We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonia Carlson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonia, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
When I decided it was the right time to start my business, I was actually terrified. I had always dreamed of working for myself, but I thought I’d do it after maybe 10-15 years in the design industry. Instead, the timing felt right when I was 6 years out of college. It was a scary leap of faith, but I’m so glad I went for it. My health was suffering from the high-stress environment of commercial and hospitality design, and I needed a change.
I knew my dream job was owning a boutique design firm where I could: 1) set my own hours, 2) be flexible with family life, and 3) have ownership of projects. Those were my main goals and the biggest reasons why I decided to launch my own business.
My husband and I decided that we would make it work. We cut our spending budget, skipped the fancy vacations, and were pretty selective about what we paid into or subscribed to. It meant some tough months. We had just purchased our first home, and the financial burden wasn’t fun for either of us. I was working regular business hours, 8-5 or longer, and sometimes pushing over a weekend to get a project done. Starting without a client base, I had to work as hard as I could without looking at the dollar signs. If I calculated how much I was making hourly in that first year… eek.
I think that’s one thing people don’t tell you about starting your own business. You’ll have to be hearty, you can’t be down on yourself when the money isn’t rolling in, and you really have to work hard to gain trust and momentum if your business relies on referrals and online presence. It’s an uphill battle the first couple of years. You know that you have a good thing going when you start to see projects come in and you don’t have to do much to cue up the next one. But until that happens, it’s all about sales and showing off your brand–something I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing until I found the right team to help me. Overall, starting my own business was the best decision I’ve made professionally, but it’s also been the biggest challenge.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
When I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, I decided it was a good time to rebrand my business. Ahh! I hired my dear friend, Beth, to help me get where I wanted to go. Her eye for brand and marketing was exactly what I needed. Beth helped shape my Instagram feed into something I was proud to show and that really represented my aesthetic. She also helped me rebrand my logo and website.
Honing my style was super important for me, and I’ve found so much meaning and depth in sharing my own home remodel. We bought a true fixer-upper (the right term might be “gut job”) here in Bend. After 4 months of hard work and late nights, we finally moved in this January, and the projects keep coming. It feels very personal to share this part of myself, but I think it has helped my business exponentially.
A big part of my success has been learning how to delegate and outsource. It’s tough as a business owner. I love to be in the creative decision making, so I’m picky about what tasks I delegate. I’ll ask myself: Can someone else do this and be as effective with their time as I’m able to be on the same task?
I’m very proud of all of my projects, and I always love when clients follow up with professional photography. It usually takes quite a bit of encouragement, but when it happens, it really pays off. I’d ask everyone who works with an interior designer to consider photography because it’s such a big boost to the designer’s business. We’ve had some great publicity recently, and we’re going to be featured in New England Home later this year!
Right now, we’re in a great place. We’re currently booked out with project inquiries until at least summer of 2023. It’s a good feeling, for sure!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First of all, If my best friend came to Bend, we’d have a blast!
Day 1: Let’s hit Café des Chutes for a delicious coffee and breakfast croissant. We’d hang out in the Old Iron Works Artist District to see all the go-to artist shops! First off my friend Lauren at Gathered Wares. We’d probably find vintage rattan accents, candlesticks, and maybe a hip vintage outfit. From there, we’ll walk through the corridor to the amazing Desert Rose Cactus Lounge, where we’ll buy some cute cacti (or just dream, since I have a toddler). The same parking lot houses the amazing Mud Lake Studios, where we can scope out local talent and shop pottery and handmade goods. Phew, lots of shopping! We’d probably grab Thai at Wild Rose for dinner because it’s my favorite.
Day 2: Fitness! We’ll eat a big breakfast at home before hitting the mountain. If it’s summertime, we’ll load up a standup paddleboard and go to Sparks Lake for the day. If it’s winter, we’ll grab some cross-country skis and take on the amazing Virginia Meisner trails. We can finish the day with drinks at The Flamingo Room surrounded by their beautiful plants.
Day 3: Back to shopping! We’ll go downtown for some lovely clothing boutiques and plant shops, then take a walk around Mirror Pond to see the year-round activities that happen on the river.
Day 4: Another adventure day, starting with a trip to Smith Rock! No need to go too crazy, but I think we’d easily do the 3-7 mile loop. My favorite route is clambering up Misery Ridge for maximum payoff! We’d hit the alpaca farm on the way home because who can say no to that?
Day 5: Let’s go for one more adventure day! The trail running here is amazing; it’s one of the first things my husband and I fell in love with about Bend. We can get to a trail in less than 30 minutes, see some amazing views, and be back home in no time. So, if this bestie is feeling ambitious, I’d love to take them on the 10-mile Green Lakes Loop. Don’t worry, we can recover with a yummy brunch at Lemon Tree.
That’s a full week, I’d say! 🙂
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband, Jeffrey, for being the most supportive person in my life. Together we paid off my student loans (over $30K) in 5 years.
The University of Oregon Department of Interior Architecture & Historic Preservation.
My past clients! If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have a nationwide network of ongoing referrals.
The team at Decorilla. They supported my career as a freelancer, and I was able to gain some lucrative clients and experience with their help. I even got the chance to design a space for their CEO!
My assistant, Beth, who kept things afloat and helped launch a major rebrand while I took a much-needed maternity leave.
My design assistant, Kayla, who has helped me find balance in work and life with little kiddos in the mix.
Julia Duke Photo! Julia is a dear friend who also runs her own business. She’s photographed so many successful projects and is just a powerhouse, an amazing person to dream with as we figure out our careers here in Bend.
Other: pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/soniacarlsondesigns/
Julia Duke Photo