Sylvie Croteau Chou: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Sylvie Croteau-Chou has been busy making a name for herself in Calgary’s design community. She spent several years working in Calgary galleries and design stores before deciding to go it alone, and now runs two businesses while still finding time to contribute her social media expertise to local charities. How does she do it?

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell?
I run two companies. Collage Interiors, a full-service interior design company focusing on helping young families make inner-city living work for them long term; and Collage Consulting, a consulting company that offers business advice, online marketing strategies and other services to small/medium-sized local companies.

Why did you start your business? What was the inspiration?
I have been working my way towards a career in interior design since I left design school in 2007. I worked in art galleries and a furniture store with the aim of building industry experience. Since 2008 I have been on a quest for self-sufficiency, financial freedom and a flexible lifestyle. I felt I did not fit into the 9-5, boss-approving days off box. I learned much about self-employment through my early entrepreneurial endeavours. 

For a while I was afraid to go after my dreams of being an interior designer. Finally, in the winter 2012, I just couldn’t keep myself from doing anything else. My passion for transforming people’s homes into spaces that help them be happier people on a daily basis had to be fulfilled. It was terrifying, but I took the leap. And I’m so happy I did.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I would say that there are two best things about what I do. The first being that I am constantly working on such different projects. The diversification of my projects/companies means I never ever get bored. I’m a person who loves to learn and be challenged. So this is very important to me.

The second is that everything I take on, I am fully accountable for. Whether my interns are working on projects with me or not, I am in charge, I am responsible. It is up to me to make sure the level of customer service and quality of work I want to represent me is delivered. Knowing that I decide what I’m putting out there. What I’m taking on is up to me, and me alone, is liberating.

The most challenging part?
The most challenging part would definitely be balancing my workload. Because half of what I do is for monthly contracts and the other half is project-based, it can be challenging to know when I’ve taken on enough without going overboard. Quieting the voice of my ambitious self so I can weigh out the pros and cons of taking on more work can be hard. I’m still learning!

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Working on interesting design projects here and internationally, raising kids with my amazing husband, travelling frequently, co-owning a fruitful investment property business and working on launching my future furniture, fabric and paint lines.

What does success look like to you?
Managing a wide range of design projects, some international travel and having a job that I’m passionate about is my idea of success.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Being asked to join the Calgary Design Group – a professional association of local interior designers after only one year of working as an interior designer.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Go after your dreams with fearless abandon. Have the creativity and determination to see every opportunity as do-able, and be able to map out your way there even if it changes day to day. Being open to what is possible is the greatest gift you can give yourself. People will tell you, “Oh, you can’t do this or that, or at least not all at the same time. Pick something and stick with it.” I say do exactly what you want, when you want, and as many things as you want to do. There are no rules. The only thing standing in between you and self-actualization is yourself.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I support Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta. I have donated a lot of my time over the last couple of years and it is my go-to charity. I believe strongly in what they are doing, and love that I can combine my passion and my work to help an organization that helps needy families own their own homes.

What is Notable to you?
I think it is notable when people do what they need to do in life to make them happy. I think life is too short to waste a minute of it wishing for something different and not making changes.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android or Other?
iPhone 5 – mandatory for my day-to-day. I will admit it is my first iPhone, so I’ve been late joining the bandwagon, but will not be looking back anytime soon. I guess you could say I come from a Mac-obsessed family.

How do you keep active, energetic and vibrant?
I really enjoy taking long walks in my neighbourhood (I live right along the river path). Time with friends and family also helps.