This is my inaugural blog post highlighting women-owned small businesses. As a woman-business owner who supports other women in their business pursuits, I am inexhaustibly fascinated by how a business operates. While I have background and education in business, I have learned at least as much from business-owners themselves. Although success carries its own meaning for each of us, we all have our own secrets, hacks and short-cuts to running our businesses. I have never met two businesses or two business-women alike. Some work into the night and early morning, some seek balance, some do it for their families and some do it for the love of an industry. In this blog series, I hope to share the knowledge and experience of business-women from a variety of sectors and industries in the hopes that it brings you closer to your own version of success.
This week, I spoke to Allie Bruch, an Interior Designer and owner of Allie Studios, based in New Haven, Connecticut. Allie was raised by intelligent and creative parents, her father was an interior renovator and her mother had a “keen eye for beautiful things”. A Montessori school child, Allie was taught to be visual and tactile and says she always knew she would do something creative with her life. She helped her father with his work and describes her home as “full of exploding colours with wallpaper everywhere, I looked at patterns my whole life”.
In college she describes herself as being “massively athletic” and double majored in theology and sports. Knowing that her small corner of Maine would not present her with the artistic atmosphere she desired, she set sail for San Francisco in the mid-nineties and the pursuit of a masters degree. Once enrolled at SF state, her focus was on museum display principles, her thesis on Santiago Calatrava who connected her to her love of bridges and architecture.
There are many paths to self-employment and I wanted to know how and why Allie came to work for herself. “I never intended to work for myself” she tells me. In fact, Allie is a person who gets more satisfaction from working as a part of team, saying “collaboration makes for the most interesting work”. She worked in San Francisco for two different interior designers and very much enjoyed the collaboration that goes into approaching and carrying a residential or commercial project. These days, Allie’s vendors that she has come to know and trust, are her team. One tip she gives is to take the time to develop and grow these relationships. She says, “my contractors often do extras for free, they have learned my taste and my expectations of precision”.
Allie has been in business for herself for five years now and tries to carry a workload of about five clients at any given time. She has discovered, like many artists-turned-businesswomen before her, that the reality of owning your business means about 20% design work and 80% running the business. To close out the post, here is some advice from Allie that might answer some of your burning business questions.
What are your biggest challenges?
– I can’t seem to get as organised as I was when I worked for other people. Learning how to prioritise for a successful business and prioritising for a job are very different things.
– Finding work. Deciding how to find new clients is key. I could market more in NY but that would leave me with less time for home and family life. It’s all about balance for me. I like to do vendor shows and I try not to work weekends.
What are you hopes and dreams for your business?
– Finally organizing my back of house which is tough to do because there are so many choices of programs and apps.
– My other goal is to formalize how I run my financials and accounting.
What are your 3 most valuable resources?
- Pinterest – I fought it for a long time. I used to use tear sheets from magazines and make them into a book but Pinterest is great because it can help to easily convey ideas to clients.
- Social Media – you can’t get around not using this. It helps to remind people that you’re there. I use Facebook, Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and my website.
- Walking around shopping business districts to stay inspired and engaged.
What tips would you give to other women in business?
- Learn not to underestimate your skill set.
- Stick to your guns about rates. Women can be more inclined to compromise.
- Get systems in place first – filing system, accounting etc.
- Find and use local free resources.
- Find a community that can support you.
- Balance – make a commitment to not constantly work. It’s just a job, life is way more important.
- Be prepared to be alone a lot of the time.