Michelle Lynne Transcript
Team is everything in business. Likely if you’re like most entrepreneurs … trying to “do it all” yourself … chances are you will stay struggling because without investing in a team … your growth as a business will be compromised.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who learned the hard way about team building and what it takes to grow and scale a successful business.
Michelle Lynne is the owner of the successful interior design firm ML Interiors Group, and she says her business took off only once she engaged mentors and coaches … and built a top team. Launching her firm as the markets crashed in 2008, it was touch and go … and she learned a lot along the way … including why it’s vital to ask for help, hire quickly, end leverage the wisdom of those who have done before … what you are seeking to achieve. She’s also the founder of Designed for the Creative Mind, where she teaches interior designers and decorators proven practices, processes and profitable systems she learned along the way.
Michelle Lynne made the entrepreneurial leap in 2008 into the interior design business just before the housing market came crashing down. It was also the year she got married and purchased her home… so there were bumps and challenges along the way. More than a decade later, she is still happily married and her interior design business is thriving. She is also the owner and founder of Designed for the Creative Mind, where she teaches interior designers and decorators the proven practices, effective processes, and profitable systems — leaving them with more time to design.
Now back to the inspiring Michelle Lynne, founder of ML Interiors Group and Designed for the Creative Mind™, where she teaches interior designers and decorators the proven practices, effective processes, and profitable systems to run their business with purpose and efficiency — leaving them with more time to design. Through her comprehensive online courses, Michelle inspires interior design business owners to weave intention into their business strategy and identify who they really are so they can refine their processes and attract more of what they want in their interior design business (and life!).
Michelle has been published on Forbes.com, where she inspires other entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Dallas Texas area. Michelle adopted a newborn in 2018, says she loves Jesus even though she admits she swears a little), and believes gratitude is the key ingredient to happiness.
Today she shares her journey and everything she has learned about asking for help, delegating, training your team – and why if you are aligned on purpose and mission – the money always follows.
So let’s put on our wings and fly with Michelle Lynne.
Melinda Wittstock: Michelle, welcome to Wings.
Michelle Lynne: Melinda, thank you so much for having me. I’m honored to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: I am excited to have you on, too. I’m fascinated by the interior design business. It’s not one that I know a huge amount about, and being endlessly curious, I want to start by asking you, first of all, what was the spark that made you go into interior design?
Michelle Lynne: Well, in all honesty, this is my third career. I was in corporate America at the time, and I was working for a wonderful boutique firm, not related to interior design at all. Completely opposite side of the brain. And that company sold, so at that point, I literally said, “Okay, what next?” And interior design is something that I’ve always been good at, and things just aligned. You know when the universe is telling you where you need to be?
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michelle Lynne: I put it out and said, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do.” My supervisors at the time were fully supportive. I was in management, so I stairs-stepped my way out of management over the course of about two years and went full time in 2010. So it was a case of kind of falling into it, gracefully, I hope.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, so many women do take the leap into entrepreneurship sometimes a little bit later in life. I’m curious about that. We tend to try and innovate and get lots of experience and even disrupt within a corporate situation, until we either get so frustrated with that or we have a life change. So we have kids or we want more flexibility in our lives. And so what was the thing that made you think, “Oh, gosh, I just really don’t want to be in corporate anymore?”
Michelle Lynne: I think it was just people telling me what to do, and it sounds odd, but I was tired of people telling me what to do, even though I knew that it could be done better. It could be done faster. And it was always about the bottom dollar. As a business owner now, I understand that money drives a lot of decisions, but one of my core tenets is: Do the right thing and the money will follow. But that wasn’t aligning in my corporate role, and so it was just … Going to work every day was not satisfying.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I think this is true. So a lot of corporate structures get stuck in that, “We’ve always done it this way, so we’re going to continue to do it this way,” and it’s a very masculine sort of command-control-type structure. Really organized around who is the strongest, right? It dates back …
Michelle Lynne: To the cave men.
Melinda Wittstock: Many, many, many, many, many, many years. And women … I think we’re coming into our own. I think that we see different ways of using business. Using business for social good. As you say, it’s not only about the bottom line. The money will follow if we’re creating value. We have a different way of going about it. Do you think that’s what’s sparking so many women to take the leap into entrepreneurship, that very fact?
Michelle Lynne: I do. There is such a power in the feminine, and being true to yourself and not necessarily wearing the masks that society ask us to put on in business. But being softer and being more approachable, I believe, attracts better employees. It attracts clients that trust you and allow you to really be in your own element and provide them with the best value. I really do believe that women are finding a voice, and that voice doesn’t have to reflect the men surrounding us.
Melinda Wittstock: So Michelle, tell us more about ML Interiors. What makes your business stand out? What do you do that’s different or special?
Michelle Lynne: It’s my team. Melinda, I have surrounded myself with some of the most amazing women, and that was by design. They’re better designers than I am, at this point. So basically, my company outgrew my skill set. Plus, I enjoy designing a business as much as I enjoy designing a room. I don’t believe that you can have both, per se. So my team comes to work and we collaborate. So I joke, but it’s true, with my clients, that you buy one designer, you get three free. There’s no egos here. There’s no cattiness, like a bunch of women can very easily have, but we all challenge each other. We see different things over the course of, I don’t know, just scrolling through Instagram. And we share it with the other designers as an idea for the project that we know they’re working on, because we’ve been introduced to the project. We understand the direction and so forth that the client wants to take it.
Melinda Wittstock: I love what you said, though, about your company outgrowing your skill set, because that is the way to scale a company.
And yet, I find so many people, women in particular, quite uncomfortable with the idea of the loss of control I think that they perceive that means.
Michelle Lynne: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: What was the transition like for you, in getting to that point where you literally did have to relinquish control to take the company to the next level?
Michelle Lynne: Well, I had to fight my ego. That was the first step. And then looking back on where I have been most successful in some of my other businesses was with the delegation. So slowly transitioning and training. I’ve learned that if you don’t train your team to do things the way you want them done, and also allowing them their creative liberties, that they don’t read minds. You have to be able to communicate your expectations so that they’re met. But then not controlling the process, because if you have people who are smarter than you, better than you, more talented than you, or whatever in that area, they’re going to get from Point A to Point B differently than you do. And that’s okay.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, exactly, because of the process. I know this as a software entrepreneur. In software, it was called malicious obedience, where the founder and CEO would say, “I want you to do it this way,” and describe the how, without being a coder. And the how is not the issue. It’s really the results and being in the why.
Michelle Lynne: I kind of call it efficiently lazy, because we can get a lot done and I can just step back and let them do it.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. You’re reminding me, though, of Richard Branson. Richard Branson, when he talks about his success, he says that he’s hired people more competent than him at implementing. He’s not an implementer; he’s a visionary. You talk to him and he will literally just say, “I hire people more competent than me.”
Michelle Lynne: Well, it makes a big difference, but again, you have to wrestle with your ego and get out of your own way.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, the ego thing is a really interesting thing, don’t you? You need a little bit of ego to even, I guess, have the chutzpah to go into business to begin with. So you need enough ego to say, “Yes, I am going to create this amazing business. I can do this.” All of that. And yet, to know when to flip that switch, it’s tricky.
Michelle Lynne: It’s tricky and I think in this industry, because design is so fun … It’s a lot of work; don’t get me wrong. It’s not just fluffing pillows and picking out colors. When I started this business, I had no clue how much more difficult it was than the two other multi-million-dollar business units that I ran. Interior design is difficult but the creation is fun. So stepping out of that, you have to find a balance and hire a team that also allows you, as in me, to have my final say on their creation.
So being diplomatic and going in and telling one of my designers, “I don’t think that’s the best solution. Let’s keep looking,” and possibly bringing them some solutions as well, is part of the dance that you do in order to keep your toe in the water. Because at the end of the day, my name’s on the door, but also not be the one who is in the trenches of design so that you can’t grow the business.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, that’s right. It’s like that difference between working in your business and working on your business. I know that in the four that I’ve scaled … I’m on business five now, but there is a certain point where that proportion changes. At the very beginning, you’re kind of all up in everything. And then just figuring out the order of people to hire. Do you think women take too long to hire their first employees? How are you with that? Did you get to hiring pretty quickly?
Michelle Lynne: I got to hiring pretty quickly, but that’s because I had been in two other industries in a management type of role. So it’s not unfamiliar to me at all. I do find that women in the interior design industry, specifically, don’t know what to hire for or how to hire, because they’re used to doing it all. And actually, that’s probably across all industries. Women are just used to doing it all. What was that old … I’m going to date myself here. “We can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man.”
We’re dancing backwards in high heels, so hiring somebody is not familiar, because again, that’s asking for help and it’s letting go of some of the control. So I do believe that it is a challenge for women to hire. Also, sometimes what I’ve seen is there’s a scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough money to hire somebody.” And “Well, babe, you don’t have enough money to hire somebody because you haven’t hired somebody.” So you have to step out of that.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. It’s circular, isn’t it?
Michelle Lynne: It is very circular, and once you understand that, then I’ve seen, once the light bulb goes off, that it becomes a little less frightening.
Melinda Wittstock: So I find sometimes that women are just fearful of letting someone down. Like, “If I hire someone and then I have to let them go or maybe they’re not the right person or I don’t have the money, oh, gosh, I’m going to hurt this person’s feelings.” That kind of thing. We can be so eager to please everybody else that in business, although there’s a lot that’s good about that, there’s also a downside about that, too. Did you have those sorts of fears when you were starting out?
Michelle Lynne: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. In all of my careers, I’ve had that fear, and one time I heard Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank, real estate guru from New York, as a speaker. She gave the best words of advice, and that was, “If it’s not the right fit, shoot the dog early.” When it comes to hiring and firing, it is business only, and it hurts both you and the employee that’s not a right fit if you keep them for the long run. So if you can reframe it and understand that you’re doing a favor to this individual by letting them go earlier, versus later, then it’s a win-win situation for everybody. If you keep them on board for a year or two years or whatever, not only are you miserable, but they are very likely believing that they’re doing a good job. Or they’re possibly miserable, too, and they just don’t have the courage to leave.
So as the owner-operator of the business or the CEO of the business, it’s your responsibility. Shoot the dog early.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s really true. My dog just looked at me. He must have overheard you. “What? Shoot the dog? What?” [crosstalk 00:23:53].
Michelle Lynne: Not literally!
Melinda Wittstock: “Who, me?” Oh, that’s funny. I think that’s true, though. So companies like Google say hire slowly; fire fast. It’s the same thing. Your employees, team members, are going to be doing so much better if it’s an alignment for them, as well as for you. I think team really is everything in business. Team and … Sorry, I’m just going to say all that again. I’m sorry.
Team is everything in business, but just as I said that and those words came out of my mouth, I thought, “Well, actually, no. Mindset is everything in business.” It’s all in our heads, and every single successful entrepreneur that I interview on this show talks about mindset in some way or another. Was that always in your consciousness, going in, or did business help you find that higher consciousness?
Michelle Lynne: A combination. I can literally tell you. I was in my 20s and I was driving and I could explain to you exactly what intersection I was at and who I was going to go meet when all of a sudden, I had this epiphany that not everybody thinks the way I do. And it’s so simple, but once I understood that, it gave me the understanding of arranging my expectations of others, but also that I don’t think like other people, either. So who can I learn from who’s been successful? And everything that I have learned, whether it is listening to CDs or cassette tapes or going to events and things along that line, the mindset is just the case.
Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. And I have always been, “It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or if the glass is half empty. Just refill it!” Type of person. So taking that an implementing it and leading by example, I think, is key. When you have employees, or if you have assistants, or even with clients, sharing that space in your mind is useful. And I’m not sure if that actually answered your question.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I think it’s interesting. I’ve found in my own entrepreneurial journey that entrepreneurship tests you in ways that you have no idea when you first go into it. It tests you in all sorts of ways. So you either grow as a person to be able to deal with those challenges, all the things you can’t control or whatever, or you don’t. And I’ve just found that my personal growth and my business growth are, in my own experience, kind of correlated.
Michelle Lynne: Yes, yes, and I think … Okay, so that’s a great way to describe it, because I do believe that I have become … I don’t want to say a better person, but a better rounded person, and it’s because my business has almost forced me to be so. So as my business grows, I grow. If I stop working on personal development, my business slows down, and I’ve seen that literally measurable by revenue.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes.
Michelle Lynne: It’s crazy.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s true, though, right? And I think it’s just what we were saying before. If you create value … Sorry, I don’t know if we were saying this in this episode or not. I violated my own rule.
Michelle Lynne: All good.
Melinda Wittstock: So you know, when we think about it, the money always follows when we create value or when we’re in alignment. It presupposes, then, that rather than being stressed and in scarcity about chasing dollars, we foster far greater abundance. By just getting it right in our heads, getting out of our way, retiring some of those limiting beliefs that we maybe have about money, or just doing the thing that makes our heart sing, we actually do better financially.
Michelle Lynne: Oh, I agree 150,000 times over with that, because when you are in alignment with your core and who you are and you know you’re doing the right thing and you are serving others … I’m not here to say that I don’t want to make money. That’s not the case at all. But the more people I can serve, the more money I can make. But it also goes out to … And this sounds very woo-woo, but I believe that the energy that you send out to the universe comes back to you. Your mind is a piece of software that’s 2,000 years old, and it’s up to you in order to program it.
So if you’re thinking positive, abundant thoughts, then that’s what’s going to be in your life. If you’re thinking negative, scarcity thoughts, that’s what’s in your life. So my team literally has told me, “Michelle, when you’re in the zone, our prospects and our pipelines, that fills up. When you’re not in the zone and you’re feeling like cash flow is slow or poor or what are we going to do, then we feel it shrivel up, as well.” So I don’t know how to explain it. It’s something that I’m actually researching right now. It’s scientifically-based.
Melinda Wittstock: I know this is true, as well, and to begin with, I thought, “Really? Can that really be true?” And I didn’t really understand. And now I just know it to be true.
Michelle Lynne: I’ve had to go down seven bunny trails, talking about this stuff. It lights me up.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, it does, and increasingly, talking to entrepreneurs, I think again, the ones that are successful get this.
Michelle Lynne: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: This is why this show is called Inspired Business, because the word inspired has a real meaning in that sense. And so, Michelle, you’ve gone on, too, to share and teach your secrets. Not only have you built this interior design business, but you also help people in your space. How did you come to move in that direction, as well?
Michelle Lynne: Well, Melinda, when I started the business, there’s nobody out there teaching the business of interior design. Now, I didn’t go to school for interior design, and so many designers and decorators that I know haven’t, either. We, as those that are not professionally educated in interior design, just assume that they teach in school the business practices required. So I kept looking and looking and looking and looking, and there’s nothing out there. So I had to make this up as I went along: trial and error, failure, losing money, making money, all of the above. Bumps, bruises, and so forth. And I just thought, “It’s working. I have a seven-figure business. Why not share it with other women who haven’t had the blessing of being in corporate?”
Because I learned a lot: processes, procedures, systems, the whole check/double check thing. And the repeatability of those processes I have written down. It’s how my team runs the business. When I left for a month to go adopt my now daughter, the business ran itself, and I figured, “Whoa, that’s perfect. It’s working.” So in order to elevate my industry of interior design, and in order to empower other women to know that they can run a business and not let the business run them.
Because like I mentioned earlier, this is a tough industry. There are more details that go into this industry than I would have ever imagined. But once you can lasso them … You can tell I’m from Texas. Once you lasso them and get them under control, then it’s so much fun and your clients have so much more confidence in you and you have more confidence in you. In return for that confidence, because you know that you can get your stuff done, you can charge more.
One of the things that I include is a full module on how to price your services. There is no standard pricing model in the interior design business. So do you do it hourly? Do you do it by the square foot? Do you do it by the purchases? There are so many different ways to do it. I just get so excited about helping others become successful.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I love it, because a scarcity-minded person would be thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to create competitors for myself.”
Michelle Lynne: Oh, no.
Melinda Wittstock: For instance, right? But in improving a whole industry in creating that abundance, I believe more comes to you.
Michelle Lynne: I believe that. It’s not the reason I created it, but I do. I believe that there is room for all of us, and one of the first things I teach in my course is that your uniqueness is what makes you successful. So don’t try to be some other designer that you see on Instagram or whatever. Be yourself, because that’s the clients that will be attracted to you.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. It’s so, so true. Absolutely. But also, I can tell. Your voice kind of lights up when you’re talking about teaching. You’re very passionate about it.
Michelle Lynne: Yeah, I have found my next lane, and it feels really, really good.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome. So it being 2020 and everybody talking about, obviously, 2020 visions sort of a year, where are you ultimately headed? Where do you think you’re going to be, say five years from now? A decade from now?
Michelle Lynne: I’d like to say that I still have my interior design firm, because I believe that being here in the trenches, even though, like I said earlier, I’m not creating all the designs. But I’m in the trenches. I see what this industry is doing and going. It’s not in favor of interior designers, so I want to have my interior design firm, with the team that I have now. I don’t think I’m going to grow the actual team in size, because this is lucrative. It’s easy to manage. Everybody gets along. And my house isn’t that big. So keeping that.
Continuing the online education is where I really see a lot of growth coming into my life. I have so many ideas, and they’re all jotted down on paper. I’m being strategic about rolling them out, so that they are not cannibalizing each other, but that they’re adding the right value to designers. So continuing to talk to people in my industry to find out what they need and then providing it to them.
I want to do some live events. I want to do some retreats. All sorts of fun things that I have in my mind, that if time was unlimited, I would do more of.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, retreats are fun. I’ve started to do retreats. I have one called Wings of the Empowered Woman, which spun off from this podcast. And we did two last year for women with seven, eight, and nine-figure businesses, and it was amazing. Just the collaboration and the transformation that comes from heart-centered women joining together in kind of a transformational mastermind-type setting.
Michelle Lynne: Yes, oh, girl, sign me up for that!
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, our dates … It’s in Costa Rica, at this amazing, amazing retreat, on November 4th to the 8th. So I’ll send you all the details.
Michelle Lynne: Yeah, that sounds amazing. And I can learn from you as to what I want to create for the women that I’m working with in the future.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, what’s awesome about this, that has been interesting to me, is how women, when we step into abundance and how we work with each other. So this community that my co-host and I, Amy Stefanik and I have created, our hashtag is #liftasweclimb. We’ve really created an ecosystem where no matter what business … It’s really cross-industry and kind of different phases of growth. Some of the women have had exits and they’re on to their next ones or whatever. But that phase of high growth and successful business, we all have something to learn from each other. We all have so much to give, and we all have so much to receive.
And so this whole ecosystem now are women buying from each other, investing in each other, in some cases, certainly promoting each other, opening doors. Having hotlines and stuff when there’s something going on in your business that’s tough and you need help with. Being able to pick up the phone and ask for help, and it’s just so radical but so obvious. We all do better when we have that, so it’s been a real delight to go and create that.
Michelle Lynne: And learning from other industries, because I think other industries cross-pollinating ideas lifts all of them.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, absolutely. It’s so, so, so true. Oh my goodness! I could talk to you for hours!
Michelle Lynne: Likewise, likewise.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, Michelle, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us, and I want to make sure people have a way to find you and work with you, either if they need an interior designer or if they’re really interested in getting into that business and could use your training. What’s the best way for people to find you?
Michelle Lynne: Best way is if you’re an interior designer or a creative, to head on over to designedforthecreativemind.com. You’ll find information about the courses there. And you can keep returning, because that will be growing. And then if you’re just looking for some interior design, we have my other website, which is mlinteriorsgroup.com. And even for the listeners who are not local to the DFW area, which is where I live, we offer an e-design service. So there’s some opportunity to work across the country. We’ve had great success that way.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. That’s great. Well, thank you again for flying with us today.
Michelle Lynne: Oh, it has been my pleasure. I’m going to be flying for the next few hours, just after talking to you. Thank you.