Shandra Ward Signature Design Studio of Houston, launched in 1995, is a creative firm that designs for modern lifestyles.

‘Ah ha’ moment that led you to launching this business: My ‘Ah ha’ moment arrived I was offered to design a project in New York.  It opened other doors for me and that’s when I knew I was moving in the right direction, so the next step was to take it full-time.

Ideal Customer: Women between the ages of 35 and 60.

First Customer: My very first paying client was my cousin.  She was graduating from college and just moved into a new apartment. My mom told her I was studying interior design, so she asked me to create a beautiful and functional space for her and her pooch.  My parents are my biggest fans and don’t mind telling EVERYBODY.  They have been a great support system.

Measuring Success: I measure success by the sacrifices and the steps I take to get ahead.  I was offered to design a project in New York, which meant I would have to leave Houston for at least eight months. That meant being away from my son, but with God’s guidance I took on the project and it opened doors for other projects across the nation. That particular project required me to step out of my comfort zone in order to move up another notch.

Biggest Struggle: Not being able to find a “9 to 5” job. My son was a toddler and I needed insurance, childcare, and had to be able to pay monthly bills.  I overcame that struggle by creating work for myself.  I began to expand and put ALL of my design skills to work.  I am a multifaceted designer.  I’m an interior designer, first, event designer, party planner, graphic designer, art consultant, and artist.

Surprise!: What surprised me the most about running my own business? NOTHING! I worked for my father’s company for over 15 years, so I already knew what to expect when I decided to start my own.  My father was my business plan, I watched everything he did.

What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?:  How am I going to top the previous project?  I want to always take my designs to the next level.

Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?: Can’t afford to throw in the towel, I have a son to take care of.  I have to make sure he has what he needs to be success in his life and business has been very good to me.

Moving Forward: My biggest goal over the next 12 months is to increase my client base, launch my dinnerware collection and give my firm a brand overhaul.  I want to be a household name like Kate Spade.

Pricing, Getting It Right: Make sure you keep up with your time on your projects.  Time on a project is the most important thing because that’s how you make your living; the rest is put back into the business.  Know your worth.

Funding: My initial start-up funding came from my family and working a job I did not like.  I was determined to follow in my family’s footsteps and start my own business.  Seek out grant opportunities for small business, such as the Chase Bank Mission: Small Business ($250,000).  Talk with your banker and your family.

The absolute best part of owning my business is: watching it grow into the successful firm I’ve been dreaming of since I started it.

If I had to start over again, I would have: started a little earlier saving money, instead of waiting until I was 25.

If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “Just do it.”