Most people know her as the bubbly co-host of Selling Houses Australia, or one of the judges critiquing the efforts of amateur renovators on The Block. As such, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Shaynna Blaze is also a small business owner.
Having operated her interior design practice blankcanvas INTERIORS since 2000, she knows a thing or two about achieving the right mix of business management, customer service and a profile among your target market.
Getting your brand out there
“It was just one of those things,” Shaynna says about getting her start on TV.
“I’ve been a singer for a while, and I’ve done quite a bit of entertaining, and it was just too much hard work and it was time for me to get back to design. So I had my own practice again, had my own business, and I’m part of the Design Institute, which I have been for a very long time – I’d say about 14 to 15 years. And it was just a newsletter, and a tiny little ad, and I was just really quite frivolous in my answer, thinking ‘I’ll give that go’ and really expecting nothing.
“I got a phone call within about 20 minutes, and it just went from there. So it was just one of those things that I wasn’t looking for, and I’d sort of given up the entertainment world; I’d finished singing, wasn’t doing it anymore, it was all about serious, straight design. All of a sudden this happened! And it’s just flown since.”
However, while you’d think that getting your face on national television would have the phone ringing off the hook from day one, Shaynna says it has actually taken time for her increased profile to generate new business.
“The inquiries really didn’t start for a couple of years, more just from people being interested. 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 [have been] around for a long time, this is what I actually do, I’m not just a TV person.”
Juggling multiple commitments
“Working in my own private practice and TV at the same time, that's a whole different challenge!” Shaynna says.
“I’ve got my own business [but] 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.”
In addition to juggling various TV commitments alongside her design practice, Shaynna is an author, a public speaker and an ambassador for a number of brands including Taubmans and Reece.
So how does she manage her time when she is doing so many things simultaneously?
“It’s a learning thing, and it takes time to do that, and it’s having a great team,” she says.
“I have an incredible manager, I have an incredible PA, I have a couple of design assistants now, and so it’s [about] growing and 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 just not do what I love, which is design.
“So it’s learning to say no, and that’s probably my biggest thing … time management means you have to say no sometimes.”
Shaynna and the other judges from Channel Nine’s The Block.
“That's probably one of my worst things, is not invoicing people quick enough.”
Shaynna openly admits that despite her public profile, she shares the same challenges and struggles to which every small business owner is accustomed.
“I think cash flow is a big one – with design there is a lot of outlay; it’s your time management of also being able to invoice properly,” she says.
“That’s probably one of my worst things, is not invoicing people quick enough, which [is] something you should do!”
Shaynna adds: “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. And making sure you’ve got people you can trust, that’s one of the biggest things that’s taken me a long time … but I’ve got this amazing team now, and having the right team, being able to get your finances flowing properly, allows you to be a lot more creative”.
Running a design business
Shaynna says many people start out with the wrong idea of what running a design business will involve. However, this is a problem anyone in the creative industries, and perhaps any industry at all, can relate to in some way.
“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, [whereas] 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,” she explains.
“[Another mistake is] 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.”
As anyone who has been in business a long time can attest, Shaynna says: “You’ve got to run it as a business rather than a design company to start with”.
“In business, you want people to come in and feel energetic and [feel that] they want to buy.”
Designing good workspaces
Shaynna says designing a good workspace is no different from the residential projects viewers see her completing and judging on-screen.
“They go hand in hand; really it’s all about functionality. 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 service your purpose, and also it has to make you feel great or it has to create a certain mood.
“In business, you want people to come in and feel energetic and [feel that] they want to buy, or you want somebody to have a very creative workspace, or you want people to have an area where they can relax. So all those elements of design come in … whether it’s residential or it’s commercial.”
Key tips for anyone in business
When asked about her key piece of advice to fellow business owners, Shaynna says it is to learn from someone wiser and more experienced than yourself.
“I think the thing is to get experts around you and find a mentor. I didn’t have a design mentor, but I had a business mentor,” she says.
“[Also] make sure that you trust your gut as well as you trust other advice, and do realise that you can’t do it on your own: if you try and do it on your own, you’re going to burn yourself out,” says Shaynna.
“And I think it’s really important to be inspired, have ideas, but also sit back and reflect and have goals. I goal- set every six months or every year, and if you don’t have goals, and you get really busy, it’s very easy to get lost in what you’re doing. So always make sure you have some goals set, have really small achievable ones and have some long-term ones.”
Yet as she points out, those goals need to be adaptable and realistic.
“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 or right, up or down, sidewards or backwards and still end up with that same goal, and I think you’ve got to sometimes let go of ‘I was meant to be here by now, I was meant to do this’. [It is no use thinking] ‘I was meant to be at certain stage of what I was doing by a certain time’ – it doesn’t always happen that way.
“Sometimes you’ve got to let life happen.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.