Home improvement programmes such as Extreme Makeover, 60 Minute Makeover and Selling Houses with Amanda Lamb have created public interest in interior design. The creative juices get flowing and vision of improving the home décor takes over but many of these people lack the time or skill to do it themselves. They are turning more and more to professional interior designers to create the look of their dreams. As a result, the potential for a profitable business in interior design is now better than ever before.
If you are creative, have imagination and a good eye for shape and colour, you can develop a successful career as an interior design professional and this can be done as a home-based business.
The important thing to be aware of is the difference between interior decorators and interior designers? The answer in one word is; education.
Literally anyone can become an interior decorator. If you are someone who enjoys transforming people’s home through creative decorating, love playing with colours, fabrics and textiles then you can become a decorator by simply printing business cards and promoting yourself to clients.
On the other hand, an interior designer must have an accredited education; an associate or bachelor’s degree is a requisite for working in the interior design field. What you need to decide is do you want to pursue an education first and understand the history and methodology of interior design, or do you just want to jump immediately into the decorating world?
Keep reading if interior design is what you want to do and follow the 10 ways on how to start your own interior design business:
1. Produce a Business Plan
Writing up a business plan for your decorating business is a must and should be your first step. This means putting into words:
- The purpose and focus of your business,
- The state of the current market in your area (is there a demand for it in your area? Have you got the stats to prove this?
- How you will be financing it?
Decide whether you will be a product-driven designer/decorator who explains the design to your clients and sells necessary products them, or will you act as a consultant who does not sell products but actually goes ahead to buy products to design a place yourself.
Research other interior design companies in your area to see what they specialise in (see Step 4 Know your audience), how much they charge and what their designs look like. Think about how you can stand out from the crowd and how you will be different from other design businesses such as specialising in funky art décor, vibrant colour schemes, retro furnishings and styles…
Refer to this site for a detailed example of a business plan for an interior design company where you can get ideas from.
2. Work out your finances
Your business plan needs to include funds for expenses like the cost of legal and accounting advice if you need to draw up contracts with suppliers or clients and need to complete tax returns as a self-employer. Planning your expenses for at least 6 months is a good way to start so that you can see how financially prepared the business is.
The costs to start your own interior design business can vary. Make a list of equipment you’ll need to get started and determine how much capital you will need.
If you will be working from home then you won’t need to worry about renting out office space and equipment but otherwise think about:
- Sample books showing fabric samples, design accessories and colour charts
- Business cards
- CAD and Business Management software (See Point 7 Invest in the Right Software)
- Promotional materials such as leaflets and brochures
- A design portfolio
- Professional photographer to take photographs of your finished works, insurance
- Budget for advertising
3. Apply for a business licence/qualifications
This depends on the country you are working in so you need to check the laws and guidelines for where you are.
Becoming a BIID Registered Interior Designer in the UK is the only way to demonstrate to your clients, colleagues and peers that you have met the leading UK professional standard for interior design.
According to the National Career Service, you’ll need a high level of design skill. Completing a higher education course in an art or design-related subject will help. Related subjects include fine art, 3D design, spatial design and interior architecture.
You will need Public Liability Insurance (in case of any damages occurred)
There are trade associations: the Painting and Decorating Association and the British Institute of Interior Design (as mentioned above) which you may find useful to join.
These set professional standards keep you up to date on industry developments and provide confidence to your clients that you know what you’re doing.
4. Know your audience
Interior designers (aka decorators, if they don’t hold a degree from an accredited university or college) beautify and update the appearance and functionality of interior spaces. But think about who you will focus on; residential or commercial?
A potential, residential client could be a friend of a friend, relative, someone who lives down the road, an individual referral. Basically, a residential client is so someone who wants to ‘do up’ their own living space.
A potential commercial client could be a hotel chain, a local restaurant, the office where someone you know works; often it will be a ‘workplace’ of some sorts, but it could also include a large property developer/builder building an apartment block in need of a designer to furnish the properties.
Remember, there are a LOT of people in the world and there are a LOT of workplaces too. So you will probably need several criteria to precisely narrow down your target market.
Your target audience could also be based on people who share your passion in design. If fine art is your passion, study it as much as possible so that you can start to create your own niche and develop your specialty. People who have the same vision will start to seek you out for your specialty.
5. Produce a portfolio
As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words and this is definitely the case when it comes to an interior designer’s portfolio. You can talk till the cows come home about the right colours and textiles for a particular space, but unless you have an outstanding portfolio that showcases your designs and projects, your successes will be limited. People want to see examples of your work.
Interior designers/decorators, particularly those starting out, may find it difficult to get hired without existing work experience. Like any other professionals in the artistry field, start out by offering your services for free.
You can offer to friends and family, or volunteer to help local non-profit services or organizations (an area of your local school, waiting room of a doctor’s practice for example), or even small business unable to pay a professional designer (they will become your advertisers and could lead to paying clients!).
You could even work on particular rooms in your own homes. The important thing is to develop the skills needed when real paying jobs come along.
Once you have offered your services, be sure to take good quality photographs of all of your work and compile them into a professional portfolio. A high-quality portfolio is the most important tool for interior designers seeking clients. It allows you to show off your ability to present yourself in a professional and well-organized manner. As well as photos, include some of your initial designs and sketches, so people can see your work process. Nowadays, with digital marketing, many interior designers have online versions of their portfolio.
6. Create a website
To be taken seriously as a professional designer there needs to a fully interactive and up to date website in place. Clients are looking for you to prove to them that you are forward thinking with your design approach and this needs to be reflected on your website.
Take time to find a web designer or learn as much as you can if you want to create a website yourself. If you’re going to create one yourself, you can Wix.com use to create one for free. There are priced options that include getting your URL (domain name) and G Suite from Google which means you get an email linked to your website too.
7. Invest in the right software
Invest in buying good CAD (computer aided drawing) interior design software and learn it thoroughly. Check this link which reviews the best software for 2018. You don’t need to know all interior programs that exist at the moment because there are plenty. Try different and figure out what works best for you.
Any interior designer you will speak to will tell you that running a business requires investing in a set of tools to help you operate more efficiently. With Grow in Cloud’s cloud-based software, you can share important documents for example contracts, send invoices and remind clients about payments, keep track of all transactions in one place, send out custom designed marketing campaigns via email or SMS.
Grow in Cloud’s online scheduling and digital diary management helps interior designers save time so they can get back to helping clients. Auto SMS reminders reduce no-shows, but the online booking software means that new and existing clients can schedule and manage appointments anytime and from any device.
8. Market yourself
Once you know exactly who your target audience is and what your speciality will be, then you can set about creating a solid marketing strategy. The most obvious way that most interior designers get their work is via word of mouth or SEO (search engine optimisation). If you think about it when people are looking for interior designers, they just go straight to Google and type in ‘Interior designer West London’ for example or ask their friends who did their amazing property.
Learn as much as you can about SEO and optimising your site for your location (interior design is location based) and if you don’t have the time to do it yourself or you just can’t understand it (it can get very technical!) then invest in someone who does.
Social media is where you build your brand and create PR opportunities. Try and spend as much time here as you do on your SEO. Make sure the cool brands know who you are and when you’re using their products in projects by mentioning them in posts. The consensus is to choose one social media platform and do it well. It can be very overwhelming to set up an Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter page all at once.
The most common outlet for interior designers is Instagram as it is all about creating stunning visuals. Instagram is also the easiest and most popular platform at the moment. It is easy because it doesn’t require a lot of content under each photo but does rely on specific hashtags to capture the right audience. Check out Houseology which has compiled a list of some of the best interior design Instagram accounts-the accounts will give you some tips on how to photograph and present your interior designs.
Use Instagram stories to show people what goes on behind the scenes of designing a room. You can also show them that you’re at the interiors exhibitions like London Design Festival or Maison et Objet. This shows potential clients that you live and breathe design.
Another social media platform to get on is Houzz. Houzz is a place you display your gallery, interact with people researching interior design ideas, collaborate professionally and generate leads for your business. Most established interior designers are on Houzz.
9. Network and make connections
Interior design is an industry solely reliant on connections. You’ll need them to find your clients and to establish relationships with suppliers of materials and furniture.
Connect with suppliers. Find out companies who manufacture flooring, fabrics, carpet, wall coverings and furniture. Interior designers/decorators can usually get discounts of up to 50% from certain manufacturers, so find out who will give you the best deals. This way you can pass savings on to your clients.
Also contact painters and carpenters to find out their rates for designers. You’ll need them sometimes to complete your designs. In turn they can become a source of new work for you.
In order to network with the right people in the industry, go along to press events and meet interiors journalists. Make an effort to connect and develop a relationship with them online and in person. They are not going to feature your new project in the newspaper or magazine straight away, but once they get to know you and see your work, they can contact you when needed
A great way to get into the industry as a starter is to get an internship with or work for established leaders of the interior design industry. This will no doubt give you invaluable experience and is another great hands-on approach to learning. It makes sense and would be wise to work with a designer whose style is similar to yours. Remember, you can never stop learning.
10. Be Professional
While designers can offer their clients a wide range of design styles to choose from and advise them on what might suit the space, it is crucial to remember that it is up to the clients to choose.
The interior designer’s job is to direct the client toward the right design choice while allowing the client to feel in charge. You may work as an interior designer for years and never design a house that suits your personal tastes but at the end of the day it is all about the clients’ style and taste-not yours per se.
Another way to remain professional is to always draw up written contracts. They are absolutely necessary as they protect all parties involved. It needs to be in writing so that your client can see all that is entailed in your role and the price that you have quoted.
The more professional you are from the beginning, the more you will be valued and appreciated for your time, talent and business. Always keep receipts and all your finances in order. This is important when dealing with vendors, merchants and clients. If a client audits you, which is a legitimate request, you will need to provide all the detailed paperwork. If accounting is not your strong suit, then hire an accountant.
Being professional is also about the way you look too. Invest in a suitable wardrobe – from now on your image is the part of your brand. Designers tend to dress in the style they like to project in the home. Here are 6 useful tips for a designer when thinking about personal appearance.
Constantly improve your professional knowledge by taking courses on CAD, sketching, business softwares.
If you’re seriously considering interior design as a career, then take note of all 10 ways mentioned:
- Business Plan
The industry may be competitive, but with hard work, perseverance and a fantastic portfolio, you too can become a successful interior designer.