Is there a 'best time of year' to start a business?
Autumn is a good time to launch a business as potential clients have a “new term” frame of mind. To be ready to launch, however, you need at least three months to put the basic building blocks in place, so work back from there and start planning in early summer. If you decide to launch at another time of year, try to avoid school holidays. I find you lose parents’ attention as school holidays approach and they don’t tend to re-engage until after the children go back to school.
How do I ensure I stay inspired, and don't burn out?
It’s easy to get drawn into Instagram as a source of inspiration, but take the time you might spend scrolling to visit interesting places. National Trust properties are great places to go with wonderful examples of architecture. I also find their gardens give me ideas for colour palettes. In terms of shows, my favourite is Deco Off in Paris. I visited it for the first time this year and found it incredibly inspiring. I would definitely recommend it.
How do I get my first client?
Start with the basic business tools your clients expect to see from a professional company. Invest in defining your brand and apply that to your online presence and marketing materials. I found that as soon as I launched my website it was much easier to get work, simply because potential clients felt confident I was a professional and could see examples of my work. A website won’t win you work though. To get clients, networking is key. Identify potential work referrers, such as builders and architects, and set up meetings with them to discuss ways to work together. Think about what's in it for them too! Also identify direct ways to engage with potential clients – either through social media communities such as Facebook groups or face-to-face. You can often identify local events where your target audience will be socialising, such as school functions.
Are there any particular pieces of technology I need before launching my design startup?
I use VectorWorks for producing my CAD drawings and all the Microsoft packages for day-to-day work. SketchUp is also an essential tool. InDesign and Photoshop are useful, but not necessarily essential if you are constricted by budget. If you can afford them, it’s worth the investment as they make your presentations look far more professional.
Is there a right and wrong way to source suppliers?
I have a core set of suppliers I absolutely trust and tend to use them 90% of the time. However, there are occasions where I will need to use a new supplier. In those cases, I tend to ask fellow designers what they think of these companies. And I’ll always pop into the showroom and chat to the sales staff. You can get a quick sense of what they’ll be like to work with based on that initial meeting. Remember to ask how they manage the end of the sales process, e.g. the delivery. The end part is so important, as that’s often what the client sees. A bad delivery process can sour the client's whole experience. I also like to use suppliers who use their own staff, rather than outsourcing to large delivery companies.