PP 023: Quality vs. Quantity

Although I’m no longer an interior designer, I realized just recently that a lesson my college professors taught me – quality vs. quantity – is highly relevant in my role as a small business owner and entrepreneur. Listen as I discuss a few of the ways we should consider quality vs. quantity as we run our small businesses.

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Episode Transcription

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was in the process of pursuing my Bachelor of Interior Architecture degree at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

I had huge dreams of becoming a big name interior designer at one of the top 40 interior design firms in New York City when I graduated, and that I would travel the world working on grand projects for hotels, and restaurants, and luxury stores.

After I graduated, I was an interior designer for about 10 years in big firms in New York City, Connecticut, and in Ohio, where I live now. However, it wasn’t until just recently that I realized the knowledge I learned in college – and I have to give a shout out to May Hawfield, John Kurtich, Garrett Eakin, Deirdre Jordan, and Peter Exley. – It wasn’t until just recently that I realize that there are lessons from my education that I still carry through to my career today.

As a mom of five, I want you to know that these lessons are not “how to properly decorate my home”. If you ever stop by my home, you’re going to see crayon on the wall, dings in the wood, Sharpie on my desk. And to be quite honest, this is the way I like it. This shows my personal life. This shows the personality of my family, and it’s just perfect for us.

But the biggest lesson that I learned, and that I’m still trying to carry through today, is “quality over quantity”.

Going through those four years of extremely hard work, the way that this often would come up is because there would be some of my classmates – and I’m not putting myself into one side or the other – but there would be some classmates who would work to push out as much as they could, and there would be others who would be more focused on quality, even if it meant that not everything was completed.

Well, I don’t think that one side is better than the other. I just have to share a quick story on that.

If you’ve never been to Chicago, it really is the Windy City. And in my freshman year, walking to class with my first-ever project for my first-ever critique, I will never forget that one of my classmates was walking with me, and this huge gust of wind came up, picked his model up out of his arms, and smashed it to the ground.

He had spent three days building his model out of balsa wood. And here I was, carrying my model, which was built out of flimsy foam core. Our freshmen dorms were only a block and a half away from where our classrooms were, and he scrambled, picked up all the pieces, and ran back to the dorm to put it back together.

While I was very concerned about how my critique was going to go, I remember having that distinct worry for him because he had one piece of completed work: his model. His drawings weren’t complete, but his model had been gorgeous. And if he couldn’t get that model put back together by the time he was supposed to present, then he was going to have nothing.

Just so you know how it worked out for him: He did get his model put together, and the professors were overwhelmed by the labor that had gone into it.

Now, I’m going to fast-forward you 20 years, to me as a small business owner.

I’ve realized that “quality versus quantity” is so much more important now than it ever was in college. When we look at all the moving parts in our businesses, there’s so many different ways that “quality versus quantity” comes into play. We can look at our newsletter subscribers, our social media followers, the tools we use, our team members, our clients and customers, our relationships, and even our podcast episodes or our blog articles.

Are you looking constantly to get more-more-more? No matter what the quality is? Or, are you looking at the quality of each new asset you bring into your business?

A lot of people can get especially caught up in the number of social media followers they have and newsletter subscribers they have. More is not always better, and more is especially not better if those subscribers never take action on the products and programs you are offering to them. In the end, we want to build quality relationships with as many people as possible. And if this means only building quality relationships with the five to 10 people who will surely purchase our products, then that’s what we need to do.

This is also applicable in our personal lives. Take a look at your personal relationships. Take a look at the friends on your Facebook account and in your cell phone. I’m sure there are some friends who you call consistently and would consider of higher quality than all the others who you may correspond with on a less frequent basis.

Who are the friends that you would do anything for, that you would make sure they are always taken care of, and that you would wake up and run out of your house in the middle of the night wearing only your pajamas to make sure that they’re OK? Chances are, those people would do the same for you. So, it’s important to make sure that those relationships are maintained.

In 2015, I was swept into a cycle of “quantity over quality”. I took on way too many clients way too fast, and in turn, had to build my team way too fast. I wasn’t able to manage all of my team members; therefore, I wasn’t able to manage all my projects. And let’s just say, it wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped it would be.

In 2016, I scaled back, and for the most part, I been a solopreneur – although I do have a few contractors I work with on a regular basis. Moving forward, I’ve realized that there needs to be a bar I set for the clients and team members I bring into my business at any time:

Are prospective clients in line with my goals and my dreams for my business? Are their goals and dreams congruent with how I want to work? Am I passionate about the work that they are doing? If I can’t answer those questions with a “yes”, then I need to give them a “no”.

And when it comes to team building, I’ve set some very basic standards for what I expect from a prospective team member. For example, on a recent job posting on Upwork, I asked applicants to write the words “I am awesome because…”, followed by the answer to a question, right at the beginning of their application. If applicants didn’t read my whole job description, then they wouldn’t know to do this, and it wouldn’t be there. And you know what? That meant instant disqualification.

While I don’t believe that we only get one chance to make the right decision, we want to make sure that we are getting as close to the right decision each time we make one. So I encourage you, wherever possible, to use “quality over quantity” as the basis for your decision-making from here on out.