Design Success University provides 100% virtual continuing education for entrepreneurs – marketing and business. DSU offers books, classes, coaching and consulting to small businesses that are ready to go to the next level.
Design Success University currently serves over 11,000 interior designers in 51 countries.
MO: How did you come up with the concept for Design Success University?
Gail: My business partner and I had a planning session one day, and we decided that we loved working together. At the time, I was 51 and she was 25. I was burned out with the work of interior design, and she was relatively new to the industry. Her goal was to have a career and a family, and mine was to build a business that would utilize my knowledge and skills. We attended several conferences and we decided to build an information marketing business to teach business and marketing to our colleagues that did not have business training. We declared at one of these conferences on March 8, 2008, that we were starting DSU. We soon discovered how little we knew about the business of marketing on the Internet.
MO: Can you talk about the early days of developing the business, the challenges you encountered and how you overcame them?
Gail: Where do I start? I can share some huge mistakes that should be helpful to others. First, you need to honestly assess what skills you need for the business and have a complete business model conceptualized before beginning. The “slow road” to success is reading books and going to seminars and getting overwhelmed with learning how to do everything. Second, seek out a coach from the very beginning of your business that has walked in your shoes and in your industry. Third, the best investments you can make are in the right tools and people. Never choose the lowest price to save money. Choose the right people and tools for your ultimate vision. We hired the wrong programmer to “save money” when we started because we did not have proof of concept at the beginning of our business. That resulted in stress, paying for the same thing twice and easily cost us $100,000 in lost revenue due to hiring someone that was inept and not firing quickly. Fourth, hire people to help you get things done quickly and only do the things you are good at doing and like to do. Fifth, carefully analyze your biggest roadblocks consistently. Figure out why you are experiencing the problems – the real root cause, and take action to fix the problem immediately. Sixth, be decisive. If something isn’t working, don’t wait to make a decision. Fix it. Seventh, slow down and think. It’s the most valuable investment of time you can make. My mother had a great phrase – “Haste makes waste.” That is so true! Eighth, create contingency plans. It’s better to plan for the worst-case scenario so you have resources identified than to scramble to find them when things go wrong. Ninth, don’t try to do everything at once. It creates stress for your team, and for you. Tenth, and I could go on and on, remember that it takes twice as long and twice as much money as you think, so plan for that in advance. Don’t operate on hope and sheer will and determination. Though those attributes are important, being realistic and honest with yourself is even more critical to your ultimate success. These ten concepts aren’t new. However, they were “hard-learned.” I’ll give you one great example. October 2008, we launched a joint venture tele-summit. It took us months to conceptualize and create with a partner. In the background, we had to rely on our partner for the technology because our “inexpensive programmer” was flaky and inept. We actually created $86,000 of revenue in one month after months of planning. That very month – the economy collapsed and devastated our constituency. We lost the opportunity to offer a continuity membership program because our programmer couldn’t get the membership site to work. I listened to a very timely webinar, and I learned a valuable lesson that has served me well since then. Look for the constraints in your business. Figure out why they occurred, and then fix the biggest one first while determining what caused the problem in the first place. I fired the programmer, hired a programmer and software integrator, and in 30 days, set up a new website using the software we needed in the first place that I thought we couldn’t afford.
MO: Can you elaborate on the mentoring opportunities you have available for design professionals who are ready to take their business to the next level?
Gail: My pleasure. I adore mentoring and coaching though I didn’t realize it until 2010 when I had an idea to develop a 12 month coaching program. I also offer VIP days where I dissect the business from the financials, to marketing and operations. By the end of the day with a business owner, we usually find tens of thousands of dollars of lost opportunities, and we develop an action plan that can be implemented as soon as they leave the session. The results have been amazing with my clients. We’ve had a few that have tripled to quintupled their business in a year even during the bad economy. Our clients, in an industry that has been hard-hit by the economy, changing consumer attitudes, “reality” TV and the Internet, have waiting lists. VIP days are my favorite part of our business because I can radically impact my client’s business and life by showing them how to build the right team and structure for their business, and model their financial path to achieve their ultimate goals. It’s incredibly gratifying.
MO: What trends are you most excited by in the design industry?
Gail: Surprisingly, I am excited by the challenge of shifting our client’s thinking to adapt to the conditions we face today. Though it seems that the profession of interior designers is non-essential, it isn’t true. However, it does require educating consumers. I’m working with two associations that are forward thinking, and realize that a different business approach is required. With that understanding, we can create a new and vibrant business paradigm for designers.
MO: Can you explain why you think it’s important for your customers to create a Power Relationship Strategy for their business?
Gail: I am so glad you asked that question. A Power Relationship Strategy is a contemporary take on Networking. Networking has gotten a bad reputation in recent years. I read a great book a few years ago, and the author said (paraphrased) if you don’t have enough in your checkbook, you don’t have enough relationships. It is so true! Whatever you need in this world – resources, contacts, business, money – is available if you know the right people. Who you know is more important than what you know. Any problem that you have can be solved by getting help and support from others. It all starts with giving of yourself first. One of my favorite books is The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David-Mann. Your readers would be well-advised to read that book many times. I give it to my clients and associates as a gift. It is that important. When you realize that your connections are the lifeblood of your business, you can never have too many friends that know others. Never be afraid of reaching out to the most influential and powerful people you can because they can shortcut your path to success. People that have “made it” are generally thrilled to be asked for advice. Challenge yourself to reach out to at least one new person a day, and it should give you butterflies in your stomach. That’s when you know you’re on the right track and that you’re about to have a major breakthrough or shift in your life.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Gail: I’m so excited about our business. It took us a few years to figure out a business model that worked. We’ve outlasted our colleagues that have left or are leaving the industry because of the obvious challenges of the economy. Now they are referring their clients to us and we have passed the point where we wonder if we’ll be successful. We know that we have something of value to contribute to our colleagues, and that we solve problems. We’ve built an amazing team and great relationships with people we love. Every day, we get “love mail,” and it warms our hearts. I am excited to see the growth of our team members’ skills and confidence. My business partner, Erin, is amazing. Considering her youth, her attention to detail, team work and leadership are to be admired. I look forward to helping more and more of our colleagues achieve their dreams, and I can’t wait to see who else joins our team. We’ve never met some of our team members in person, and I look forward to the day that we can celebrate our success by having a “reunion.” Finally, I look forward to continuing our business journey, and to finding more time to spend with my husband, Harry, who has been immensely patient and tolerant. He’s a gem.
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