Founder of Staged4more.
Home staging can be an incredibly rewarding career, but it’s not without its challenges. While most of us got into the business to be creative and be our own boss, the reality of running a staging business often means getting bogged down in tedious administrative tasks, managing difficult clients and team members, and constantly putting out fires.
And it’s a daily grind. It never seems to stop, even on weekends when you are supposed to relax and recharge. Instead, you are in the warehouse pulling inventory or you are thinking about next week’s staging jobs while you are supposed to be having fun with friends and family.
As your staging business grows, so do the challenges you face. Despite working hard, you may feel like your business is stunted and not growing as it should. As a home stager with a growing business, you are highly skilled at transforming bland vanilla boxes into beautiful, desirable homes. But it feels like you are working so hard to grow the business. You feel like you’ve hit a wall.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the three most common growth challenges facing home stagers today. From financial management to finding reliable team members, we’ll provide actionable strategies for overcoming these growing pains so that you can take your staging business to the next level.
Based on my experiences teaching and working with home stagers in the last few years, I would say the biggest growth challenge stagers face is often truly understanding how numbers work in their staging business, even if they have multiple 6-figures in annual revenue. We see this with last year’s retreat participants, for example, where the group had annual revenues ranging from $150k to $700k.
This is more common than we think! Most of the time, here are the common ways stagers not understanding their finances:
Not understanding how cash flow works in their staging businesses
Not planning and budgeting for key expenses like inventory purchases, taxes, etc.
Most importantly, not understanding if they are profitable or not. They are not sure what their profit margins are on the type of services they are offering. It “feels like” they are making money, but they are often surprised by the real numbers after they finished their taxes
Without knowing your profit margin on each staging project, you will not be able to speak intelligently and confidently in dealing with client objections when it comes to pricing. You will also not be able to invest in staging inventory and expand your business operation intelligently. You are going to have challenges in managing your cash flow. This is especially dangerous if you have employees because you have to meet payroll and taxes regularly.
Or you don’t have reliable team members to lean on because you can’t afford “real” employees, so your business falls apart when you are not there. Worse, friends and family members are helping you out in your business because you haven’t had enough profits to hire someone properly, and it creates long-lasting damage to your relationships. You will also likely burn yourself out very quickly because you are constantly feeling like “OMG, I’m exhausted but why am I not making any money?”
No one ever talks about the growth challenges they are facing. They feel conscious or even embarrassed to talk about their numbers. Even though their staging businesses look very successful, they feel like it’s a house of cards. I have been there, so I understand. It’s difficult to talk about numbers if you are experiencing imposter syndrome or simply not sure if you are making money or not, despite working very hard in your business.
1. Invest in financial education: Take courses, attend workshops, or work with a financial coach to improve your financial literacy. Learning about financial statements, budgeting, and cash flow management can help you make better decisions for your business in all areas.
We are hosting a three-part financial workshop series in June, designed to help you Maximize Your Earnings, Master Your Finances, and Stay Ahead of the Game.
In the Maximize Your Earnings workshop, you’ll learn essential cash flow management skills, such as tracking expenses, maximizing profits, and managing cash reserves. The Master Your Finances workshop will guide you through the budgeting process, including creating a budget plan, tracking expenses, and analyzing financial data. Lastly, the Stay Ahead of the Game workshop will cover tax planning strategies, such as maximizing deductions and staying in compliance with tax laws and regulations.
Each workshop includes a follow-up Office Hour where you can ask questions and receive personalized advice. You can register for each workshop individually or sign up for the full 3-part series to get a comprehensive understanding of financial management in the home staging industry. We will be opening registration for the workshops later this month.
If you are participating in this year’s Home Staging Business Mastery Retreat, this workshop series is included with your registration for the retreat. We want to get some of the foundational work done upfront before everyone arrives at the retreat. This way, we can maximize our time together and you will be more equipped when we deep dive into your current challenges.
2. Use accounting software: There are many affordable accounting software options available that can help you keep track of your income, expenses, and taxes. Consider using QuickBooks, Xero, or Wave Accounting to manage your finances. Having all of your data in accounting software allows you to analyze historical data, which can help you create informed financial goals for the present and future of your business.
In a podcast interview that will be released soon, Boston-based home stager Jess of JessFinessed talks about even micro-adjustments like changing the reporting of her financial reports have given her a competitive edge for her staging business. She was inspired after seeing Elaine’s (of Lemon & Lime Interiors and the teacher/coach on the retreat) financial spreadsheets she has for her staging business last year during our Home Staging Business Mastery Retreat in Palermo, Sicily. Elaine had generously shown a lot of her backend systems and dashboards, including her financial dashboards where she kept track of line items on every expense for proposal and profit analysis purposes. This provides a bird
’s eye view every time Elaine needs to reference something or plan for the business.
Here is what Jess said in the interview:
”I think everyone has a different goal with their business. I am motivated to make money doing something I love, but the making money piece is really important to me. I had a good sense of, what I was doing well and what I needed to improve upon when I went to the retreat in Palermo. But when I left the retreat in Palermo, I was like, oh my gosh, okay, I gotta course correct here right away. My margins are actually doing pretty good here. That’s great. And then like a laundry list of things to talk to my bookkeeper and my CPA about. Even just the adjustments that I’ve made to QuickBooks, getting an overall snapshot, some reporting that I’ve generated has just given me such an edge. Like into this year in terms of forecasting. I have a great eye. I know what I like to buy. But if you don’t know your profit, then you don’t have a guide to tell you how much you should be spending on each individual piece. That’s really what it comes down to. If you want to do this and do it in a way that’s scalable and profitable.”
3. Understand your numbers: Regularly review your financial statements, including your profit and loss statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. This will help you identify any areas where you can reduce expenses, increase revenue, or improve cash flow.
When the market crashed in 2009, I lost half of my home staging clients overnight. By going through our Profit and Loss statement aggressively, I was able to reduce costs drastically and survived the sudden loss of income. This was especially a critical moment in my staging business since we just moved out of my parents’ garage and signed a long-term lease on a commercial warehouse.
4. Set financial goals: You want to set financial goals you want to achieve in your business periodically, such as increasing revenue or profit margin, reducing unnecessary expenses, improving efficiencies for operations, etc. Then, create a plan to achieve these goals and track your progress regularly.
We did our books every quarter when I operated my staging business and my bookkeeper would come into the warehouse to do the books. Before she finished for the day, we would sit down and have a meeting to go over the numbers and our performance.
This was very important because she would pinpoint how much we would need to pull in the next quarter to break even, how much we would need to make our ideal profit margin, etc. And because we kept track of our numbers in the same software, we are also able to see how we are performing against last year’s data and get an idea of what to expect for the upcoming quarter. This also helps with inventory management.
By implementing these strategies, you can gain a better understanding of your finances and make informed decisions for your home staging business.
Without proper systems and processes in place, it can be challenging to create consistency and stability in your services, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and stressed. This can also make it difficult to scale your business and take on more clients.
To overcome this challenge, focus on developing systems, and SOP*/processes/workflow that will bring consistency and stability to your business. Consider investing in project management software or other tools that can help you streamline your workflows and automate repetitive tasks.
*SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. It refers to a set of step-by-step instructions that outline how tasks or processes should be performed in a consistent and standardized way. SOPs are commonly used in business settings to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and ensure quality control. They are often recorded. You create this using simple tools like Google Docs or using productivity software like Asana, etc. We use Notion to keep track of everything.
It’s a sellable asset: any intellectual property you had created in your staging business is a sellable asset. This includes your Operational Manual, Employee Handbook, and workflow/SOPs that you have created in your staging business. Even if you don’t plan to sell your business in the short term, it is still great to have systems and processes because they will make your current life easier, not to mention adding monetary value to your staging business in the long run
Consistency in business operations: Many factors go into creating repeat staging clients, one of the key factors would be consistency. Your staging clients are hiring you for consistency. By hiring your staging company, they know they will get the same quality staging and great services every single time. Real estate transactions can fall apart easily and the agents will want to make sure they have as much control over the outcome as possible. By having a consistent service delivery, your clients will love you for it. Because they know what to expect every single time and they never have to worry about you.
Improved quality control: By creating systems and SOPs, you will have guidelines and internal documentation to articulate and communicate what your team needs to perform on every single staging project. This in turn will improve the quality control of your service delivery.
Improved efficiency and productivity —> boosting team morale: By having standardized guidelines, systems, and procedures to follow, you are communicating clearly what your expectations are and what needs to be done in all areas of your staging business. This will create stability within your team. They will function more efficiently and become more productive on job sites and in the warehouse because they understand what you want. Because you have communicated your expectations clearly and what needs to be done for their roles, this will also help to boost team morale and less management for you. This also will foster a stronger brand for your staging company.
Easier to onboard and train new team members: when you have all the documentation of your systems and SOPs in place, you don’t have to create onboarding documents or new training presentations every time someone new comes into your business. You simply tweak and personalize the documents, follow your checklists, and hand them your documents. Then they review them, start implementing what they learn, and you provide constructive feedback on their work.
To create effective Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in your home staging business, it’s important to start by identifying the key processes and tasks that are essential to your business operations. This can be:
How to load out for the staging project
How to prepare the bed on the staging job site
How to deal with client objections
What to do when clients are not paying invoices on time
Marketing content creation on the staging job site
How to write social media captions and create marketing graphics that are on brand
The entire workflow of home staging installation days from start to finish
Once you’ve identified these key processes, you can begin to develop step-by-step instructions for how each task should be performed. It’s important to be as detailed and specific as possible so that anyone who reads the SOP can understand exactly what needs to be done. You may also want to include visual aids, such as photos or diagrams, to help illustrate the process.
The easiest way I find for doing this is to simply record what you (or your team member in charge of this task) are doing. If it’s a task on the computer, you can record your screen. If it’s an in-person task, you can video yourself (or have a team member do it) performing those tasks.
In one of our podcasts, Elisha of Modern Interior Staging Company ****shared how she trained her team members to take over doing consultations with her staging clients. She created a series of training videos showing how she does a consultation. She then sends the training to her new team members to watch. After they have watched it, they all get together in a meeting to role-play as part of their training. Elisha will then give feedback until their team members feel confident that they can go out on their own and replicate Elisha’s methods.
In our Workflow Tuneup short course, Daniel Coffman, the Founder and Stager at Staged Spaces LA, demonstrated how he trains his team to record site visit videos for their staging projects. In the on-demand short course, he shows one of these training videos and explains that he also sent them to their agent clients during COVID to ensure accurate home staging project estimates. As you can see, once you created assets like this, they are very helpful and useful for training!
When creating SOPs, it’s important to involve your team in the process. This will help ensure that the procedures are practical and effective, and it will also create buy-in and ownership among your team members. If you have been working on the higher level sides of your business, your team members will also be the ones who have boots on the round every day. So it is even more beneficial for you to loop them into the process.
You can hold a meeting or workshop to discuss the procedures and gather feedback from your team as Elisha did with her team when she was training them on how to do consultations with her staging clients.
Once your SOPs have been created, it’s important to regularly review and update them as needed. This will help ensure that they remain relevant and effective and that they continue to reflect the current state of your business operations.
You can also do this for your staging looks so that you can make sure your team members know what inventory to pull and execute during the staging to ensure consistency and that the styling is on point.
During the retreat last year, I shared a lookbook document from a student who created four signature styles for her staging business. She then created internal lookbooks for each signature style. Each had its own inventory, style, patterns, textures, look and feel, and personality. This visual document was very helpful to help her team members understand what they need to do during the prep and installation process.
I talk about this with students and on podcasts fairly often. In a service-based business like staging, we are trading time for money. Your income potential is limited if you are only trading your own time for money. To add more money to the business, you have to add people. That’s just the way it is if you want to grow and scale your staging business.
At the end of the day, staging is a team sport. You can’t lift a sofa on your own. Even if you can, it’s not sustainable physically and mentally if you are busy staging 6 days a week.
As your business grows, you may find it difficult to find and retain dependable team members to help you manage your workload. This can be a major obstacle to growth and scalability, as you can only do so much on your own.
To overcome this challenge, focus on building a strong team that shares your vision and values. Invest in recruiting and training strategies that will help you attract and retain top talent. This may include offering competitive compensation packages, providing ongoing training and development opportunities, and fostering a positive work culture that values teamwork and collaboration.
In a recent podcast, I interviewed Steph Tuss, who outlines the importance of getting A players onto your team to help you grow your business and how to become a leader in your staging business. In the episode before, Jaime Van Cuyk spoke about how to hire for your staging business. In a previous interview, Jake from Foxy Staging also talked about getting reliable team members and building a company culture for their staging company.
Hiring is also marketing: When it comes to hiring for your home staging business, remember that hiring is also marketing. Highlight what makes your business unique and attractive to potential employees, such as your company culture, growth opportunities, and commitment to quality work. Your job opening ad should be a form of advertising and marketing, to market yourself so that the best candidate will apply. Think about what gets people excited to apply for schools or at certain companies – it’s usually because of the brand and the culture the company has portrayed that gets people excited about how it can change their future.
Use job boards and social media: Post job openings on job boards and share them on your social media channels, especially on platforms like LinkedIn. This will help you reach a wider audience and attract candidates who are actively seeking employment.
Don’t forget the remote workforce: Tasks like admin, social media scheduling, or bookkeeping don’t require someone to work in-house physically. This can be a remote position. This will also help to widen your talent pool to choose from.
Network: You never know where your team member can come from. Jake talked about recruiting movers through his football team. The candidates are physically fit and already know about working in teams, which is ideal for a mover position. There are a lot of moms looking for flexible work hours and creative work. You have to put the word out there.
Hire SLOW: When interviewing candidates, ask open-ended, behavioral questions to assess their work style and team fit. You may also want to consider conducting skills assessments or job shadowing to see how they perform in real-life situations. We always put our candidates through a sample task and see how they react and approach the task. (This is not an opportunity for you to get free work out of it, that’s a bit unethical. This is an opportunity to observe how they take the task and run with it. It’s also a mutual interview. If the candidate doesn’t like the sample task, that means they will not enjoy working with us.)
Onboarding & retention: It’s important to get your new team member on board and have buy-in with your company. We talked about creating SOPs earlier to clearly communicate expectations, and it is also important to help your team member to invest in your business emotionally. You can do so by getting to know your team members and seeing what they want out of their positions. Then you can support them by providing ongoing training and development opportunities accordingly. This will not only improve their skills and knowledge but also increase their loyalty and engagement with your business in the long run.
By implementing these strategies, you can attract and retain top talent for your home staging business and build a strong, reliable team that will help you achieve your goals.
By overcoming these common growth challenges, you can take your home staging business to the next level. With the right strategies in place, you can achieve your goals and build a successful, sustainable business.
It does take time to build, this is why, at this level of your staging business, you need to start working like a true CEO. This means delegating the menial tasks like admin, scheduling, etc. to your team member and starting working on the higher level side of the business, like developing client relationships, strategies, business development work, etc.
Scheduling a CEO day regularly is crucial for every business owner, especially for those who are looking to grow and scale their business. This is a dedicated day for you to work on the higher level side of your business, such as developing client relationships, strategies, business development work, and reviewing your business performance.
It is important to block out this time in your calendar and treat it as a non-negotiable appointment with yourself. Without this dedicated time, it can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks of running your business and neglect the important work of planning and strategizing for the future. By prioritizing this time, you can ensure that you are working towards your long-term goals and not just putting out fires.
One way to accelerate your growth and block out the time to work on your growth strategies is to attend a business retreat, like our Home Staging Business Mastery Retreat.
Masterminding with fellow successful, like-minded stagers and getting immediate, 1 on 1 feedback from experienced staging business coaches can propel your staging business forward and lead to significant growth in an accelerated time frame.
Join us for a week-long immersive retreat in Italy designed to help you create consistency, stability, and scalability in your staging business. Our masterclasses and workshops are tailored to your specific needs to ensure an impactful learning experience. You will walk away with actionable strategies for the next 12 months to accomplish your most important goal. Limited spots are available for our 2023 retreat, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to take your staging business to the next level. We have two different locations (Tuscany and Florence) for you to choose from. Make this your most impactful week of 2023! Find out more about the retreats here.