, and they have real aspirations for growth.
It’s this transition from hobby to business where things can get tricky.
Designers tend to stay in hobby phase way too long, or even think they’re moving toward a business-owner mindset when they’re still very much stuck in a hobby mindset.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that tend to hold designers back when they’re in the “hobby” phase. Then, we’ll discuss how to overcome those obstacles to level up and build a business.
The Difference Between a Hobby and a Business
Of course, the biggest differentiator between a hobby and a business is money. A hobby is generally understood as something you do for free.
However, people can still have a hobby mindset even after they’ve started charging for their services.
Here are a few of major factors that I believe set a business apart from a hobby.
Discipline and Priorities
If you’re thinking like a business owner, your projects and profitability are at the forefront of your thoughts. Building a strong foundation for your business is deliberate and not an afterthought. It’s not something you get around to when your other responsibilities have ended for the day, or that you work on whenever you can squeeze it in. It’s what you’re thinking about as soon as you sit down to work in the morning, and you do it on a regular schedule.
Big Picture Thinking
Businesses have a vision, goals, and action plans to fulfill that vision. Hobby work, by contrast, is handled as it comes up with little thought to how each project fits into long-term goals. Running a business means strategizing for the long term. It means creating repeatable successful outcomes via processes that will build the backbone of a profitable business.
A Financial Focus
Hobby-stage designers focus on the art and the “pretty” factor. Business owners focus on those things too, but they also focus equally on the finances. They look to sales numbers and profitability as an indicator of success. They set financial goals and they carve out a path to reach those goals. They look at those goals monthly to ensure forward momentum. To a hobbyist, by contrast, any money they get from their design is generally considered a bonus.
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Why do Designers Get Stuck in Hobby Mode?
Anyone who starts working on their passion as a side hustle might be at risk of keeping it on the side too long, even as it should be taking center stage. However, I believe that designers are especially at risk of this. Here’s why.
Interior Design is an Undervalued Skill
People are used to paying for professional services such as accounting. You’d don’t often hear about accountants doing people’s taxes for free just to build up their resumes.
In comparison to other professional services, interior design is relatively new. And perhaps because the work itself seems closer to art, some people think they can get it for free or for low rates. Plus, due to these very same reasons, designers don’t always feel as comfortable charging what they deserve.
But they should. Interior design requires talent and experience, and just because you enjoy it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t pay for it. (Related post: The Danger of Discounting Your Interior Design Services.)
New Designers Often Have Family Responsibilities
I’ve noticed that interior designers often come into the industry as a second career.
In many cases, they left their first career because they started a family and found that their previous job wasn’t compatible with their new family responsibilities.
Being an interior designer offers more schedule flexibility than many other types of work. It also provides designers with a creative outlet.
But as great as these benefits are, they also make it pretty easy for designers to continue to operate in hobby-mode indefinitely.
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The fact is that many designers in this stage of life have figured out a way to make ends meet (usually with support from a partner) as they raise their kids. There’s not as much financial pressure for them to ramp up their sales.
They also have plenty of other demands on their time and energy from small children, whose unpredictable needs and schedules can be tough to keep up with.
New Designers May Lack of Knowledge and Confidence
Perhaps because interior design is sometimes a second career choice, designers can feel hesitant about taking the full leap into running a business.
After all, running a business requires an entirely different set of skills than design on its own. New designers may be put off by things like profitability, processes, marketing, and growth.
Changing Your Mindset
The ironic thing is that even though the word “hobby” implies that the work you’re doing is fun and breezy, a hobby mindset often makes your work more stressful.
Finding time to do anything well outside of your primary responsibilities in life can be challenging, whether you’re a new parent designing during your kids’ naps or are working late at night after long days at your full-time job.
Designing when your energy is low and you’re distracted means your work will take longer than necessary, and that you’ll be more likely to make mistakes. Slower responses and projects that drag out over longer periods of time make a bad impression on clients, even if they know that you’re just getting started as a designer.
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On the other hand, getting focused on what you want to accomplish each week and making sure you have the resources and help you need to make it happen is still moving into the business mindset. This doesn’t mean you need to start working 40 hours a week. Even just a few hours of focused, strategic work each day can take you a long way.
The key is to put systems in place to make sure you get that actually get that fresh, uninterrupted work time.
If you think you could benefit from someone who will hold you accountable and get you oriented to your new mindset as the CEO of your interior design business, I hope you reach out to me. I am passionate about helping designers develop their design work into a true, professional service that is financially sustainable. Click here to get in touch.