We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Aos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
When I first started my business, I thought I had to work 24/7 and obsess about my projects in order to do a good job. I would get emails all hours of the day since my clients were on the west coast but numerous vendors and resources were on the East Coast or in another country. Then there was social media, which was a never-ending cycle. I found myself unable to take vacations during my first 10 years in business. I became burned out, less productive and felt like I was getting the short end of the stick. Later I discovered the more I took care of myself and set time boundaries with my business, the more productive I was. This actually benefitted the client as I was energized and inspired and easier to work with. Creative inspiration thrives when I am rested and have a healthy work/life balance. I finally learned how to “work to live, not live to work”.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I started my business in 2004 in San Diego after the rug was pulled out from under me. The interior design showroom I was working at went bankrupt just a few months after I started. They closed the showroom and that was that. I had a short list of potential clients who shared their contact info and so I decided to call them each from home. The third call was the jackpot. They were ready to start their project and wanted me to see their house that week. After the consultation, I presented the Design Agreement with the retainer requirement of $10,000. They asked to be excused for a moment so they could discuss in private. I immediately panicked inside, afraid they thought it was too much. They came back with a check for $10,000 and seemed very excited. Later, as I became friends with the client, she confessed she did not have her reading glasses on that day and thought I was asking for a $100,000 retainer! I will never forget that story. In 2009 my husband and I had to relocate from San Diego to Los Angeles due to his new job. It was the middle of the Great Recession and I was now in a new city with no connections. I networked like crazy and took any and all projects on. I even took some part time side jobs at design firms for some very prominent designers. What I learned was that nobody had the magic key or the secret to success. In fact, many of the designers were incapable of running a business while others were not very talented. What I learned was that as long as you surround yourself with people who know how to run a business, you can just focus on the creative part. If you are the business type who is not very creative, then surround yourself with creative employees. Very few sole-proprietors have great success in this field. Most successful designers have employees and even a retail showroom. Once you have celebrity clients, this will put you on the map, whether deserved or not. Good press also goes a long way but is no guarantee of success. Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. The two things that have helped me the most is 1) having passion for interior design and 2) Tenacity. If you don’t have these two traits, you will never survive in this business. That is my experience anyway.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First we would have to go hiking at Torrey Pines trail, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and has a variety of amazing views and trails. Nearby is one of my favorite restaurants called Trilogy Sanctuary. It is all vegan, gluten free with no refined sugar. It has a wonderful rooftop patio with ocean views and an expansive menu. I would also visit Little Italy and Gaslamp District- both for daytime shopping and night life. Cafe Gratitude is one of my favorites in Little Italy. Also, we would have to visit Coronado Island, specifically Silver Strand Beach. San Diego Museum Of Art along with the nearby photography museum. Lastly, the Botanical Garden in Encinitas.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am a sole-proprietor who lives and works alone and am largely self-taught. With that said, I want to thank my mother for always believing in me. Even when times were difficult, she always had faith in my success and talents. The other shout out is to the creator of the HoursTracker App. This has helped me immensely with time management and client billing issues. Without it I would be losing thousands of billable hours that used to slip through the cracks because I was not always tracking my time. The most difficult issue for creative types is to get paid for their time because they often get lost in the creative process, unaware of time passing.