• Phyllis Harbinger

Whether you own a firm or are an invested employee, it is difficult for creatives to strike a balance between our work and our personal lives. Now more than ever, due to COVID 19 and our hybrid and/or remote work venues, it is even more challenging.

The never-ending to-do lists, technology that delivers a heavy influx of email/text and other messages, not to mention the struggle to stay ahead of constantly evolving technology. Add to the mix, a make-shift office or the fear of being in an office with a larger group, donning a mask and dealing with family members and furry people and you could have a recipe for disaster. I know this actually makes even the most “buttoned-up” person feel overwhelmed!

With the increasing number of demands we face daily, especially during this Pandemic, it’s important to remember that as the heart, soul and brains of your business, you must sustain your energy and talent. To make this happen, you must find work-life balance. While we all have a unique way of working and processing, I wanted to share the tips below to help you do just that.

1. Prioritize Daily

While I use a project management tool called Asana, I could still work day and night and not finish my ever-growing list of tasks and demands—so don’t bother trying. Really?? Don’t try. NO!!!! Instead of attempting to reach an unattainable goal, try this: every morning, choose three or four goals from your list—mixing business and personal—and make it your priority to finish those tasks no matter what happens. You’ll end the day satisfied by having met your goals and energized to tackle the next day.

2. Establish Boundaries

Those of you who receive my Newsletter or have attended my live and recorded presentations know that I am a huge fan of establishing boundaries. This tactic is even more important now – during the pandemic. While it generally comes easier to a more seasoned business person, it can also work for newbies. This is the time when you must take a hard look at your client list and/or your work flow and determine who are your PIAs (those that drain your energy and resources.) Be kind to yourself and practice self-love by firmly but politely refusing their business in order to free up time to concentrate on your personal life and the yummy Ideal clients who actually bring you joy, not stress.

3. Delegate

I am a firm believer in empowering others to do the things you do not love to do and that you may not be great at doing. If you try to do everything yourself, you’ll be so buried in work that you’ll never see the end of it. This all-consuming mindset might work temporarily while you’re setting up shop, but if you want to have a balanced life, determine those tasks that only you can do well and focus on doing them. Delegate those jobs that someone else can do just as well or better than you. This will allow you to finish your workday on time or early so you can get home to your personal life.

4. Creating a Home Office

Design your office space so it’s focused on work. You’ll only make yourself stressed and tense if you have a file folder from the office sitting in the living room when you’re trying to relax with the family. In addition, keep personal items to a minimum as they will likely remind you about your family and home duties, and you will end up feeling regretful about not being there and spending time with them. Instead, keeping yourself focused on work enables you to be more efficient so you can finish and “go home.”

5. Be kind to yourself – take baby steps

When you set out to create a balanced life, it requires that you start with gradual changes.

Establishing a work-life balance might seem impossible initially, but if you take it slowly when it comes to rebalancing your life, you’re likely to find yourself in a calmer, more content state of mind.

As we dive deeper into this new virtual reality created by COVID-19, our world, both personally and professionally is rapidly changing. Clients are expecting offerings that were seldom requested prior to this past Spring.

With the real estate market in high gear in many parts of the country, people are buying new dwellings based on virtual walk-throughs, great photography and a leap of faith. Listings are gone within hours and buyers are having to make quick decisions, sight unseen if they truly want to get out of dodge.

Realtors have been virtually staging spaces for a number of years now and designers are beginning to take their conceptual designs to 3D to give the client a more cohesive visual idea of what their space could look like.

Every designer works differently and if you are going to begin offering this service in your Conceptual Design phase, I caution you to have very concise language about what is included in your Letter of Agreement with your Client. You will want to do research and get an idea of costs from at least three rendering firms or query your own talented staff to get an estimate of hours needed to complete the rendering project. You will then need to add time for edits and revisions. Obviously, your Design Fee will increase if you offer this service but renderings are highly sought after by potential clients and can set you apart from other designers they are interviewing. You may also wish to price this as a separate line item for those who are more visual.

I recently read a great article in Business of Home that discusses this topic in more depth. Click here to read how moviemaking tech is redefining renderings!

I have successfully run my design business since 1993. While it is always challenging, this has been amplified with the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic. I wanted to give you some tips to help you keep your business in the black as we navigate this new reality.

Here are five things you need to do right now:

1. You can still apply for an SBA Loan. Many of you may have registered for the EIDL or PPP plans but the SBA has other low loans available that are not tied to the CARES act. The good news is that funds are still available. Also, the SBA sees that many small business owners want to close or retire so it is a great time for someone with some cash and who can afford a loan, to take advantage of this little-known program to acquire an established business and breathe new life into it! Because these loans are issued directly by the SBA, approval times are significantly less and the red tape is significantly lower. Get money from your City or State. Apply for a loan or grant program. Especially now, you can apply for a disaster loan or grant from your city or state if it is available. Check out your state’s website to see what’s available for you.

2. Have a discussion with both your CPA and your banker. Fortunately, the IRS has moved tax return filing deadlines to give us some breathing room. If you have not already done so, I might suggest that you adjust your estimated taxes for this year due to reduced income incurred due to COVID-19. Experts are also suggesting that you file taxes early for 2020 if you anticipate a refund. Also, if you are paying your employees during the time you are closed for business, get familiar with the tax credits you are entitled to.

Communicate with your banker.

Even if you are with a large bank, you need to establish a personal relationship with your banker and I suggest reaching out every quarter. With our current situation, many are still working remotely. I am a private client at my bank and they had actually reached out to me! This is a great time to look at the landscape of your business; confirm your available lines of credit; inquire about special loans or financing now available to you during this pandemic. Many larger banks are already doing this, and it’s likely that your bank will work out new payback programs to defer cash outlays for the short term.

3. Align with your major vendors/suppliers. While smaller suppliers and showrooms are likely in the same boat as you are during this crisis, your larger vendors have the bandwidth to ride out this pandemic and many of them are open to helping so leverage your relationships with them. I suggest calling, not emailing or texting, and ask about their terms during the crisis. What are lead times, what is in stock, would they be willing to offer you extended payment terms to help you manage your cash flow challenges over the next few months. They value the relationship you have built over the years and know that things will get better. Many will be open to working with you.

4. Constant Communication is key. Keep the conversation going with your team, even if you had to furlough some or all of our team members. They want to know how you are doing, what you are projecting, and most importantly that you care about them and their well-being.

5. Use newly discovered pockets of time for Business Development. Learn a new software program, create a new presentation, reach out to your clients, call upon prospects that have been on hold or have not yet signed your Letter of Agreement. Clean up your inbox and get caught up on your CEU requirements by attending some IDCEC or AIA webinars. You may also want to amp up your wellness rituals. From exercise to meditation, this is a critical time for self-care.

Remember, we will get through this and yes, our business and our lives will be different but we are design creatives and we will rise to the challenge and come out of this stronger and better prepared for the world that awaits us – ready to serve our clients and enhance the way they work, play, heal, learn, and live.

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