LuAnn Nigara shares the accomplishments of some of our colleagues — colleagues who have drawn the line in the sand, taken the time out of their work day, week after week and month after month to create a business that is profitable, scalable and satisfying to operate because of duplicatable, documented systems.
Sandra Funk, CEO, House of Funk,
New York, New Jersey, Tennessee
I have known Sandra for many years; in fact, at Window Works we are honored to be her window treatment vendor for her New Jersey and New York projects. From the beginning of our business relationship, Sandra noticeably stood out to me as an intentional, organized business woman. I saw very quickly she was on top of things, she was firm, yet level-headed with her trade partners, she had an eye on the design but she definitely also had an eye on her profit margins.
By the time I met her she was a practicing designer for more than 12 years.
You might reasonably assume that she
had a pretty good handle on her business systems, right?
Not so fast.
In 2017, after a panel we did together in Atlanta, we were at the airport and her phone rang. It was an irate client. She began telling me about a string of problems over the last several months. So many projects had problems with vendors, with contractors, with the clients themselves. She explained that more than a few clients either consistently questioned her invoices, like the one on the phone, or they pulled back on previously agreed scope, or, worse, canceled projects altogether. She looked at me and said, “Lu, I just don’t know what to do. Why do I keep getting these bad jobs and bad clients?”
I said, “Sweetie, you know I love you, and you know how much I respect you and your business.” I went on, “But one bad client out of 10 clients, it’s the client. However, five, six, seven bad clients out of 10, it’s the business owner.”
I’ll never forget her face. First, she looked stung. Then she looked a little scared. Then I saw her wheels turning ... then I saw the resolve on her face. Sandra Funk was not going down without a fight and if this problem was hers, she was going to own it and correct it.
Arriving back at her studio, she made a hard decision. She declared to her team, “No new clients until we get this train back on the tracks. We will finish up anything in house but we are not taking any new clients until I am certain we are executing every project to the very best of our abilities — and I’m not talking about our design ability. I’m talking about everything else.”
Sandra stopped the speeding train, a very big train, with lots of expenses and responsibilities. She re-grouped.
Over the next six months she and her team, with the advice and expertise from the coaches and consultants she hired, totally systemized every single aspect of her business. From info calls to consults to design proposals to trade days to reveal installs to project closure. Every email, every invoice, every RFQ became a template.
The results were incredible. Now with finite, documented processes and systems, her entire business was transformed. No more complaints about billing, no more canceled contracts, no more working with clients who didn’t value and appreciate her and her firm. It was enjoyable to be at work again; she was joyful and her business was booming!
There was another amazing, unexpected bonus of all of this hard work that none of us could have imagined. The documentation was so detailed and complete that Sandra realized if she made it available to other designers, they too would have a well-run design firm. Designers who wanted proven processes and systems, who wanted to bypass the years of hard and costly lessons and the many months of re-designing the operations of their business could have it ready to go if she shared it with them.
The idea for The Interior Design Standard was born.
Sandra then dedicated the next year to perfecting every detail. She created videos, tutorials and checklists. She pulled back the curtain on her business and included every template, every system, every process. She even included her agreements and contracts in The Interior Design Standard. Sandra didn’t set out to create this to sell and teach to other designers. It was because she dug in so deep into what it actually takes to attract, sign, manage and complete a successful design project, from the big picture systems down to the tiniest processes that when she stood back, she realized she had actually created an exact blueprint for running a profitable design firm.
Four years later when COVID hit, House of Funk didn’t miss a beat. They sailed through seamlessly because every process and system is digitally detailed in Asana as well as in their standard operating procedures (SOP) manual. All information is available to her and her team at any moment. She even moved to Tennessee during the first fall season of COVID, built a home, managed her New Jersey and New York projects, and started doing business in Tennessee, all at the same time. This was possible because Sandra knows, and so does everyone who works for her, exactly how The House of Funk does anything and everything. The company’s client experience is outstanding because it has outstanding duplicatable, documented systems.
Arianne Bellizaire, CEO, Arianne Bellizaire Interiors, Baton Rouge, LA
Arianne Bellizaire is another seasoned designer with years of experience and dozens of accolades, magazine features and industry honors. Her blog is a two-time nominee for the Amara Interior Blog Awards (2016, 2017) and is currently listed as one of the Modenus Top 100 Influential Blogs.
Arianne is a process-driven designer, and this is evidenced by not only the design projects she has completed but also by the tremendous work she does with video creation. For many years, way before it was commonly done, Arianne has created dynamic, engaging video content to explain her services, to show her design talents and to attract new clients.
Having spoken with Arianne many times about the quality video she produces, I know she approaches video creation with the same pre-planning and the same respect to process and system as she does to her design projects. In fact, she has this aspect of her business down to such precise detail that she created an online, downloadable course so you can learn how to create video content that converts to clients as well. In 2021, I invited Arianne to teach the LuAnn University class, Video for Creatives. In this class, she teaches how you can leverage and maximize the potential of the video content you create to attract clients, brand partnerships and more.
So, did she need to change anything?
Arianne, like many of us, is never content with good enough. She strives to always be and do her best in all things: design, video, blogging, project management and profitability. These last two areas were next on her to-do list in 2021.
In tackling profitability, she signed up for the LuAnn University class “Understand and Leverage Wholesale Furniture,” taught by Traci Connell the CEO of Traci Connell Interiors, of Dallas.
In this class, Traci teaches designers the entire furniture distribution chain and how to see where they fit in it based on their particular stage in their career. She also teaches how you can be leaving a lot of money on the table by choosing not to sell furniture in addition to your design plans.
Arianne took this class, learned all of this and so much more. With Traci’s information and strategies, she increased her average furniture sale per client, and she increased her profit margins on each sale. The result was higher gross revenue for her business with more net profit, which she could choose to direct toward her personal income or use to invest in the growth and the improvement of her business.
Arianne also invested in two other LuAnn University classes: “Design for Build 101” and “Design for Build 201.” Taught by Jenny Slingerland, the CEO of Black Ink Interiors, in Phoenix, and Kathleen Anderson, the CEO of Material Design in Austin, TX, and Chattanooga, TN, respectively, these classes are fabulous if taken stand alone or in tandem, the way Arianne chose to do them.
In “Design for Build 101,” Arianne learned how to properly document a design-for-build book so she could provide every detail of her design plan in the format a builder needs to do his or her work with accuracy and efficiency. From Kathleen, she learned how to take it a step further. Each week Kathleen does an individual, deep dive on the various elements of design for build — one week dedicated to plumbing, another to millwork and cabinetry, another week for electrical and so on.
Arianne didn’t decide to take these classes because she hadn’t successfully completed design-for-build projects or renovations or hadn’t purchased furniture wholesale before. She took these classes because she understood how finite, specific processes within full-blown systems would increase her productivity, which would lead to increased value and to increased credibility with area builders. She wanted that next level of confidence and execution for her business. Did it work? Could a seasoned designer actually improve her existing processes and systems to a level that could be noticeably measured by herself or others?
Here is a text Jenny Slingerland received from Arianne while she was still taking the class: “Hey friend, another great class today! I want you to know your class has already paid back the money I invested. The builder for a new construction project I am working on has complimented me on my SUPERIOR organizational skills. He also said every vendor that is on the project working under him has asked him to use my firm for more jobs, because I’m so organized! He invited me to work on two additional spec homes with the promise to hire me for custom work when it comes along.”
As if that isn’t exciting enough, I’ll share Arianne’s latest update, (just in case you aren’t convinced quite yet of the transformative benefits of having specific processes and systems). In the four months since taking these three classes, Arianne has landed three new commercial contracts with project budgets ranging from $32 million to $70 million! In her voice message to me, she said: “I am 100 percent certain that signing these projects has everything to do with our process being expertly organized and being able to show our value and communicate our value to these developers. I learned all of this and so much more from the LuAnn University classes and these incredible ladies.”
Arianne is happy, joyful, confident, even more than she already was, and her pipeline is full of projects she loves and is proud to be a part of.
These are the reasons to establish process and systems in your business. It is not easy but it is worth it. The months and the years are going to pass, one way or another. Ask yourself right this moment, what do you want your business to look like in three months, in one year, in five years, in 10 years? Are you taking the actions you need to take to achieve your goals and dreams? Do you want a career that fulfills you, that you are proud of and provides you with the lifestyle you imagine for yourself?
The choice is yours. You have the power and the resources to create it.
Decide to be excellent!
By LuAnn Nigara LuAnn Nigara is a speaker, author and podcast host of A Well Designed Business. Learn more at luannnigara.com