Case study: Shaynna Blaze

TV presenter and interior designer Shaynna Blaze takes a break from filming to speak with My Business about the opportunities and challenges of establishing a media career while still running her own business.

Most people would recognise her as the sassy judge from Channel 9’s The Block or as the bubbly co-presenter with a love of cushions on The Lifestyle Channel’s Selling Houses Australia. But Shaynna Blaze is, first and foremost, a small business owner.

Shaynna started her own interior design practice blankcanvas INTERIORS in 2000. However, she admits that interior design wasn’t her childhood dream profession.

The early days

“I can’t say it was something I always wanted to do, I sort of fell into it,” she says.

“Really, interior design was my second choice – I wanted to do fine arts.

“It wasn’t until I was actually there in the first week, I was hand-sketching, learning history of design and doing all different elements of colour, and it was just like ‘wow, this is where I’m meant to be’. So I think it found me.”

Having spent some time performing – Shaynna is a noted singer in her own right – she determined that design is where she could make the most impact.

She threw herself into her business, at which point she also began teaching interior design at Melbourne’s vocational and higher education centre, the Holmesglen Institute.

Finding fame

For some people, getting their face on the silver screen can be a goal in its own right. Yet for Shaynna, it all came from a fleeting opportunity to trial a new means of marketing her design business.

“It was just [an industry] newsletter, and a tiny little ad, and I was just really quite frivolous in my answer, thinking I’ll give that a go, really expecting nothing. And I got a phone call within about 20 minutes, and it just went from there,” she recalls.

“You’ve got to look for every opportunity to get your business noticed. There is no way we were to know that Selling Houses Australia was to be so successful. It was almost like ‘I’ll give it a go, only commit for one year … and if it doesn’t work, I’ve still got my business’.”

Yet the show has proved to be a huge success, with its ninth series recently hitting screens.

Clearly this has had a profound impact on her design business, and Shaynna says that at least initially, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

“The inquiries really didn’t start for a couple of years, more just from people being interested,” she notes.

“But definitely the level and scope of work has gotten bigger and bigger as time goes on – there’s that trust factor of people knowing I actually am around for a long time, this is what I actually do, I’m not just a TV person.”

And most significantly is the proportion of her time that Shaynna now spends away from her business, saying: “I’m very limited in the projects I can take on, because I’m away for so long and I travel so much. It’s really hard to keep the quality control if you’re not around.”

Managing time constraints

With so much travel and multi-tasking, Shaynna has had to master the art of managing the conflicting demands on her time.

As well as continuing to run her design practice and filming television series for different networks (with shooting locations spanning far and wide), she is also a published author, is a public speaker at various design industry and corporate events, is a brand ambassador for Taubmans and has commercial relationships with a number of other brands.

“It’s learning to say no, and that’s probably my biggest thing – time management means you have to say no sometimes,” she says.

And because you can’t say no to everything, part of saying no may involve simply outsourcing the task to someone else who can do it for you.

“I have an incredible manager, I have an incredible PA, I have a couple of design assistants now, and so it’s growing,” Shaynna says.

However, she points out that she has no plans of outsourcing everything. Instead she is focused on “getting the right people for the roles and not trying to go too big”.

“I’ll never be a massive commodity because I like to have my finger in the pie; I don’t want to not do what I love, which is design.”

Blurring the lines of work and life

“That’s probably my biggest struggle – I don’t switch off, and I’ve just learnt that’s who I am,” Shaynna replies when asked about how she escapes her work to relax and unwind.

“No matter what I’m doing, I’m always thinking about it 24 hours a day. So design is a very overwhelming job in the fact that you can’t switch off, because it is not 9 to 5, your creativity can come when you least expect it, and that’s with any artistic type of work.”

For Shaynna, she says she has learnt to recognise that she wouldn’t be herself without her interests – including design and art from which she has made her career – and so categorising them solely as work or leisure would only serve to deny herself something she greatly enjoys.

“I just make sure I catch up with friends and I make sure I have a good laugh every day,” she adds.

What she does say though is that many creative people struggle to realise that when using their talents in business, most of the work they do will actually be on running the business rather than doing the work, and doing it for clients instead of for themselves.

“I think that the hardest thing in design is that you think you’re going to get these amazing jobs, you’re going to create this incredible design and it’s really more about the client – it’s the client brief that’s going to get you the great design, and you can’t always get those great jobs,” Shaynna says.

“And it’s also just assuming that you’re just going to be designing, whereas most of it is time management, invoicing and chasing up things, and design becomes a very, very small element of the business. So a lot of people can get quite disheartened. you’ve got to run it as a business rather than a design company to start with.”

Eyes on design

Of course, My Business couldn’t speak with a designer of Shaynna’s profile and not ask her about some design insights. Such as just how similar are the design principles she showcases about residential properties on television with those of a small business environment.

“They go hand in hand; really it’s all about functionality,” she says.

“I come from a commercial background and functionality was always number one. It always had to look great, but if it didn’t function, it wasn’t a good design.

“So in business and in the home, the basics are there – it’s got to function well, it has to be cost-effective, it has to serve your purpose, and also it has to make you feel great or it has to create a certain mood.” 

Those moods, she says, can have a material difference on your bottom line. This could be about making customers in a retail store feel welcomed and wanting to buy, or developing a workspace that allows employees’ creativity to flourish.

When it comes to design trends, Shaynna says that business operators need not look too far afield.

“It used be that Australia looked overseas for their inspiration a lot and our own Australian type of design bubbles along. But there is a very thin line now,” she points out.

“Australia is so international, because we have so many different influences from Europe, from America, from Asia, whereas a lot of other countries tend to stick to their own design with a little bit of influence.”

This internationalisation, according to Shaynna, has meant that Australia is now becoming a trend setter rather than a follower.

“I’m travelling a lot and I’m seeing that our designs stand up alone. When I went to the American market last year, they just said ‘you guys are unique, you’re different, we look to you for inspiration’. So I think the table has really turned and the world is looking to us for inspiration,” she says.

When asked about the challenge of balancing design trends with a personal touch, Shaynna laughs.

“Well, that’s what my new show is all about!” she says.

“It’s really about putting your money where it needs to be, and anything on which you’ve got a lot of money to spend, it’s got to be an individual purchase. you don’t do a big spend on something that’s a trend, because a trend comes and goes, so you’ve got to make sure that what you’re looking at stands against time.”

Some things never change

Despite having become a household name, Shaynna is quick to admit that she still faces the same challenges as every other small business owner.

“I think cash flow is a big one – with design there is a lot of outlay. [you need to address] your time management, of course, but also be able to invoice properly,” she explains.

“That’s probably one of my worst things, is not invoicing people quick enough, which is something you should do! I think getting the money side of things sorted is probably one of the biggest things in a small business – you have got to keep control of that.”

Shaynna also makes the point that goal-setting is crucial no matter what stage you’re at, in business or in life.

“It’s really important to have goals, but at the same time, if the goals aren’t happening in the right way, you’ve got to be able to let go and re-look at that goal in the future. Because nothing is a direct course or is exact – you can go left/right, up/down, sidewards/backwards and still end up with that same goal.

“I think you’ve got to sometimes let go of ‘I was meant to be here by now, I was meant to do this’ – sometimes you’ve got to let life happen.”

Shaynna's advice on running a small business:

  • Find a mentor
  • Trust your gut as much as you trust other advice
  • Realise that you can't do it on your own
  • Keep the finances in check
  • Set yourself goals
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