Ep 01: Growing Your Team to Manage Design + Procurement with Marie Flanigan

Award-winning interior designer, author, and architect Marie Flanigan shares her firsthand experience leading a growing team and establishing organization structures within a leading design firm.













Launch day for The Interior Collective podcast is finally here, and it all feels a bit surreal. What began as a passion project has evolved into an entire season worth of A-list industry guests, and I’m thrilled to kick off season one with the legendary Marie Flanigan. Frankly, she's a designer who needs no introduction, but I want to touch on her accomplishments before we dive in.


As a classically trained and practiced architect, Marie unlocks a unique level of depth through her mutual consideration of interior and structure; her homes revealing the magic that transpires when each is made to augment the other. Her trademark style is evident through the sophisticated use of color, texture, and light, and every home she designs receives her personal signature of timeless elegance and innovative simplicity.


Her distinguished designs can be seen in luxury homes and commercial spaces throughout the country, and her work and expertise have been featured by premier publications and websites including Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Vogue, Southern Living, Domino, Traditional Home, Elegant Homes, Southern Home, and Luxe Magazine. I'm thrilled to welcome Marie to the podcast, and I know you're going to love our conversation.



In this episode, Marie and I discuss:

  • How a background in architecture informs her design work

  • The concept of hiring for a specific role, not just an additional person

  • The organization structure inside Marie Flanigan Interiors

  • Creating an equitable, supportive company for all employees

  • A very special Design Camp announcement!







An excerpt of my conversation with Marie Flanigan:


Tell us about your background from an architecture standpoint.


MF: So much of my background in architecture informs what I do every day. I studied architecture at university, and worked for several different firms. Throughout that experience, I learned so much about how a firm operates, how construction materials come together, how a structure is built. And I think that really plays a role in how I approach interior design.


What made the change for me is when I worked for a smaller design-build operation where it got more into the interior aspects. We were designing millwork, for example, in the studio and then they were building it in the shop right outside. So I learned so much about millwork drawings, and how parts and pieces come together. It's what made me kind of fall in love with interior design and eventually made my way into residential.


















"So much of my background in architecture informs what I do every day."


- Marie Flanigan





Can you walk us through your firm’s organization structure?


MF: I basically have three departments: design, logistics, and marketing. We'll start with the design team. Each of my lead designers has a team behind them. And typically it's the lead designer, and then they're what we call level one. And we basically have a career path for each of our designers, and they start level one, and they go up 1, 2, 3, and then associate. So we have a team lead for each team, and those are typically level two and up, and they work together as a team. Not only do we need more than one person because we work on relatively large homes, but it also creates a mentoring process by having a team. People are mentored to either become a level two or a team lead or just continue with their career path within our firm.


Then our logistics department works as a group, but each one handles jobs separately. So we have three logistics people. And then our marketing department, I have three people because I really believe in specializing each of my team members into specific roles.








If someone is looking to make their first full-time hire, what would you advise? Or what questions would you ask yourself when deciding who that person will be?


MF: I would look at what you need to grow your business. Is it the procurement person? For my business, I go back to the way I try to specialize people. You know, your business is the most efficient when people are doing what they are best at most of the time. So if you can get your designers designing, you could get that higher billable rate as often as possible. You want to keep that just for numbers alone. And so it made sense to me to bring on a logistic person to allow myself and my design team to focus on designing most of the time. So I think you need to sit back and come up with a business plan. And you need to come up with your vision for growing that business and who are the people you need to grow.








A special announcement!


You heard it here first: Marie Flanigan will be joining us at Design Camp this September 21-24th, 2022 in Austin, Texas along with Shea McGee as our keynote speakers. I’m so excited to be bringing Design Camp back to Texas this fall at The Austin Proper and Marie our dream guest to keynote day 3. Tickets go on sale Friday, June 10th—mark your calendar!



Mentioned in the episode:



Thanks for reading an excerpt of The Interior Collective Season 1, Episode 1: Growing Your Team to Manage Design + Procurement with Marie Flanigan. You can listen to our episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or access the full episode transcription below. Be sure to follow along with Marie at on Instagram and get lost in her beautifully comprehensive portfolio for a look at her latest work.



PORTFOLIO CREDITS:

Design by Marie Flanigan Interiors, Photography by

 

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Episode Transcript


Anastasia 00:00:02

Hi, this is The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living presented by IDCO studio and I'm Anastasia Casey.


As an interior designer, growing your team can feel overwhelming. That first hire is always a total leap of faith. My advice is to always hire for a role, not just an additional person and today's guest, Marie Flanigan, is walking us through the exact steps to growing your team. For interior designers, hiring should be a revenue stream, not a business expense because that hire is creating billable hours for you. Stay tuned as we share the gritty details of growing a team, break down successful organization structures, and make a big surprise announcement.


As a classically trained and practiced architect, Marie Flanigan, unlocks a unique level of depth through her mutual consideration of interior and structure, her homes revealing the magic that transpires when each space is made to augment the other. Her trademark style is evident through the sophisticated use of color, texture, and light and every home she designs receives her personal signature of timeless elegance and innovative simplicity. Her distinguished designs can be seen in luxury homes and commercial spaces throughout the country. Her work and expertise have been featured by premier publications and websites like Arch DIgest, Elle Decor, Vogue, Southern Living, Domino, Traditional Home, Elegant Homes, Southern Home, Lux Magazine, and so many more.


Hello and welcome to The Interior Collective, Marie! This is such an honor to chat with you!


Marie 00:01:36

Thanks so much for having me on.


Anastasia 00:01:38

I am so excited to really dig into today’s topic, expanding on growing your team and how to really set yourself up for success within those roles. But before we dive in too deep, we have a huge announcement.


I know a lot of you have been anxiously awaiting the announcement for the next Design Camp, and it is official. You are hearing it here first that Marie Flanigan will be joining us at Design Camp this September 21st to 24th in Austin, Texas alongside Shea McGee as our keynote speakers! And I am so pumped to be bringing Design Camp back to Texas this fall at The Austin Proper! Marie was obviously the perfect person to keynote on day three.


Marie 00:02:23

I'm so excited about this opportunity. Thank you so much for inviting me. And I'm just a huge fan of your Design Camps. I would've loved to attend one, especially just jump starting my business. I think that's such a great tool that you're giving people.


Anastasia 00:02:37

Well, I know that you will have so much info to share with us and we're gonna give them a taste of it today on episode one of The Interior Collective.


Firstly, congratulations on the new house! I am so grateful you had time to chat with us as you're literally in the process of moving in. Thank you so much. Can you tell us a little bit about your new home and your journey to move in date?


Marie 00:03:02

Yeah, I live in a historic part of Houston called the Houston Heights and it's one of the walkable neighborhoods. Everybody's really close together and we live here currently and we had owned a lot for a long time. When my husband and I like to do projects, because of my background in architecture, I like to do both the architecture and the interiors. So this is a project I've been working on for a few years and we finally pulled the trigger and it's been a long time coming, but I'm so excited to bring it to life! The whole aesthetic is very much all about natural light, and organic materials and textures. So, we're in the thick of it right now. Drapery is being hung as we are speaking.


Anastasia 00:03:43

That is so exciting. I feel like this is impossible to say for any designer, but is this a forever house or is that an abstract concept?


Marie 00:03:53

You know, maybe. I love every bit of it. I have such young children, I just feel like your needs change as a family. When we built the house that we're living in currently, we didn't have any children. And so I think, your needs change. You know, I'm a big fan of small intimate spaces. So I don't know. I think it'll be a long term house for sure.


Anastasia 00:04:16

That's so exciting. Well, congratulations. We can not wait to see it. And now before we waste more of your time as your draperies are going up, let's dig into the juicy stuff. Before we get into growing your team, let's talk about your formal training as an architect because the line between architect and designer can feel so blurry sometimes. Tell us about your background from an architecture standpoint.


Marie 00:04:42

Yeah. So much of my background in architecture informs what I do every day. I studied architecture at university, and worked for several different firms. Throughout that experience, I learned so much about how a firm operates, how construction materials come together, how a structure is built. And I think that really plays a role in how I approach interior design. I think what made the change for me is when I worked for a smaller design-build operation–where it got more into the interior aspects and we were designing millwork, for example, in the studio and then they were building it in the shop right outside. So I learned so much about millwork drawings, and how parts and pieces come together. And it's what made me kind of fall in love with interior design. And eventually made my way into residential.


Anastasia 00:05:34

That is so cool to see that actually come to life right in front of you. How do you feel that that experience in those architecture firms has shaped your interior design firm?


Marie 00:05:48

Well, it has shaped my firm in so many different ways. I mean, the first thing, I always begin a project with the architecture in mind. I think having the background I have helps me understand the language of architecture, understand how to communicate, and what they're trying to portray. And then I feel like my job as interior designer is to kind of take that language and transform it into a different dialect–of how it comes to life in the interiors. And I feel like if you don't just decorate a home, but really design it, and consider the architecture, and consider how the two speak to each other–maybe they contrast on purpose, maybe they're the same song, different verse–but I think that if you really consider the two together, you can elevate both. The synergy between the two can be incredible. And I think that's just how I approach all of my interiors, first how do we translate the structure? Maybe it's an exterior material we're bringing in. Maybe it's the rafter tails that you see on the inside. You know, what's the style? How do we make it feel authentic? Like, okay, if we're gonna put beams on the ceiling, how do we make that feel like we didn't just paste them up there, but they're really part of the architecture.


Anastasia 00:07:05

Ugh. I just got chills Marie. That's so cool. It's so amazing to hear the passion behind that you have for your practice, from an architecture standpoint, as well as the design. At what point in the design process do you come in and at what point does the architect? Do you have a process specifically for that, where you set boundaries about working with an architect or is it like this fluid, loosey goosey/see how it goes?


Marie 00:07:31

I think it's somewhere in between. I think the projects that we're lucky enough to work on and today, we are all kind of approaching it as a team. We're all being hired at the same time. A lot of times we refer the architect and vice versa. We're trying to get a house designed even before construction begins. So there's loose boundaries. Because different architecture firms, they want to be involved in different things. Some wanna design the envelope and walk away. Others have an interiors portion of their business. And, you know, I think I've found a lot of success by trying to be easy to work with. I mean, it's as simple as that. We come into a project with the mindset of being a team player and I just think that there's so much opportunity–I like to say often that each client gives me the opportunity to become a new designer.


Marie 00:08:22

If I was just building my own home one after another, after another, it would probably be very similar in a lot of aspects. But when clients come to you and say, ‘look, I really want a purple house’. You know, you gotta really stretch your design talent to make this purple house be amazing. And, you know, I would never build a purple house <laugh> but a really good designer can give a client what they want and bring it to life in a really incredible way.


Marie 00:09:09

And I feel the same way about the team that you're working with. If you allow the team to help you see things in new ways and go at it with the aspect of collaboration–it's just incredible what you can do together. And hopefully they approach your work the same way. You set boundaries earlier on in the process of who's gonna actually draw the interior elevations, who's gonna hand the package to the contractor. And I think if you're just clear with how you want to work and how you all are gonna work together it can be great. Oftentimes we will split the responsibilities. You know, we will do the interior elevations for the drawings that we need to because we're doing incredible millwork details and we have to line it up with the wallpaper perfectly, but then we don't necessarily wanna draw the baseboard in the garage–the architect will do that. I think if you just establish trust within the team early, and establish ways that you all can work together.


Marie 00:10:09

So much also of working in teams today, especially cuz we're working all over the country, it's over zoom. And I just think the interpersonal relationships of working on a team, it's so much harder over zoom and just getting in front of the team and having a team meeting at least once or twice at the beginning of the project, just sets the tone for the rest of the project. You know that you can just pick up the phone, call each other, ‘let's work out any issues together along the way’. And that just makes for a better project, a better design, and a better experience for the client because the client wants their team to find synergy together.


Anastasia 00:10:40

Yeah, absolutely. So just to clarify, Marie, if someone hires Marie Flanigan, they will also need to be hiring an architect–you don't do both aspects in house. You're just doing interior architecture and interior design, correct?


Marie 00:10:54

100% Yes. I have a background in architecture and yes I do the architecture for my own homes, but no, I do not offer architectural services. It just kind of influences what I do as an interior designer.


Anastasia 00:11:07

Do you feel like your background in arch architecture makes it easier or more challenging when working with an architect on a project?


Marie 00:11:15

Oh, I think easier. Easier because you're coming into it speaking the same language, understanding the same goals. I think it helps with referrals too, you know, always kind of bringing in business. I have one architect here in Houston who we just love working together, and he knows he can trust our work and we can work in the same files going back and forth and we've brought each other several jobs over the years.


Anastasia 00:11:41

That's amazing. So now we have a little better picture of the background and you've helped define really how you navigate between working with an architect and coming in as a designer, let's chat about growing your team to manage design and procurement–we can really focus in on the design aspect. When I was researching your team, I noticed you have designers, procurement specialists, and then you have marketing people. Can you walk us through your firm's organization structure?


Marie 00:12:10

You bet. I basically have three departments and you just listed them design, logistics, and marketing. I make sure that each design… We'll start with the design team. Each of my lead designers has a team behind them. So I approach each project as a team. And typically it's the lead designer, and then they're what we call level one. And we basically have a career path for each of our designers and they start level one and they go up 1, 2, 3, and then associate. So we have a team lead for each team and those are typically level two and up, and they work together as a team. And not only do we need more than one person because we work on relatively large homes, but it also creates a mentoring process having a team. People are mentored to either become a level two or a team lead or just continue with their career path within our firm.


Then our logistics department–they work as a group, but each one handles jobs separately. So we have three logistics people. And then our marketing department where in the past I've had one person, I've had two people, right? Currently I have three people because I really believe in specializing each of my team members into specific roles.


Anastasia 00:13:36

That's amazing. I love that you have a system set up to help people grow and to have a clear path. I think a lot of designers have a subconscious, maybe fear, of like, I don't wanna train this person to do everything and then they go off and be their own interior designer. Like, they wanna leave and start their own firm. How do you navigate cultivating a situation where someone feels loved and nurtured and see a growth opportunity and also supporting them to do what's best for their own lives in the future?


Marie 00:14:09 No, absolutely. And that's always a delicate balance. And I just believe in growing a firm that, you know, really gives people career opportunities and I'm constantly focused on that. I'm constantly asking my team, what are your dreams? What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want that Manhattan apartment or do you want the Mexico beach house? And so if I know what people want to work on, I really try my best to give them those opportunities. And I created the level system so that people knew that they had a career path. I also really let my designers design and have ownership of their projects. And yes, I am a very intimate part of every project, but it's not just Marie telling the team you need to do this. We work in a very collaborative way and a designer can essentially run their own firm within my firm, eventually.


Marie 00:15:03

And that's the opportunity that I try to give my team, especially because at this point we've gotten to a place where we're attracting really large clients and it would be hard for anyone to hang up a shingle and get this type of clientele. So I feel like that's what I offer designers in my career at this point. It’s really, ‘look, you have the opportunity to work on world class projects. And, if you stay with me and I can mentor you to a place where you can handle it on your own, you can essentially run your own firm within my firm’.


Anastasia 00:15:37

That is so inspiring to hear. It's something that I struggle with as a creative business owner. And I just really thank you for your candor and just setting up a situation that can be an industry standard for people, not realizing that that's even out there as an option.


So on every project, they have a set design and procurement team. So does that mean, or correct me if I'm wrong, but you'll have a set design team and then will it always be the same procurement specialist on that or will it kind of shift throughout the project?


Marie 00:16:09

It will always be the same team.


Anastasia 00:16:11

Got it.


Marie 00:16:12

And I also even try to… let's say a client came back for project number two in four years. If I still have the same design team, I will always give them the same team because you know, we touched on this before, but ownership is huge. You have to give your team ownership of the project. If it's just, again, Marie micromanaging, everything, you are gonna have to manage everything and that's impossible. You can never scale that way. You have to have people who A) accept ownership and B) you gotta give them that freedom to really own the project. They also have to establish the relations. Especially for example, at my firm, the team lead establishes a main relationship with the client and on a day to day basis, I'm in meetings with clients and designers all day long–I'm never emailing. So they have to communicate with that client. And that relationship also creates ownership


Marie 00:16:59

Because you know, it's not just Marie who doesn't wanna disappoint the client. It's also my team lead and, even level ones at my firm. I think it's so important, if the opportunity allows, to get them in front of the client too. Because when you hear them say ‘my family lives like this’, ‘I need this in my life’. It hits your heart in a different way and you're like, ‘I'm gonna find a way to give them what they want in a beautiful, incredible way’.


Anastasia 00:17:37

So I know you mentioned that you're still very much a part of each of your projects, but could you be a little more specific as to what your role as Marie looks like on the project? Like, is it just kind of when they have something to show you, they bring it. Is it something that's always scheduled and, you know it's time to review? Are you actually reviewing, or just overseeing? Where do you step in?


Marie 00:17:59

Gosh, it's kind of a combination of everything you just said. I'm intimately involved in all projects. I go to all the design meetings with the client. I go to the site visits, especially during the level one and level two phase of a designer's career path. When a designer–and I have a few now–when a designer has been with me long enough that they are at a level three, that's when I step back. And I really just become the creative director role at overseeing the overall direction from the office. But no, when somebody's a level one and a level two… Level one– it's still like you are being mentored by a level two very closely. So my role on a day to day basis is most of the time working with the level twos, reviewing things, talking about ways we can make it better, meeting with the clients. So it's a mix. I don't, I try, not to micromanage every single design selection. And so, as somebody grows in their talent as a designer and their skillset, I let go more and more.


Anastasia 00:19:01

So, a misstep or an odd choice I see some people make cause they're growing their team, is often they'll have a junior designer also be doing their procurement and logistics and you clearly divide those things out. Can you tell us what a day in the life of a Procurement and Logistics Specialist looks like? What are the tasks that they're responsible


Marie 00:19:23

Well, they're responsible for so much. And just to kind of touch on growing your business, I had my designers doing logistics too at one point when I was so small. And I just love the advice that you give people, that you said earlier in the interview, that maybe your first hire isn't that assistant–that's such good advice. But no, I did it too. When you're running a small firm, everybody's wearing a ton of hats, but I got to the point where I really believed in specialization and was able to do that. I was able to have the revenue streams to hire that person. And it was such a wonderful day when we figured that out because a typical day for a procurement person is really to bring the project to life that the design team is already essentially sold.


Marie 00:20:11

They're working with craftsmen, they're ordering, they're installing, they're running around town, helping put parts and pieces together. We even have a logistics person right now who may be transitioning to the design department because of interest and skill level. She has embraced the training program that we've put together. Right now she is still in the logistics department, assisting the designers in selecting almost all of our fabrics and taking our concept and going to select all the fabrics of the design center. So, it does shift based on who we have at the firm and what's happening. But I definitely believe in having those different skill sets because somebody who really shines in logistics is using a completely different part of their brain than somebody who really shines as a designer. And when you put those two talents together, it's incredible.


Anastasia 00:21:10

Do you feel as though sometimes someone could come in on the logistics procurement side of things, but actually end up really wanting to be a designer? I know some of our clients have experienced that someone comes in saying that this is what they want, and then they really fall in love with design. How do you manage or anticipate that?


Marie 00:21:29

I try to be as upfront as possible in interviews, and I definitely tell people, if you're going in the logistics department, it's rare to shift over. Your career path in the logistics department is different than your career path in the design department. The person who I'm letting make a transition now, worked very hard in logistics and showed interest and also showed a lot of talent for design. And honestly, in that situation, I think they just didn't know because they didn't have a lot of experience in a larger firm, that it can be different roles. So, I try to hire away from it, but to me, the ultimate team member is a culture fit. And so if somebody's a culture fit, I'm gonna try to make their career dreams come true as much as I can within my company.


Anastasia 00:22:26

Now that we've understood how you kind of divide those up. I have a mindset that hiring is never considered a business expense. It's actually a revenue stream because they are creating billable hours. And so, how are you billing for that logistic side of things? Do you charge your client's flat rate for that phase of the process or is that hourly for procurement and logistics?


Marie 00:22:50

I almost never charge a flat rate for anything. My logistics and procurement department, I basically bill out at 50% of what the design team bills out. I never bill a flat rate because you never know at the beginning of a project what it's gonna look like. We also bill like a law firm, we show every minute of how we're spending all of our time. So if there's a problem or if there's ever questions from the client, they know exactly what we're doing and how we're billing and why some months it's more and some months it's less.


Anastasia 00:23:28

Yeah. Especially now with all of the pandemic delays, I bet that those numbers are longer and larger than usual. One of the things I'm most proud of putting into the world is Design Camp. I teamed up with my good friend, Lindsey Borchard from Lindsey Brook Design to craft a business retreat that both supports and empowers designers with the tools and resources they need to elevate their business. But the best part always proves to be the incredible community formed along the way. It really is the most magical four days full of the best conversation, great food, and actionable takeaways that leave you inspired and prepared to take your interior design business to the next level. If you're ready to invest in yourself and your business visit design-camp.co to learn more again, that's design-camp.co.


Let's talk about client communication. So you have your level two or three designer, whoever the lead is on that project. Who's actually the one who's talking to clients in and out and receiving those emails and answering questions.


Marie 00:24:31

Well, the first person to make contact with the client is somebody who does like client vetting for me. She makes sure a client is a good fit for us before I jump on phone calls with people who are potential clients. But then, once we sign somebody on, I delegate them to a design team. Which basically–the three of us will be in meetings and communication. But it's up to the team lead to be the main communication with that client. And I guess I need to differentiate between project leads and team leads. Team leads are leading a team and they're also project leads, but sometimes you can have team members who are also level two, in which case they're the project lead. So pretty much we assign one person, ‘you are the project lead. This baby is yours’ and they're the main point of contact.


Anastasia 00:25:25

Got it. Okay. That is so clear. It's so brilliant. I am like writing everything down and we will have all of this transcribed in the show notes for you. So if you are driving and listening to this, don't worry. We got to.


So let's step back. You, you teased it a little bit. Tell us about your first hire, what they did and looking back, if you would change what that role or person would be doing.


Marie 00:25:53

Oh goodness. Okay. My first hire was a designer and I just remember being so scared. I actually called my old boss and was like, ‘I don't know if I can afford to hire somebody, but I really could use some help’. And they were like, ‘well, is it a good person?’ I was like, ‘she looks incredible’. And she was such a great designer and we were together for about five years. So that was just such a great learning curve to get over the fear of bringing somebody on. If somebody out there is listening to this, they have a small firm and they're not sure if they wanna grow it. I hired somebody on an hourly basis and we had the understanding that some weeks would be busier than others.


Marie 00:26:40

There's a lot of people out there willing to do stuff like that especially if it's gonna be a designer, especially a logistics type role. That way you can kind of dip your foot into management and start to slowly grow your team without necessarily the pressure of having a salary.


Looking back the, the first hire that really was a game changer for me was when I stopped doing my own accounting. My advice to anybody for your first hire, hire somebody who compliments what you do and does the stuff that you are not good at. People might be a good designer, but they are not always a good manager or a good accountant or a good procurement hire.


Marie 00:27:27

Hire who's gonna be your compliments, so that you spend more time doing what you're really good at. You know, I don't regret the years I did my own accounting. Gosh, I learned so much. I learned what a ledger looked like, how to read financial statements, and understand the balance sheet. But gosh, that day I hired my accountant was Christmas morning for me. And to this day I actually still have the same accountant–she serves as, not just my accountant, but our controller and a mentor. She's just been a vital part of my business


Anastasia 00:28:02

Pro tip, hire an accountant. So I talk a lot about ‘hiring for a role, not a body’ at Design Camp. I have found that when you hire for a role, it means you're truly delegating and therefore removing things from your plate as the business owner. When you hire for a body, you end up spending a lot of your days delegating your to-do list. And for me, that's like what the critical difference is when you have an assistant, you're just crossing things off your list to hand to them. And a surprising percentage of your time is actually spent just delegating things.


If someone is looking to make their first full-time hire, what would you advise or what questions would you ask yourself when deciding who that person's gonna be?


Marie 00:28:48

You know, I think that's such great advice that you give people with ‘hiring for the role’. And I would kind of look at what you need to grow your business. Is it the procurement person? For my business, I go back to the way I would try to specialize people. Your business is the most efficient when people are doing what they are best at most of the time. If you can get your designers designing–and going back to the they're also billing double what a procurement person–so if you could get that higher billable rate, as often as possible, you wanna keep that, just for numbers alone. It made sense to me to bring on a logistics person, to allow myself and my design team to focus on designing most of the time. So I think you need to sit back and… Everybody needs to come up with a business plan and you need to come up with your vision for growing that business and who are the people you need to grow


Anastasia 00:29:54

Side note, you also have your MBA, correct?


Marie 00:29:58

That's right.


Anastasia 00:29:59

So you definitely do have that business mindset. So that is so helpful to get that insight into your brilliant brain. I admire so much that your team is made up entirely of women. And I'm gonna try to get through this without being emotional, because I have grown my team of 22 women as well. And many of those women have families at home. How have you built your team and found the right talent to propel Marie Flanigan forward?


Marie 00:30:27

Gosh, you know, team is so important. And honestly I've made several incredible decisions along the way, and I've made several really bad ones along the way. I try to really hire for culture fit, first. You know, there's so many of my team members who are incredible, who I trained from not a lot of skills in that area. You know, it's easy to say, but it's really hard to find those people. Over the years, I have gotten so much better at it. And really it's about identifying them earlier after you've hired them. Once you've hired somebody if it's clear that they are not a fit for the company, you need to let them go sooner rather than later. Before it becomes an even bigger issue within the culture and that is really hard.


Marie 00:31:19

That is the hardest part about running a business is really the management aspects.


Anastasia 00:31:20

It's awful. It’s so hard.


Marie 00:31:21

One of my favorite books that I've read is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. And it's just about growing a team, and the essence of the book is you've gotta hire people who don't need to be managed, and yes, you still have to manage your company, but it's hiring those people who have excitement, they have ownership, they have energy toward the role and they multiply your efforts. And, um, it's really identifying those key people. Sometimes you find incredible people and sometimes you have to search a little harder. Actually two or three of my best people, I actually said ‘no’ to at first–it's kind of a joke within our office. They interviewed and I was like, ‘oh no, you're not the right person’. And then I came back to them–and then they'd been with me for like years and years. Sometimes it's hard to identify those people with just an interview. When you have them, do what you can to keep them because they are so vital to a healthy business.


Anastasia 00:32:27

Speaking of doing what you can to keep them, I want to talk a little bit about benefits and schedules and just kind of how you've established a company culture to have people stay with you for so long. Mid pandemic, as people are not hiding in their homes anymore–not that we're over the pandemic–there definitely was an awakening of how much you're able to do at home versus how much needs to be done in the office, and things changed a little bit.


Can you share what your work schedule looks like for the team? Is it all in office? Is it flex? Is it in and out? I know as interior designers, there's a lot of site visits and meetings outside of the office, but how do you keep, especially a team of women who likely have families at home, functioning and working at the same time?


Marie 00:33:16

Well, we have a mix in the office of different types of schedules and I have kind of defined it per role. The interior designers, since that's our core business, they are all full time. And most of the time in the office. We have a baby almost every year at MFI. So we love babies and I love honoring the working mom life. And so, if we have sick kids at home, we offer flexibility within a full time schedule, all day. I also have several logistics members and several marketing team members who are hourly and they have flex schedules. They basically work the hours they can. And I only require that the job gets done and they can kind of choose their hours from there.


Marie 00:34:03

Both different scenarios have different benefits and different ups and downs. Obviously if they work less than 20 hours a week, they're not even eligible for benefits. So, there's benefits to working both ways and obviously flexibility is a benefit in and of itself.


When I was first growing this business, my husband and I couldn't have kids at first. That was right during the time I was growing the business and really making it what it is. When I got pregnant, I was so worried like, ‘gosh, you know, am I able to produce the same amount of work? Am I gonna be able to serve my clients?’. Well, I always say becoming a mom helped me have laser focus for what was important–before I was like, yes, to everything.


Marie 00:34:52

All the vendor meetings, work until 10 o'clock every night, work on the weekends. And then when I had kids, it's like, ‘oh, I don't have time to do that anymore’. It's because now you're choosing between time with your children. I found it was laser focus for me on spending time on what is most important. And I try to also honor that for my team. I don't ask them to work on nights and weekends. I try to give them… we work hard, play hard, it works. And I feel like if you can give somebody the opportunity to be a really great mom and fulfill their dreams as a designer, I think that in and of itself builds loyalty.


Anastasia 00:35:36

I have personally struggled with this question over the past few years, as nothing is more important to me than my team, but it's also been a real challenge for someone to be gone for a few months because things move so fast in a business. As a small business owner, it can be really hard to plan for paid family or maternity leave. How have you navigated that to create an equitable supportive company policy?