What do you do when business slows down?

Like any business, your business will likely experience ups and downs in the market, and the phones that used to ring have gone silent for a while. This week, we asked 12 designers – Tate Casper, Julie Dodson, Austin Handler, Darren Henault, Debbie Mathews, Kyle O’Donnell, Mary Patton, Sam Sacks, Adele Salierno, Tess Twiehaus, Liz Williams and Jordan Winston – what tips they have for staying busy during inevitable business interruptions.

Kyle O’DonnellCourtesy of Kyle O’Donnell

Don’t turn off the lights
“A few times a year, usually around the mid-summer and winter holidays, clients tend to be distracted or on vacation and communicate less. Whenever we have free time, we use it to work on internal office projects. Last year we started designing offices with custom lighting fixtures. Some fixtures will remain conceptual forever, some we will use in future projects, and some we think are so good that we produced them. The goal is to someday produce enough lights to create our own collection. Eventually we will try the same approach with other items such as furniture. And above all, it is a good team-building exercise that allows you to stimulate creativity.” —Kyle O’Donnell, Gramercy Design, New York

Darren HenaultCourtesy of Darren Henault

Understand the cycle
“Honestly, after 27 years, I’ve learned that business can be cyclical. Things usually pick up in the fall when everyone returns from vacation and their real lives get back on track. Then there’s usually another wave of calls after tax day and when (professionals) get their bonuses. (The slowdown is) a great time to focus on other aspects of the business, product design and traveling for inspiration.” —Darren Henault, Darren Henault Interiors and Tent New York

Liz WilliamsCourtesy of Liz Williams

Check out this to-do list
“I usually use the extra time to organize, improve the design of my office, and take care of my personal home project, which often gets put on the back burner. I’m also trying to brainstorm new ways to streamline our business practices to save time when things get busy again. This is a good time to read all those new product emails that sometimes get missed! I (also) take the opportunity to go out for lunch instead of eating at my desk!” —Liz Williams, Liz Williams Interiors, Atlanta

Jordan Winston and Tate CasperCourtesy of Oxford Design

Keep it simple
“When business slows down, we take a necessary breath and reset, and then we tend to fill our calendars with smaller projects that we might not otherwise have the bandwidth for. It is often these works that inspire creativity, have smaller budgets, and remind us why we do what we do.” —Jordan Winston and Tate Casper, Oxford Design, Tampa

Tess TwiehausCourtesy of Tess Twiehaus

Go with the flow
“When business slows down, I take it as an opportunity to recalibrate. Being an interior designer can feel like a constant sprint, and when there’s a lull, I try not to panic or take it for granted. As creators (and human beings), it’s important that we rest and recharge. The best work is usually on the other side. Using my free time to reconnect with what inspires me, disconnect completely, or even pursue other creative endeavors is a great gift. There are natural ebbs and flows, so I try my best to follow that and see where it takes me. —Tess Twiehaus, Tess Interiors, Los Angeles and New York

Debbie MathewsCourtesy of Debbie Mathews

Big picture
“The first thing I do is take a step back and evaluate our current systems and processes. Downtime is rare, so I like to evaluate our recently completed projects to determine what worked, what didn’t, and how a new system or process could be better. I also evaluate whether any updates need to be made to our website, social media or marketing plans. I find that slower times are suitable for scheduling photo shoots of completed projects as they usually require a lot of planning, preparation and time. From a marketing standpoint, this is a great time to connect with past clients to talk about their current needs, as well as schedule lunch meetings with real estate agents and contractors to discuss our services. —Debbie Mathews, Debbie Mathews Antiques and Designs, Nashville

Austin HandlerCourtesy of Austin Handler

What Lull?
“One of the easiest things to do when business slows is to stay open to tasks you might not consider when the phone is ringing non-stop. If you usually only work on full houses, consider taking on partial projects. If you typically work for a set fee, consider a client who only needs hourly work. But there are other things you can do to gain an advantage during a downturn that may seem counterintuitive. For example, during an economic downturn, the first thing many companies do is pull back on advertising and reduce their marketing budgets; in the short term this may seem like a smart decision to cut financial costs, but since many businesses are quick to not take this stance, there is actually an opportunity to stand out in a field of reduced competition. Investing in advertising/marketing/promotion as your competition retreats can suddenly give you more exposure to potential customers. On a larger scale, diversifying your business can also provide you with multiple revenue streams, which will help better protect you if one goes out of business or even slows down. Think product design, brand partnerships, affiliate link programs, online stores, Instagram shops… These things take time, so these types of streams should be part of a broader revenue strategy, not a panic move once everything dies down. sudden. When things are going well, we often take it for granted when client after client comes our way. But if the phone stops ringing, don’t complain. Ask yourself, “What can I do Today help my company? Think about it, find one thing, and then put the plan into action. —Austin Handler, interior designer Mabley Handler, New York

Julie DodsonCourtesy of Julie Dodson

Fill the well
“Fortunately, our business has remained steady over the last 20 years. During occasional breaks, I encourage everyone to rest, spend time with loved ones and reset. Personally, I love traveling to new places during my breaks because it allows me to recharge my batteries and discover new inspiration for our projects.” —Julie Dodson, Dodson Interiors, Houston

Adele SaliernoCourtesy of Adele Salierno

Look inside
“The slowdown in business can be scary, but there are plenty of opportunities to make the most of these days. Slow periods can be an opportunity to analyze your company’s performance and develop a strategy for the future, but they can also be a great time to focus on non-billable tasks like product research, updating material libraries, and keeping up with industry trends. Reviewing marketing strategies, putting more energy into social media and intensifying networking is also a great choice for less busy days. One of my favorite tasks is to spend time reviewing and organizing corporate knowledge in the office; I love evaluating the details we have incorporated into our designs and brainstorming ways to take them to the next level. —Adele Salierno, Studio Ku, San Francisco

Sam SacksLauren Miller

Learn and adapt
“When business slows down, I tend to panic and then, like all good people, I get back up and get to work. In the fall of 2023, high Canadian interest rates threw my business off balance. I took this opportunity to network extensively, leaning heavily on a strong peer group to confirm that it wasn’t my thing. I spoke with economic leaders to understand the forecast, and with real estate agents to get their input from home buyers and sellers. Understanding that we are in a year-long crisis, I have scaled back my team enough to not eat into our profits, but not so much that we are unable to take on new business, and I have increased my social media presence. I also put in a lot of hard work to make sure that having fewer support staff didn’t negatively impact quality.” —Sam Sacks, Sam Sacks Design, Toronto

Mary PattonCourtesy of Mary Patton

Think ahead
“I’m resting (in preparation) for when things get crazy again. Fortunately, when I worry that things are moving slowly, something new always comes along. However, when we have some downtime, I really like to get organized and spend time working on how I want to grow the business and what I want to manifest next. Running your own business is a leap of faith, so just stay the course. When things are slow, know that something good is around the corner. —Mary Patton, Mary Patton Design, Houston