With the Omicron variant sweeping the country, I fear we will revert to “business as usual” as was the case in January 2021. Already, two of my employees have tested positive and several of my production partners have noted that they might shut down in the next few weeks out of “over-caution” (a phrase I now despise). My clients, understandably, fear their projects will be delayed even more than they already have been – and potential clients have said they could just “wait and see” before they get started.
How can I navigate the next phase of entrepreneurship in a pandemic?
Frozen in place
Nothing like a good dose of PTSD to welcome you back in 2022. I am sorry for all design companies having to face this new reality. There are a few things to remember, however. First, the vaccines are working, which means we’re not in the same place as we were at the same time last year. So while this stage can be painful, it is temporary, provided you are in a part of the world committed to immunization (including boosters).
It’s a cold comfort, I know, especially in the face of employees testing positive, production partners threatening further delays, and new customers postponing or even canceling their projects. However, I encourage you to view these challenges as an opportunity to rise in the moment and make your business less vulnerable to disruption.
One of the most important changes you can make now is to adjust the way you load. If you happen to earn a substantial portion of your income through a “marging” on materials, you are probably facing the insufficiency of operating that way now. See yourself as an agent, not a retailer, and banish the term “markup” for good. Instead, set this percentage as what you need to manifest your ideas through production.
Normally, when you could expect a reasonable production window, your commission model worked. However, COVID has shown that with significant delays, percentage pricing is a disaster. Simply, earning that “markup” in, say, six months is just not the same as doing it in 12. Let Omicron remind you that your production costs should be a set monthly number based on a reasonable expectation of. time to complete your production. If this period extends through no fault of anyone, the risk is shared, in that the monthly charges continue. Fair is fair.
Then, if clients delay the start of projects, they will need to understand the risk they are taking. If they signed today, conception would take place in the coming months and COVID would do nothing to slow this process down. No one knows what the world will be like in the spring. Maybe the supply chain issues will persist, or maybe they will improve. What we do know is that these customers will also be delayed because of their hesitation. You absolutely need to be able to explain this risk to them and stress that now is the time to conceive, and that COVID really has nothing to do with it.
And as for the employees released with COVID, do not despair. Assuming a full vaccination, we’re talking about 10 days, during which time they can be virtually fully available, depending on how they respond to the virus.
As you clear your mind of the last few years of PTSD (which is incredibly real), can I suggest three things? First, any production delays you might face from Omicron are likely borne entirely by your business – customers don’t have their goods, so you don’t earn extra money. Second, the world will have a new reality when you finish designing new projects in three to five months. This new reality will offer new perspectives and new opportunities, so have confidence that smart customers will realize the value of investing in your design work now. Finally, conviction and clarity will give a different future. We have all been through much darker days and I have no doubts that the very painful time we are going through now will be truly short-lived. You must continue to act as if.
What you can’t do is put your head in the sand or snuggle up under the blankets. Live the moment head-on with difficult conversations everywhere. You are the professional in the room, and although no one knows the future, your intention and strategy are paramount. Find the opportunity for candor and authenticity and let it prevail. The rewards may not solve today’s crisis, but tomorrow will always be brighter because of your singular desire for integrity in your goal.
Home page photo: © Irabel8 / Shutterstock
Sean Bas is the essential business coach for interior designers. His clients include Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low received his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and, as founding president of The Business of Being Creative, he was a long-time consultant for design firms. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Do you have a dilemma? Email us and don’t worry, we may keep your information anonymous.