Brian Woulfe discusses outsourcing with industry peers
2019 marks a decade in the business for Managing Director and Founder Brian Woulfe, a journey that has enabled him to work as a designer around the globe, from London to New York, LA to Hong Kong, Thailand to Sydney, and more. Outsourcing has always played an important role in how Designed by Woulfe operates and has allowed our luxury interior design studio to undertake projects in various countries at the same time. Having fully embraced it as a business concept has enabled Brian to invest his own time into more profitable activities and concentrate on doing what he does best while confidently trusting his collaborators.
Aneeqa Khan, Eporta
Why should designers who are already established and successful be rethinking the way they structure their companies?
Time is money and the design world is no exception. All businesses have to structure their time (and company) in a way that maximises their strengths. For example, many of the designers I’ve worked with have incredible creativity, personal taste and design style. They also excel in building meaningful relationships with their clients, who in turn recommend them over and over again. This is what makes them great designers and great business people.
Most successful designers we work with grow or outsource teams who take care of the more basic aspects of a project. Just like hiring a new team member, outsourcing gives designers more time to concentrate on the aspects of their business that are more unique to that person as an individual - their ‘secret sauce’ that makes them stand out. It helps them focus on clients and project vision rather than basic administration of a job which can be done by a junior member of staff or someone externally.
How are technology and eporta changing the way designers run their businesses?
Technology has brought transparency to the design world, which can have both a positive and negative impact for designers. On one hand, it brings globalisation to design. Not only can designers source products and materials from anywhere in the world, but they can cater to a client base that previously seemed nearly impossible. Even just ten years ago, it would have been challenging for a London based designer to complete a project in Dubai or New York. Now, we see in our community it’s become very common. Technology also gives clients and designers equal access to information and inspiration. Clients have a better idea of what they want and come to an initial meeting with a designer vaguely (or in worse cases, exactly) knowing how much it should cost. We know for designers, this can be quite challenging.
eporta uses technology to help its designers maximise on the positives and overcome the negatives. Our goal is to power great design around the world by giving interior designers, architects, and anyone delivering a commercial or residential project access to the largest network of furniture manufacturers globally. We save time for our designers by giving them access to a vast collection of products from across the world, while simultaneously guaranteeing the lowest trade discounts. Rather than relying on the brands they’ve always worked with or met last at a trade show, we’ve made it easier to find exactly the product you need for a given project, through surfacing them all online.
What are the benefits of outsourcing to designers and using a platform like eporta?
Historically, designers have felt reluctant to outsource for a variety of reasons. Many fear that they can’t trust external partners to deliver to their company standards. Others worry that they won’t receive transparency when it comes to pricing and costs. In a world like that, I wouldn’t outsource either! The key to successful outsourcing is all about finding a trustworthy partner.
For a business, welcoming a reliable and trustworthy partner can be transformational. Particularly in the interiors world, designers are expected to have a multifaceted role: you are the Director, Lead Designer, Supplier Liaison, Head of Marketing, Social Media Strategist, and so much more. Outsourcing allows you to concentrate on the “big picture” of your business rather than the administrative details.
For example, designers rely on eporta to do the parts of their job that, while extremely important, are less fundamental to growth (invoicing, deliveries and installation, just to name a few). Partnering with eporta means they can focus their attention on the part of the job that reallyrequires their focus (i.e. creativity, design and client time). Outsourcing has given time back to the designers, helping them build a brand that is more powerful and ultimately more successful.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting out?
It’s going to be hard...harder than you think. That being said, it’s going to be worth it in the end - but brace yourself for a rollercoaster!
What advice would you give those looking to change careers?
If you want to change careers, ask yourself “why?”. I am a firm believer that ultimate success comes from doing something that you love. If you’re not in love with what you do, make a change. That’s not to say that you will always love what you are doing 100% of the time. Every job will come with challenges. But when you weigh the difficult parts against the rewards, it should tell you whether or not the path is worthwhile. When I’m having a rough day I sometimes stop myself and ask, “Am I still excited about eporta?”. And the answer has always been “yes”. That’s a career worth changing for; something that, through the obstacles, still makes you excited on a daily basis.
Aneeqa Khan, Eporta
Polly Williams, Camberyard
Why is it cool to outsource and bring in different skills?
Marketing and business strategies are not necessarily just about outsourcing and hiring agencies. We help our clients to step back and review their skills – consider what they really need outside help with and what they can successfully do in-house or through collaboration. There are times – usually where a job is totally outside your field of expertise – where it is definitely advisable to work with a trained professional. When building your brand, for instance, it’s important to subcontract out to the experts – professionals like graphic designers, branding agencies, freelance photographers, web and SEO companies and copywriters. They know their field and can put you in the best position to succeed – let them treat you like a client and provide your business with the full service you require. We can help here too. At Camberyard we often work, for example, with a graphic designer to develop the branding and image for interior designers in our Camberyard Collective.
How can companies like Camberyard help you understand your worth?
Camberyard takes a holistic approach, using a unique 360-degree framework – to help designers or brands look at every aspect of their business – both personal and professional – to pinpoint the areas that need to be expanded or consolidated to take their business to the next level. Designers are so creative, but do not always understand the need for a good business and marketing strategy. Or indeed have time for the everyday minutiae of running a business. As with all businesses, whilst the founder knows the ins and outs of the work, others may not. The pressure of building a marketing strategy including digital, social media and PR, can feel stifling. Similarly, networking, prospecting for clients, proposal planning, winning business and invoicing can seem a challenge, but they are necessary and should be managed carefully. When a business grows and becomes successful, designers can miss opportunities to connect and collaborate with other brands in the marketplace that could lead to a rewarding partnership for both parties. This is why – to be successful – designers must implement a strong business strategy from the outset. By taking the time to review their business, where they are and where they want to be, they can focus on the right marketplace for their design products or interior design practice. As The Designers’ Advisor, we like to join the dots with our clients to help them network within the industry and grow their business.
What is the key to scaling up?
I often use the analogy of building and designing a home to think about building or expanding a successful business. Designers create floor plans and dimensions before starting to design the home; as a consulting firm, we look at the floor plan and dimensions before we build or grow a business. A house can’t be built with three bathrooms, one kitchen and no bedrooms; in the same way a company should not be built or expanded without a clear business strategy. Using this analogy when constructing a bespoke business strategy for our clients’ needs, we look at what kind of house they want to build or how they want to expand it, how it needs to adapt to or will affect their lives and what their budget is. Each stage of the business and marketing plan is tailored to those requirements. For creative professionals launching their business straight after graduation, or who want to streamline their operations, for example, we go back to the initial design. We work out the key elements that will make the dream ‘house’ – how their business can fulfil all their needs and provide stable foundations to grow that business in today’s market. For those looking to scale up, we review and take stock of their current business, asking hard questions, looking into all the reasons why they want to expand and considering the ramifications, before creating a plan.
What are the main reasons for business failure?
The majority of new businesses fail for two reasons: lack of demand and cash flow. I always encourage my clients to keep this in mind when creating their brand. It is important to implement business and marketing strategies that will lead their company forward during its first year, so they can continually build their presence in the marketplace. Securing clients is all about strategy – if designers’ potential clients do not share the design vision they have for them, converting them into their clients will be impossible.
Being successful comes down to not only being an expert in your field but knowing your business inside out. It’s important to understand its (and your!) limits as well as having a clear plan to take your business forward and increase your presence in the market. Knowing how to make your business stand out is as important as being able to comfortably discuss and manage fees, proposals and contracts. At Camberyard we uncover what you don’t know you don’t know! We mentor our clients through the process of launching, branding and marketing their businesses successfully as well as running and growing all aspects of their interior design companies so they can maximise their potential.
Grant Pierrus, Interior Style Hunter
Why is it cool to outsource and bring in different skills?
You can't do everything well. Find what you do well and then bring in the experts to help you do the rest. This doesn't always mean that you outsource the full element, but work with an expert to help you set up things correctly and learn how to measure your activity.
When is it right to employ someone to help identify and define your business objectives?
When you can't make up your mind and need someone to bounce ideas off. It's so important to get that external opinion and insight into your business. At the strategic level, you want someone who has seen into many businesses that are like yours and not just worked at 1 or 2. It's that in-depth knowledge that is invaluable when planning your objectives.
What are the starting points for creating a successful business plan?
Setting goals. I know that people often don't do this, but setting basic goals around income, sales, growth etc are key to your business plan. I don't suggest you go and create a 20-page document, there are some very concise 1-page plans out there. I use those as a plan is a summary and I'd rather spend our attention on creating the actions to achieve that plan, than the objectives itself.
Why is it essential for us to keep our companies lean and agile?
In the UK, markets change fast, we've seen this with Brexit and the recession. Property has been bouncing up and at the moment, down, so you need to ensure that your business can move with the market. It's worth thinking about how exposed you are to the UK market, and if you're completely reliant on this market, start thinking about how you can do projects abroad in more stable property markets. Think very carefully about big ticket commitments like rent and staff. Do you absolutely need an office? Can you create a solution at home? Do you need all those full time staff, or can you work with freelancers? As your business grows, you're going to need to invest more in these 2 elements, but put them off as long as possible.
How can companies like the Interior Style Hunter help a business navigate the interior design jungle?
We can help give you an honest perspective on where your business is at the moment and help you realistically think about where it's headed. Yes, we're known for our social media and digital marketing services, but increasingly, we're working with design entrepreneurs on a consultative basis solving real business challenges that they are facing.