In this treat of an episode, I sat down with the spectacular and talented Toronto Designer, Allison Willson to talk about all of the things – life, career changes, aesthetic, pricing, and more!

Allison shares why she finally decided to go out on her own and start her design firm after working 11 years at Sarah Richardson Design. She explores how she’d describe her distinctive style and how saying NO to some things can be the right move for your business, your livelihood and for your clients. She talks about balancing projects and staying within your capacity, her experience managing a team and her thought process behind her pricing model.

She also dives into why she listens to her gut and the green flags she looks for when speaking with potential clients. We learn about her thoughts on magazine spreads, what they do and and don’t do for her business, and her love/hate relationship with Instagram! Finally, don’t miss her incredibly poignant nugget of wisdom that has truly stayed with me since our conversation!

Learn more about Allison Willson on her website and on Instagram


Read the Full Transcript ⬇️

Rebecca Hay: Hey, hey, hey, it’s Rebecca and you are listening to Resilient by Design. Today I have a very special guest. I am so excited to welcome Alison Wilson, a fellow Toronto interior designer who is very well known here in Toronto and across Canada because she is incredibly talented. She has been featured in house and home style at home magazine, including cover features.

And Alison is sharing with you today. How she started in the industry, working at furniture shops, then moved to work for the famous design firm, Sarah Richardson design, working behind the scenes in television on screen and with private clients for 11 years. And then she talks about what precipitated her desire to go out on her own, and she started her design firm in 2018.

She founded her design firm. She has a small team, and we share all the good things. In this episode, you’re gonna love hearing how she talks about determining whether a client’s the right fit for you, because it’s so, so integral to having a successful project. We talk about press, the role of press, the role of Instagram in getting clients to hire you.

Is that even a factor? We talk about that. And at the very end, you are going to love her nugget of wisdom. It is a great reminder. I wrote it down for myself. So please enjoy this episode with Alison Wilson. Oh my gosh. Alison Wilson is here. I’m so excited to have you. Thank you for being my guest today.

Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I’m so excited to meet you because my first time like quote unquote meeting you and I know it’s virtually. I have so many questions, but before we get there, why don’t you introduce yourself to my audience?

Allison Willson: So I’m Allie Allison Wilson, even though nobody calls me Allison when they do, I feel like I’m in maybe a little bit of trouble.

I have. been in the design industry for about 18 years. When I graduated from Western University, I did some traveling, did some soul searching, and really determined that I belonged in a creative field. But not having gone to school for that or having had any experience in that, I started out working at furniture stores.

I worked at UpCountry and Fluid living and even some outdoor furniture shops, just putting myself in that environment, trying to meet people who were in, in the industry. And I enrolled myself in George Brown their interior design program and a really good friend of mine Lindsay men’s who I had gone to Western with was working at Sarah Richardson design.

She, in knowing that I wanted to get into the field, set me up with. Meeting Sarah. And I ended up working there in a junior position, working my way up to a senior designer. And I was there for 11 years, which I can’t believe I can say, I’m like, am I old enough to have been somewhere for 11 years? But I guess so.

And then in 2018, I left to pursue my own firm. And that’s what I did. I was a one woman shop working out of my house and that slowly and I got myself an office during the pandemic and I developed a small team. We’re still small. That’s pretty much it.

Rebecca Hay: Six years ago now, so here I am amazing. I mean, I think I first found you discovered you when you were working at Sarah Richardson design.

And for those Americans who are listening, you’re going to have to Google Sarah Richardson, pretty big deal up here in Canada. Sarah. Team had TV shows, multiple TV shows on HGTV and throughout the years different ones like Design Inc. Were you part of the Design Inc. Crew?

Allison Willson: I, I did. A few, a few years of production on and off.

You kind of toggle between production and client work and Yeah, I, I did that for years and it’s like design learning bootcamp. It’s like sink or swim, do or die. You know, you, I’m so thankful for that experience because. You really just have to bring your all and get things done. And you know, TV timelines.

I mean, you’ve, you’ve done it yourself. There’s no flex. You’ve got your reveal date and your shoot date the next day and it’s full on. And you know, as stressful as that was, I think I thrive in that environment. I don’t know if my nervous system is happy about that. You know, great. You just have to get it done.

You find solutions. It’s like the ultimate creative experience, because if something doesn’t work out, it’s like bigger at something else. Yeah. Very thankful for that.

Rebecca Hay: I love chatting with you. I love hearing your story, how you started working at furniture showrooms, because I think a lot of designers nowadays, Are a little bit trying to skip the learning curve and just go out on their own, right?

Absolutely. I’ve been

Allison Willson: talking about that a lot this week.

Rebecca Hay: Really? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And part of it could be that it’s been booming, you know, since the pandemic, there’s just been such an influx of work. And so a lot of people who wanted to do it as a second career, they’re like, okay, now’s my time. Or they go to school and they come out of school and they’re like, all right, let’s go.

I want to be a senior designer at a firm, or I want to run my own business. And I mean, myself. Like you, I got a lot of experience under my belt before I even started my business. Not to say that everyone has to do that, but how much do you think those early years informed you as a designer? Like how, how important do you think that was for you?

Allison Willson: I cannot imagine doing this job without having had the life experience and as much as you can. Read a design book or look around for inspiration or even have clients come your way. I mean, sure. All of those things can happen. It does not mean you know how to do the job and design is, it is a funny one because you know, if you have good taste and if you could create like Technically you could do it and that’s all good and fine, but I think when you’re trusting somebody to pay you as a professional, you’re spending their money.

They’re paying you to have a certain level of experience to be able to know things about code and the steps and stages of a reno. So you have to take that very seriously and you can’t really glaze over the learning curve. And I feel like unless you have an opportunity to do those things hands on, how else do you learn?

You know, and I’m so thankful for those years that I had, even when I left after 11 years in the industry, I still felt like, am I ready to do this on my own? Some days I still feel like that because you’re learning every day. You know, I built a house. for myself. A few years ago, my, my family and I built a home.

I’ve built many homes for clients, but just being in that world and, you know, a part of every single tiny little step in stage of that build. I learned so much and I had moments of like, holy shit, there’s still so much to learn. So it’s so important. Yeah, really invaluable. And I think, you know, even being around other designers who are mentoring you or teaching you or giving you the, their stories of like, Oh, one time I did this and it went that way, or try that because I learned the hard way that that’s gold.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I obviously feel really strongly about that hence podcast. And you know, all my courses that I like to help and give back to designers, but there is something to be said for that. Like that experience, like even just you working in a furniture store, like you probably didn’t envision yourself working in a furniture store forever, but you’re like, I got to get into the industry.

I got to get my feet wet. I got to put in my time. I got to do my work. And I actually had a call with the designer the other day. And I said, and she was feeling nervous about, you know, taking on a project. And I said, well, Why don’t you just start working part time at a local showroom? Like get your, you know, get a little bit of experience, get connected to others in the industry because that’ll help to build your confidence.

Allison Willson: For sure. And you know what? You’re still surrounded by the same things that you’ll be surrounded by when you’re doing the job, which is furniture and trades and things come up and you’ll be looking at floor plans. I was at, Restoration hardware yesterday with a client. It’s an American project. And for shipping reasons, we’re considering a couple of RH pieces.

And, you know, we went in with our floor plans and there was a lovely sales associate and she’s looking at our plans with us and that person’s experience with us coming to her with our plans, our shipping logistics, tariffs on swivel chair, like. You aren’t really aware of how much you can take away from a single interaction.

You know, you can’t be too proud to get some experience, like say yes to

Rebecca Hay: everything. Totally. So 11 years with one design firm, I feel like that’s unheard of these days. Yeah, even I was with, I was with the designer that I worked for for five years. And that felt like an eternity at the time. Talk to me about that transition.

Like, how did you know that you were ready to go out on your own? And you know, what sort of precipitated that decision? Because you were a senior designer, a very prominent, well known firm in Toronto, presumably doing really big, exciting projects. What made you decide to start your own firm?

Allison Willson: This is a two part answer and one part of this is a bit personal and I don’t ever mind getting into the weeds with that.

But I was going through some fertility challenges at the time and I think that I just needed to change something up, you know I just needed to like, shake it up a bit, take my mind off of everything that was going on there. So that was the main reason. But I also think that, you know, when I considered that move, I felt like I had honed in on who I was and what my style was.

And it felt Like it was starting to depart from where I was working and I feel like if you, if you can respect where you are and the, the need to create that brand. And if you’re veering from that brand, I think you actually owe it to that firm to leave as well. Because it was like, you know, if I wanted to create my own.

Things and style with the way I’m going. I really do need to do it on my own. Otherwise it doesn’t feel like it’s in line and who am I to change up what this firm stands for? So it felt like make it on your own. Try

Rebecca Hay: try to do it on your own. Do your own thing. I love that. And so I have to say that one of the things that I really admire about your work is your aesthetic.

It feels as though over the last five years, you’ve really come into a distinctive aesthetic and not to not when I say that I want to be clear. I’m not saying that every project you do is a copycat of the other. But you’re starting to really showcase your talent. We’re now what, 11 plus six years in. So talk to me about that.

Like, I know a lot of designers listening are like, well, I don’t know what my design aesthetic is and how do I find that? And one of the things I always say with designers, I say like that will help to elevate your brand. Once you get really clear on what your look is, you know, it doesn’t mean you can’t, you know, dab a little bit on the modern or dabble a little more traditional, what have you.

But yeah, I think that really. It starts to attract clients to you because they like your aesthetic as opposed to a designer who can kind of do anything in every style. So talk to me about how you found your style, especially having worked for someone else.

Allison Willson: Yeah, to be completely honest, I don’t know how to answer that.

I mean, I don’t, I don’t know. I think people often say to me, Oh, that looks like you. And I’m like, really?

Rebecca Hay: I don’t know. Right. I can relate that. I have the same experience. Like, Oh, that’s such a Rebecca. Hey, look, I’m like, it is. Oh, I don’t even know. I don’t think I have a style, but anyhow. Yeah.

Allison Willson: Yeah. It’s funny.

I think, I think I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. And Every project will fit that mold. I mean, I just shot a project a couple weeks ago that I finished and it was quite traditional a little bit, you know, London townhouse vibe, a bit more color, a bit more frills. And I think that that would have many similar through lines to, like, The farmhouse that I just built or the contemporary project I did a few years ago, and I think that, you know, there’s always I guess I always have a bit of a mix going on.

I like things that contrast whether it’s. A hard stone with a soft. boucle, or an antique with a contemporary lamp on it, or a very cool masculine wall and a very warm rug, or I don’t know. I think that there’s antiques in every project, there’s vintage items, there’s new clean lined pieces, and somehow when all of those things come together, I guess it feels like me.

I veer a little bit more. I think masculine and in my designs like nothing’s ever super pretty or overly patterned or floral. I like that, but it just doesn’t tend to be where I lean towards. So

Rebecca Hay: yeah, I don’t know. It happens organically.

Allison Willson: Yeah, it really is such an organic process and every client is so different and they’ll have different wants and needs depending on their stage of life or how much they need it to function for their young growing family or even where they live.

Like I have a project right now that’s in Naples, Florida, there isn’t a single thing on that project that will be the same as the Hollywood Chalet, but yeah, I guess in the end, if they, they look like my brand, that’s great. I just, it’s just the mix. Yeah, no, I love that. A bit of edge, a little bit of a little bit of all of the things coming together.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah, I love that. And sometimes it does take the outsider to highlight and say, well, here’s what I see consistently, but that’s really great. I mean, that’s super honest. When I went out on my own, I was so excited to finally get to do what I wanted to do, right? I didn’t have to do what Steven wanted. And even though I had a lot of, I was able to share my opinions and I had a lot of say, it wasn’t me.

It wasn’t. When I branded, the buck didn’t stop with me. It stopped with him. And so when I went out on my own, I was so excited to do what I wanted. But then what happened to me is I got this kind of imposter syndrome where I was nervous to propose what I really wanted because I almost was in this sort of safety of what I knew.

For sure. I didn’t always push the boundaries and get Clients to say, yes, or I didn’t even always present what I wanted to. Did you have that experience? Like, talk about that because I know a lot of designers want to design, but then they’re worried their client’s not going to like it. So they water it down.

Allison Willson: Yeah, I can appreciate what you’re saying, especially when you leave a place with a very clear brand, and you think, well, you know, if you’re hiring me based on my previous work, is that actually what you’re looking for? I think that You know, getting to know your client and knowing where you can push is always great.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge pusher as in like, Oh, we’re doing this, but I can sell an idea if I believe in it wholeheartedly. So I think, you know, Pick your battles and and find the things that excite you and you know will really make this project unique or stand out or just be different. I mean there’s such a formula for design, especially right now.

It feels like there’s It’s quite a formula for certain looks and Instagram and Pinterest and all of that is so lovely in terms of finding sources and inspiration. But you can also just say, here’s the list, go and buy it. There’s a formula. So I think that, you know, approaching any project with what would work for the client and trying to put your own stamp on it with creative solutions or, or custom solutions that will always make things.

Feel like you it’s not it’s not curating a shopping list of ready to go items to me. That’s I don’t think that’s good enough when

Rebecca Hay: you’re calling yourself a designer. There’s got to be some design. Yeah. And I, I like that we’re having this conversation because, oh man, I feel like this could be a whole conversation, but we’ll just keep it going.

I’m just like trying to pick my words carefully here. Cause I was just on a high point market and it was so interesting to see, you know, I mean, I’ve been before, but you see the different showrooms and you see the different design aesthetics and then you see the designers that gravitate to the different showrooms.

And there are certain showrooms that have a look that is what you expect to see on Instagram that everybody is doing. I think sometimes designers get afraid or nervous to go outside that formula as you call it. For sure, because it’s scary. You’re not seeing examples of it. And the client maybe doesn’t, hasn’t seen examples of it.

And it’s, but I agree with you. I think that that is when you start to elevate and that’s when you start to really distinguish yourself is when you’re not churning out the cookie cutter, Instagram worthy designs. I mean, there’s, there’s always going to be. And aesthetic, right? So right now over the moment, there’s sort of like an Amber interiors aesthetic happening, but 10 years ago, it was studio McGee or what have you.

And in five years, it’ll be something else. There’s always going to be something that works its way through. And I think to your point, I think that’s, what makes you interesting as a designer and maybe even differentiates you and attracts clients to you as your ability to take it. Beyond that,

Allison Willson: well, thank you.

I appreciate that. And I almost feel like I should backtrack now because there’s certainly nothing wrong with the formula. I just think that to your point and sort of to further answer your question. It’s like. How do you define your own aesthetic and differentiate your work? And I would say just stepping out of the formula a little bit, but I think you’re bang on, like people have comfort in that formula and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I mean, it’s, it works, it’s great. But even if you were to switch up a couple of things and say, Hey, this is like nothing I’ve ever seen or yay, I worked in a vintage light. That’s like, no one else will have that. Yeah. That all of a sudden just changes a room and I think that makes it pretty exciting.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah.

It’s super cool. Yeah. Okay. So you’re doing all these amazing designs for your clients. Like you’re running your design firm. You now have a team. So what does your team look like? You said you have a small team. How many people are on your team?

Allison Willson: It’s small right now. So I have a one and a half year old. So I, yeah, busy.

I know I’ve got a, an almost 10 year old and a one and a half year old, so I’m, I’m having a little do over moment right now, which is lovely, but I, you know, wound things down for her arrival and it’s organically picking back up again. So I’m a little. A little smaller than I was, you know, when she was arriving, there’s about four of us at the moment.

I’m the lead designer and I, I really am involved in everything. I don’t think I could ever give that up. So at the moment, you know, every project has a lead, an intermediate, a junior, or an assistant, assistant to to the team. And then. So, you know, between the four of us, we tackle projects big and small, but I think I’m right on the cusp of re organizing how I want to run things.

And I feel like, you know, as things organically grow, cause I’m ready for that now having come off mat leave, I think I’ll probably be looking to grow the team as the projects increase as well. And yeah.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting for you having come from a from an interior design firm that had a big team.

Like how many people were on the team at Sarah Richardson Design when you left? Like it must have been pretty big. I

Allison Willson: mean, I feel like the way every project was run there is similar to how I run a project now. I mean, a project would maybe have three people, four max, but, you know, two to three people, given the size and scale.

So even though the firm was bigger than what I have now, projects were very much the same in terms of what comprised the people. Those roles and responsibilities, that’s comforting actually, because that is the world that I know, you know, the way that things are structured and put together to service a client.

That’s the same way I’ve been doing it for, you know, 18 years. So

Rebecca Hay: I just think it’s always so interesting. Like everyone has a different example. And I love talking to designers from around North America that have different size teams and how they structure them. And so that’s, I’m always curious because like in my experience.

I was the assistant to one designer. We never had a team. So when I. When my business was growing and I now was like, Oh God, this is more work than one person and an assistant can handle. And I needed to scale my team. I didn’t know how to do it. Like I didn’t have a model. I never would have considered like, Oh, you could have three people on one project at a time.

And how many projects can you juggle at a time? And that really took me a long time to figure out. So that’s interesting to hear you say that, you know, sort of three people. And I imagine those three people that are with you, you guys can tackle up to a certain amount of projects, but then at some point that workload will be too much.

And so it’s looking at how do you change it?

Allison Willson: Exactly. And before I went on mat leave there were a couple more of us. And again, the project team sizes stayed the same. But it would be me with different people on those projects because yeah, I mean, after a certain number of projects come through the door, you can’t, you can’t do it all with the same design team.

So that’s when you have to get more people in there.

Rebecca Hay: Is there a maximum number of projects you would ever want to have like an intermediate or senior designer managing or on before it’s like, okay, I need somebody else to manage that next project.

Allison Willson: I think it would really depend on the size and scale of the project, but you know, right before Gracie was born, there were, I think we had 12 projects.

That is not cool for me. Like it was way too much. Oh my gosh, I was up at five every day just trying to clear that inbox before the day got going and staying on top of everything. And That’s too much. But I, again, it kind of just depends on how many people you’re willing to have in your team. That number would maybe be okay if I had another senior designer on hand.

I just, I didn’t have that in the moment. And it’s also, you know, this job is like this. It’s like, if you get your clients It’s coming back or they’re referring their friends and the stars online. It’s really hard to say no to things. So you know, you can have a pretty small plate one day and then two weeks later it’s, it’s quite full.

And it’s hard to anticipate those kinds of things. So yeah, staffing up and, and spreading it out evenly is great. But. And then that’s how many people do you have on your team, right? So I’m sure you experienced the same challenges at your firm, you know, just trying to weather the consistency gap. Like it’s impossible.

Rebecca Hay: Well, and like you say, it’s up and down. You never know where the next big project’s coming from. Or when it’s going to hit, and it could just happen like that. And all of a sudden you’re like, Oh shoot, my team is already pretty like filled up managing all these other projects. Do I hire? And this is my constant dilemma.

I don’t know if you’ve been here and maybe you will, as you start to grow again, but I’m like, okay. This is a really great project, but my really best designer, she’s managing like those three other projects. And I would always have to juggle, okay, where are we at in our process? Is that one in implementation now?

Are we, when’s that presentation? And it’s a constant kind of juggling act of not wanting to load my team up. Cause I. I’ve been there where I gave people too much work and everybody cracks. So you got to be careful not to, to load too much on because also then your customer service will suffer as well.

So it’s kind of a, it’s a tricky balance.

Allison Willson: For sure. And then that, when the customer service aspect goes down the chute, then your plate’s even more full with tidying up loose ends. So, It really is tricky. I also find that there can be really, you know, eager members on my team who want to say yes. And I, I appreciate that so much.

It means so much to me that people are like, yeah, sure. Give it, give me another project. But sometimes the eagerness to take things on That doesn’t work out sometimes, you know, so you also have to assess like, well, you know, the, the steps and stages of a project. Like, when are we going to be loading it in?

When, when is all of the things happening? Because if I give this person a couple more projects and all of the things are happening at the same time, you know, we’re all going to be pulling our hair out. So it’s tricky,

Rebecca Hay: the logistics and like having a set process and a set way of doing things. Like I’m feel very strongly about that, but that has helped me because then I can always see where a project is.

Yeah. As opposed to, Oh, we still have to do this. And anyways, I don’t want to get into the chaos of my early years, but. One of my biggest challenges and learnings as a business owner has been the managing of the people. In the sense of it is our role as the business owner to understand and recognize when somebody is at their capacity.

Because to your point, that eagerness or what I refer to as like the yes person. And I’ve had so many of those people working for me and they’re such good humans. Most of the time they’re women because they just want to please and they just want to help. Like it’s such a well intentioned yes. You know, exactly.

And we’re guilty of it, right? As all of us as humans are guilty of it at some point, but it can actually negatively affect the person saying, yes, I’m, I’m always now in interviews. I’m like, I need to make sure that you’re not just going to say yes to everything. You need to be a hand raiser. Like I need you to raise your hand.

When you say like, I really want to do this thing, but time or, but like capacity or, but Does that mean I’m not doing the other thing? Because if people are always saying yes to us, we’re like, great, I’ll just give it to you. But unfortunately, not everybody understands their capacities and their limits.

And so it’s up to us as managers and as business owners to pay attention to that. For

Allison Willson: sure.

Rebecca Hay: That was a very hard learning for me early on. I’m still working on it,

Allison Willson: to be honest. Same. Like, same.

Rebecca Hay: And then things slip through the cracks. And then I’m like, I can’t believe this didn’t happen. Why did that happen?

And it’s like, they’re just juggling too many things. And before you know it, everyone’s burnt out. Well,

Allison Willson: and because we’ve said yes, initially to the thing that, right? Like, and that’s, It’s, we’re part of that mix of yeses.

Rebecca Hay: Do you ever put clients on a wait list where you’re like, I can’t start right now, but I’ll start in September. Yeah, for

Allison Willson: sure.

Rebecca Hay: It’s hard for

Allison Willson: me as we just discussed, you know, saying yes, wanting to please wanting to actually do the project and feeling like I can’t say no, it’s hard. It’s it is hard, but I think that, you know, The longer I’ve done this job and the more I’ve experienced struggling through different levels of busyness and chaos, the more I realized that that project will only benefit from my ability to focus on it.

And if I can’t. Give it my all. I’m not going to feel good about myself or the work I’m doing. And I mean, at the end of the day, they’re paying for it. It’s a service. I want to give my best to everybody. So sometimes saying no is It’s a pretty selfless act. I know that that sounds not right, but you know, it’s like you just, yeah, aim to please.


Rebecca Hay: no, I, I do think that’s something that took me a while to kind of get comfortable with is saying, listen, I’m so excited about your project and I want to do it, but I need to be able to give it my all and I want you to get the best experience. And so, you know, we’re fully booked up until this date but like we will secure your spot and then we’re off to the races.

And I think most. For sure. Clients are totally understanding of that. And it also shows them like, you’re good at what you do. You’re in demand. Yeah. And so it’s worth waiting. I think that oftentimes we get scared. Totally. So they’re going to go find someone else.

Allison Willson: Exactly. Probably aren’t. Yeah.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah.

Allison Willson: You know what?

That’s, it’s never gone that way. And I think that it’s a really good lesson. And to your point, it, it does show that you’re in demand and I’ve heard. bajillions of no’s from other contractors or landscapers. And it’s like, no, you can’t have your landscaping done this year. It’s next year. Now you believe too long or, you know, I hear it all the time too.


Rebecca Hay: yeah. And it sucks, but then you get over the disappointment and you move forward. That’s what it is. Okay. I just want to make sure that we don’t run out of time to talk about. The money, because everybody always is super curious about billing and structure and like how do you bill your clients because there’s so many ways to do it.

If you’re open to talking about this, I would love to understand what does billing look like?

Allison Willson: We are hourly. Every member of the team, including Edmund, is hourly. I’ve been asked so many times by clients, you know, can you give estimated fees and I’ll try to give ranges based on comparable sized projects and where they’re located and whatnot, but.

I’m pretty open and honest about the fact that it’s quite hard to estimate properly. There’s so many things that affect time. As you know, I mean, I have no idea how you actually run your own business and I’m curious about that as well. But, you know, I think that do you have a client who’s like hired you for the right reason?

I love what you do and they trust you and they’ll probably say yes to most things or are they wanting to put themselves into the process and, you know, even that can affect the output of time is the contractor or builder super hands on really reliable. Or are they a little bit more lax and have they’ll have your team do a lot of the managing or double checking, ordering, whatever logistics I’ve had projects that look like night and day.

They could be the same size and scale. And the time is like black and white different lanes, you know, small versus large, larger invoices. And strictly because it’s. It’s just different clients and different different relationships with the contractors and neither are good, bad, wrong, anything, but it does affect time.

So to bill hourly, bill hourly, it’s the most accurate way for me to, you know, make sure you’re not losing money. Let’s be honest. Right. Yeah. Yeah. But I can completely understand that that doesn’t sit well with. Some new clients on the onset because they want to have a sense of what that time looks like.

Yeah. So it’s tricky. Yeah. How do you do it

Rebecca Hay: out of curiosity? So we used to do hourly and then I switched to fixed fee. We were hourly and we were invoicing every two weeks, which I’m using air quotes because I would never actually invoice every two weeks because so busy. And I didn’t really have someone who was like in the office doing that.

Do you invoice every two weeks or every month? At the end of the month. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s now, if we do have anything that’s hourly, we do invoice once a month, which is frequent enough because it’s a lot of like, it’s a lot of administration. For sure. But I don’t like talking about money. And so I always really struggled with the invoicing and then the negotiating and then looking at my hours and then being like, Oh my God, five.

I spent five hours sourcing the fabric for that bed. Like I can’t charge them for that. And so I would, you know, discount my hours without them even seeing, then they would get the invoice. And then they would still be kind of wanting to negotiate. I mean, in hindsight, they weren’t the right clients. They were just too budget focused probably.

And so it just took up too much mental space. I felt like, you know, when you’re running a business, there’s so much you need to do. You’re doing the create, you’re doing the client management. Then you’re managing a team. Like as I was growing and I was having six or seven people, like that is almost a full time job in and of itself.

And it got to the point where I was spending so much time managing the people. And then it was like the invoicing on top of that. And I was like, Something has to change. So we moved to fix fee. Honestly, I love it, but I do it in phases. So it’s not just one fee for the entire duration of the project because I find, like you said, there’s too many variables.

Like I can’t say it’s going to be this fee and then it takes us two years. And I thought it was going to take a year. Oh, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Or what have you. And so what we do is we charge one fee just for the design portion of it, which is our design phase. And we calculate that different ways. You know, sometimes it’s based on a square footage, but then I also compare it to past projects and the hours we always track our hours.

So that was the mistake that I made early on. I was like, what? Oh, Bixby, this is awesome. I don’t need to let me track my hours anymore. I hate tracking my hours. Oh, I know me too. It’s the worst. So I did it. And my team, I was like, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to track your hours. And then I’m like, okay.

And then I had an operations manager who was like, everyone needs to track their hours, Rebecca, against projects. I was like, Oh, fine. So we started doing it. And then I looked, I was like, Oh, Oh, we’re, we’re losing money. Like we’re actually not profitable. Oh, no. And so it was a real wake up call for me that you still need to track your hours because that you can compare it and see what I like about fixed fee though, is to those clients that you mentioned, Alison, they’re like, we want to know what it’s going to cost us.

They know upfront so they can budget the whole project. Yep. And I only talk about money once. Yeah. At the beginning, they pay us all the fees up front. Oh, wow. 100 percent of the design fee is up front goes into the bank. And then I just get to focus on doing what I do best. Wow. That doesn’t cover obviously any purchased decor or items.

It’s worked really well for me. And then that way too, I can budget my team’s time. I know how many people I’m going to need to work on the project. And it really, for me, is just peace of mind to not have to like hold my breath at the end when there’s like a big invoice for them to pay something.

Allison Willson: I know it’s so hard.

It’s so hard when you’re kind of like, Oh, you know, here it is. I know, even though it’s accurate and you can stand

Rebecca Hay: by it. It depends on your clientele, right? Like some clients, like you said, like some of them are decisive and they really value your expertise. And, you know, for example, Oh, I’ve had clients who are lawyers, like they’re great because they’re used to billing hourly.

They understand that. Yeah. And then the implementation is, is a fixed fee as well. It’s a percentage of the budget, but sometimes I do hourly for that because to your point, that’s the part I can’t control as much. That’s where there’s a contractor or a builder involved. But I, I will tell you, I have lost projects, big new build projects because the client Wanted to know exactly what it was going to cost them.

Yep. And I said, your project is 8, 000 square feet, which I have personally never done a house that big. No, it was more like 12, 000 square feet. And I’m like, this is a dream, but at the same time, I can’t afford to lose money. And so I said, it’s going to have to be hourly. And they’re like, no, I’m sorry. Like we need to know.

I was like, it’s just, it was too big of a risk for me. A hundred percent. Yeah, I’ve learned enough to know that I’m not sacrificing financial for a pretty end result. I did that in my early days, but nowadays you got to run it like a business because I’ve got mouths to feed

Allison Willson: for sure. And you know what?

You can’t win them all. I’ve lost a project or two for not having a fixed fee and that’s okay. It’s all good. I’ve also had clients who, you know, I’ve been terrified to send a massive invoice to and maybe sat on it for a couple weeks because I was scared and thought, Oh, and I heard nothing but like you’re worth every penny at the end.

And, and then you’re like, Oh, Thank God. Okay. You know, like I am worth this service that they hired me for. And totally, there’s a lot of struggle in that. I think there’s some anxiety around not wanting to upset someone with that dollar amount. And then there’s a lot of really good feelings in having somebody appreciate your worth.

So I’ve started to really try to listen to my gut instinct with sussing those people out. In the early stages of conversation, you know, sometimes they’ll give you a couple of nuggets and you’re like, I don’t know if this sounds like it’s gonna be a good fit and that’s okay to, you know, everybody should find the right fit.

It’s such a personal experience and it should really be fun and enjoyable. So finding that right fit is important, but I’ve made it. The mistake, and I’ve learned the hard way and saying yes to things just because I wanted the job or needed the money or whatever, and got bitten in the end a little bit.

Rebecca Hay: So, yeah. So what would you say would be one of your green flags? Like when you meet a, when you meet a client for the first time, what is a clear indicator of these are going to be great people to work with?

Allison Willson: I love referrals because if they have seen. My work and if they’ve spoken to that person about their experience and they’ve still chosen to give me a call that always feels great because it’s like I feel like they’re half sold at that point already having someone vote for you or having a client be able to see your work in the flashes like there’s nothing better than that.

So those always feel like green flags. And historically they have been. Yeah, I think anybody that’s really excited about what I do, feeling like, Oh God, I’ve seen these images and they, I love them. Like you’re, this is exactly what I want or whatever. That always is great. I think a bit of a red flag would be the person who’s like, I know exactly what I want.

And Here’s all of my thoughts and like that’s awesome too, but I feel like that’s not maybe a great fit because I would love to bring the creativity into what I do. That’s kind of what keeps it exciting and really good for me. To enjoy it, the process. So I love that. Yeah. The people who know really what they want, that’s good up to a point, but not sometimes not great.

Rebecca Hay: That’s when they fancy themselves the designer and they just really want you to execute. Cause they don’t have the time. Yeah. Yeah. Do you get that ever? Like, Oh yes, absolutely. Everyone does. Yeah. A hundred percent. And you know, I’ve gotten much better. better at now spotting that, to your point, that red flag of being in a consultation and walking through.

And there’s like this, and they’re showing me this picture from this magazine and this is on their Pinterest. So we want to do this. And what about this? And, and at some point you’re, you feel a little bombarded with their ideas. And sometimes

Allison Willson: it’s great. Like that direction can be so good, but I don’t want myself or my team to feel like a personal shopper.

Like that’s, It would be nice to bring the, the creative solutions or ideas to the table because, you know, that’s what we thrive off of.

Rebecca Hay: And I’m, I’m making an assumption, but you can correct me. Your team offers full service design, right? So you don’t do sort of, Oh, we’ll just do that for you. Or. I don’t know.

We’d give you a shopping list. All of your projects are, you design it. You’re purchasing all the wares on behalf of the clients. You’re installing it. You’re overseeing and managing all the details with the trades and you’re right there to the finished end styling it. Yeah. Yes. Okay.

Allison Willson: That’s not to say that I won’t do smaller bits and bobs here and there like for a return client or whatever.

But yeah, I think the perfect scenario is is a full service project.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. You, me, both,

Allison Willson: but yeah, we do our best work with that.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. So last question. And then I want to hear your nugget of wisdom. My last question for you is you’ve been featured a lot in magazines, in the press and anyone who goes to your website, guys, I highly recommend you go check out Alison’s website.

Gosh, I’m about to rebuild it. It’s so old. Well, whenever it comes up, go keep refreshing people listening to these podcasts for years. So you’ll hopefully get to catch the new website, but there, you know, you see that, you know, you’ve had all these. features in national magazines. You’ve had cover features.

What role do you think the press has played in attracting really great clients?

Allison Willson: That is something that my friends, you know, designer friends and I have, have talked about. I think it’s always the goal to get your work published and, and to share that. But it’s hard to quantify, you know, what, what you get out of it.

I think that it’s certainly helps for your street cred and, you know, you, it’s like having a permanent little portfolio. You can share that and it’s great. But I would say that repeats and referral clients are the basis of my business more so than somebody calling me and saying, Oh, I saw you in, House and home or better homes and gardens.

I’ve certainly had that for sure. But I, I think that in the new world of social media and with the amount of imagery that’s out in the world and circulating on our phones, it’s a hard thing to quantify how people have found you. That said, it’s like my biggest pride, you know, it’s, it’s so lovely to have A magazine want to feature a project and to invest those pages in you.

That’ll never get old for me. And it, it means a lot for me and for my clients, you know, it’s like a little, Present at the end of a project for us all to feel so good about what we created together. So always thankful for that. I’m sure it’s played

Rebecca Hay: a role. It’s just, yeah, it’s brand building more than anything.

Allison Willson: Yeah. Good for street cred and, and to be able to share your. Work. I wish maybe in the new website design. I’ll put a little thing. Where did you find me so that

Rebecca Hay: yes, lady, you should at least be asking that. How did you hear about me? Unless it’s an obvious referral, right? Then, you know, but I always ask that.

I always ask that when I have a first call. I’m like, Oh, how did you how did you find me? Like, how did you hear about me? And it is surprising. Sometimes people will say, Hey, Oh, well, so and so mentioned it, but I also saw your Instagram or I saw you were in house and home, but this, so I know that was my last question.

This is really my last question. Cause you mentioned social media. I’m having so much fun. I know. So I’m loving this. It’s just really great to like hear. And I know people listening, love hearing, especially from a, That’s it. So remember, if you’re not an established designer like yourself, like what’s working, what’s not working, what have you done?

Cause we’re all looking up to our mentors and believe it or not, you’re mentoring people right now. Just by being here and having this conversation, social media, Instagram, the gram, everyone’s like obsessed with it, hates it, loves it. Has that helped you? Do you think clients find you on Instagram? What role does Instagram play for you?

Yeah. Instagram. Whoo.

Allison Willson: I mean, love it and hate it. Right. I love it for everything that it gives me, you know, I find so much inspiration. I love watching other people’s careers, being able to cheer people on through Instagram, but sharing my work and putting myself out there has never been a comfortable thing for me to do.

So I have to get better at that. But. To have a platform to put out imagery and show people what, what I’m up to, that’s amazing. Like, how great is that? Because to update a website, you can’t do that every day or every week or even yearly. And, you know, to have this platform where you can say, this is perfect.

What I’m doing at the moment or what I’m working on or here, here’s where the team is. It’s really amazing. And I, I think that again, it, it comes back like my page has gotten a little bit more traction just because I’ve been posting my farm build.

Rebecca Hay: Oh, by the way, we didn’t even talk about that. Oh, it’s so beautiful.

I love that. Cause I don’t know if you know this, but I, we bought farm land years ago now up in Mono by where we go skiing. Yeah. You’re just south of us. Okay. It’s so pretty. They’re like the moment. Palmer Hills. It’s so beautiful, but we haven’t actually built anything because the pricing just kept going crazy bananas.

And so I was watching your building list, like living vicariously through you. So guys go follow Alison on Instagram and see this beautiful room. Next time you’re up. So, oh my gosh, I will definitely, but anyhow, those pictures, I’m sure I’ve gotten a lot of traction on Instagram. Has anyone hired you from Instagram?

Does that convert to clients? Thanks.

Allison Willson: I don’t know. That’s fair. That’s a fair answer. Again, I don’t. I don’t. I don’t know. I just feel like I’m probably like the worst person at selling myself right now because I’m just like, Oh God, I’m apparently a newbie and don’t know what I’m doing. That really the basis of my business is repeats and referrals.

So. Yeah, when I get new client inquiries, I need to start asking that question. Maybe you should start asking. I need to start asking. Oh my goodness. Like, help me. Help me. But what I will say is that there are people following me now and looking at what I’m doing that I never thought in a million years would even.

Know who I am and to me that is like oh my god I can’t believe that you know it’s that part is great people I really look up to and aspire to you know, they’re they’re watching what I’m doing, which is kind of crazy So that keeps me going for sure how it translates to client work. It feels It feels like some gray area at the moment.

Yeah, that’s fair. Yeah. I’ve definitely gotten inquiries from Instagram a hundred percent. I would just say, you know, does it translate to client work? Maybe 10 percent of my business if I’m being honest.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. I don’t have like a huge, huge following. Yeah. I think you’ve got great work though. And I do think Instagram is a great way to showcase.

It’s almost like a portfolio of your work. And what I’ve experienced is people, maybe they didn’t find me on Instagram. And other designers I speak to, but they use Instagram to check me out or to check out our designs, especially in the early years when I was still kind of establishing myself. And I didn’t really, I mean, I had a website, but I do think people go to Instagram first and then they maybe go to your website second.

And even if it’s a referral, they’ll be like, Oh, let me just find her. Who is she? Yeah.

Allison Willson: Right. And

Rebecca Hay: they

Allison Willson: do that. I use it as a tool to sell my services. It’s a great visual. I probably use it more than my website. I’ve had some new client calls come out of Instagram that felt good. You know, some, some exciting, you know, new project inquiries and whatnot.

So yeah, I mean, I guess I’m selling myself short a little bit. I think it’s a great tool. It’s led to some good things. Bye. I still think I’ve got a lot of work to do there. I think I, I don’t fully utilize that, that tool. And I, I need to kick it up a notch. I just think I’m still in that generation that is a little like, maybe I’m dating myself by saying that, but I, it’s, it’s just not comfortable for me.

I don’t know.

Rebecca Hay: But that’s okay. I mean, you’re doing great work and, and like you say, repeats and referrals. I still see even with the younger designers that are just starting out in our industry, like that is still where the bulk of people, like where the bulk of the work comes from is those repeats and referrals.

And like you said, that’s the green flag, right? More so than someone who’s doesn’t even know you exist, sees you on Instagram and wants to know how much does it cost to hire you, right? Like that is maybe not going to be your ideal client, but there’s a role for Instagram and websites that they play as part of our bigger picture, the bigger branding and messaging.

Oh my gosh, it’s been so

Allison Willson: nice to chat with

Rebecca Hay: you.

Allison Willson: I know. I just want to keep chatting. And also I want to say to you, I mean, you’re doing amazing and you’ve done so many great things for the design community. And I feel like I feel so honored to get to talk to you, you know, with your designer’s room program.

And what am I like? Like episode 200 and something on your podcast, like you’ve really done such a great thing in the design community. And I probably going to start hitting you out for some design advice, you

Rebecca Hay: know, business advice. Cause we all need it. Yeah. Well, thank you. Yeah. That means a lot. And we will have you back because my goal this year for the podcast, because yes, we’re past 200 episode, hundreds of thousands of people are downloading it.

So I’m, I want to step it up and I would like to have like a recording studio here in my studio in Toronto so I can have guests and it was like two mics and two cameras and we can make it like a whole thing. So the next time you come back. I am committing to having that set up because you’re in Toronto.

So we can easily do that. We have a cup of tea or a glass of wine or what have you. And we can have a great conversation and see and check in with you and see how things are going because you just finished your mat leave. So you are just, and that’s a second child. So things are different with a second.

Right things you you know, you’ve done it before you’re and you’ve got a 10 year old. So you’re gonna be right back at it. But don’t forget to take time to enjoy these early years because they fly by as you already know.

Allison Willson: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I feel so lucky to have the kind of job that allows me the flexibility of Prioritizing my family.

That said, I’m, I’m really in it. I have projects on the go and looking forward to more. So it’s, it’s a really great balance. And I think that especially this second time around taking that time and having that good work life balance is great. I turned 40 last year. So, you know, it’s a whole new me. It’s a

Rebecca Hay: whole

Allison Willson: new decade.

I don’t find the balance. Yeah.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. Okay. What is your last nugget of

Allison Willson: wisdom for everyone today? Oh my gosh. I could talk about all sorts of things, but what I would say, and especially like sometimes I can have imposter syndrome. We all can. I think it’s important to be kind and patient with your own.

Progress. We already chatted a little bit about people wanting to sort of skip the learning phase and and whatnot to do this job. And there’s so much beauty and excitement in learning those lessons. So don’t forget to take the time to allow yourself the opportunities. Learning is so fun. It’s so important.

It can be so exciting, and it will just better prepare you to succeed in this job. So patience with the process, patience with the learning, and nobody created their businesses overnight. You know, things that last take time, harnessing those relationships with clients and making sure they tell their friends about you.

Rebecca Hay: Absolutely. I love that. That’s so true. And I mean, patience is something for many of us as entrepreneurs, we can be rather impatient. We want to get there. I want to get to the thing. We want to get that. That ideal home. We want to have that perfect client. We want to have the team. We want to have the office space, but I love that advice.

Let’s just be patient with your own progress. I’m going to take that advice. Thank you. I needed that. I’m like, yeah, I’m writing that down. So good. Good. Oh, thank you, Allison. All right. Can you let everybody know where they can find it and follow you?

Allison Willson: So I’m on Instagram as we just talked about, you know, I’ll post once every couple of weeks.

So you can find some occasional content there. I’m just at Alison Wilson. Yeah. And my website is www. alisonwilson. com.

Rebecca Hay: That’s how you can find me. Well, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today and share all the wisdom. Everything you’re doing is amazing. Thank you. Well, I hope you guys enjoy that episode with Allie, Alison Wilson.

You are truly inspirational. Go check out her Instagram and follow along on her farmhouse build. It is so unbelievably beautiful. It will take your breath away. Allie, I’m really excited that we were able to connect and that you were able to share really the ups and downs and, and the whole trajectory of your career.

I think it’s really helpful to see how designers get started because let’s face it, no one’s an overnight success. It doesn’t happen right away. And I love that nugget of wisdom. Be kind and patient with your own progress. Like, mic drop, right? So often as entrepreneurs, we are so itching to get to the next level.

We’re itching to get ahead. We’re itching to be where we dreamed we would be. And it feels It feels like it’s taking fricking forever. Let’s face it. It feels like it’s taking longer than it should. And I’m totally guilty of feeling and thinking this way. So Alison, thank you for that reminder, guys, go give Alison a follow and let her know that you heard her on this podcast.

Let her know the big takeaways because sometimes we have these conversations and it’s actually something that I don’t even really realize that’s resonated and it’s so helpful to know. Also let me know. And if you are a long time listener or a new, New time listener to the podcast. It would mean so much to me if you could go over to Apple iTunes and give us a five star review and leave a comment.

Let people know what they can expect when they listen to this podcast. This podcast is growing and growing, and I just want to get more ears because there can’t be eyeballs. It’s on the podcast, unless you’re watching it on YouTube, because you can also watch this on YouTube, and it would just be really helpful to spread the word.

So thank you guys for listening and for Allie for sharing all of her wisdom. See you soon.