21 Jul My #realfreelancelife True Story: Danielle Harris
“When you’re blessed, you’re called on to bless others and it’s going to come back to you tenfold.”
If you walked into one of Danielle Harris’s finished design spaces or saw her across the room, you would be intimidated. She’s gorgeous, always looks perfectly put together and dressed to the nines. Her finished design spaces are immaculately done, every detail considered. But say hello, and her sweet smile and charm put you right at ease. As sweet as she is beautiful, this girl is the whole package.
A badass female entrepreneur who owns two businesses (a home remodeling company with her husband and her own interior design firm) and a mom to three young boys, Danielle recently sat down with us at MANMAN Studios to share about her life and what she’s learned throughout her career.
Mandy: First can you just tell us what a typical day is like for you?
Danielle: I have 3 boys, so typically my work starts the night before. Even though I’m an entrepreneur and I run two businesses, I want to spend as much time with my kids as possible, so that’s kind of when my day will start. When they go to bed around 9 at night, I start prepping for the next day and I do that until about 1-2 am. I’m thinking about what I need to do the next day, do I have presentations, do I have consultations, do I have to go to a construction site, what is the weather going to be like, do I need rainboots or heels?
Usually I go to bed around 2 am and I have to get up around 6 am to get the kids ready for school. I don’t get a lot of sleep. I’ll sleep one day. I also have a 19-month-old, so I really don’t sleep.
M: OMG, girl! And people always think I don’t get any sleep! You def have me beat!
D: I’m not a coffee drinker either. People are usually surprised by that. I have way too much energy for that, I’d be way too hyper. So I get up, get the kids to school, and then typically I start my day at my office. I’ll head to our warehouse, pick up whatever it is I’ve decided I need for the day.
One thing I do to help keep me organized, and which my clients really like, is I have individual huge canvas totes for each job. I might have one client who wants a coastal style, and another client who wants contemporary and urban. If I just had a big pile, it would be a nightmare trying to organize it all. So I have a tote for each client and their style. And when I get ready to go to their house, I just grab that tote and I’m ready to go.
M: That’s brilliant! What kind of stuff does the tote have in it?
D: They have wallpapers, area rugs, any type of fabrics for any type of upholstery. I always have a tape measure, a scale for blueprints, things like that. I also have a separate tote in my car with things like sticky tack – and the reason why – I’m giving you my secrets now — when you hang a picture, if it’s on a wire, it will never hang straight. It will always be crooked, so I take sticky tack and ball it and put it on the back of the picture and stick it on the wall, and that way it never moves. People think that is the coolest thing and are like, “I’m going to go get some.”
M: Ooh, interesting! I use sticky tack all the time, but I’ve never used it that way.
D: I bet you will now! Anytime you slam a door or walk into a room, the picture can go crooked. So I always have sticky tack in a separate tote in my car. I also always have booties and rain boots in my car in case I need to go somewhere muddy, like construction sites, or if it rains. Every day is completely different, and you never know what will happen. I always have everything in the car that I might need.
Also I do everything from my phone. People think that’s fascinating too. I don’t have a laptop, I don’t have an iPad. I like to just have my phone and be able to work wherever. If I have 20 minutes here or there between meetings, I’ll be answering emails and doing stuff as I can.
M: Oh wow, that is surprising!
D: Yep, it works! Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days that I actually meet with clients. Mondays and Wednesdays, I work from home or the office, catching up on invoices, etc. I have an office manager who places and tracks all my orders. Fridays are my flex days, so I try to keep the day clear but in busy times, my work will spill into Friday.
Today I went to the house of a new client who wants me to redo their kitchen, their great room, and master bedroom. So we walked through what they wanted to change. They’ve been in their home for 5 years, so I always ask what they want to keep or remove from their existing stuff.
We have to discuss what they’re willing to give up to get there. We talk about budgets…very important! There’s a misconstrued view that interior designers are expensive and you can’t afford them. I only have one shot to impress someone, so I like to be upfront and talk budget early so that not only are my designs amazing, but I’m also on budget.
After this interview, I’m going to do an installation of a dining and great room. I ordered all the furniture, and it’s all come in. I have a delivery crew, the best in the biz. And I have a 20,000-foot warehouse that I store everything in. They’ll pull all the furniture, and it’s all organized by the client.
Sometimes clients want me to accessorize, which is like shopping to me. I’ll get everything the client wants and pull it in giant speed packs, which is basically a giant cardboard box. My delivery crew will bring it all in, and then I’ll start placing designs and setting up the home. The client gets to pick, I always have backup options, and they can choose artwork if they don’t like my first options. I like to call it the HGTV moment.
M: Do you make the clients leave while you set up the house?
D: No, I don’t make them leave. Some clients choose to, and some like to see the process. All the furniture is pre-approved, but the artwork and accessories aren’t. If they don’t like something, we can swap it out.
The other misconception people have with interior designers is that they will control the whole thing and the homeowner won’t even like the design. That’s why I like to give options. Listening is a huge part of being a good designer. I’m a huge people person, so I ask them what they like about their house now, what they don’t like. Who’s in their family? What are their age groups? What nostalgic things do they enjoy? What are their hobbies? They’re the ones who will be living there, so I want them to love it!
M: Do you use apps or how do you stay organized? That’s something people always ask me.
D: I would say, I’m organized chaos. I have an extremely good memory, I was blessed, which I know sounds crazy. I’ll go to a client’s house and they’ll be like, “Don’t you need to take a measurement of this or a pic? And I’m like, “No I’ve got it.” I’ve done it so long, I can tell you the width and depth of a room, and what size sectional will fit. If I pick paint colors, I very rarely write it down. I could pack a 10k-sq-ft house and remember every single piece.
I’m old school. I literally have a planner. I like to open it and see everyone all at once, each day and hours, and notes for everything—like prices. I do write some things down, like prices, measurements for window treatments, etc. People might wonder how I am running a multi-million dollar biz with my phone and my little binder. Pretty much everything is in that binder, and I keep it in my glove compartment so it’s always with me.
M: How do you keep yourself motivated?
D: I’m a seriously competitive person and I have a lot of grit. No matter what is thrown at me, I’m going to persevere and find a way through it. And I always want to be better than I was the year before. For example, this week has been busier than normal. I’m not going to say I’m tired. I’m going to come out on top of it. So I think I have a lot of drive, a lot of grit. Like, how much can I sell this week? And design in general is very motivating because it’s rewarding to see a room or a home go from nothing to something.
My husband is always like, “You’re at the point in your career where you can say no.” But even if everyone else said no, I want to be the one that does something amazing. I always say yes. Probably not a good thing to mold yourself after, but that’s just how I am. I’m constantly in competition with myself and I’m also my biggest cheerleader. Nothing is going to stop me. It may not be a numbers thing, it could be getting to do something new, like when I recently got to go to Minnesota and do a lake house. I’d never done that before. I constantly look at whatever positives are there and try and make it even better. I’m very self-motivated.
M: I totally feel you on this! I don’t feel competitive usually with other people, it’s more about always challenging myself and one-upping myself, ha!
Ok..so how do you keep yourself chill? Especially because you have all those boys, and you work all those hours, and it’s a huge biz. Just curious…
D: I have the weirdest personality. I’m super competitive and hit the ground running, but I’m also super laid-back. I just worked with my friends on their house from the ground up, and we’ve never worked together, just been friends for years. Her husband is in the military, and he was like, “I think you should run a boot camp,” because they’ve never seen me that strict. Friendship-wise, I’m like, “Whatever you want, I don’t care.” But in business, I’m the polar opposite.
I love to read. Of course with my family and two businesses, I don’t have a lot of time for that. I don’t drink coffee, but I’m obsessed with green tea latte; matcha is my thing, so if I have time, I will stop at Starbucks or something and get a matcha drink. I’ll listen to a podcast in the car or gospel music. I really love old-school Kirk Franklin gospel music; it really gets me moving. Because I’m in my car so much, I think I just take it in and that really helps me get through the day.
M: Where do you find inspiration?
D: People are my heart. I have the opportunity to go into people’s houses every day. If I can be the one light that people are able to see during the day, if I can get inspiration from them and be an inspiration to them, it motivates me a lot to be there for people.
Back in October, my husband and I decided to pick seven small businesses that were struggling and do promotions for them. So I asked people on social media to message me if they knew a small business that was hurting. We had a lot of responses. I would have done them all, but you can only do so many. We featured one each day till Thanksgiving. One was free oil changes for single moms, one was free large pizzas for first responders, and the rest were open to anyone. It kind of reminds me of what you do, because you promote a lot of people.
M: I get that all the time. People are always like, “You market a lot of other people…”
D: That’s amazing though, because some people are so competitive. I’m super competitive too, but it’s important to be cheering the next designer on.
M: I actually think that when you’re confident in what you’re doing, you don’t need to hoard everything for yourself. There’s plenty for everyone.
D: Oh, we all can eat, girl. So for these promotions, we did one each week. I would visit the business and post on social and say who they were and describe their business and then we would say we’ll give away like 100 pizzas or whatever. All people had to do was call and say what they were thankful for and then tag or post stories about the business. When you’re blessed, you’re called on to bless others and it’s going to come back to you tenfold.
M: It’s so true! How did you get into interior design? Did you go to school for it?
D: I did. So, I went to the Mount, Mt St Joe’s. Actually, funny story, I never wanted to be in the business because I grew up in it and I thought it was the worst thing ever. My mom is an interior designer and my parents owned a furniture store. In college, I was originally pre-law and I was going to go into social work. I’ve always loved children, so I was going to represent kids from the state, kids that had been taken away from their parents. When I got into my second year and started shadowing social workers, I saw what happens in our world and I just was a mess. My mom was like, “You cannot do this.” I only had one more prerequisite to go, and my mom was like, “Why don’t you take a Furniture and Finishes class, just a peep?” I took it and loved it. I just loved it.
M: What are the most challenging aspects of your job? You’re very positive, so I’m curious about what might be difficult about it?
D: When you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. But anytime you work with people, it can be challenging. I’ve been blessed with really good clientele, but every once in a while, you’re going to come across a personality that might not jive. Or someone who’s been really hurt in their life and they’re not open, or people you can’t read – either because they’re really shy or closed off and you’re having to pull it out, like what is your style, what do you want?
I would also say the balance of my family and work. For example, last night I had to meet a client in the evening because we were hitting on a deadline. But I needed to be with my kids, so I literally shoved everything in a canvas tote and brought it home. So sometimes even when I’m with them, I sometimes struggle with mom guilt. I’m with them, but not with them. I’m turning on YouTube and working while they’re sitting on my lap. And I always tell my clients, when you see Chip and Joanna Gaines bringing their kids to a work site eating dinner, that’s totally a real thing.
I want to be able to do movie night or go to the birthday parties. I don’t want to always be constantly working. And they’re getting to the age where they know. My oldest one recently said, “You’re always working.” And we’re blessed to own our own business so I can take off on a Wednesday and head to Great Wolf Lodge and do that for the day. It’s a balance.
M: What is a big lesson you’ve learned having your own business or in interior design?
D: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to undersell yourself. You’re valuable. Early on I was like, I would take any opportunity, I just wanted to do the work. And then I’d have referrals and everyone would expect me to do it for the same price. So I think it’s knowing your value and your worth. And when you exude confidence and are sure of yourself, people are like, “Oh, yeah, she’s worth that.”
I’ve also learned to speak my mind. I think initially, when I walked into a house, I would work around a hideous vase. But they’re paying me for my opinion and if I think it’s ugly, I need to let them know because I work off of referrals and if I think something is not working, I need to say it.
M: All great lessons! Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’ve had a ton of fun learning more about your world and how to build and run a successful business.
To follow along with Danielle’s adventures, check out:
And watch @socialsbymanman on Instagram for a giveaway from Danielle!
Photography by @manmanstudios.