Why I Closed My Design Business And Started A New One [Update]

Published: June 28th, 2024
Rebecca West is Seriously Happy
$40K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
Seriously Happy H...
from Seattle, WA, USA
started November 2007
$40,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
market size
$18.8B
starting costs
$11.7K
gross margin
93%
time to build
210 days
average product price
$100
growth channels
SEO
business model
Consulting
best tools
Canva, Fiverr, Wix.com
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
3 Tips
Discover what tools Rebecca recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Rebecca recommends to grow your business!
Want more updates on Seriously Happy Homes? Check out these stories:

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Big News! I closed my design business and moved to Paris, France!

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After nearly two decades as CEO of Seriously Happy Homes, I shut the doors. I sold my house, packed up the cat, and moved to a charming 400-square-foot, 7th-floor walk-up apartment with a peek-a-boo view of the Eiffel Tower, transforming 17 years of running a residential interior design firm into an exciting new business adventure.

Through my courses Nail Your Niche, Lead to Launch, and The DECIDE Method, I show design-preneurs how to communicate their value, set clear expectations with clients during onboarding, and present information so their clients can make quicker, more confident design decisions.

I’m teaching everything I’ve learned to the next generation of designers, helping them nail their niche, stand out from their colleagues, and become the clear choice for their clients.

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Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

The funny thing about closing down a business? It generates a ton of buzz! Marketers have always known that scarcity creates desire. It’s a clever tactic, probably why the rug store down the street from my studio was “going out of business” for decades. 😂

In the months leading up to our last day, we sent out regular newsletters letting clients know what was coming, reminding them to get on our calendar while they still could, and sharing the story of each team member's next chapter.

And wow, did everyone have an exciting story! Shannon decided to go back to school to study architecture, Rachel and Angela started their own firms, and Kel began submitting her already-written novels to agents and publishers.

That was the best part of closing the business. While I hated the idea of taking something away from my team, I also knew that the best things come when we aren’t looking for them. I feel like a proud mama seeing all my “business babies” thriving on their own!

Ironically, I haven’t been able to step away from design completely. The thing about an intimate job like interior design is that your clients come to love and trust you like a doctor or a friend, and they’ll reach out even when you’re “no longer available.”

Surprisingly, even though I had felt burnt out on design, planning the remodel for a past client when I first moved here felt amazing. It was a nice contrast to feeling like an idiot while trying to “adult” without the right language skills. Even basics like buying groceries or taking the cat to the vet are a daily struggle when you live in France but barely speak French. 🙄 I’ve learned how important it is to do things that help you feel confident while you’re taking on a new challenge!

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In terms of marketing the new biz, I didn’t have to do anything different, but I found it easier to do more of what I needed to do. Having a fun side-adventure (moving to France) catches a lot more attention than just offering a new product, and being able to pepper my Instagram feed with Parisian adventures like spending a night doing Karaoke with a bunch of 25-year-olds (who AM I?? 😂) makes the slog of posting on social much easier.

The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to show the fun/weird/geeky side of your life in your marketing. If I’d had the courage to post about my love of burlesque, obsession with Dr. Who and all things sci-fi, and dressing up in costume to go swing dancing with my hubby much earlier, I’d have had a lot more fun - and more success - with my social media marketing!

I know you have a story to share - are you brave enough to share it?

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

The hardest part of pivoting to Paris? Shutting down a well-established, revenue-generating machine! Seriously - it’s scary to build a business from scratch… again.

Sure, I’d been coaching colleagues, mentoring my team, and teaching through the NKBA for years. I had the content to teach, but this work had never needed to pay the bills. Like every new business owner, I wondered: Would people trust me—and pay me—for my work?

On the flip side, starting another business from the ground up gave me tons of compassion for the anxiety my clients feel when launching their businesses. After 17 years it’s easy to forget how much fear, uncertainty, and confusion you feel in the early days.

Luckily I found starting a second business much easier than the first time around. I knew what to do right this time and, more importantly, I knew what not to do. It helped that I was still within the same industry so I didn’t have to build all new contacts despite moving across the globe.

And of course, my track record of past success eased any fear of failure–if I’d done it once without knowing anything there would be no reason I couldn’t do it again.

I’ll be honest though–I was really nervous. The real reason I took the leap of faith was simply because life is short. My husband had wanted to study at Le Cordon Bleu since he was a kid. He was brave enough to sell his business and there was no way I was going to let my fear stand in our way.

If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to make the dream come true. All told it took two years to get my business (and my mind) ready to take the leap, and it was 100% worth it. (And not just because the food he’s cooking is soooo tasty!)

My VERY best advice is to embrace a niche! Seriously, the sooner you can say something different from your colleagues, the better!

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Have you ever remodeled your home or started a business while planning a wedding, having a baby, or caring for an aging parent? If so, you know the masochism of thinking you can do “all the things” at once, closely followed by beating yourself up when you feel tired or miss a deadline. OF COURSE YOU’RE TIRED, lol.

We can do “All The Things” - but maybe we shouldn’t try to do them all at once.

I spent two years planning this move. The final 6 months were a whirlwind that not only included shutting down one business and building the next, but also a 3-month immersion language program trying to learn French while wondering if I’d saved up enough money, worrying about getting the right Visa, and feeling anxious that my 12-year-old cat wouldn’t handle the move well.

Once I got here I hit the ground running with client meetings via Zoom while navigating life in a new culture. Every day I hit the pillow already half-asleep. It took a few months before I recognized what was happening. I’d been sprinting toward a finish line for over a year… and I’d forgotten how to stop running. What makes that extra silly is that I’d built up enough savings to not worry about an income for at least two years–but it took my mind and my body a bit of time to believe it and act accordingly.

Luckily, I recognized the signs of adrenaline fatigue early and am practicing the patience that comes with letting things unfold in their own time. Thankfully, work isn’t the biggest priority in France, and my French friends encourage me to call it a day when the day is done—a lesson most American entrepreneurs struggle with (and one I’m still learning).

But I simply can’t expect myself to level up the new biz and learn a new language (not to mention be there for my hubby while he learns a completely new profession), AND still enjoy life. In this chapter, I’m learning to embrace being instead of doing.

On a more day-to-day basis, the trickiest logistical part of being an expat-entreprepeur has been navigating the time zone difference. Luckily, tools like Acuity Scheduling make coordinating my one-on-one meetings across time zones a breeze, and tools like Loom help me communicate personally without always being live.

However, those client meetings don’t start until around 3 pm Paris time, so I have just 3 to 4 hours for one-on-one meetings (assuming I want to end my day at a reasonable hour – see above 😉). Getting realistic about my limited time means I’m moving more quickly than I’d planned to launch recorded versions of my courses.

Having self-study versions of each course was always the plan (who doesn’t love passive income?!) but the reality of working across the globe has sped up the launch timeline.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Back when I started my design business in 2007 I said I’d “never have employees.” Then, at my firm’s largest, I had 13 people working in my business! Ever since I’ve been careful about trying to predict the future. What we feel ready for in one moment has very little to do with where we’ll end up.

That said, I’ve dedicated the next year to doing the things I put off while prepping for the move. I am excited to finish and release my book about how we can help our clients make quick, confident decisions. It’s an important skill for any designer who wants to have a profitable business and happy clients, and I want to get that knowledge into as many hands as I can!

I’m also enjoying creating my podcast, Stuff Interior Designers Need To Know. In 15 to 20 minute bursts I share tips and tidbits that help interior designers be the best business owners possible.

Over the next 5 years? Who knows! I’m having the time of my life connecting with the interior design community in Paris and am hosting colleagues for the famed Maison et Object design fair this fall. Perhaps that will become a regular adventure! But honestly, who knows what the future will manifest - just 7 years ago I was working from a tiny Tardis with Parisian wallpaper, never imagining I’d one day be looking at that view IRL.

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What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

While Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism still tops my reading list, and I can’t get enough of Jonathon Goodman’s podcast for fantastic marketing advice (it’s meant for personal trainers, but 100% applies to smart marketing for any kind of coach) lately I’ve found a lot of inspiration on Instagram, especially when it comes to authentic marketing and just being alive!

If you want to see how you can be silly and educational at the same time, check out Mr Cliff Tan’s feed DearModern. His approach to feng shui is practical, accessible, and refreshing!

If you want to see how someone can turn a dark history into a bright and beautiful future, and be reminded to breathe along the way, check out the delightful sprite Bruce Brackett (and his book) at bwb.positivity.

If you want to enjoy simple poetry that will surely make you smile and remind you that there is magic even in the small things, check out the readings of Harry Baker at harrybakerpoet. Bonus - he’s got a British accent!

And if you really are a dork and like random sh*t like death metal sending positive vibes, don’t miss Anthony Vincent at anthonyvincentofficial - Seriously, his bio reads “Motivational Metal Guy. Cat Dad.” What’s not to love?

Remember, we reflect what we take in - so surround yourself with people who’ll cheer you on and encourage you to be your best self. That includes the people in your social media feed, too!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Tips for entrepreneurs struggling to grow their businesses? I’ve got loads!

My VERY best advice is to embrace a niche! Seriously, the sooner you can say something different from your colleagues, the better!

Every day I ask interior designers what makes them different, and they say the exact same things… “I help people personalize their home.” “I help them tell their unique story.” “I help make remodeling less stressful.” It’s not that it’s not nice or not true, it’s just that it’s generic. Dig into what that means to you. Make sure your tribe knows you’re talking directly to them.

What kind of people are you helping? Busy moms who hate doing housework? You’re going to have a very different marketing message as compared to someone who helps multi-millionaires design their Parisian pied-a-terre. Yes, I know you could help both of them, but generic marketing leads to ZERO clients. No one wants to hire a generalist, and when they do, they expect to get a bargain.

My second best piece of advice? Establish clear processes, boundaries, and expectations with your client. Not only will that safeguard your mental well-being as you ride the rollercoaster of being an entrepreneur and keep your business profitable, but it will elevate your professionalism and make your clients feel confident hiring you in the first place!

Third? Develop your soft skills, like helping spouses get on the same page, delivering bad news with a positive spin, and guiding design decisions effectively. As I shared in this article on Medium, the growth of AI is certain to automate the rote tasks of every job - the only way to stay relevant is to get incredibly good at the human skills AI will always struggle with!

Want more advice like that? I’d love to have a coaching session with ya!

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below or come find me on Insta - I personally answer every message I get! 💗And if you’re in Paris, let me know! I always try to make time for a new friend over a morning espresso and croissant! 🥐

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