Designers are aptly attentive to details—from finishes and trims to the just-right proportions. But what about those tedious, desk-confining ones tied to billing, payroll, and other business operations? There’s a reason a bookkeeper is often a designer’s first hire—having trusted financial advice and operational support can make a big difference.
In a recent AD PRO virtual workshop, Nicole Hollis of the eponymous AD100 firm and studio CEO Lewis Heathcote shared a masterclass in how to build a strong financial foundation for an interior business to scale and sustain. Moderated by Amy Astley, AD global editorial director and US editor in chief, the “Taking Charge of Your Finances” workshop answered AD PRO members’ hard-pressed operational questions.
Commencing the conversation, Hollis and Heathcote provided background on their San Francisco–based firm, which launched in 2002 and has grown to encompass a team of more than 90 interior designers, interior architects, furniture designers, and operational associates. “I don’t think anyone starting a firm or a business has a fixed size in mind, and if they do, then they’re not responding to the needs of their company and therefore the needs of their clients,” says Heathcote of the company’s fluid growth. The duo then offered attendees a look at the firm’s organization chart, delving into the responsibilities of each position. “You want to create an environment where people feel they can be trained, they can learn, and they can move through the firm—so you have to grow the firm to allow them to have their own team,” he adds.
Opening the discussion up to audience questions, Astley navigated requests for determining a billing structure, what to look for in a bookkeeper, and tips for keeping the project pipeline full. For firms ready to scale but uncertain of where to start, Hollis and Heathcote emphasized the importance of hiring supporting, non-billable roles. “It’s harder for smaller firms to wrap their heads around hiring non-billable positions,” says Hollis. “And I think, How can you afford not to?” adds Heathcote. “There are so many functions that if you or a billable designer has to do them and it doesn’t seem optimal, then hire someone else to do it. That might seem expensive, but think about the lost billings and the lost productivity on a week, month, yearly basis. It will be key.”
In response to audience inquiries regarding protecting their businesses from recessions (whether natural or man-made) the duo offered actionable guidance for securing the firm. From their go-to bank account that’s 100-percent federally insured—and therefore ideal for client deposits—to the way they diversify projects by client and location to assure disasters won’t overturn their business, there are enough teachings to make your note-taking pen run low on ink.
Ready to gain actionable financial advice from a lauded interior design practice? Watch the entire one-hour virtual workshop below.