We talked to Monica Sharman, CEO & Principal Designer at IN Design Associates and The BIZ Designer about design services, and here is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Monica Sharman: We are holding up well, despite the restrictions and changes. I have teenagers at home, and the lockdowns have been hardest on them. They have had to navigate through online learning and a complete pause in their social lives. Thankfully the business transitioned well since we were already implementing online tools to serve our clients.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded IN Design Associates and The BIZ Designer.
Monica Sharman: I have been a Commercial Interior Designer my entire professional career. I’m one of those strange people who knew what I wanted to do from a very early age and never changed my course. I love it as much today as at the beginning of my career (over 25 years ago)! I founded IN Design Associates in 2008, shortly after the closure of the design office I was working for at the time. We specialize in Workspace design. While we enjoyed great success designing for mid to large-sized businesses, I noticed a gap in services available to smaller companies, so I started The BIZ Designer, an e-design service, in 2019.
How does IN Design Associates and The BIZ Designer innovate?
Monica Sharman: We are continually innovating. It’s one of our core values. We continuously ask why? And is there a better way? Many of our industry’s practices are antiquated, and we love the fact that our processes are unique from our peers. We emphasize efficiency and strive to save ourselves time and, therefore, our client’s money at any possible opportunity.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Monica Sharman: We have just had one of our best years and forecast this year to be even better. I would say though this has very little to do with the pandemic but more that we didn’t skip a beat with the use of online tools, so there isn’t a complete disruption in our sales and service flow. Additionally, we serve large corporate clients, and therefore we are often nurturing leads for a year or more, and the projects can last equally as long. The true test is yet to come as we will have to wait to see the ripple effect on the businesses we serve.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Monica Sharman: Fortunately, no. We grew our team and are hoping to add another. The pandemic has, however, made the onboarding and training process a little trickier. It’s much easier to train someone when you’re working alongside them. Additionally, homeschooling threw a scheduling wrench into the plans of my staff with younger children.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Monica Sharman: We were already starting to implement tools like Loom for screen recording of presentations and intros, online design and collaboration tools and web-based timesheets, proposal invoicing and payroll, etc., before the pandemic. Recently we have added a project management tool (Clickup) and Slack to aid in both our internal and client communications now that in person is more difficult. For a list of our tools, click here.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Monica Sharman: We took advantage of a loan offered early on and the wage subsidy for the first two months. Thankfully, we haven’t had to use the loan funds yet, but simply knowing it was there if needed gave me the confidence as a business owner to navigate and even hire in these unpredictable times.
Your final thoughts?
Monica Sharman: The new challenge (for both us and the businesses we serve) will be to ensure that work from home staff is adequately supported and not making do with band-aid workstations (like the dining table) if they continue working remotely. We predict that most will adopt a blended solution combining the traditional workspace with a portion of their staff, only occasional occupants of that space. Doing away entirely with the traditional office is not a viable solution for many businesses (including ours) because we rely so much on team collaboration and nurturing culture. Regardless of budget, whether our clients are expanding and upgrading or downsizing and becoming more efficient, good design is essential to any business’s health.
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