November 12, 2012

business, Motherlode Monday

Good Monday Morning Friends!

As many of you already know, I’m a mother of 3 (soon to be 4), a wife, owner of a full-service interior design business, a co-founder of a non-profit, and a freelance writer.  I often get the same question every single week, “How do you do it?”  Unfortunately, my response is never profound.

I can’t sum up the answer to that question in one 5 minute conversation. Instead, I thought it would be helpful to try out a weekly series that offers you a peek into my world as a mother and an entrepreneur. Some of these posts may be relevant to you if you are business owners or looking to start a business. Other posts will be ways to encourage yourself during the week as you work to maintain a healthy lifestyle as a working mother. I’d love for you to provide your feedback on these posts. They take quite a bit of time to write as you will see.

You can reach me in the comments section, facebook, twitter, and email!

As always, thank you so much for your support!


In the throes of the busiest season, you take on yet another big project. The client is your favorite aunt, and of course she wants her living room ‘done’ in time for her annual holiday gala. There’s no mention of money aside from the cost to complete the project, after all your aunt knows how hard you work, you just assume she will take care of your expense when the job is complete. After three grueling weeks of racing to meet your deadlines as well as hers, your payment for a job well done is merely a squeeze and the title of “Best Designer in the [insert your geographical region here].” At that very moment, somewhere between gritted teeth and sheer exhaustion, you hate yourself for never having the money conversation.

When it comes to working with loved ones, our decisions are emotionally driven and our business mind somehow falls to the wayside. Should I charge them, if so what should I charge them? What if they expect to receive my services for free? How will this affect our relationship? These among the other questions, I’m sure you can think of others, swirl in your mind like a gusty tornado ready to wreak havoc on your schedule and bottom line, but only if you allow it.

One of the best solutions to this dilemma arrived in my mailbox via postcard. It’s amazing how the answer to common problems is often in plain sight. It was an invitation to a Friends and Family Discount Event at one of my favorite retailers. This is known marketing method used by retailers for rewarding loyal clients with exclusive savings on products and/or services offered. The offer is extended the same time every year, lasts for a limited time, and lures you in because you are thought of as a valued customer.

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, model this method and see how it works for your business. This is especially helpful if you are familiar with your business cycle, recognize your slow season, and designate the family and friends promotion to run during this time. Design your promotion around their most common needs. Do you often get asked for paint color recommendations? Offer a paint consultation. Are you known for scouting the best buys, take interested parties on a shopping day trip.

Send them special correspondence via email or a printed card; it’s always great to have something in writing which everyone can refer to. We will revisit this later in the discussion. Let them know how much you appreciate their support of your business and you want to extend to them an exclusive offer. Make your offer as attractive as possible, while allowing yourself to receive proper pay for your work. Let them know well in advance of this promotion so that they may budget accordingly.

Regarding discounts, be careful not to provide too deep a discount for to fear of devaluing your services. Unless they have worked with a designer previously, usually most are unaware of the time and resources that go into executing the design. If the project does smoothly, you may decide to provide an additional discount on the back end of the job. You cannot exercise this option if you give all away upfront.

Once decided on the service(s) and cost, please put it all in writing and both of you sign the contract. In any business, there should be no gray area and everything should be upfront with no surprises. You also want to conduct business the same way you would with a full priced client.

You always have a special few that will not want to wait with the others. Give a little advice upfront, and then kindly quote them your rate for the service. It’s matter of respect, really. Just because you enjoy your work does not mean you should not be properly compensated for it. If you fear damaging the relationship, always feel free to refer friends and family to a trusted colleague.

The recommendations may appear to be stringent or litigious, especially when working with a casual acquaintance, but is deemed necessary in order to preserve the relationship and keep the lines of communication open between both parties. With this advice, your favorite aunt will remain your favorite and also becomes a happy, new client.

Have you found a successful way to work with friends and family? What has been your experience?


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About Erika Ward

Multi-passionate entrepreneur, spokesperson, speaker, and philanthropist, Erika Hollinshead Ward worked in the design-build industry as an accountant before turning her passion for interior design into a successful business. Named by Atlanta Tribune as having one of the top design firms for two consecutive years, Erika is a highly sought after expert whose work has appeared in several media outlets such as House Beautiful Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, Fox 5 (Atlanta Affiliate), Huffington Post, and many others. Her influential voice in the home improvement sector has lead to marketing collaborations with leading home and lifestyle brands including Home Depot, S.C. Johnson, and Home Decorators Collection. Erika holds an undergraduate degree from The University of Georgia and resides in Atlanta with her husband and five children. With her sharp business acumen and design prowess, you can rest assured that she is one to watch as a voice for working mothers, women entrepreneurs, and interior design enthusiasts.

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  1. W Says:

    Great post!


  2. Benji Says:

    Great advice. It’s so diffult to discuss money with close family and friends,and remind them that Interior Design is more than just a passion, but a means by which one earns a living. I alway jokingly refer to my student loan payments when It’s time to discuss payment. That always seems to put it in a proper prespective.


  3. bessieakuba Says:

    wonderful and timely advice, Erica!


  4. Reena philpot Says:

    My husband and own a company together we work side by side everyday and have for the past 10 years. I feel respect for each other and relying on our individual strengths have made it not only work, but has given us the blessings we could not have experienced in any other way.


  5. Stacey Says:


    Thanks for addressing a topic that can be tough to deal with. I have found myself in this situation way too often and haven’t been sure exactly how to handle it.

    And, I’ve found that once I start doing this, it’s hard to retract and start asking for payment of services rendered. I need to really work on this in 2013, so thank you for the insightful ideas.

    Look forward to following your Motherlode series.

    Warm Regards,


  6. Nikki White Says:

    Hooray! Loving the new series. A gem of a post here lady. Cracked me up with the “squeeze” as payment option. Priceless. It’s never easy working with friends and family but as you mentioned, you can’t work for free, and said friends and family should love you enough to respect that. It’s a tough/delicate balance but one that can only work when it’s stated clearly in writing. And if you feel too much anxiety about working with or charging loved ones, then perhaps it’s best to refer them to someone else.


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