I get a couple of emails a month from people that might have found me via a blog post or an Instagram pic, asking me how I got started. How did I set up Making Spaces with no formal qualifications in design? And in my head, I just kind of go, erm… I just built a website and got started…. but then I have a proper think and find myself asking the same question.
“I’ve never had “a job”. The concept of “a job” scares the shit out of me. I’ve always been self-employed and been my own boss and worked myself hard. But having the freedom to make creative decisions is something I hold very dear. In fact it’s my air. I genuinely admire people such as my OH that can commit to a full time job, working for someone else. I tried to convince myself that I could do it too, get a sales job in an interiors shop or something, but if i’m honest with myself, I was just saying the words.”
I’d always been self employed, ran my own business and found my own work. I’d never really thought about it as being any more difficult than getting a job working for someone else. In fact, i’d find that much harder. I find it interesting that many recent graduates contact me for work, a job, an apprenticeship but don’t think about setting themselves up as an independent interior design studio. Especially in a creative field where your ideas are really what counts.
But it’s not all about being creative and prancing about, a 14 year stint of working freelance in the arts and over a decade in project management, focusing on timescales, budgets, contracts and “protocol”, gave me a pretty good grounding to set up a new creative business. I had no idea if Making Spaces had legs, but the only way to find out was to put myself out there. I wasn’t comfortable going into it with literally zero qualifications under my belt, but I also knew at the time, I didn’t have the right kind of energy to study. I had that nervous, impulsive energy where I wanted to “do”. Do and learn. Learn and improve.
So I set my rates accordingly and have slowly put them up over time where I feel they are a fair reflection of my ability and quality of my work. I remember my lovely client from the Sherwood Forest continually telling me I wasn’t charging her enough and I could charge double and she’d still be happy.
I didn’t of course. I learnt so much from working on that project and was still getting paid. The client was happy, I was loving it and pushing myself, so it seemed to work out for both of us.
Each and every project has taught me something new. Which it should. If you don’t make one small mistake on every project from trying something new, you’re not challenging yourself, your client or the space you’re working in enough. If you got everything right 100% of the time, it suggests you’re playing it safe, using the same layouts, materials and repeating what you already know. Every project is a new challenge for me and I go into each one feeling like i’m starting from scratch again. That nervous energy never really goes.
Since setting out in this crazy ass journey, i’ve learnt so much it’s actually a bit ridiculous. And whilst i’m not knocking anyone who’s trained or currently training, i’m not 100% sure how much of this stuff I would have been taught by doing a diploma.
- Marketing/PR (this, so much of this)
- Social media management (full time job by itself – I now have 10 accounts to run)
- Building and maintaining a basic website (so not my forte)
- Running a blog (it’s not for everyone, but it’s really helped me. Each post has been like writing an assignment)
- Photography (i’m not amazing, but I get by. My images have made it into print several times, so they can’t be that bad)
Actually, photography is a MASSIVE one to focus on if you’re starting out. I’ve seen so many interior design websites where you can tell the images have been snapped quickly at the end of a project, sometimes on a camera phone… If you can’t afford to use a professional photographer (I can’t) then you have to buy a half decent camera and learn how to get the best shot you can. You’re only as good as your portfolio and if your designs are great but your photos are pants, that’s not going to get you shared online, or get you featured on Houzz for example. Interior design is a visual industry, it’s all about those images baby.
I don’t want you to think i’ve mastered everything by the way. I certainly haven’t. There are still plenty of areas I need to work on. It’s the same old story for me as it was back in my dance days; Technique. I always got top marks for performance, organisation, choreography, but nailing the technique was the area I found most difficult. This still applies today. I need to spend more time learning how to produce detailed drawings and mood boards. I’ve managed to blag it for so long, it’s now time to focus on in and deal with it. Getting to grips with Sketch Up is on my list of things to achieve for 2018.
Katie Lee for MADE
Another thing I need to be better at is accepting criticism. I am crap at that. Despite having this tough, brazen northern exterior, i’m such a sensitive little sausage.
Maybe this is something that’s too engrained… seems to be one of the downsides of being a creative nut job i’m afraid. But I do need to toughen up and accept that if someone doesn’t like my work, it doesn’t mean i’m not good enough, or I didn’t work hard enough, it just means they don’t like it. Respond. Don’t react. **wags finger at self**
So what advice can I give you to round things up? Here’s are some nuggets I offered in response to an interview a couple of years ago, which seem pretty relevant today:
Start. Start now. Be pro-active, make connections, design as many spaces as you can, whether they be virtual or literal. Get a good camera. Photography and design go hand in hand. My photography skills have definitely improved in the last year. Looking at photographs of your work also gives you a more objective view. Use social media to your advantage, it might not be your forte, but if you’re starting a new venture then you have to build a brand and that brand has to be actively seen. Learn as much as you can from others but also be true to your vision. Work on that vision and clarify it. What’s your USP? What is different or good about you? Do you have a signature style? Your instincts about design are your most important asset. Use them. Trust your gut and follow it through. Be prepared to work for free (at first). Say yes to as many opportunities as you can. Then as your presence grows you can refine and be more selective. Rinse and repeat. Wayfair, 2016
So that’s today’s ramblings for you. I hope it helps at least one of you out there wondering how the flip to get started!? There’s not a right and wrong way, there are many different meandering ways, it’s just about finding the path that’s right for you. As ever, i’d love to hear your thoughts…