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Interview with TDC Coach Alix Helps

"I remember how I felt when I first started my own coaching. I suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone."

Alix Helps, Founder Alix Helps Interiors and TDC Coach.

TDC: Thanks for taking time to talk to us today Alix. We’re really excited to introduce you as a coach to our TDC community. You’re very well known to many of our members already, especially those in Sydney. For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

AH: Hello hello, and thanks for having me! Goodness, where to start? I’m an Interior Designer who lives in Sydney with my husband, our three (grown up) boys and Ted, our gorgeous dog. I grew up living between England, Australia and France and we settled here in Sydney in 2002.

We absolutely love the Aussie lifestyle; it’s been a total blessing raising three young kids here. However, we’ve always made an effort to travel, as showing the boys as much of the world as possible is something we were always keen to do. It’s totally paid off; I love that they’re all now travelling independently and confidently to their own bucket list of destinations.

Family is incredibly important to me, and one of the things I enjoy most about my work is helping others to create a wonderful backdrop to their own family lives.

TDC: You’ve been running a successful Interior Design Business, Alix Helps Interiors for 8 years now. Tell us about your business. Can you explain how you came into the industry and why you chose to go into business?

AH: I always had a passion for design. Mum and Dad were always great at taking us out to interesting places; museums, stately homes, galleries, Chateaux. I’ve always maintained that mum could do my job standing on her head, with no formal training. She just has an incredible eye, and as such I grew up in some lovely homes which were always the best combination of stylish yet completely relaxed and comfortable. Our house was always warm and welcoming and I remember our life being so much fun. Dad would regularly bring people home from work for dinner, and we’d all sit at our round dining table chatting to interesting people from all over the world. During my later teens, our house was always a party house, friends would drop by and if I wasn’t home, they’d hang out with my parents!

I was pretty directionless after school; I honestly didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So, I pursued a Business Studies path and ended up in the family business via a stint in TV production (where I met my husband). I worked with my Dad for twenty years, creating video-based training programs for the IT industry. In doing so, I honed my skills in operations and principally, the client experience.

One of our best-selling programs was entirely focussed on building exceptional customer relationships, and I was involved in every aspect of its production from script editing, to casting and shooting the videos and then packaging and marketing the program globally. Admittedly, I’d probably have a lot more money in the bank if I’d stuck with that, but I found that as the years went by, I was longing to scratch that creative itch. So, nudging 40 I bailed, and took myself back to school.

Alix and Ted, the family dog at home. Image provided by Alix Helps.

TDC: You’ve been a member at TDC for many years, have attended multiple retreats, have had 1-on-1 coaching sessions, and have undertaken all of the classes and courses. What was it about TDC that you were drawn to, and how has it helped your business over the years?

AH: Once I had completed my studies, I started my business immediately. I needed to get this baby off the ground and start paying myself a salary, so I hit the ground running, “building the car as I drove it”, as they say. I was incredibly lucky to have a readymade client, some wonderful friends who were happy to be my guinea pigs. They trusted me with decorating their beautiful home, and it all went from there. We’re still great friends today, and I’ll always be grateful for their trust.

A few years in, whilst I’d proven the formula, I realised that I needed to refine it in order to achieve the next level of success. My business was built on my own systems and procedures (I might have benefitted from working in an established studio before launching my own gig, but that wasn’t to be.) As soon as I discovered TDC, I had a real lightbulb moment. All of the course content was EXACTLY what I needed. I loved that I could move through the learning in manageable chunks, and with every course I completed, I saw immediate improvements in so many aspects of the business.

I started charging properly, I implemented systems and processes and learned to delegate. As I did this, I could clearly see which areas of the business I needed to bring other collaborators in – relieving pressure from me, but also benefitting from their incredible skills and as a team, producing work to a much higher standard than I could as an individual.

McMahons Point Residence Project by Alix Helps Interiors. Photography by Ess Creative.

TDC: Why are you keen to start coaching designers now?

AH: I really enjoy helping others move through a similar journey. I love the feeling you get when you genuinely change someone’s day. I remember how I felt when I first started my own coaching, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone with the challenge any more, like someone had my back. That sense of support was so important in taking my business to the next stage.

I’ve been ‘unofficially’ coaching many friends and colleagues for years, and often hear them tell me “You’re so good at this!”. I guess I’m at that stage of life where I’m prepared to accept the compliment and doing something useful with it! My own experience as a business owner in this industry can only help others to feel empowered and supported by someone who used to make all the same mistakes, and has triumphed over the very similar challenges.

Alix and Ted, the family dog at home. Image provided by Alix Helps.

TDC: You came from a business background, so are quite confident working “on” the business as much as “in” the business. What are some of the skills you’ve learned over the years that will help you coach designers?

AH: I did feel particularly grateful for my business experience after I qualified in Design. I recognised that knowing your way around a P&L and a Balance Sheet was an incredible head start. It meant that I had a clear Business Plan and a strategy from day one.

I never stop learning, as you know I’m taking part in TDC’s Mastermind at the moment and am so excited by what next year will hold for my business with the knowledge I’ve gained so far.

I’m a bit of a business nerd, I guess. Some of the core skills I draw on every day are from my Esprit days, not just in Sales and Marketing, but the importance of effective communication at every step. How to handle challenging situations, and how to say no, nicely. Not to mention establishing a really rewarding team culture.

It’s so important to me that the people I work with are happy and thriving, not just enjoying their job today, but looking to growth and what comes next. Work occupies a huge part of our lives, I’m a great believer that it should make you happy.

Palm Beach Residence Project by Alix Helps Interiors. Photography by Helen Ward, Inward Outward.

TDC: As an active member of the Sydney Design Community, you are often in communication with other designers about finding and managing clients. What are some of the common challenges that you know designers face when running a business?

AH: Well, the landscape has certainly shifted in the last few years with the impacts of Covid that are still evident now. We were dealt a whole bunch of new challenges in that era – increasing costs, unpredictable lead times and the construction industry being so stretched, all meant that we all had to become much better at communicating bad news!

I think one of the common challenges tends to be finding the ideal client – this is of course unique to each business, but ensuring that we attract the right projects ensures that we can deliver authentically and passionately to bring about results that not only exceed our clients expectations but reflect well on our business. This last part is so important in that continuing business cycle.

TDC: In what ways do you feel the design industry is changing for the better?

AH: Technological upgrades mean we have access to some pretty amazing tools. The design documentation that we present to our clients now includes 3D renders that are so convincing, it’s actually hard to tell if it’s a real photograph or not. Particularly when clients struggle to visualise the new space, the moment they get a glimpse of how their home is going to look is pretty exciting.

As for the industry, it’s such a lovely one to be a part of; we have a really warm and supportive community and I’m really enjoying meeting up with friends at events again. Now that suppliers are starting to gather us together we’re getting back to a more social rhythm, I love bumping into colleagues and peers at industry events, I think we all really missed it and felt the isolation of the last couple of years.

Alix and the Helps Family. Image provided by Alix Helps.

TDC: What exciting things are on the horizon for you personally and professionally in 2023?

AH: Next year is the last year of my forties, so I’ll be seeing that decade off in fine style! Our youngest finishes his HSC in ’23, our middle son is taking a 6 month break from studies to travel and our eldest is just about to head to Europe on his own adventure. So, some big changes at home for sure.

Professionally, I’m excited to have taken on a new team member to look after Studio Operations, which should free me up to tackle more on the creative side of the business and free up more time for TDC commitments and spending time with my family. My little team is humming along just now, so I’m just looking forward to another year of achieving exciting things in our clients’ homes.

We also have Milan to look forward to in April, my first visit to Il Salone and I just can’t wait to share the amazing itinerary we’ve got lined up for this first International TDC Tour!

Beecroft Residence Project by Alix Helps Interiors. Photography by Helen Ward, Inward Outward.

Head to The Design Coach to find out more about Alix and our coaching services.

Stay well, and believe in you!

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