From Corporate Employees to Successful Interior Design Business Owners

By The Design Cure

Meet Lauren & Mika from My Little Empire. They went from working in the corporate world to now running their own successful Interior Design business based in Australia.

Show Notes

My Little Empire



Episode Transcript

Brian: [00:00:11] So today we're going to be speaking with Lauren and Mika from my little empire. They're husband and wife team and they're joining us ALL THE WAY FROM AUSTRALIA. THE LAND DOWN UNDER.


Brian: [00:00:25] All right so jumping right into it. The guys want to just say hello. Y ou are from Australia.What's it like doing business over there in Australia.


Lauren: [00:00:43] It's pretty good to be honest. Yeah. We're really lucky we where we live is a great little suburb. It's not too far from Melbourne's City. We've got the beach not far from us and yet we're lucky enough to work from home which is amazing. We also see travel sort of all over the state and interstate to say clients. So yeah I can't complain it's pretty good over here.


Jess: [00:01:16] Nice and can you give us a little glimpse and so Lauren your the interior designer. Mika you do the horticulture work.


Mika: [00:01:27] The horticulture is a past job so I was doing horticulture for 12 years and I've been involved in My little Empire for the last 2 so it's grown and I'm focusing on the interior design now.


Brian: [00:01:43] Now it's making sense. That's interesting but you still kind of mix your background into into your Interior Design Projects


Mika: [00:01:55] Yes. so I do alot of specifying for the indoor plants and plants outside so if needed but we just sort of go towards the indoor plants because it's specific to the interiors.


Lauren: [00:02:11] What did you do before you launch my little empire. Before I launched My little empire I actually worked in the pharmaceutical industry for about ten years. So my role was I had a pharmacy that I would oversee all across the country and I used to travel work and I wouldn't be home very often and it was definitely a fast paced sort of corporate environment and something that I wasn't very passionate about. So I just yet decided that I want to change and interiors has always been something that interested me so I decided to throw away that career and study and study interior design and now here I am still working.


Jess: [00:03:10] when did you start your business back in 2010.


Lauren: [00:03:14] Yeah yeah. And so and initially and can you tell us how you started your business.


Lauren: [00:03:23] Yes so I started my little empire as an actual retail store so homewares retail store and I opened that up obviously so that I could get exposure to different brands and different artists and just base sort of emerged in all things interiors. And I at the same time I started studying interior design and yes focusing on that side of things from out of the shop. And it just grew organically and eventually over time we decided to close the shop to just focus on the interior design side of things and not have to worry that running a retail store as well and its been fantastic. It been Probably the best decision I've ever made in terms of you know with my career


Brian: [00:04:23] That sounds like quite a brave path you see started with like one of the hardest things to do which is have like a brick and mortar shop. And yet. And you guys kind of found out through that that you got plenty of clients and you wanted to be able to be a little bit more flexible so you kind of got away from the you know in shop process and now you can work from anywhere.


Lauren: [00:04:48] Yes exactly in that sort of I guess was always the plan. And it's kind of surreal that now we're doing it. But yeah it was a daunting sort of decision to make because it was you know in so it always fear of the unknown. I think we kind of backed ourselves and we had some amazing clients at the time that really inspired us to sort of take that leap of faith and we did. And it's been amazing. It's been fantastic couldn't really ask much more to be honest.


Jess: [00:05:22] So did you take your shop online now do you still sell home ware products.


Lauren: [00:05:28] Yeah look. What do you say. So the online store component is definitely still there anyway. Basically with just sort of outsourced that part of it so that we can focus on the interior. We've got come to people that look after that for us. And it's it's not really a primary focus of our business it's sort of more just like an add on I suppose now for us whereas years ago It was the other way around that. The retail side of things is our primary focus in the interiors was secondary whereas now it's very much you know the other way round. So yeah we we offer some of their services online like e-design but yeah most of our work is sort of done face to face with our client.


Jess: [00:06:19] So what type of projects you guys work on mainly


Lauren: [00:06:25] Basically we try to be sort of like an end to end service so we predominantly help clients if they're renovating or building and we'll help them select all of their you know fixtures and fittings and a lot of the time Mika project manage renovation for our clients and over sea all the trades and then secondary to that is interior styling say we'll source furniture and artwork and things like that four clients and then we'll style the Homes for them. You know I would do everything right down to the sheets on the bed that they sleep in. So we try to really offer a complete end to end service for our clients just to make it easy for them.


Brian: [00:07:14] sounds like a focus on residential mainly.


Mika: [00:07:16] Correct. Yes. we're slowly branching out to commercial. Last year we did a university


Lauren: [00:07:30] It's still predominantly the residential side of things as opposed to the commercial projects. I think it's sort of what we love. But having said that you know if a really good commercial project sort of popped up you know we definitely have the interest in having a look at that and seeing you know what we could do.


Brian: [00:07:51] Yeah. And I think it's interesting because I know you guys are talking more like how many clients you have and how challenging that was at a certain time and we're going to get to that question in a minute. What do you think is the hardest part of your business but as far as expanding to if it's a big client comes what would be your strategy to kind of wrap up what you're doing with your residential for instance and open ourselves up to a bigger project. Is it just a matter of scheduling.


Lauren: [00:08:23] Yeah I think so. I mean at the moment probably for the last 18 months with Been at capacity that there hasn't been a time for the last 18 months where we sort of had any sort of gaps to be able to take on any large scale projects like a commercial one. And so it would be something that we definitely have to sort of plan for. In that sense but having said that we are sort of building a quality team at the moment. So we've got some some great people that we do work with that you know sort of on a project by project basis as needed. And so we don have infrastructure there. If that if it was needed to be able to bring other people on to assist us in completing projects or maybe even taking on a couple of big ones


Jess: [00:09:17] I think that was one of the struggles we had as well like it was. Yes. Just being able to outsource some of the items quickly to meet the demand and timeline and that I think that is one of the biggest struggles I found when working on big commercial projects on my own


[00:09:41] It's just it's almost a different ballgame altogether like residential versus commercial commercial obviously on a much much bigger scale and to have a team of people that you really count on and that you need sort of trust to sort of deliver the best that they possibly can. It's really crucial and I think that's something we don't take lightly or I think look at going down that path until we felt really confident that we're the right people on board so that we could deliver the absolute best to our clients that something you know we wouldn't want to compromise the quality of our work. Just to say we've taking on a project we want to be able to deliver to the best of our ability.


Brian: [00:10:27] Yeah it sounds like you guys do really I mean your website and your portfolio looks beautiful in the fact that you guys get some many clients repeating client sounds like that's a big part of why your business is succeeding.


Lauren: [00:10:45] Yeah I guess when I started the business I never really thought about repeat clients because you kind of think you work on one project for client and then you know you sort of design their forever home. And that's the way but I guess we've been lucky enough that a lot of our clients they will own investment properties or that want to work on say you know they might be developers and things like that so they'll sort of come back to us again to work on their next project and then they might be you know go complete that one and then a year later they'll get back and touch to us and say hey I have this little investment probably that I want to renovate. We want to get you guys on board. So we're pretty lucky that we get that referral and repeat business and its kind of nice because you get to know your client sort of long term and they become sort of like friends not just clients I suppose which is something that we really love. Love getting to know our clients.


Jess: [00:11:57] Yeah. Yeah that's one thing I love about I also with developers as well and I find that if they like working with you they'll keep coming back to you know year after year.


Brian: [00:12:17] It's you guys have a strategy you use for developers versus residential clients far as making your relationships.


Lauren: [00:12:27] I wouldn't really say no I really say there is a strategy into developing a relationship. I just think you know sort of sort of ethos is just being genuine authentic. And I think that that's something that you know occasionally we have clients who say to us I was surprised. You guys are really down to earth and easy to talk to and we're like yeah of course we are we are just normal people but I sometimes people they have this preconceived idea that you know working with an interior design remains that they're gonna be pretentious or critical of their Home or things like that and we just not about that work out you know making sure that we get to know our clients that there is a developer or private client we get to know them really well so that we understand what their neends are. And I wouldn't say we have a strategy I guess strategy is just to be ourselves.


Lauren: [00:13:30] And listen to what people are wanting because I think people will tell you what I want. So it's kind of just unraveling that to really kind of Arcangel what I'm really hearing is that you're looking for x y in there and keeping the communication really


Brian: [00:13:55] That makes it makes a lot of sense. You know just be yourself. Work hard Quality stuff


Jess: [00:14:19] Our next question is how do you manage responsibilities in the business. Who is responsible for what


Lauren: [00:14:30] Well it is going to get Mika to answer this one.


Mika: [00:14:47] So I'm responsible for all the back end of the business so all the logistics all the furniture coming to our warehouse. Overseaing the trade design concept a lot of behind the scenes most of the time Lauren is differently the face


Lauren: [00:15:07] As much as I would love for Mika to be the face of this business he's diffently the shy one. In case you couldn't tell. So I'll handle more the front of House and the client side of things and he'll do a lot of behind the scenes. Yeah. Being married it does make it difficult sometimes to figure out who is responsible for what. Well I'm sure you guys probably can understand that


Brian: [00:15:37] Yeah you just going to wear multiple hats really.


Lauren: [00:15:43] I think look got a good system now.


Jess: [00:15:47] What was the biggest challenge for you guys like starting off working at the couple


Mika: [00:15:58] I would say it probably was just like separating work from personal life. Having times where we don't talk about work it's just more of its our time so to speak.


Jess: [00:16:14] That's a good point.


Lauren: [00:16:15] Yeah definitely. We're still we're still learning that a bit I think


Mika: [00:16:22] Running your own business You're always working. Yes definitely find time to switch off. Yeah.


Jess: [00:16:32] So true. Like there's times where Brian wants to talk about work and I'm just like done with it.


Brian: [00:16:40] Yeah I'm up with a code word for the other person


Lauren: [00:16:53] Yeah we might have to do that, We made a promise that every morning we go repeat walk with the dog and we sort of said right when we go in the morning that's just our time that' the one time the whole day we're not going to talk about work we kind of find every morning our walks becomes sort of like a meeting about what we're going to do for the day workwise. So we might have to try your code word


Brian: [00:17:39] Because let me get too far and then she just explodes on me.


Jess: [00:17:56] OK so what was the worst entrepeneur moment in your interior design business. I think just Yeah like not taking the time to properly plan and set out our goals from the start. I think we kind of didn't expect to be as busy as what we were when we first started. So I think we kind of thought Oh yeah that come down the track will be able to sit down and you know get together strategy and time just obviously get to away from you And I think that was probably a mistake because there was definitely opportunities there that we missed and we could have we could have taken advantage of that because we didn't really know. We just focusing so much on trying to get the day to day stuff done. We weren't looking at the bigger picture. So I think yeah like if we could sort of give advice to anyone else sort of starting out it's sit down and put that plan together at the beginning because it's a lot harder to go back once you're already really into it. Yeah. So I think planning planning is definitely something that we should have done more of at the beginning.


Brian: [00:19:18] So how far do you guys generally plan ahead. I mean there's always going to be things like flying in or out of nowhere b.


Lauren: [00:19:28] Yeah. Well we have a monthly sort forecast. Just because of work load it's really difficult. That would be we minimum amount of Time we can probably plan for. And then you know long term of definitely set some long term goals that we're working towards. And yeah. So it's a bit of bias really


Brian: [00:20:01] And do those long term plans have anything to do with becoming more flexible as far as working more online or do you want to continue the residential. I'm sorry the local branch.


Lauren: [00:20:17] I think for us like will always want us to do what we're doing. But we definitely had sort of seeing the shift with e-design we are doing a lot more e-design at the moment and it sort of seems to be growing and for us that's fine because it means we can basically work anywhere. You know one of our long term goals is you know Mika and I we both grew up in Sydney and we'd like to kind of move back eventually one day like not maybe not within the next five years that might be after that and I think come having some clients that are based up there it's been great for us and having work that sort of coming from interstate means that we can kind of cater to clients so from anywhere. So we did leave Melbourne eventually one day not anytime soon. Yeah business would be flexible enough to work and operate from anywhere in the world really.


Brian: [00:21:29] Yes you could take your clients with you.


Lauren: [00:21:32] Yep which Would be amazing.


Jess: [00:21:35] So right now for your e-design client how do you guys go about finding those like connecting with those clients. Is it through social media or referrals again.


Lauren: [00:21:49] Most of them referrals. To be honest like you know actually all of the ones we've had have been referrals so we might have a client here in Melbourne that you know we've completed styling their home and then you know They'll send photos to their friends or whatever and some friends might get in touch with us and say you know we love what you do. We want you to do the same for us. Mika actually manages a lot of the e-design client on line. It's just really good at being able to juggle you know that sort of thing. So yeah it's al done online like either on the phone by email or skype and some clients want us to actually you know put everything together for them and then fly up to them install their Home's. Other clients ask for guidance on not and we can do either for them say it works really well and I think that's the beauty of technology these days.


Brian: [00:22:59] Yeah and speaking of technology could you tell us a little bit about the software you use.


Mika: [00:23:04] Yeah so we use a program called Sketchtup that's basically the base of all of our e-design work, moodboards. So Sketchup is definetly the program to use


Lauren: [00:23:27] We are actually doing like an advanced course at the moment in Sketchup to sort of you know keep our skills up to date you know programs change and evolve all the time so we like to make sure that we keeping our skill set up to date as best as we can as well. So yes a great tool that people looking to design and visualize some house spaces.


Brian: [00:23:53] And Mika you've also mentioned that it was you that was doing a lot of hand drawing?


Mika: [00:24:03] Yeah that's the both of us I do a rough sketch and then convert it all over. Once you get them the ticket of approval yes.


Brian: [00:24:13] Do you guys use any drafting programs as well.


Lauren: [00:24:18] No I not. We die like we've got. What an amazing architect that we work with that does alot of that stuff for us. Yeah. So we don't need any drafting programs


Jess: [00:24:36] SketchUp and handdrawing. The more creative fun part of the design process. That's good.


Lauren: [00:24:44] Yeah. Yeah and I think something like handdrawings is something that's definitely like a bit of a dying art because everything is so digital these days. So I think clients really appreciate when he takes the time to do something that is hand drawn and they can see you know your design come to life and it's something that's really unique that nobody else can replicate as well. So it is something that we want to keep and incorporate right into what we offer our clients. But having said that we also understand that there's that need for the digital design too. So it's kind of nice to have a mix of both.


Brian: [00:25:26] Do you plan on bringing anything any other softwares into your world in the future. Sounds like you guys are constantly learning which is why ask.


Lauren: [00:25:35] Yeah like it's always happy to sort of try different programs and things like that. Like I know Revit is a huge program here. We've sort of dabbled in different programs and it'll be something that will always continue to do. Just because there's so many advanced in technology all the time you kind of have to otherwise you get left behind I suppose


Jess: [00:26:10] So the next question we're curious what's what's a typical week look like for the two guys like you guys work Monday to Friday do you work weekends. How do you guys go about setting your hours.


Mika: [00:26:33] no two weeks are really the same. So we try to schedule our initial Consults and new clients in Monday. So then we can be sort of flexible for our other clients.


Lauren: [00:26:53] Yeah definitely we try to schedule all of our meeting on the same day so that were out one day. Then we try to have like solid sort of admin days to get work done and some behind the scenes designs you know replying to emails whatever it may be.


Brian: [00:27:14] Wow so you really block it out


Lauren: [00:27:18] we try to yeah to because What we found was with literally their someweeks were we are just running around all the time either collecting samples or meeting with supplier or seeing clients or you know meeting new clients and then we sort of get home and it will be 7 or 8pm . And our inboxe is full and you know we had designs to sketchup. We had all sorts of things. Now we've we really try to sort of like look in the diary and go like okay this day is going to be our admin days the week and then our other days are going to be our days out on the road. Getting all the things done that we need to get on


Brian: [00:28:08] Maybe occasionally a vacation hopefully.


Jess: [00:28:13] Yeah do you guys give yourself vacations every year. How do you go about it.


Mika: [00:28:20] We're having a Vacation we got one planned to New Zealand in June for ten days so that'll be our vacation for the year.


Lauren: [00:28:31] Yeah. We got married a few years ago and literally worked up until the day before our wedding and then for our honeymoon we went away just locally. So like 4 5 nights and worked while we were away. Yeah. This trip is going to be like our first real life honeymoon.


Brian: [00:29:03] Don't take the computers.


Mika: [00:29:05] The computer comes everywhere.


Lauren: [00:29:20] Do you go away much


Brian: [00:29:20] We kind of constantly on the move honestly like we spent the past couple years on and off in Thailand working from there. Oh wow. Now back in Canada but we're originally from California. We've been kind of moving around a lot and now just kind of finally settling down. Yes. We're and we're pregnant so we need to settle down. Yeah.


Lauren: [00:29:59] Whether you want to or not oh that's amazing.


Brian: [00:30:08] It's great what the e- design business has really allowed us to to do that. It's just super grateful for the Internet allowing us to be who we want to be which is kind of travelers and nomadic people. And my family is one side of the country and hers is on the other side. So knowing that we need to be able to be as flexible as possible.


Lauren: [00:30:30] Yeah. And that's right. I think the e-design is just you know it's something that we're definitely getting more and more clients contacting us for that service and it is just it opens up a whole new world because you really can be anywhere and still sort of earning an income and running the business that you know you can pass up one day and fly the outside world. And nobody really ever know unless you told them I guess.


Brian: [00:31:04] Exactly


Lauren: [00:31:05] Yeah yeah. Very cool.


Brian: [00:31:09] Yeah. I'd love to keep talking to you guys all night but we've we've kept you first way too long. It's like it's like 11 30 over there. You're in your side of the world. So one more question before you go. What advice would you have for the designers listening to this show that are wondering do what you guys do.


Lauren: [00:31:35] Always look at how you can improve So I think come yet look at what you can do better I don't ever feel like be your own best critic. Like in a nice way but you know. Yeah. Back itself but at the same time look at what you could be doing that after each project that you can look back on it and say I did this really well. But I could have done this better. Or you know is there better why I could be doing it. And I think that why you sort of develop and grow and be the best that you possibly can be.


Brian: [00:32:24] Mika anything?


Mika: [00:32:28] back yourself definitely go for it. Yeah don't be afraid. You never know unless you have confidence in yourself.