At 22-years old and with zero interior design experience at the time, Anna Williams started her own styling business. Five years on and Anna is running one of North Queensland’s premier interior design boutiques, Ethos Interiors, with a brand-new office, a second designer on board and residential and commercial clients locally, interstate and across the globe.
How did you get started without any experience?
I decided that doing these little pre-packaged really affordable plans would let me get the experience and it was less risky for clients than me trying to sell them a $40,000 concept. The packages were fixed-fee for a room and you got a plan and shopping list to follow. You see it a lot now but at the time, I was only one of two.
What sparked your interest in interior design?
I went to uni and did Bachelor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and during that time I started working for a local builder as a sales person basically – meeting clients, designing the floor plans and eventually I would do their interior design as well. That gave me a much more solid background than you would get from studying [interior design] because I learnt the structural side of things – how much walls costs, how much windows cost, how cyclone bracing works, all of that kind of building side of things that influence a lot of design – whereas in an average interior design course that most people do, it’s all about colours and picking out carpet. So I found that that was more valuable over the years than the Diploma I’ve done since then, which was much more about colour and finish.
How do you ensure you’re always growing creatively?
Lots of research – a lot of interior design is just finding the right product online – what colour is it, how big is it, can it get here on time, can the client afford it. You spend a lot of time researching, meeting sales reps to learn about new products, talking to your suppliers – anytime I visit tiles shops or carpet shops or cabinet makers, I ask about new products and “What is this? Why do you do it like this? How do I do it like this?” It’s that constant kind of education process. We also spend a lot of time on Pinterest!
How do you place a value on what you do?
It’s something I’m still learning, and with growth I’ve had to define what was included in online packages and what was the extra service you got by paying to have it done in person. I’ve always taken more of the approach that I just want the client to be happy and if that takes me a few extra hours than that’s what I have to do, but as we get busier, I’m really going to have to start being stricter on that… It means sitting down and saying ‘alright this is the time that’s allowed for and that’s what we’re going to stick to’.
How has charging for initial consults improved your business?
It gives people a defined time where they can ask as many questions as they like and we get paid for that, whereas with a lot of creatives you find you’re giving away free advice all the time. It was a way of saying ‘If you just want to ask a few questions, but don’t actually need a designer, you’ve got that hour, you can ask as many questions as you like, we can brainstorm ideas, I can recommend suppliers then you can go away and continue on your own.’ It helps people and it means that my time is valued.
What’s your number one tip for growing a creative business?
Where I really struggled wasn’t learning how to invoice or understanding social media, it was how to walk into a networking event and shake someone’s hand and say hello. That’s not you’ll learn at art or design school, it’s just something you have to give a go. Be brave.