Busy by Design: Running Two Businesses

For most people, starting one small business is enough of a challenge, but architectural design consultant Alli Farrell didn’t stop there. After starting her Anchor Architecture consultancy, she decided to open a retail counterpart, Anchor General Store. We talked to her about what’s it like to run two businesses in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.

How did Anchor Architecture and Anchor General Store get started?

The architectural design consulting came first. I grew up here in Muskoka, so I knew there was a need for this kind of service. And because I grew up around real estate (my dad’s a broker) and worked at a great golf course, I got referrals even before I incorporated. It’s been nonstop ever since. I’ve been so lucky.

The store came along afterward. I was thinking of the things I might curate. I secured high-end chocolates from the Distillery District in Toronto, awesome organic linens from California and a few other specialty items. Then this cute little building came up—an older Muskoka building that’s always been here and the price was right! My husband, who I couldn’t have done any of this without, gave the place a facelift. It’s been great for meeting all the people who’ve come in. Architecture consulting is slower in the summer because people are enjoying their cottages, rather than renovating them. So I’ve been able to meet a few clients through the store, as well as some contractors.

anchor architecture picture

What is architectural design?

Within the community, there was a lack of architectural design—being the go-between for contractors and interior designers. That’s my niche. There’s a technical component, a construction component and a design component.

I help my clients make time-based decisions and avoid holding up a contractor’s timeline. I have a client now for a large cottage renovation. I’ll do some drawings in AutoCAD and design an effective space. Then I help with everything, from designing the kitchen, cabinets and windows to choosing the bathtub faucets to selecting the materials: drywall, fiber board, brick or tile.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running your business?

The best part is that it doesn’t feel like work. I’m not bound to an office and my clients are awesome. I help people to re-create buildings that will be there for a long time, that people will enjoy. I feel like I’ve had an impact on something permanent. I can say, “I built that cottage.”

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Go immerse yourself in industry. It makes me sad how degree-oriented our society is. An interior designer once applied to the store and had a great portfolio but couldn’t carry a conversation. It’s not about what they teach you in school. Go have a few more adventures and go talk to more people before you make a commitment to your career.

How does Square help you run your business?

I use Square for both businesses. Firstly, it’s amazing not being tied to a specific location. I’ll drive an hour to go meet a design client and they’ll want to buy sheets for their home. More often than not, I’ll have the inventory with me and I can sell it on the spot using the card reader. I also use invoices—I have clients in California and I send them invoices every month. The way Square’s set up, I can get anyone to do that. It’s so easy to show my staff what to do.

As an entrepreneur, your business isn’t moving forward if you aren’t flexible, nimble and able to work from anywhere. And you can’t do that unless you have a tool like Square. I can’t tell a client: “Hold on, I have to process this in my back office.” That can be the difference between closing a sale. It’s such a huge resource. My friend told me about it a while ago and I’ve been telling people about it ever since. It’s just so easy and perfect for independent businesses like mine.