Entrepreneur Highlight: Focusing on Client Interaction

You know the people on Instagram you love following along with? That’s Sydney of Elmsett Design. Sydney is an interior designer with a knack for balancing textures and neutrals, and I’m always looking forward to the glimpses she gives of her brand.

Today, she is sharing some insights into running a service-based business.

From some of her best tips on designing a productive workspace, to how she focuses on client interaction to grown her business, this post is an inspirational read for creative entrepreneurs in all fields of work.

She’s the perfect guest to kick-off this year’s Entrepreneur Highlight series, and I’m so glad to have Sydney join me on the Ponder Trail Blog today!

Elmsett Blog Post.png

It’s so great to have you here, Sydney!


Share Your Story:

Introduce yourself and your brand!

Hello! I am Sydney, owner of Elmsett Design. Elmsett Design is primarily an Interior Design company, focusing on both commercial and residential work. As a current Architecture Graduate student, I hope to grow Elmsett Design into Architectural work as well.

Sydney of Elmsett Design

What’s the mission behind your brand?

To provide Interior Design services to all types of clients. I strive to make the process less intimidating, walking clients through the steps and showing them how exciting changing up their spaces is.

I recently had a client tell me they had three designers come to their house to get quotes before I got the job, and I was so happy to find out I was the only designer that made them feel/understand that even though they have a smaller home with a smaller budget, I was still super excited to work with them and saw a lot of potential with the space and budget they had.

This is the feeling I hope each one of my clients has: that no matter the space or budget, amazing things can happen!

Elmsett Design

How did you come to start your business?

I have always dreamed of running my own Interior Design business. I started to put myself out there through designing a website, creating an Instagram page, and making business cards.

Through telling everyone in my life my goals, word of mouth ended up getting me all of my clients so far. Once you have one client, they tell others, and that’s how I have gained the clients I have (so far) :).

Elmsett Design

What’s the story behind your brand’s name?

“Elmsett” is the name of the farm in England that my Nana took refuge during WWII. When she immigrated to Canada (with her kids, including my dad), they bought a farm in Ontario and named it “Elmsett.” This farm is where I have some of my best memories. I grew up constantly going to the “farm” and even got married on there.

What makes you passionate about what you do?

I am so passionate about the difference I genuinely believe can happen through an intentionally, well-designed space. It can bring people energy or joy they didn’t know they were missing or encourage them to keep pursuing their own dreams.

It is also important for spaces such as offices to be designed intentionally as a healthy space—promoting different positions (relaxed, sitting, standing) and using lighting to protect eyes but get the most efficient work done.


A Day in the Life:

Elmsett Design

Describe a typical workday.

Since I am in grad school, work days vary depending on the day. Typically, I will get into the office around 8:00 and work until noon, then go to class until 3:30 or 6:30.

Work for Elmsett happens in all of the open moments through the week. There is no consistency to that. Client meetings usually happening in the evenings or on weekends (because clients often are working during the week as well).

What do you love most about running Elmsett?

I love that it opens up opportunities and helps me to keep dreaming about my future goals. It is encouraging to see where I am today vs. this time last year or two years ago.

Do you typically work with local clients, or do you serve people all over?

For my own personal (and solely Elmsett Design clients), I work primarily with local clients (although, I would love to work more all over :)). I also work with an Architect, and for these projects, we serve people all over.

Elmsett Design

What business tasks do you face on a routine basis?

For the architecture firm I work for, I play a similar role as I do with Elmsett Design. I answer emails and phone calls as well as work on drawings to be sent to clients and/or the city for building permit.

My routine is so different day to day because Elmsett isn’t big enough to be my full-time focus right now. Client visits are definitely my favorite part of an Elmsett business day, though!

What are some of your biggest struggles of building a small business?

Finding the time/energy after working and being in school. I have a problem with being a bit of a “workaholic,” which means I don’t save time for friends or family when deep down I know I should. If I work too hard for too long, I get burnt out and discouraged.

Your designs are so lovely! Where do you go for motivation and inspiration?

Thank you! :) I worked for Anthropologie for several years, so that has been the base of my inspiration since I was in high school, but now I look more towards brands like Dwell and design trends like Wabi Sabi.


Business Tips + Takeaways:

How can having a well-designed space elevate creative entrepreneurs’ life, workflow, and overall efficiency?

A well-designed space can provide encouragement when it is hard to find anywhere else. Your surroundings make a larger impact than you realize. Designing a space that works for YOU and YOUR company is crucial. Not copying the exact Pinterest office image, but designing it to work for YOU.

Elmsett Design

As an interior design expert, what tips can you give us for creating a functional and productive office or workspace?

The first step to elevating a space is keeping it exactly how it is right now. Sounds crazy right? Well, when you want to make a change, it is easy to go to Target or West Elm and buy the cutest items, but I would encourage this step to wait.

It is best to continue using the space for a few days, recording all of the things that work and all of the things that don’t. While you sit at your desk, think about what would specifically make the space better and help you to function better?

Organize all of these thoughts, and then organize things you will buy. This requires a lot of research and time looking through things, but the end result is worth it. Once you know every single detail of what will go into the space, then go ahead and purchase. :)

Elmsett Design

What does focusing on client interaction look like, and how has it helped grow Elmsett?

As I mentioned initially, I spend a lot of time making sure my clients feel excited and comfortable with the process.

It is important to build relationships with clients because they talk to contractors and friends—all people who can help grow the business. Like I said, I have built almost all of my clients simply through word of mouth because of happy clients.

What tips do you have for growing and running a small business?

“When you get tired, learn to rest, not quit” — Banksy. One of my favorite quotes of all time. It is so important, and I have to remind myself this almost every week.

It is exhausting to grow and run a small business, and it is easy to feel alone or discouraged. My biggest tip would be simply to rest and take a break but not to ever give up!

Elmsett Design

Do you have any favorite tools and must-haves?

Freshbooks is the online accounting system I use to bill clients. It is super user-friendly (for us and the client), and I am really happy with it. Google Docs and Slides are good go-to’s when you don’t want to use InDesign or Illustrator.

Would you be willing to share any tips on getting your first clients for people just getting started?

I read somewhere when I started up to tell everyone you know in your life what you are doing/your goals. This has been huge for my success. Even when you don’t think it would make a difference, when someone asks how you’re doing, include, “and I am working on starting up ___.” People you wouldn’t expect have connections, will, or they will remember you even a year later for projects.

What are your best tips for staying focused on the direction and goals you set for your brand?

To stay in your lane. Don’t get overwhelmed by social media and think you need to do “allll the things,” Remember what you are trying to do, and do it. Remember the phrase, “stay in your lane.”


Goals + New Things:

Elmsett Design

What’s something you are really working towards or working on with Elmsett?

I am really working towards building up more commercial clients. I love working in residential design but would love to build Elmsett into more of a commercial firm. I also hope to combine architectural work (once I become a licensed architect) into Elmsett Design as well.

What’s in store with your brand? Do you have any new or exciting things in the works you’d like to share with us?

Well, I am working on a pretty big and exciting office project for three separate buildings here in Grand Rapids. We don’t know a super accurate timeline on this project right now; I have completed “phase one” of the designs!

As far as what is in store for Elmsett Design, hopefully it is more client growth, and that means additional employees.


Stay in Touch:

Where are the best places to follow you and stay in touch?

elmsettdesign.com // elmsettdesign@gmail.com // @elmsettdesign @sydneyalicejohnson

Elmsett Design
Elmsett Design

Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story and insights with us, Sydney! I’m looking forward to seeing how Elmsett Design grows in the future.


I hope you enjoyed this feature as much as I did! What are some of your favorite parts of the interview? Leave a comment below!

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