Introduce yourself (include your name, your business/what you do for living)
My name is Sarah Montgomery and I have just launched my interior design business, Sarah Montgomery Design. I also work as a product designer for the bedding and soft home furnishings company, Eastern Accents.
Tell us about your education background.
I have a BFA in Fibers from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
How did you start your business?
I’ve always had additional creative work outside of my full-time job. After college, while working as display coordinator for Anthropologie, I also did freelance art installations in people’s homes and businesses. After landing a job with Eastern Accents as a product designer in 2010 and being introduced to the home furnishings industry, I realized I was interested in curating product as well as designing it. Designing and setting up our showroom spaces was always my favorite part of the job.
After helping my mom redo her living and dining room a few years ago I knew the interior design was the direction I wanted to move towards, I just didn’t know how. Going back to school wasn’t really an option. It wasn’t until I started listening to Luann Nigara’s podcast, A Well Designed Business, that I was able to form a plan for my business. I got serious about my brand, my ideal customer and the systems I was going to implement when I started to get clients. It was important for me to get all the back-end stuff in place so that I could launch the business while keeping my full-time day job. I’ve just finished up all of that and now I need to sell myself, which I know will be my biggest challenge.
What inspired you as a creative woman?
I’m inspired by the openness and transparency of the industry right now. Home design is changing as customers have more access to resources that used to only be available by trade. Designers are having to adapt to that and are being creative and coming up with even more ways to sell their brand and services. Niche is rich and as many designers as there are these days, there are just as many people who specialize in offering business and marketing help solely to people in the home furnishings industry.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made on your job or on your business, and how did you get through it?
I do believe in timing, but I also think it took me a long time to find the resources and confidence to try for entrepreneurship. I’ve always had the mentality that I want to do the work, not talk about it. Social media and marketing are not natural to me and I know that element will always be my biggest struggle. Knowing I’m not alone in this struggle is very reassuring. I feel like I’m taking a very grass roots approach to starting my business and the goal is to grow enough that I can outsource the things I’m not strong at!
If you won a lottery today, will you still continue to build your business?
Absolutely. I think another struggle I have is my mindset about money. Interior Design is a luxury trade and the goal is to get clients with money to spend, but since I didn’t grow up like that and I’m not in that position now, it seems hard to relate to or even come in contact with my ideal client. Winning the lottery would definitely bridge that gap!
Walk us through your day as product/interior designer.
I work at Eastern Accents during the day and I wear many hats. I could be working on fabric or trim development, cutting samples of my designs, planning a showroom, or solving production problems within our factory. When I get home I work out and make dinner with my boyfriend and then I work on my business for a few hours. I usually set a few small goals for the week and try not to be too hard on myself. My first step for marketing my new business is actually putting out postcards offering my services in my neighborhood. Like I said, grassroots, but it feels right to me.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud that after graduating college in the middle of the 2007-2008 financial crisis I was able to land a job in the creative field. I’m proud of my diverse career path and the interpersonal and leadership skills I gained from being a teaching artist.
Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?
I have the goal of growing my business so that I can do that full time, but I would also love the chance to work with some of the other local boutique firms in Chicago that I admire so much.
Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you.
You really do get back what you put out there. Figure it out, you are not stuck.