Interview with Interior Designer Kathleen Jennison

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Each month, we interview a Socialite Influencer, one of our members who has shown exceptional skill at marketing her business in the interior design, home staging, or workroom spaces. We cover the emotional, strategic, educational, and brand-based facets of running a business in the fast-paced home industry.

Meet Our Guest

What is your name?

Kathleen Jennison

What is the name of your business?

KTJ Design Co.

Where are you located?

Stockton, California

What services do you offer?

interior design, furniture boutique, remodeling

How long have you been working in the home industry?

9 years in my own business

A note from our Socialite Influencer of the Month:

Since 2009, Kathleen Jennison has shared her passion as a premier designer in the California Central Valley and East Bay Area. Working with award winning, certified interior designer, Kathleen means a host of benefits, ranging from access to exclusive trade resources and trusted vendor, manufacturer, and tradesmen connections, to the peace and security felt when working with a seasoned, experienced, and creative designer. 

The Emotional Side of Biz in the Home Industry

When you first started your business, how confident were you?

I got my interior design degree in 2011 and could not get a job because of the recession. Many seasoned designers were being laid off. Since my background is in business I thought, heck I can start a business.

It was not easy. First, there was very little information out there (no podcasts, FB groups, coaches back then) on how to run an interior design business. Even though I was an auditor for MANY large corporations and knew how businesses work, interior design is a beast of it's own.

I struggled with processes, contracts, resourcing, and marketing. I hired many different coaches in marketing, but none were tailored for our industry. I took what nuggets I could from those trainings (and spent an enormous amount of money for not a lot of return) and used them the best I could.

The best thing I did was join ASID, NARI, NKBA. These peer groups gave me a venue to ask lots of questions. Unfortunately, most were NOT forthcoming with help, but a select few helped me greatly and without that tribe I would not be where I am today.

What fears did you have as a new business owner in the home industry?

I was afraid my clients would think I was a fraud. The business part was a struggle (as above), but at the same time I had to learn a lot about interior design, sourcing, CAD, codes and so on. The only way to do this is with lots of experience and asking for help from your peers. 

What part of your experience or education helped you grow your business?

?The best experience I got was attending Las Vegas Market. I went the first time in 2010 and it was an eye opener. I went by myself and boldly marched into each showroom and told them I was new and asked how things worked. Some showrooms brushed me off, but some were happy to explain the ins and outs with me. I also made a lot of connections with peers and have formed long friendships with them. I don't understand how ANY designer can NOT attend a market. There are so many - High Point, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, New York. Go and learn. The second market I went to I made a point to attend each and every seminar. Learning about what's new and keeping up on trends is vital. 

How have you grown as a person since, and because of, starting your business?

I started interior design as therapy because of my injuries, so having to learn new things and meeting with new people, keeps my cognitive brain function strong. It is a struggle for me everyday, but when I see what I've accomplished I'm so amazed. Sure, I probably break down into a good cry once in a while and wonder why I'm doing this when clients are difficult, someone is mean, or something goes terribly wrong, but I've learn to let most of that roll off my back and can calmly resolve any issue. 

Advice for New Interior Designers, Stagers & Workrooms

If you could give yourself (and any other new business owners in the home industry) a piece of advice, what would you say?

I would suggest getting out and networking. Join industry groups, join community groups and get involved. Sitting tucked away behind your computer is not going to get you anywhere. And don't be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes I know I'll ask a contractor a question and think to myself "he'll probably think I'm dumb", but people like to tell you what they know and will generally spill their guts. I wish I could go back and tell myself to find a true interior design coach and not purchase every crazy webinar in hopes of a quick fix. I've wasted so much money on courses that didn't do a thing. I have purchased a few that are golden, but I should have been more selective.

Do you have a business mentor or idol?

I admire Kerrie Kelly. She was my instructor, but her career path is amazing to watch grow. I don't want to follow her path, but it's fun for me to watch her grow. She told me to get a business location and once I did that I began to see people recognizing me as a "real" designer. She also told me to hire a publicist, but I've yet to pull the trigger. Mainly because I don't want fame within the industry or be a brand ambassador. I just want local high end clients. 

Secrets to Success in the Home Industry

What is the #1 problem you seek to solve for your clients?

Getting them through the process of a remodel without so much anxiety.

What type of project brings you the most joy?

I especially like creating a pretty living room. 

How do you spot and avoid a potentially ill-fitting client?

I don't do free consultations and if a potential client doesn't want to pay for a consultation, then I pass. This means they don't value my services and will never take my advice or trust me.

How do you handle people who say, "You're too expensive" and expect a discount?

I don't give discounts. I have in the past and when I did, it didn't turn out well. And this goes for any of my processes. Whenever I deviate from the step by step process, things go wrong. I politely tell them I can't work with them. I don't refer them to any other designers, because those designers are my friends and they don't want a problem-child either. I have referred clients to my "tribe" if I'm too busy or a client my be a better fit for one of them and they do the same for me.

In what ways have you intentionally set yourself apart from competitors?

I'm extremely straight forward, yet approachable. This is my naturally demeanor, so I don't have to work at it, but client have told me they feel at ease with me. I think this has to do with my days as a trainer when I was in public accounting. I trained all new recruits and helped mentor them along in their careers. I think, when working with clients, I am mentoring them along with their project and they feel empowered and in control, yet know they have me to fall back on and I won't let them fail. 

What is your big dream or goal for your business within the next 5 years?

I want to get my furniture store to be the go to place to buy furniture within a 100 mile radius. I want it to be an "experience." 

Marketing Tips to Use & Avoid

What is the biggest marketing mistake you've ever made?

I have made so many marketing mistakes. I felt I had a degree in business and a degree in design, but needed to go back to college for a degree in marketing! I was in a BNI group and hired the "marketer". He made a horrible website. He created 7 FB and twitter accounts (the effects of which I am still unwinding to this day). He was going to do blog posts and SM posts and just stole other peoples content. He was going to videos. It was a mess. I didn't know enough to fully understand what he was going to do and I'm not sure how I could have avoided it, but it was a mistake. Then I hired another person to fix the website, but she was a "website developer", so when I asked about the "design" or "SEO" part, she told me she didn't do that part. Again, I didn't know enough to ask the right questions and not sure how I could have avoided all that.

What is one marketing tactic you use now that you wish you had used "back in the day"?

Outsourcing SM. It frees up so much of my time. I enjoy doing the SM, but just don't have the bandwidth. Also, having my blog post edited by a copywriter makes it look so much more professional. I should have worked more on my mailing list from the get go. I was told I should do that (by another coach), but didn't have the knowledge to fully implement it. In fact, I'm still trying to figure it out. My mailing list is growing every week now. 

What is your favorite way to market your business?

I like doing the blog posts. I use the content across all social media. It's occasionally printed in local magazines (with permission from editors). It's hard to measure the effectiveness and sometimes I think no one reads them, but many times during our initial consults, people will quote back to me the advise I write about and then I know it's having an impact. Plus, if I occasionally miss a week, I get emails asking "where is this weeks blog post?"

How do you use Socialite Vault to help market your business in the home industry?

Social media posts & captions, Email newsletters, Leaded magnets / branded magazines

If a new business owner wanted to contact you for advice, how can they go about doing that?

They can call me (209) 915-0442.

What is your web address?

What is your Instagram handle?


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