Episode 24 Transcript: Building a Community of Like-Minded Entrepreneurs with April Elaine Powell

Brett: April Elaine Powell, welcome to the Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast.

April: Hi Brett, I’m so glad to be here. Excited to have a conversation.

Brett: Well we are excited to have you today. One of the things I was most interested in talking to you about was this idea of community that you are building within your own firm as owner of ID Plus Collective, and being able to offer your clients any type of answer they can get, as opposed to what it may cost or we can’t do this. You’re trying to bring ideas and creatives together.

Our world, the financial advisory space, is very similar, very commoditized, and it’s always been very singular. And one of the best things that has happened to me in my entire career was, about a year and a half ago, we formed a community called the Advisor Growth Community. It’s 160 advisors, we all do different stuff all throughout the country.

But it has been amazing from both a business standpoint and a network standpoint, being able to help clients, just to have this community and this mindset of abundance instead of “This is mine, you can’t have it”, or, ”I’m not telling you what I do”. It’s really been beneficial. I see some synergy with what you’re trying to create.

April: I like how you’re saying that. I think one of my favorite statements, when people are talking to me about what I’m doing, is – I’ve finally found a place where collaboration overrules the competitive edge. And I feel like the blending and doing that with the creative in our community and the small business people in our community has really helped.

Brett: That’s fantastic. So, you’re founder, interior designer and creative director of ID Plus Collective. How did that get started? What was the driving force for you to become an entrepreneur?

April: That’s a really long story, Brett. If I were to put it into quick- I would say my parents gave me the incentive, the example if entrepreneurship and it didn’t scare me, so that’s good. Although I’m wondering now, maybe that should have scared me more than it did. And also I’ve had a lot of really good examples over the years, small business people that I’ve interacted with.

Even though I worked for a lot of large corporations, we interacted with a lot of small tradespeople, vendors. And then, my dad was a massage therapist and owned a business in Seattle, and he introduced me to a lot of his clientele. The owner of Seattle’s Best coffee became kind of a mentor for me. My dad brought me into this mens’ group on several occasions that met on Wednesdays at 7 AM.

So, it was before school. It was something he thought I would enjoy, and he would include me. Mr. Nordstrom, the original, was a part of that group. So, I got to see these men who were icons in the business community do business. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be like that. I’m a huge football fan too, so Seattle Sea Hawks and Nordstrom are kinda interchangeable.

Steve [inaudible] was my hero growing up, and he spoke once. And I was like yeah, those are the people I wanna model myself after.

[07:08] How the Covid-19 pandemic gave April the opportunity to test her idea of building a community of creatives.

Brett: So, you’ve had this journey. When did ID Plus Collective actually open? What year was that?

April: We actually put up our first shingle officially in the state of Maine three years ago. Our original name was [inaudible] Design Group, and it was just me, and it was focused on traditional commercial interior design and residential design. And then, I started experiencing a lot of women in particular here in Maine, that were go-getters, that were entrepreneurs that really had great ideas. And I really wanted to create a community that involved all of these people.

I have a culinary degree as well as having gone to a design school. So, all of the colleagues that I met at design school, several of them are my age, and not the 19-year-old first-time college student because they designed that program for students who had already been out in the working world. And that was really important to me. So, I’ve included them and had these conversations with them about how we can create a business where we get to work for ourselves, but work together.

And so, to be perfectly honest, COVID gave us an opportunity to test it out. So, I have pulled in several women that I’m enjoying working and collaborating with on getting projects done, from how to set up your systems and figure out your concept, design it, integrate it, how to make all the pieces work all under one roof. And I’ve got someone that does sourcing, I’ve got someone that’s a CFO, I’ve got someone that’s a graphic designer and a web designer.

And then, there’s myself and my assistant, who are actually the only two on my payroll. Which is kinda cool, because it also allows us to help clients with a lower price point. And we can take on smaller projects. We specialize in helping small to medium-sized businesses, because I feel passionately about helping them get it done right the first time.

Brett: ID Plus Collective – I like the name, how did you come up with that?

April: Well, ID is really simple. It’s a fun play of words, because ID is how we all identify ourselves. ID is also interior design. And ID is also identity design. So, for us it’s a matter of, what’s your ID? And it was a collective, and I wanted it to be a plus. So, it’s interior design plus the collective. So, we’ve got your interior design, but we’ve got more that we can offer you.

Brett: And back to the ID, it looks like your target market almost, hospitality, retail and wellness. It’s similar in my world. Having a target market is more beneficial than being a general. The more you can be a specialist… April Elaine wrote the book on hospitality interior design, that type of thing. Is that your target market, and is that where you work best?

April: Yes. Big intentions there. I knew, going into design, that that’s what I wanted to do. Over the years, I had worked for companies like Seattle’s Best and [inaudible], and smaller little companies. So, what I noticed in meeting with all of them was that everyone has this desire to be seen and heard, and everyone has this desire to go big. And if you’re not in a big corporation, that’s a really difficult thing to do, to wear that many hats.

And if you can partner with a company like ID Plus Collective, you not only get an interior designer, but you get an entire creative team, so that you can level the playing field that the big corporations are doing, by having access to all these people without having them on your payroll.

[12:17] The process April uses to attract new entrepreneurs to ID Plus Collective.

Brett: So, in the ID Plus Collective, how did you start to incentivize or market other entrepreneurs to become a part of it? That’s interesting to me.

April: We have a very simple- I’m sharing trade secrets here now. We have a really simple process. At first it was just the networking thing, and it was, how can I make this safer for them? How can I set this up so they see value in what they’re contributing, and they also get rewarded for that value?

So, one of the things I set up was a simple agreement. This is how we operate, this is your investment in this, and this is what you can expect from me and the ID Plus Collective, when you participate. And also, here are the guidelines of participation. And they all read it, sign it, and they also provide me with- at the very beginning, they also send us basically a price list.

So, we get a fee schedule for all of our participants, and so we know when we put together a proposal for a client, we know exactly what it’s going to cost for this person. So, it makes creating a proposal for them that much easier. And there’s a few that are just consultants. I don’t handle that.

The big thing became, how do we pay them? We’re taking in that money, we’re paying taxes on it, how do we pay these people? So, we just treat them like we would treat any other subcontractor. And they have an agreement with me, and that constitutes how we’re gonna operate, how they’re gonna get paid, what we cover. We cover the marketing for the collective. So, they pay in- I believe right now it’s 100 dollars per year.

They pay in, and they can send people to our website. Anything they do with us, our insurance covers them. We also cover their … no, that’s it. So, we tried not to make it too complicated. And I consulted an attorney on how to set it up in the most… the simplification was really important to me. I wanted to make it easy for them to participate, and easy for them- so, they also get the option-

We have what we call a collaborative session. So, when a client has a discovery call, which is how things start, they talk with just me. I assess where there at, who on the team they might need, and then I give a report back to the client. And the client’s next step is to decide if they want a collaborative meeting. And that’s when we start doing invoices and agreements with the client.

That alone is the first step. So, if you’re gonna work with more than just me, there’s a collaborative meeting. If it’s just me and my assistant, we don’t offer that. It’s a discovery hour instead. So, there are a couple of situations where there isn’t a need for all the extra- not at first.

Brett: And I know it’s somewhat new. In these discovery calls with new potential clients, are they coming to you knowing that you can do these other things, or is that something that you’re assessing, and you’re saying “What’s a little bit different about us…” and you go more into the ID Plus Collective side.

April: They know, and that’s why they reach out, but I think more often than not they’re totally blown away. ‘Wow, you can do that? I had no idea. You guys do graphic design and web design?” Yeah, we can help you with that. And if we can’t help you with that, for instance if my web designer is super busy with her own business and she can’t take on one of our clients, we have- we call them second stringers.

I use sports analogies a lot. We have a deep bench.

Brett: That’s a good analogy, I like it. So, when did it go from being just you? So, you’ve had your first hire. Tell me about that.

April: That was pretty exciting. She’s actually an intern also. I believe very strongly- I’m on the board of the American Society for Interior Design for the New England chapter, and I did that because I believe strongly in education, and good education, not just charging a lot of money and pretending to teach. Open of the things I recognized from myself, when I was in her shoes, in an intern situation.

I was in my 40s. I was not the first one that people wanted to hire as an intern. People have that… you’re an older person, you’re not gonna have the new ideas- whatever their reasoning was, but I didn’t want that to happen to anybody else. So, I’m putting together a program for my own business that ensures and embraces somebody that is really passionate about what I do.

So, somebody who’s very passionate about hospitality design. I want to encourage that and do what I can to help lead them not just in the basics of ‘this is a job and this is how you’re gonna do it’, but I wanna show them how I did it, how I got here, the steps that I took not just to grow my business, but my learning and my knowledge. And I think, as someone who’s been out there in the business itself, I can lend a lot of different views that they’re not gonna be able to get from instructors.

[19:13] The biggest challenges April has encountered creating ID Plus Collective

Brett: From the entrepreneur side, what has been your biggest challenge these first few years?

April: Being seen and heard. I am in a crowded market of interior design. And there’s a lot of assumptions. There is a lot of education needed for the consumer. I value the fact that we’re disrupting and expanding the options for interior design and identity design for hospitality, wellness, small business, and medium-sized businesses too. But, it has been about who you know.

I joined all these networking groups, I’ve done the BNI. I’m a member of the chamber, I’m a member of ASID, I’m a member of the Maine Interior Design Association, I’m a member of Hospitality Maine. And those were very deliberate decisions, to be networking within my industry, going after being available and showing my clientele the people that I wanna work with, what I can do for them, how I can help their pain points, and eliminate them.

I think my favorite thing about being an interior designer is that we’re hired to create solutions and to problem-solve. It’s not all about pretty art.

Brett: And have you found- and I don’t know if this was one of your initial thoughts, or if it’s created this way. You’re saying the BNIs and the chambers are so one-on-one, but by switching back to the ID Plus Collective, creating a community, I would argue it’s obviously less one-on-one, but it’s a better way to market through the community than it would be any of those other avenues and focusing time there. And it would make sense if that was your initial thought right off the bat. And I think it’s a differentiator.

April: Yeah, we have our own little network going on. And we have a long-term goal of- I don’t wanna jump the gun, because I think you have that on your [inaudible]. Our long-term goal is to create a community, a physical brick and mortar design collective/lab/center, where not just the design community can have access to, but also intentionally for the solo entrepreneur, and the small and medium-sized businesses to have a resource, so they can come in-

I’ve already got the designs moving along, but we’re gonna have receiving facility, we’re gonna have a commercial kitchen, we’re gonna have a performance space, we’re gonna have a co-working space. One of my favorite things is that we’re gonna have a bank of computers loaded with intentional software so that a DIY person can buy a subscription and come in and work with an interior designer for a few hours on a budget. They may already know a lot, but they need help with the things they don’t know.

Brett: Right. And thinking about timing, how did COVID affect all of this? You’ve been trying to build this community for a year and a half. Did it help in some regards, or did it hurt?

April: I think COVID helped with the concept, in helping bring people together. But, our niches were hurt hard. Hospitality, retail, the wellness community, they were all hit very hard, and they’re still recovering. But they are starting to come to of it. And one of the great things I feel about what we’re doing is that we’re here. We stayed with you, we’re gonna help you do- even if it’s just changing up the chairs, putting in a winterizing curtain to protect your clientele as they come and go, pillows to help with sound.

One of our big things is sound. It’s one of the things that gets forgotten or put off as not important on the list of priorities for design. And we come in later, and can assess it. And the tools now to help create a soundscape- that’s actually the term for it. That’s one of our favorite things to do, because that can help a business survive.

Health and safety is a big part of what interior design is about. We’re here to help you do it safely- yes, we want it to look good, yes we want- that’s almost a wonderful byproduct of what we do. But, our goal is to make it human.

[24:43] How April manages cash flow in an unpredictable industry.

Brett: I love it. And going back to the whole COVID thing, obviously you made it. As a business owner, what did you learn by managing cash flow in such an unpredictable industry?

April: Cash flow? What’s that? No. seriously, I feel like I was able to do a lot of little residential color and style consults.

Brett: Is that something you wouldn’t normally do?

April: I normally don’t. I learned early on in my career that residential is not for me. But I don’t mind it. In fact I enjoy doing a color and style consult. And that is typically a 2-hour session. I come to your house, we assess what’s going on for you, we go room to room, and we talk about the colors, the styles, the things that have been bothering you, making you crazy.  And then I give you a report afterwards that has pictures, intel, and a lot of times I provide you with the tradespeople that can help you get those things done.

I just give you numbers, information and lists. It’s up to you to take action. And as I’m on the board of ASID, I know a lot of very talented and skilled designers that I can send them.

Brett: So, things have somewhat settled from the COVID experience. What does a typical week look like for you today?

April: This week is a good example of things coming back. I’ve done four proposals, one very large, and three are middle-of-the-road. I’ve done networking. I do a lot of self-work. I can’t lead if I’m in a chaotic mess. And I’m definitely not gonna be any good issues if I’m dealing with issues that I haven’t handled. I have a business coach. We meet twice a month. She is fantastic, and she has also helped with my personal life in the middle of this.

So, it’s been a wonderful relationship. We started out as friends, and now she’s also a client. So, this is kinda cool.

Brett: That’s great. I think everyone needs something along those lines.

April: And vendors. I’m ending the week tomorrow with a meeting with one of our local tile vendors.

Brett: What might be on your wish list, as you look forward? If it’s five years from today, and we were looking back over the last five years, what has to have happened for you to feel happy with your progress as an entrepreneur?

April: I would say that I continue to do the work that I’m doing to the point of protecting my reputation by providing the things that I say I’m going to provide, and not overselling myself. I think, as an entrepreneur, it’s very easy to overpromise and end up under-delivering. Being on top of what I’m offering, when I’m offering it, to whom I’m offering it, and being able to deliver that builds a reputation.

And doing so, that also builds a reputation with the community, which allows me to have enough work to start putting the action steps into my plan for brick and mortar. My goal is to be up and running in five years.

Brett: Okay. Tell me about your long goal. One thing that is inevitable is that you and I will leave our business at some point in time in the future. What does that look like for you? Are you able you use your business yet to fund retirement? Do you wish to maybe sell your business? Is that easy in your space? Tell me about how you think about your business long-term.

April: I think interior design firms, if on their own, are very difficult unless you have a physical space to sell with it. But I do set money aside for retirement. My personal long-term goals… long ago, in a galaxy far away- when I lived in Nashville, I had the experience of Dave Ramsey’s programs. So, I learned it at what I feel is a young age, in my 30s, and my kids know it. My kids learned the program.

And one of the things that I was sharing with your assistant when we were doing the call was that story about my youngest son. Every Saturday the boys would come with me to go yard sailing. And they would each have earned money they didn’t get an allowance, they had to earn their money. And my youngest always had more than his brothers. Always. And he rarely spent it.

So, he put it away, saved it, and his brothers would end up borrowing. “I wanna get this. How much money you got?” so, here’s what’s happening with them now. My youngest owns his own property and his own house, in [inaudible], Maine, which is not an inexpensive place to buy. His brothers are still renting. The eldest is very much the traveler, so he has a little bit of me in him, I think. He’s been exploring the world.

[31:10] April’s greatest fear as an entrepreneur and her personal definition of success.

Brett: What’s your greatest fear about the future, as an entrepreneur?

April: Success beyond my imagination.

Brett: Actually being successful?

April: Long ago, my dad shared- he gave me a card. It was when I got divorced. It was all about the fear of success. We fear success more than we fear actual failure. And I believe that 100%, and I know for myself that that is a big deal for me. And my credit, my business coach was helping me understand and start processing scarcity, getting rid of the scarcity and start acting and moving forward in an abundance mindset.

Fear of scarcity is probably my biggest fear, that we’ll end up in a place where we don’t have anything.

Brett: And that leads perfectly to the last answer. So, this podcast is about entrepreneurs just like yourself eventually retiring and living off of what they’ve created and that means that they were a success. As I have learned in my life, success means different things to different people. So, I’m curious, what does that definition of success look like to you, April?

April: Leaving behind a legacy. Having the Design Collection, have a physical space that becomes a part of the community and is a place that brings people together. Knowing that that got created and continues after I’m gone – that’s success.

Brett: Love it. Well, thank you very much, April. I appreciate your time and you being on The Retiring Entrepreneur Podcast.

April: This has been so much fun, Brett. We might have to do this again.

Brett: Absolutely. We’d love to have you back.

April: Have a fabulous day.

Brett: You, too.

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