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How to Hire, Retain, and Develop Top Talent for Your Interior Design Business

You’re an ambitious interior designer fired up about taking your business to the next level. You just read the roadmap to take you from solopreneur to team leader, followed by the guide to scaling your interior design office to 10 employees. You are ready to make your dream team a reality. Before springing into action, there is one more component to hiring employees you need to understand: how retaining talent, developing strong managers, and maintaining your brand and its core values all begin at the hiring stage of cultivating your team. 


The Importance of Fit

As an interior designer, your individuality is at the core of your brand. In addition to your art, your personality, the way you comport yourself and communicate with others, and the values to which you adhere are all part of what attracts clients to your business. Because your brand is so personal, hiring employees for your interior design business must be a meticulous process to find the best fit for your firm. 


No matter the position you are hiring for, seek candidates that are aligned to your core professional values. Some examples of core values are: accountability, compassion, responsiveness, respect, and sustainability. Identifying your company’s core values is an important step in developing a strong brand and should be included in your business plan. When preparing to interview potential employees, devise questions to assess the presence of these qualities in your candidate(s). 


While hiring team members that share your core values is essential to protecting your brand as your business grows, an employer should be familiar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which prohibits employment discricrimination based on a “person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Laws based on the Equal Employment Opportunity Act only apply to companies with at least 15 employees, but as a business owner, it’s important to never cross the line of discriminiation, or even give any appearance of doing so. While hiring a candidate based on the neatness of their dress and grooming is acceptable, hiring based on a person’s natural physical traits is not acceptable or legal.  


How to Keep The Right Employees Once You Find Them

As you will soon learn, finding good employees who possess both the professional qualifications and the core values you seek is not easy. It can be a long process, and once you finally hire a high quality candidate to join your team, you will want to keep them as long as you possibly can. To do this, you have to nurture your employees and reward them for a job well done. Think of your relationship to your employees as a two way street and apply the golden rule, much like you do to build long-term relationships with your preferred vendors


While you are the boss at the top of a hierarchy, your employees are all seeking to gain something from being a part of your team. Sometimes an employee’s needs are as simple as financial compensation and the security of benefits, like health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement savings account. Other employees may require growth opportunities, education supplements, or social engagement to feel professionally satisfied. When interviewing a candidate, ask questions designed to learn more about what drives that person to be productive and where they hope the job will take them over time. Before offering a candidate a position at your company, make sure you are able to give them what they are seeking in terms of benefits, rewards, and growth opportunities. Otherwise, it won’t be long before they leave for another company, leaving you with the expensive and time consuming task of finding a new employee. 


Recognizing and Cultivating Potential Managers 

Not every position you fill will necessarily have the potential to grow, and that’s ok. As long as you hire the right people who understand their future at the company and have appropriate incentives to remain productive and happy, you do not need to offer a path to promotion for every single position on your team. However, cultivating managers from within is a smart strategy to successfully scale your business over time, because the longer a person works for you and the deeper they are invested in your company, the better they will be at protecting the integrity of your brand as your team and scope of operations expands. 


When developing your hiring plan, identify positions that would naturally be suited for growth, like junior designer, and hire candidates with the potential and desire to be promoted. Growth positions can be administrative too. For example, an administrative assistant can become an office manager, who can become an unparalleled chief operating officer who knows every last detail of your business operations because she played a large role in building your company with you. 


Once you identify the positions with growth potential and find the ambitious, intelligent, sociable, and hard-working candidates who fit the roles, communicate your plan to them so they understand how they can achieve the growth they seek. Set milestones and help nurture these employees to reach them. If you are financially able, pay for extra training or education to help those employees reach their potential. 


Leading by Example

As the team leader, you set an example for all of your employees. You must embody the brand and consistently live up to the core values of your company. To be a successful manager, you also need to be a mentor. This can be tricky, because while you want your employees to feel comfortable coming to you with their problems, you need to maintain the line between boss and friend


A good rule of thumb when subtly drawing the line between boss and friend is to be a good listener. Engage with all of your employees daily and give positive affirmations regularly. Invite all of your team members to stop by your desk to talk whenever they have something they want to discuss, whether it’s light hearted chitchat or a more serious talk about their future. Once you are engaged, listen carefully to everything an employee tells you, and hold back on giving any kind of response or advice until you have fully digested the information, and in some cases, have had the chance to discuss the matter with your human resources manager, lawyer, or another consultant. Often, listening without speaking will give your employee the opportunity to work out the problem himself, simply by talking it out. Other times, your feedback will be necessary, but your prudence and care in responding thoughtfully will earn the respect of your team. As you work to cultivate managers within your company, teach them to model their behavior after your own. 


Always remember that your employees have a choice to work anywhere, and they are investing in your business just as much as you are investing in them. Treat them with respect and give them rewards such as periodic bonuses and team parties to celebrate your successes as a team. Also, provide them with a comfortable working environment that helps them be productive and efficient. Invest in tools to help them do their jobs efficiently, like the latest version of Adobe Creative Suite to help your design team work faster, and Design Manager to help your bookkeeper and designers stay organized as your business grows. As long as you hire people who are naturally aligned with your core values, meet their needs, and nurture their potential, your dream team will soon become a reality. 

Read the Interior Design Business Guide


Lindsay Paoli
Lindsay Paoli
Lindsay is in charge of the Sales and Marketing team at Design Manager and has enjoyed growing the DM company for the past 10 years. In her spare time though, you can find her taking care of her two adorably demanding little rugrats, traveling, enjoying new restaurants or cheering on her beloved Philadelphia sports teams with her friends and family.

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