Some people are blessed with certainty about their calling in life. From an early age, Nancy Anderson knew that she loved art, color, decorating, and houses. In her 30-some year career, she has worked for a design firm, been a partner in a successful model home decorating business, and worked independently as an interior designer. You could say her career has been a wide variety from soup to nuts (or, pillows to grommets).
A Solid Start with an Expert Mentor
In her early career days, she worked as staff designer for a downtown design firm. During her tenure, not only did she refine her artistry she also learned the art of working with clients, which included business and homeowner clients. Eventually, when motherhood came knocking, so did a new opportunity to form a partnership with another designer friend. This would allow her to work from home and have greater flexibility to be present with her new daughter.
Nancy offers this sage advice for anyone leaving a job to strike out on their own. “Don’t be impatient to build your empire. It might take 5 years or more of learning from someone before you go out on your own, and are worth a high hourly rate. And then when you leave, honor the mentor who taught you, don’t compete against them.” When she made plans to leave the firm, she promised her boss she would not call on the same clients and did not take the rolodex with her.
Persistence Pays Off
In her new venture, Anderson Mortenson Model Design, Nancy took the tasks of sales and marketing and her partner took on project management and ordering. They shared the design work. This was during a big housing boom and in the early days of the internet, so Nancy perused the newspapers to eventually built a list of 120 builders for potential business. She started cold calling and hearing rejection. So she set forth to contact these builders every six weeks with the same upbeat request, asking if they had a project for which her firm could submit a proposal. Weeks went by before finally receiving an invitation to submit a bid.
That first opportunity, they bid low to get the job. Once awarded the job, she and her partner committed to complete the project on time, under budget, and exceed expectations. From there, business started to grow.
She and her husband, Dan, moved to the suburbs to accommodate their growing family and to be close to her business partner and the model homes they were decorating. The business eventually grew to employ 3 office staff and multiple sub-contractors. The decorating duo earned awards and business was booming. Nancy remained as the firm’s sales and marketing manager, oftentimes the responsibility of acquiring new business felt like a weight and a burden.
Trusting God and Coming Home
It was during this busy season when friends would ask, “How do you do it all?” With her husband also self-employed and working at home, they were able to manage the household and child-rearing, however by a thread. Continually distracted and never in the moment, she realized her goal was not to hurtle through life. Eventually, she clearly felt the Lord asking her, “Do you trust me?” By this point, Nancy’s income had grown by four times. To answer the Lord with a clear “yes I trust You and I will leave the business” felt like jumping off the edge of a cliff.
Sharing this revelation with her husband, Dan fully supported her and replied, “God will make a way.” After a 7-year exhilarating whirlwind of success, she left Anderson Mortenson Model Design to stay home with their three young children. She immersed herself in motherhood, volunteering at church, and homeschooling.
“You can make money later; you can’t raise your children later. You can’t get that time back.”
Over the years, there were periods when money was tight. The national events of 9/11 and the 2007 housing crash and subsequent stock market crash affected her husband’s business. She learned during times of need to praise God because He is trustworthy and praiseworthy.
When the kids got older, they needed her less and with college on the horizon, it was time to re-enter the workforce. While she had the experience and success, she didn’t believe interior design was the right choice for her any longer.
Re-entering the Workforce and Doubt Rushes In
While considering her next career move, never did Nancy believe she could be a solo interior designer. She had worked as an employee and as a partner. Working on her own was an entirely new thought. In her prior experience, clients were contractors and builders. If she were to strike out on her own, she’d work with homeowners as clients, which requires a different style of communicating and planning. These things were outside her wheelhouse, and therefore, Nancy assumed her decorating days were over. Ten years out of the workforce contributed to a reduced vision of what was professionally possible.
Nancy applied to a number of hourly minimum-wage jobs located close to home. It looked like flexible work allowing her to keep the focus on home and family. Surprisingly, with all her experience, she was not getting called for interviews.
Desperate to find work, she realized home staging was a cousin to model home decorating. She put together a simple brochure and, tapping her tenacious sales skills, drove to every local real estate office she could find. Not unlike her prior experience, she was met with a “no” from every office. Finally, a real estate agent from her church gave her a shot. She was asked to help stage a home to sell. The client was a busy corporate professional and had no time to acquire the pieces Nancy suggested. The client paid Nancy to shop for the pieces and pull the look together.
On the drive home, Nancy wept with joy. She thought she’d never have the opportunity once again to be a decorator. She had completely given up the idea, going down different paths that resulted in dead ends. But God had a plan for her.
Commitment and Confirmation
Relaunching her one-woman interior design business took nearly three years. At times, she was nervous it was not going to work out. She wisely invested in online advertising, which paid off in spades, in more ways than one. During those early stages of business, God gave her another a-ha moment when a client came to her through Angie’s List.
As Nancy walked through the client’s home, she noticed scripture wall hangings. They talked over the project, and the client mentioned she was concerned about her child. A warm conversation followed and they took time to pray for one another’s children. Nancy left that appointment with a check in hand a heart of gratitude. She recounts,
“Oh Lord, thank you that I did not get a job, because I would have missed this. I can do what I love, and I can minister to people and they minister to me.”
Words of Wisdom
Nancy says listening is the most important thing she does as a designer. What good is it to have a beautiful design if it does not meet the client’s needs and expectations? A residential interior designer enters the client’s home so respecting their space is important. It is the client’s nest; her job is to help them feather it. She affirms everything she can of the client’s home, style, choices, and desires. Her desire is to leave clients feeling better about their space, the colorful changes to come, and themselves.
It’s been nearly ten years since she re-entered the workforce and pushed past her doubts. Business has been so good that she recently raised her rates. This enables her to work fewer hours. The slightly higher rate acts as a pre-qualifier for more serious clients.
Throughout her career, God intersected the paths of career and home. Nancy has listened to God’s leading and responded. Of course, coming home to family is a lovely thing. And time and again, He has brought her back to a career that feels like home. By all accounts, she is living a lovely reward from the Lord. She is busy every day providing for her family during her kids’ college years, doing the very things she loves to do.
Written By Julie Stroud
Julie Stroud is the Founder and President of Fervent Coaching. With two decades’ experience as a work at home mom and solopreneur, Julie brings experience, wisdom, and education to the clients she serves. Through coaching and training, Fervent Coaching equips and inspires Christian entrepreneurial women to be God’s best in the marketplace.