How to Improve Efficiency in your Interior Design Firm through Business ProcessesJun 22, 2021
Whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a larger team, processes can help you.
Lately, I have been absolutely obsessed with how to get more work done. There are days that I work 12 hours to only feel like I got nothing done. Have you ever felt that way? You work all day and don’t feel like you are making progress. If you are a solopreneur or a small interior design firm, your production directly impacts your revenue. Building business processes as you grow your firm is essential to your success and ultimately increasing revenue.
The word “process” is thrown around in the business world, but what does it actually mean, and how can you build processes that help your interior design business or career. Let’s look at the definition. A business process is a series of tasks used repeatedly to complete a project. Huh? It is essentially developing structure and habits that you or your employees follow each time they work through a project. By creating a consistent process, you are essentially creating a more efficient workflow. Increased efficiency equals more revenue.
You may already be using processes and not even realize it. A great example is a client programming document. When you meet a new client, you ask a series of questions to identify the client’s needs and wants. Where does that information go? Do you record it on a document, in a notebook, or just remember the information?
What happens when you have questions a week or month later? If you recorded the answers in a template, you will be in good shape. What if you did not record it on a document? How much time do you spend looking through notebooks and sticky notes to find the answer? How many client phone calls, asking the same questions, does it take to frustrate your client? Do you see where I am going here? By simply creating a template, saving it in a central location, and giving every team member access, you essentially save considerable time. Time saved from looking for the information that can be spent on actual designing.
Why Business Processes are Necessary for your Interior Design Firm
It may feel overwhelming to add one more task to your long list. Building business processes is incredibly tedious. I won’t lie to you about that; however, by building processes, you can actually reduce workload, provide consistency throughout projects, train employees more efficiently and increase client satisfaction.
When we build processes, we are essentially creating expectations and ensuring that nothing is missed. In the end, processes allow us to control the end result while maintaining efficiencies and reducing unnecessary work.
As a leader in a firm where you have put your heart and soul, you may be struggling with letting go. By not letting go of specific tasks, you have essentially created a bottleneck, where projects and decisions are delayed because of your lack of time. You may also find that your limited available time is not allowing you to spend the necessary time and resources to honestly think through a decision. This happens to me all the time. You are not alone. We work so hard and fast that we often miss crucial information or tasks. Building and implementing processes will help you stay in control, minimize bottlenecks and ensure your client’s needs are met.
Another challenge many solo entrepreneurs face is growing their firm beyond one person. Interior designers are often perfectionists and control freaks. Shocking, I know. These characteristics also make us great at our job, but it also prevents us from growing our firms beyond 1 or 2 employees.
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We are generally reluctant to hand over tasks to someone else for fear that they won’t be done the way we want. With business processes, you are essentially controlling every aspect of the business without being involved in every aspect. Business process solves that, so when you hire a new person, you have processes to ensure the same level of work is being performed.
6 Ways to Identify Needed Business Processes
So, where do you start? This is a good question. First, you do not need to go crazy with processes. Don’t stop your other work to create processes for every aspect of your company. You build processes over time.
One way I have been improving my workflow is by writing down the steps I go through to complete tasks as I do them. I started with pretty easy tasks like adding content to the GAI blog. What steps do I go walk through every time I post something to the website. I use WordPress along with a few apps. I found that if I have a process that walks through every box I need to complete as I upload, I save myself time from overthinking as I do it. It simplified the act of uploading and reduced the chance of missing something o making a mistake. It also creates consistency in the look and feel.
To help you get started, I have outlined a few recommendations.
- Take a deep dive into the standard workweek or project. What tasks are you quickly getting done, and which ones are your struggling to complete repeatedly? This will help you identify the most urgent areas within your workflow that need to be addressed.
- Identify missed opportunities – This one can be a bit painful, but it is essential to understand how and why you weren’t selected for a job. Some may believe it was a decision based on design style or costs since that is a critical aspect; however, most lost opportunities have much more to do with other aspects. Step back for a moment, and take a deeper dive into the process of acquiring clients. Look at it from the client’s perspective. Did you provide them with the correct information? Did you show how you can add value to their project? It is essential to walk through the process, evaluate what went well and what did not. Then you can create a process that addresses all factors to help win a more significant percentage of opportunities.
- Analyze billing – you should be tracking not just the hours spent on a project but also what tasks were completed during that time. Many software programs will allow you to track billable and non-billable hours by tasks, projects, and employees. This information can help you identify where you are spending too many hours on the task. Once you have identified the task, you can brainstorm ideas on how to improve efficiency.
- Review submittals - If you identify that your employees (or yourself) are spending too much time with jurisdiction submittals and possibly missing client deadlines, it is time to take a look at this process. We know that each jurisdiction has unique requirements. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to ensure all submittals meet the minimum requirements. Rather than waiting until submittal time, add a step early in the project that identifies all forms and requirements and then creates a checklist. Use the checklist as you move through the project. Review at every project meeting. Add a process where the project lead reviews the list and checks every item before the project is submitted.
- Ask your employees – where they are getting stuck throughout the day. What is challenging them to complete their job? It is important to ask your employees and involve them in the process. Listening to your employees and finding ways to help them get their job completed more efficiently will build loyalty and increase engagement.
- Consistent issues or complaints from clients, vendors, or other employees – Reviewing previous situations can help identify improved process opportunities. Look for repeated issues, items that continue to come up. There may be opportunities that creating a process will help solve n the future.
Don’t be fooled by thinking you don’t need processes because it is just you. That is reason in itself to add processes. You are one person, and it is really easy to let something fall through the cracks. It has nothing to do with how hard you work. It has to do with simply not having enough time in the day.
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Here is another helpful hint. You may find that you are not the person to dig down deep to create the processes. Look for someone on your team who would be interested. Usually, it would be someone who is a big rule follower, very detailed, and organized.
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