Anna Schmidt | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Anna Schmidt

Background:  

Anna Schmidt Interior Design is a Jupiter-based commercial interior design firm that specializes in one-of-a-kind spaces for restaurant and hospitality clients, including Orlando-area hotspots Cask & Larder, Quantum Leap Winery, and Cocina 214.

The Mistake: 

I spent too much time micro-managing my staff. I was afraid to let go of things.

I wanted to start my own business since I was 16 years old—I didn’t know what the business was yet! It was a goal for me. You can go to college for a particular line of study—I went for design and interior architecture—but you still don’t [learn] how to start a business. We all go into these trades but no one is really taught that as part of your training.

A couple of years after I started my business, I’d already hired a couple employees, and I began to recognize that I was micro managing. I got to the point where I thought, ‘there has got to be a better, more streamlined way to do this.’

Details are everything in this business. In architecture and design, if you miss one detail it can be a catastrophic mistake. Sometimes the technicalities of this business can really get to people. I always tell people, if you don’t like details, don’t do this. Specifically, in commercial design, you have to know your product.

Not only was I driving myself crazy, I’m sure I was driving my employees crazy too. I really didn’t know if I was coming or going. I would work until one or two in the morning—it was constant. Only when [the employees] were gone could I really do the design stuff that I needed to do.

It got to the point where I felt like I had to create lists for everything. I was coming in early and staying late in order to make lists for everybody else. At some point, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m hiring all these people, so they need to recognize what they need to do. That’s their job.’ I was afraid to just let them figure it out, and that was taking up so much of my time. And they were obviously very capable.

The biggest lesson was: Stop being afraid that you don’t know everything.

The Lesson:

Around this same time, I learned about Designing Profits, a group of design business owners and entrepreneurs. And I’m so grateful that I got to learn from these other people. And that was the lesson.

Joining the group was definitely an investment, but it was worth the money to me because we met every six months, typically for three full days—in Cancun, Chicago, Vegas and so on. It was intensive. We would meet and then have breakout groups during the day [for those in] residential versus commercial design.

Afterward, we would all take back home with us all this information or best practices on things that were plaguing us at the time. So I would have all these great ideas from older peers of mine and other people in the business. After a while, we started to bring along key [staffers]. And we got so much out of it because I could come back and work on new things: new ideas for marketing, new ideas for negotiating, new ideas for fee structure. And you know, those are things you absolutely do not learn in design school and definitely not working for someone else.

I also did phenomenal networking with people that I still keep in contact with. And eventually I got to the point where I was, ‘Anna you can trust yourself.’ The people you meet along the way, they started somewhere. The biggest lesson was, ‘stop being afraid that you don’t know everything.’ It’s impossible to know everything.

I finally realized that it is okay to pick up a phone and reach out to other people that know more than you. Even today, I still reach out to peers because you can never stop learning.

Follow the Florida Central Chapter of International Interior Design Association on Twitter at @IIDA_FLCentral.

Photo courtesy of Anna Schmidt

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