The Design Coach – Supporting Designers Running Small Businesses
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
The first of The Design Coach Masterclasses will be held in Melbourne next month.
Founded by interior designer Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach’s goal is to create a community among solo designers, with support and education in business management for designers through Masterclasses, retreats, workshops and one-on-one coaching.
When a designer first sets up their studio it is an exciting moment, one that is motivated by the creative passion that comes with love of the craft. Business management can feel almost antithetical to the creative world of design, but the reality is that setting up a design studio means setting up a small business. For many designers, a lack of knowledge and difficulty developing the business side of their studio can be a treacherous and isolating experience. Going through this struggle personally led Andrew Mitchell to found The Design Coach, a collective of design professionals on a mission to demystify the business of design and develop a community for solo designers.
The Design Coach is not just another standard business coach marketing to a niche – it is a passion project for Andrew, who is committed to helping other designers avoid the business mistakes he made with his own interior design practice MR. MITCHELL. ‘For the first few years, I had this notion in my head that I wasn’t in it for the money’ he says. ‘I was in a state of denial that it wasn’t an important part of what I was doing – I was sticking my head in the sand and not taking responsibility for running a small business’.
MR. MITCHELL was outwardly successful, but a lack of planning meant there were times when cashflow was very low, which eventually got him into financial trouble. ‘I felt totally on my own.’ he says. ‘It felt like the image I was presenting to the world was utterly different from the reality, and I wanted to give up – the only thing that kept me going was paying off the debt I had accrued in staying afloat’. Despite desperately wanting to get out, seeing an accountant who told Andrew the financial situation was hopeless and he should file for bankruptcy proved the catalyst for change. ‘After thinking it to myself for so long and then suddenly being told it by someone else, I realised I wasn’t giving up’ he explains. Running a furniture shop and his interior design practice had taught him the value of good relationships and filing for bankruptcy meant ‘screwing over all the people who had been supportive and wonderful’.
With this experience as a wake-up call, he set about learning as much as he could about business management. Being open and honest about the situation, he learned about systems, spreadsheets and proper financial management skills. ‘I used to go into a job and guess the fees, I had no way of being accountable or knowing how many hours I spent.’ Over the next 10 years, he got himself out of debt and refined his systems and processes. Now, when working on a project he is able to be completely transparent about hours, fees and margins, keeping the client happy through clear communication and his business healthy through sound accountability.
The experience of feeling completely alone when the business was failing galvanised him to found The Design Coach. As a member of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA), he is part of important conversations around the need for business skills for designers, but says he felt there was an urgent need to be having these conversations on a broader scale. Andrew began MR. MITCHELL without formal design training but has since realised that even designers who have formally studied are on the same level regarding business knowledge and processes.
The Design Coach is as much about developing community and support networks for designers as it is about teaching fundamental business management. In the short time since its inception, The Design Coach has attracted a team of designers who are passionate about the cause. ‘We are very lucky that there are some empowering and inspiring people in the industry who are happy to share what they know’, says Andrew.
The idea behind the Masterclasses is ‘getting into the heads of some creative geniuses and seeing how they operate’, he explains. Recognising that an important part of the creative industry is learning from others’ unique approaches, each Masterclass will be run by a different designer who is a leader in their field. Participants are given the opportunity to learn from industry leaders and influencers, getting into their headspace and unlocking the secrets to their success. As well as teaching useful skills and delivering a unique insight into another designer’s creative and business processes, the Masterclasses are designed to bring together small groups of up to 12 designers. A key goal of The Design Coach is creating a community for solo designers, mitigating the isolation that can come with the territory, so the Masterclasses are a chance for participants to also connect as they learn together.
The first Masterclass takes place on July 14th, hosted by interior designer Brett Mickan. ‘Brett is an incredible designer, there’s no predictability in his work. He gets his clients to commit to him and his creativity in a breathtaking way, taking them out of their comfort zone to create something totally unique each time.’, Andrew says. This first Masterclass will delve into making clients a part of the creative process and effectively interpreting the brief, techniques to sell ideas to clients, and creating an engaging presentation. In August, Samantha Eades, whose work is highly sought-after internationally, will host a Masterclass focusing on hospitality design. Rowan Lodge, of Aesop, will be presenting September’s Masterclass focusing on his speciality of retail design.
As well as the business workshops, Masterclasses, individual and group coaching, The Design Coach also run retreats with a focus on wellness and inspiration. The upcoming September Byron Bay Retreat will host the designers at a 5-star eco-resort, with lunches, sessions on balance and health while running a design business and visits to some significant architectural properties. After struggling with his own business and understanding the toll the pressure of running a business can take on one’s wellbeing, he now feels ‘really passionate about wellness and helping people to be empowered to bring balance to their lives’.
Andrew Mitchell has come a very long way over the years, and in the process learned some difficult yet incredibly valuable lessons. Now, it is clear he is driven and committed to educating and supporting others so they do not have to repeat his mistakes. ‘I realised that I just love helping people’, he says. ‘The most satisfying thing about The Design Coach is that it’s not a job, it’s a mission’.