What do you do when business slows down?
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What do you do when business slows down?

Like any company, your firm is likely to feel the ups and downs of the market, with the phones that were once ringing constantly temporarily quieting down. This week, we asked 12 designers—Tate Casper, Julie Dodson, Austin Handler, Darren Henault, Debbie Mathews, Kyle O’Donnell, Mary Patton, Sam Sacks, Adele Salierno, Tess Twiehaus, Liz Williams and Jordan Winston—what tips they have to stay occupied during the inevitable lulls in business.

What do you do when business slows down?

Kyle O’DonnellCourtesy of Kyle O’Donnell

Keep the Lights On

“A couple times a year, usually around mid-summer and winter holidays, clients tend to be distracted or on vacation and communicate less. Whenever we have a free moment, we use the time to work on internal office projects. Last year we began office design charrettes of custom light fixtures. Some fixtures will remain conceptual forever, some we will use in future projects, and some we think are so good we have them produced. The goal is to someday produce enough lights to come out with our own collection. We will eventually try the same approach with other items, such as furniture. If nothing else, it is a good team-building exercise and keeps the creative juices flowing.” —Kyle O’Donnell, Gramercy Design, New York

What do you do when business slows down?

Darren HenaultCourtesy of Darren Henault

Understand the Cycle

“Honestly, after 27 years, I’ve learned that business can be cyclical. Things tend to pick up in the fall, when everyone is back from their summer and have their real lives back on track. Then there tends to be another wave of calls after tax day, and when [professionals] get their bonuses. [A slowdown is] a great time to focus on the other aspects of business, product design and travel for inspiration.” Darren Henault, Darren Henault Interiors and Tent New York

What do you do when business slows down?

Liz WilliamsCourtesy of Liz Williams

Check Off That To-Do List

“I typically use the extra time to get organized, tweak the design of my office, and tend to my personal home design that often gets put by the wayside. I also try to brainstorm new ways to streamline our business practices in an effort to save time once things are busy again. It is a good time to read all those emails about new products that sometimes get skipped! I [also] take the opportunity to venture out to lunch instead of eating at my desk!” —Liz Williams, Liz Williams Interiors, Atlanta

What do you do when business slows down?

Jordan Winston and Tate CasperCourtesy of Oxford Design

Keep It Simple

“When business slows, we take a necessary breath and reset, and then usually fill in our calendars with some smaller projects that we otherwise may not have the bandwidth to take. It is often these jobs that are creatively inspiring, have smaller budgets, and remind us why we do what we do.” —Jordan Winston and Tate Casper, Oxford Design, Tampa

What do you do when business slows down?

Tess TwiehausCourtesy of Tess Twiehaus

Go With the Flow

“When business slows down, I take it as an opportunity to recalibrate. Being an interior designer can feel like a constant sprint, and when a lull occurs, I try not to freak out or take it for granted. As creatives (and human beings), it’s important for us to rest and recharge our batteries. The best work is typically on the other side. Using the free time to either reconnect with what inspires me, completely unplug, or even pursue other creative endeavors, is a major gift. There’s a natural ebb and flow that occurs, so I do my best to go with it and see where it takes me.” —Tess Twiehaus, Tess Interiors, Los Angeles and New York

What do you do when business slows down?

Debbie MathewsCourtesy of Debbie Mathews

Big Picture

“The first thing I do is take a step back and evaluate our current systems and processes. It is rare that we have downtime, so I like to evaluate our recently completed projects to determine what worked, what didn’t work, and how a new system or process might be better. I also assess if any updates need to be made to our website, social media or marketing plans. I find that slower times are opportune for scheduling photo shoots of completed projects, as these typically require a lot of planning, preparation and time. From a marketing perspective, it is a great time to connect with past clients to touch base about any current needs they might have, as well as schedule lunch meetings with Realtors and contractors to discuss our services.” —Debbie Mathews, Debbie Mathews Antiques & Designs, Nashville

What do you do when business slows down?

Austin HandlerCourtesy of Austin Handler

What Lull?

“One of the more straightforward things to do when business slows down is to remain open to jobs that you might not consider when the phone is ringing off the hook. If you usually only work on full houses, consider accepting partial projects. If you normally work on a set fee, consider a client who just needs some hourly work. But there are also other things that you can do to take advantage during a downturn that might seem counterintuitive. For example, during an economic slowdown, the first thing that many businesses do is pull advertising and reduce marketing budgets; in the short-term that may seem like a shrewd financial cost-cutting decision, but because many businesses quickly default to that position, there is actually an opportunity to stand out in a field of reduced competition. Investing in advertising/marketing/promotion as your competition pulls away from it can all of a sudden yield better exposure to prospective clients. On a larger scale, diversifying your business can also provide multiple revenue streams to help better protect you if one of them dries up, or even slows down. Think about product design, brand partnerships, affiliate link programs, online stores, Instagram shops … These things take time, so these types of streams should be part of a broader revenue strategy, rather than a panic move when things get quiet all of a sudden. When things are going well, we often take for granted when client after client comes our way. But if the phone stops ringing, don’t complain. Ask yourself: ‘What can I do today to help my business?’ Think about it, find one thing, and then put a plan into action.” —Austin Handler, Mabley Handler Interior Design, New York

What do you do when business slows down?

Julie DodsonCourtesy of Julie Dodson

Fill the Well

“Fortunately, over the past 20-plus years, our business has remained consistently steady. During occasional lulls, I encourage everyone to rest, spend time with loved ones and reset. Personally, I love traveling to new places during breaks, as it helps me recharge and discover new inspiration for our projects.” —Julie Dodson, Dodson Interiors, Houston

What do you do when business slows down?

Adele SaliernoCourtesy of Adele Salierno

Look Inward

“Business slowing down can be scary, but there are plenty of opportunities to make the best of these days. Slow periods may offer a chance to analyze the firm’s performance and strategize about the future, and they can also be an excellent time to focus on nonbillable tasks, like product research, updating material libraries and catching up on industry trends. Reviewing marketing strategies, putting more energy into social media and intensifying networking are also great choices for less-busy days. One of my favorite tasks is to take time to review and organize the corporate knowledge of the office; I love evaluating the details we adopted in our projects and brainstorming about how they can be brought to the next level.” —Adele Salierno, Studio Ku, San Francisco

What do you do when business slows down?

Sam SacksLauren Miller

Learn and Adapt

“When business slows down, I usually panic—then, like all good survivors, I pick myself up and get to work. In the fall of 2023, high Canadian interest rates took a bite out of my business. I took this opportunity to network heavily, leaning hard on a strong group of contemporaries to confirm it wasn’t a me thing. I spoke to economic leaders to understand the forecast, as well as with Realtors to get their take from home buyers and sellers. Understanding that we were in a yearlong dip, I trimmed my team enough so that we weren’t eating into our profits, but not so much that we weren’t able to take on new business, and ramped up my social media. I also put in a lot of head-down hard work to ensure quality wasn’t compromised by a smaller support staff.” —Sam Sacks, Sam Sacks Design, Toronto

What do you do when business slows down?

Mary PattonCourtesy of Mary Patton

Think Ahead

“I rest up [in preparation] for when it gets crazy again. Fortunately, whenever I get scared that things are getting slow, something new always comes up. However, when we do have a little downtime, I like to really get organized and spend time working on how I want to grow the business and what to manifest next. Running your own business is a leap of faith, so just stay the course. When things get slow, know something good is around the corner.” —Mary Patton, Mary Patton Design, Houston