Kathleen Jennison’s 7-Step Cheat Sheet for New Interior Designers

Episode #237 the Wingnut Social Podcast

Kathleen Jennison experienced a traumatic event that left her between two choices: living life by design or living life by default. She chose the former and has never looked back. It led her to make a drastic career change from an accountant to an interior designer. What led to the change? And how did she learn the interior design business in a time when there were no podcasts, Facebook groups, or coaches? She shares 7 critical steps she made—and what new interior designers should do—in this episode of Wingnut Social!

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of Wingnut Social

  • [4:10] Mini News Sesh: Instagram map search
  • [6:48] Kathleen Jennison’s career story
  • [14:24] The don’ts of changing careers
  • [21:11] Build Lane is changing the custom furniture game
  • [22:38] Hire Wingnut Social for your social media marketing needs
  • [24:22] Switch to accounting software for interior designers
  • [26:09] Find the one guru that resonates with you
  • [27:46] Attend your local markets to network and learn
  • [29:34] Hire a professional photographer to document your work
  • [31:43] Consider opening a storefront for your interior design business
  • [34:33] Outsource anything outside of your zone of genius
  • [36:11] Kathleen’s What Up Wingnut Round!
  • [38:34] How to connect with Kathleen Jennison
  • [40:43] Blooper Reel!

Connect with Kathleen Jennison

Resources & People Mentioned

Kathleen’s transition from accountant to interior designer

In 2006, Kathleen came around a hairpin turn to encounter a car that was parked, taking photos. To avoid the car, Kathleen veered towards the side of the road—right over a cliff. She fell 200 feet into a ravine. The last thing she remembered was the airbag deploying and thinking “This is not gonna be good.”

Kathleen was airlifted to UC Davis medical center. She had a traumatic brain injury, lost the vision in her right eye, and had broken many bones. She also struggled with short-term memory loss. Thankfully, it came back—but she had to relearn many things.

Because of the accident, Kathleen lost her peripheral vision. Her ophthalmologist suggested she take an art class to help with her depth perception, so she dove in. The Art Institute had an architectural drafting class, so she decided to try it. After the drafting class, she took the fundamentals of interior design and color theory and enjoyed it. She decided to quit her job and go back to school for interior design. Before she knew it, she had a degree. But there were no jobs available.

So Kathleen started her own interior design business in 2011. Because the design industry doesn’t have standardized processes and procedures, she had to learn how to do everything on her own. She didn’t realize she needed experience in marketing, website development, psychology, and more. What did she learn that new interior designers can benefit from?

Kathleen’s 7-Step Cheat Sheet for Newbies

  1. Hire a web designer that specializes in interior design: Kathleen recommends hiring someone who creates websites for designers. She accidentally hired a web developer who told her she still needed to hire a designer and SEO specialist.
  2. Hire a social media marketer for designers: Kathleen hired someone who created 12 Facebook and Twitter pages (which Kathleen is still trying to delete). If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire an expert who is actually an expert. You don’t have to outsource everything but at least have the expert set things up properly.
  3. Invest in accounting software created for designers: When Kathleen made the switch, it not only streamlined the entire process but helped her scale her business.
  4. Find a guru that resonates with you: Don’t jump on every bandwagon or follow every trend. Don’t try doing it all—there’s a lot of noise out there.
  5. Attend your local markets to network and learn: Kathleen had no idea how pricing and design centers worked. Luckily, she found showrooms that put their arms around her, explained everything, and helped her open accounts. When you attend markets, you’ll also be able to network with other designers and vendors. Those connections are priceless.
  6. Hire a professional photographer to document your designs: In the beginning, Kathleen had photography students take photos for her (probably not the best choice). Instead, she recommends networking with different businesses to find a photographer. You can design the most beautiful rooms, but if the photographer butchers the shoot, it does nothing for your portfolio.
  7. Consider opening a storefront for your interior design business: Kathleen had the opportunity to get a cheap space to put together a small storefront. People could see and feel samples, she could hold consultations there, and it gave her some street-cred. It also gave her better dealer pricing with vendors, which increases your margins. It’s a great way to help you set boundaries between business and personal life.

Bonus tip: Outsource anything outside of your zone of genius. Kathleen outsources her social media, blog, and even her accounting to experts. Once you have the revenue to outsource what you don’t excel at, outsource, outsource, outsource.

Connect With Darla & Wingnut Social

Wingnut Social Podcast Sponsor: Build Lane

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