‘Fresh Eyes’ Inspires Will Brown Interior's Clever COVID Pivot, Focus on Feng Shui
After decades working in corporate America, Will Brown took the leap and started his own business, Will Brown Interiors LLC. But just over a year later, COVID-19 changed everything. That’s when Will knew his second act needed a revamp.
Turning a passion into a business
After studying graphic design in college, Will enjoyed a successful career with corporations like Target and Hallmark. But one of his responsibilities became less of a job and more of a passion.
During his time at Hallmark, he was art director in the photo studio. As part of that, he built sets and created rooms for photo shoots.
“I was getting into this space of creating rooms with depth and filling them with things from our prop room – furniture, décor,” he says. “I found that I really enjoyed that sense of creating another world.”
Soon, Will found himself helping friends and neighbors pick paint colors or rearrange furniture. One friend asked him to redesign one room, then another. Pretty soon, Will had redesigned the entire home.
“That’s kind of how it all started,” he says. “I knew this was going to be my next chapter. Last February, Hallmark was going through a round of layoffs, and so I took a package. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to transition from employee to entrepreneur.”
One business license application later and Will Brown Interiors was official. But Will had been doing his homework. A year earlier, he’d gone to the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Missouri—Kansas City. Will took courses on business and marketing, and he’s still in touch with his coach, Joel Barrett.
ELEVATIONLAB New Venture helped equip him for success, too. During this five-week, 30-hour coaching and training workshop (which Will only paid $75 thanks to a scholarship through the Urban Business Growth Initiative), Will met his business coach, vetted his business, tested it against his potential market and built his network of fellow business owners.
“I learned how to create a business plan, how to create a marketing plan and put it toward creating a business,” he says.
Will also learned from industry-specific resources. He found Capella Kincheloe, a renowned interior designer dedicated to demystifying the industry and empowering designers to run their own businesses.
Changing business plans with changing times
Will Brown Interiors was thriving. Then COVID-19 happened, and business couldn’t go on as usual.
Interior design is personal, and designers must carefully tailor their offerings and advice for each customer. Will knew he needed to find a way to address client needs without seeing their spaces in person. But he wasn’t certain how to format virtual offerings or how they might work.
Will turned to his SBDC coach, Joel Barrett. Together, they walked through what online offerings might look like and how Will could best serve his clients with these tools. Joel even helped with the first test run of the technology. After the mock consultation, Will and Joel talked about what went well and what could be polished.
These conversations covered pricing, consultation length and how to make them lead to sales. Joel and Will carefully considered how to provide value but also leave the customer wanting more so that a follow-up proposal might lead to further work.
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“Will has great entrepreneurial instincts,” Joel says. “He sought help from me in determining how to keep his small business momentum going during the quarantine. He was willing to step outside of his comfort zone and approach business with a fresh set of eyes.”
Will has become active on more social platforms, like HomeAdvisor. He’s featuring a variety of detailed virtual design offerings on his website, too. Sharing information by email and meeting via Zoom are different, but the approach is working — and enabling him to work with clients around the country.
“There’s an alternative way to still provide services in a way that’s safe for everybody, but it’s still a learning and evolving process,” Will says. “We’ll continue to do this because that’s where the market is going to go.”
Quarantine has been a time of reflection for Will.
“For me, it’s been a time to rethink and refocus my business and not just kind of plow forward,” he says. “It’s time to rethink how do I want this business to look, and how it can survive — there’s a practical reality to that.”
Will also reconsidered how his services fit into the world at large.
“How is decorating a space adding value?” Will asks. “I reframed it to the client and how it will make them feel and how it will improve their lives. Well-being is more of a growing awareness in Western culture. … What I’m doing through the craft of interior design is helping them do that.”
Finding comfort at home is more important than ever.
“If I could find a way to make home cocoon you and make you feel safe during this time – that’s more than how a space looks,” Will says. “That’s thinking more deeply on how it can help you and become a sanctuary for you.”
This inspired Will to pursue feng shui. He’s currently studying to become certified in this practice of balancing energy in a space.
“I’m on the right path and have more clarity,” he says. “It’s also a way to differentiate my services and be true to who I am and what I enjoy doing.”
Encouraging creative people of color
Whether he’s doing business virtually or in person, Will feels strongly about encouraging other creatives – especially people of color.
“I’m mixed; my birth mother is Korean, my father was black and my stepmother is also African American,” he says. “In black culture, because of our history, every generation that comes up, they want to do better than preceding generations. I struggled because my parents didn’t see the value of me going into a creative field. If you look around in design, there are far fewer African Americans in that field. A lot of it is because our culture.”
Will’s parents had plans for him to go into the military. But something told Will it wasn’t the right path.
“I had this talent. I didn’t know what a graphic designer was, didn’t know what an interior designer was,” he says. “It was a conversation that my art teacher had with my parents. I was winning contests, getting scholarships because of my art. But that teacher said, ‘Your son is really talented. Your son could be successful if he pursues this.’ It was enough to crack the door.”
Will proved that he could be successful in a creative field. And he wants other people to see that potential within themselves, too.
“If I had any advice, especially for the black community, I’d say: if you’ve got talent in a creative field, there’s opportunity for you, and we need to see representation from the community,” he says. “Pursue it.”
His advice to anyone considering starting a business centers around enthusiasm and devotion, too.
“I think it’s important that it has to be something that you are absolutely passionate about, and if you’re just doing a business to pay the bills, I don’t know that that’s sustainable,” Will says. “As a new business owner, something’s got to give you the inspiration and passion to keep going because you literally don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”
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