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10 Lessons Learned After a Decade in the Biz with Michelle Dirkse

In Episode 118 of Design Biz Survival Guide, we welcomed Michelle Dirkse – owner and Creative Director of her namesake interior design studio. The Seattle, Washington-based design business is celebrating their 10-year anniversary, and Michelle pulled back the curtain to reveal some valuable lessons learned along the way. 

We all know how scary, overwhelming, and exciting it is to start a business. You just have to take that first step and learn along the way. Below are 10 lessons Michelle learned after a decade in the biz!

  1. How to Get Clients: You aren’t taught this in design school, or any school for that matter. Michelle relied on books and magazine articles and learned along the way.
  2. You Can’t Know All the Answers Ahead of Time: You will figure it out when you figure it out. You just have to believe in yourself, and you can’t compare your year one to someone else’s year 15.
  3. Build a Sustainable Business: Know yourself enough to make a decision upfront about what your personality and preferred styles are so you work with your ideal client.
  4. Learn to Maintain Your Website: Know enough to update your website on your own because it’s quicker and more affordable than using a graphic designer. Learn to use keyword tools and name your photos with keywords as well.
  5. Be an Expert at One Thing: Be the expert you are at interior design and surround yourself with people who are experts in their fields to take care of the stuff you are not an expert at.
  6. Exist on the Internet: Use social media and post your website all over, including Google My Business, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, LinkedIn, etc.
  7. Get an Office Manager: When growing a team, start with an office manager and admin that support you in roles that would distract you from designing.
  8. Hire Designers: Have a team of designers that you can trust to get stuff done while you’re away at meetings or job sites.
  9. Not Everyone Gets to the Right Conclusion Through the Same Steps: What makes sense to you may not make sense for other people. People have to follow a path that makes sense to them.
  10. Give Your Team Freedom: Ask your team for advice and what tools or procedures works best for them and will best support them.

You cannot know everything on day one, so you must trust yourself and that you will learn as you go, and the pieces will fall into place.

If you want to learn more about being in the interior design business, visit

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