7 steps to rebuild your design business

It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a problem — whether personal or professional. You have to make a frank assessment of the situation and then commit to do whatever is necessary to make things right.

Often, the hardest part is admitting there’s a problem to begin with and accepting responsibility for what has gone wrong. Our ego, pride, sense of self or professionalism can blind us to the fact that we, and not others, are the source of the problem.

I’m not a psychologist, but I am a business consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the interior design and architecture industry. You could say I have “treated” a number of businesses over the years — successfully, I am happy to say.

In doing so, one thing I have observed is that the types of fears and “stages of denial” that psychologists have identified when people are facing personal challenges, such as addiction or loss, are quite similar to those business people experience when they encounter professional and businesses challenges, such as declining revenue, sagging sales or economic anxiety.

That gave me the idea to devise a method by which architects and interior designers can determine whether their businesses need help and, if so, the steps they can take toward “recovery.” I like to think of it as my own seven-step process.

Step 1: Come face-to-face with reality

Facing reality is the first and most important step in ensuring your business’s survival.

Although it may seem easier to remain in denial and believe that things will magically get better, believe me, they won’t. Ignoring the problems your business faces won’t make them go away, but it is a sure-fire way to ensure your business will go away — for good.

Step 2: Stop trying to control the path of the interior design industry

Cable TV, various internet outlets and smart device applications have spawned a do-it-yourself (DIY) revolution. This has affected a number of service industries, but no other profession has taken it harder on the chin than interior design.

Accept the fact the DIY economy has shrunk the market for interior design services, revise your business strategy, and move on. This trend is not going away.

Step 3: Stop blaming your clients, the state of the A&D industry or the economy

The A&D industry is undergoing profound and irreversible changes.

If you’re operating your business the same way you were 10 years ago, I can safely guess you are having a hard time of it. And if you’re telling yourself the reason your business in not doing well is the fault of your clients, unqualified prospects or the state of the industry, you’ve already given up — you just don’t realize it yet.

Other designers have work and are making money. What do you need to change to attract more clients?

Step 4: Learn the difference between “helping” your business and “enabling” it

If you’re making excuses for your business, throwing good money after bad, or telling yourself it’s not your fault to cover up for your business’s shortcomings, you’re just letting yourself, and your business, off the hook. You need to hold yourself accountable for your business results and confront the challenges you face head on.

Step 5: Be willing to step outside your comfort zone

Although it may be scary to think about giving up some of the business practices that have formed your professional “comfort zone,” consider what worse may happen if you continue following them.

While autopilot is a safe way to get somewhere in a world where the landscape is defined and set, navigating the shifting A&D industry the same way could be heading your business directly into the side of a mountain or setting it up to run out of fuel before it reaches its destination. Taking the wheel and charting a new course for your business is far more likely to change your fortunes for the better.

Step 6: Reframe your business model

Think back to when you first started your business. What did you do to make it a success?

Now, imagine you were just starting out today. What would you change? Why would that make it a success in the current market?

Step 7: Rebuild your business

Look over the list of the things you would do differently. Therein lies the answer to making your business more profitable — or, at the very least, helping you to identify your liabilities.

Gradually incorporate the changes into your business and see what kind of response you get. Do more of what works and discard what doesn’t.

Don’t wait until the situation is completely dire. Reach out for help now, because the sooner you do, the quicker you can salvage your business. Wine gets better with age, but business problems, like injuries, just tend to get worse. If you keep kicking the can down the road, eventually you will run out of road or fall off a cliff.

You don’t have to solve your problems all by yourself. Many resources are available. But first you have to admit there is a problem and want to solve it.

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