What Level is Your Design Business?

Let’s Do Business Together, Shall We?

Let’s Do Business Together, Shall We?

Why Creating Strong Partnerships is Vital to a Successful Design Firm

On a summer day in 2018, I listened to Lori Paranjape’s episode on A Well-Designed Business®.

She talked about creating intentional partnerships with local retailers—partnerships that would be symbiotic for her design firm and for her partner’s business.

Lori shared that she primarily does this in the furnishings realm, as she has partnered with a local retailer so much so that they actually share office space. Lori has also become a buyer for her partner to ensure that they always have what she needs for her design projects.

Her take on partnerships is genius and very inspiring because it’s straightforward, simple and actionable for all of us to implement with our own businesses. As I was listening to Lori’s interview with LuAnn, I had an idea to create a partnership of my own with a local contractor to level up my business and add a new tier of design services.

And just like I do with many of the ideas I get from LuAnn’s podcast, I put this plan into action right away!

Sara Lynn BrennanCreating a Partnership Action Plan

Up until this point, my business was primarily based around paint, furnishings, styling, and décor. We did not do much in terms of renovations, so I knew I needed to come up with a plan and really think through how this partnership would work for my business.

I prepared a presentation about how my design firm would be a great asset to this contractor’s business and how—with this partnership—we could join forces to be a true design-build team. I had experience working with this contractor in the past, on a personal project, and because I could vouch for their quality of work, I knew it could be a great fit.

So I scheduled a meeting with the higher-ups, presented my idea (keep in mind I’d been in business for less than a year at this point) and they were thrilled at the idea of this partnership! Excellent!

Processes are Vital for a Successful Partnership

Alright, so now what!? I needed to come up with a plan and a process to make things run smoothly. I wanted my new contractor to know I was legit and serious about this partnership working.

Additionally, if I was ever going to take on any construction or renovation projects, I needed this to go well! So I came up with a plan to ensure the prospective projects I brought to my contractor would be serious clients; I knew if I didn’t show value right out of the gate, I may not be taken very seriously.

So, to determine if a client was “serious” about their project, I required them to take my lengthy design questionnaire, schedule a 30-minute “Discovery Call” with me AND pay a significant consultation fee before we involved my contractor.

To make all of this automated and easy for me to manage, I created “Design Packages” in MyDoma Studios so I could set clear expectations for my clients and collect all the information and payment I needed upfront! Doing this ensured that I would not be including my new contractor partner until I had a client who was serious about proceeding with a project.

Finding a way to weed through the tire-kickers and those looking for a “FREE” Consult (by the way, there’s no such thing as a free consult, in my opinion) is vital to ensuring the projects you are putting time into are worthy of the effort.

What’s in it for me?

With any partnership, it’s very important that you know and understand the benefits and boundaries of the collaboration. In my case, I brought my contractor partner multiple six figures worth of business in our first year together, which turns out to be a huge benefit for them and their team.

For me, I won’t go into the specifics, but we negotiated ways for my business to benefit financially through this partnership and also through referrals. In jobs where my contractor’s client needed a designer’s help, they’d refer me or loop me in to help with the furnishings and styling of the space.

We also even went on to do a Facebook video marketing series together, which has led to a great amount of exposure and new clients for both of us.

Regardless of how you structure the partnership, make sure it’s all discussed and documented prior to beginning the relationship to ensure that even when you do hit some “bumps in the road”, you are prepared to navigate through them as a team.

Create Successful Partnerships in Your Market

As soon as I heard Lori Paranjape’s interview with LuAnn, I had a feeling I could do this same type of thing for my business. I knew creating a solid partnership could add another leg to my design business, but I also knew that it would take quite a lot of effort on my end to prove myself and show that I was worth being taken seriously.

I think there are countless ways we can step out into our local market and create partnerships with retailers, contractors, realtors, and influencers to grow our business, increase exposure and increase profits.

Have confidence in what you bring to the table and propose partnerships that feel authentic to you.

Many will say no, but if you can get creative and find a way to truly bring value to your partner while also boosting your own business, it’s totally worth a shot!

I’d love to know if Lori and LuAnn’s conversation inspired anyone else to create a partnership similar to what was discussed in the interview! If anyone has done something similar with their business, please reach out and share your story. We’d love to hear from you!

Have a great day, show up and be excellent!


(2) Comments
  • Heather
    (30 December 2019)

    Hi Sara
    This is now my 2nd email to you. I am taking advantage of this week trying to gear up for 2020!! so I am reading your blog posts and making notes, listening to episodes on Luann’s show etc.
    I work with a few contractors I would be curious what arrangement you set up with them if you feel comfortable in sharing.
    It seems I work differently with each of them. Some of them I get a 10% commission on the job that I bring them. I am curious what your partnership looks like.
    Thank You!!

    • Sara Brennan
      (12 January 2020)

      Hi Heather! I have many partnerships with people within the industry and you’re right, each one is unique and different. I think it takes some time to build rapport and trust with each other and I truthfully think it’s very hard to just determine a “deal” right out the gate. Offer the person you are looking to partner with as much value as you can, make their life easier in whatever capacity you can, and see how it goes. If you see that they are reciprocating the value back to you, whether that be in referrals, trust, money, etc. then you can build a more official “arrangement” with them if you like, but I think that’s difficult until you’ve established some level of trust and value first. Also, you may start to work with someone and realize it’s not what you thought it would be, so you want to leave room for that period of time while you are figuring each other out.

      I hope that helps you to get out there and start working with professionals in your area!! Best of luck!!

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What Level is Your Design Business?