BY ISABELA MIGLIARESE
Not all risks are worth taking. For instance, during Covid, you may not want to go on a blind date, but then again you could miss out on Mr. Right. Some risks are totally worth it and can be life changing. In the fall of 2020, I was faced with the decision of whether or not to start an interior design business or to work at an established company. I had to decide if the business risk outweighed the potential financial failure. I want to share the journey that helped me reach my decision in the hopes of inspiring other young entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and take the leap.
After graduating from UNC-Greensboro in May of 2019 with a degree in interior architecture, I returned home and began a much-needed reflection on what direction I wanted my life to go. Not every new graduate is faced with a decision whether or not to start his or her own business or to work for someone else, but I had that opportunity. In the design field, this is a very typical decision a new grad has to make. I was fortunate enough to take six months to think about what to do (thanks, Mom!). I struggled with the fear of potential failure and not knowing enough about how to operate a business. I found the confidence to make my decision by reaching out to design mentors who had seen my work and who believed I was ready.
These design mentors guided me through some key decisions about my business future. With their guidance, I decided to launch Theodore B. Interiors in my hometown of Winston-Salem where I had the support from family, friends and previous classmates. I felt it was important to choose the location that provided me with the strongest support and biggest safety net. Before he passed, my father was a contractor and custom home builder in the Winston-Salem area, and I knew his business connections could become part of my support group. He was also the inspiration for my company. The experience with my dad’s construction company was invaluable, but starting my own interior design company required much more than a child’s view from a pickup truck. The memories with my dad influenced my decision to start my own business; but I didn’t learn how to start a business in design school, so step one was to make a plan.
Everyone needs a plan. Answering these questions worked for me but may need to be altered for a different kind of business.
- Why do I want to start my own business? Is this a key to my future happiness and will it inspire me to work hard and be successful; it helps to know your “why?”
- Am I knowledgeable enough or are there skills I need to develop with an internship?
- Do I need a business mentor? I answered this “yes” and chose someone who viewed me as a colleague rather than competition and was invested in my success.
- I asked myself (and possibly a therapist), “Am I emotionally ready to take on the risk of starting my own business?”
- Where should I house my business? It’s like buying a house; it’s all about location, location, location.
- Does my business need a storefront, just a laptop or can I start this out of my mom’s garage?
- Can my business be virtual and/or remote? For a business like interior design, it’s usually hands on, but I had to make myself more pandemic-friendly by offering virtual services.
- Do I need a partner or am I able to start and grow my business on my own? Whether it’s someone in your field who can help you grow with a mutually beneficial partnership or a “silent partner” who acts more as an investor and advisor, either can be helpful.
- What are the legal and tax-related steps needed to start my business? I contacted accountants who were knowledgeable and gave ethical advice on taxes and licenses.
- Who’s going to be part of my safety net? Is it a bank with a starter loan or is it a generous relative who believes in your vision? Either way, I needed a safety net to get through the first 18 months until I anticipated turning a profit.
- What will my brand look like? I researched the local competition to make sure that my brand was unique.
- Will my brand translate across multiple platforms of social media?
- Who is my target customer? I needed to decide who to include in my ideal customer base, taking into consideration age, gender, economic profile, social media usage and need for my design services.
My answers to these questions gave me the confidence to say, “Yes I’m ready.” Based on the answers to these questions, I felt that I was ready to take the risk, even during a pandemic. If your answers to these questions also lead you to a path into entrepreneurship, be ready for the sacrifices that have to be made in order to be successful. Some sacrifices you can prepare for. Others are a surprise.
After college, like more than 50 percent of graduates, my first sacrifice was having to move back home. Most graduates in their early 20s want to use this time to be free, have their own apartment and have more independence. While some of my fellow graduates took time to travel after graduation, I spent six months planning my business. Lucky for me, I started during a global pandemic where having a social life was impossible anyway. There was no such thing as a weekend off and my business hours were basically whenever I was awake. Because I wore every hat in my new business, free time was basically non-existent.
As fate would have it, my college best friend, whom I met in the interior architecture program, was also looking to start a new chapter after graduation. I approached him about a potential partnership. He agreed and took responsibility for some of the aspects of the business and provided a sounding board for creative ideas. I like to think of him as my work husband.
Starting my business was not always rainbows and butterflies. Working with friends and family was wonderful, most of the time. Some of my family members took a chance on Theodore B. Interiors’ design talent and were our first clients. Having family as clients led to more pressure at times but was very gratifying knowing they were happy with the results. Though my journey recently started, I’m glad I took the risk of starting my own business. I’m early in my journey as a business owner, but so far, the risks have been worth it.