Running a Creative Business with Lauren Paradise

Lauren Paradise is the co-founder of kelly+olive, a Chicago based interior design business. Lauren is juggling running the business while also perusing a masters degree in interior design.

What is your design background and how did kelly+olive begin?

I have always been interested in art and design, though my undergrad studies were in theatre. In 2008, while trying to work as an actor in Chicago (mostly working at an unfulfilling day job), Courtney and I began talking about creating our own home styling business. We shared a knack for and interest in interior design and had recently helped a friend redecorate her apartment on a tiny budget. The project was a success, and we worked together well so we thought this would be a fun fulfilling way to make a little money! We dove right in and things have grown bit by bit over the years.

Offering interior design through an on-line service is pretty unique, how did you decide on this format?

We were looking for a way to offer a service that would be affordable and accessible to almost anyone. Hiring an interior designer is still seen as something for the wealthy or frivolous. We know that everyone deserves and can benefit from a well-designed home, and working with clients online is a great way to reach all sorts of people while keeping costs low.

What have been the benefits of working with a partner?

For me, there are nothing but benefits. It's so helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to hand projects over to when I get stuck, to split the workload of the boring stuff, to hold the other end of the tape measurer. Plus it makes work super fun because I get to do it with my friend!

What do you like best about owning your own business?

Independence and flexibility. Owning my own business lets me tailor my workload while I'm pursuing my Masters Degree in Interior Design. Courtney and I have both been able to be flexible with the number of clients we take to suit what's going on in our lives. 

What is one lesson that you've learned the hard way?

Get a good accountant! We can't all be experts at everything (I have no desire to be a tax guru), but small business taxes can be really complex and you don't want a scary letter at your door.

You two have been featured in magazines, newspapers and news segments. What's your secret?

I don't know if there is a secret! Just a combination of luck and timing. We reached out to a lot of people when we first got started and got a connection that led to a magazine profile. Press people are always looking for new content, and if you can frame it in a way that seems cool and current, they'll pay attention. In that way I think the recession helped us out. We were offering a new, budget-friendly way to decorate and that really fit with current needs.

How do you stay motivated?

I've found working for myself and working from home to be a little isolating at times. It's hard to be a totally self-motivated creativity/productivity machine. In the past I've tried to schedule field trips into my week, take a walk around the neighborhood, or hang out with some other business-owner pals. Now, being in school and having new ideas, new faces, new skills around all the time keeps that part of my brain humming. 

What is your dream project?

I'd love to work on a restaurant or hospitality project. There's an opportunity to do something there that is really dramatic, iconic, or thematic in a way that wouldn't quite work in a residence. 

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Don't be afraid to reach out. Early on, we made a list of magazine editors, bloggers, and fellow designers and sent emails introducing ourselves and our business. As long as you're friendly, professional, and don't seem to be asking them for anything, people are receptive. We made some amazing connections and got great press just from saying 'hey, I thought you should know about us!'

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