How To Start An Interior Design Firm Without Losing Your Marbles
When I got my first internship in college at a model home company, I thought for sure I was going to be learning everything I'd ever need to learn about how to start an interior design firm.
Well, I did learn some things, like they had these fabulous pens in the stock room that I developed a crush on. I also learned model home space planning methods weren't what I had been taught in design school. I learned about interior design client relations. I learned about working with architects.
I learned all sorts of things, but not really much about how to start an interior design firm or run a business.
And even beyond learning how to run a business, I would have jumped up and down and sworn that to be a kick-ass interior designer you would need certifications to prove it. That's at least what "they" told me. But then I got the certifications and doors didn't magically open. They really should have put that in a disclaimer somewhere.
I didn't know how to start an interior design firm when I went on my own. I couldn't find a designer who would share their knowledge with me. I had to read books and apply the information. Here's what I learned.
Solve A Problem
Business is still business at the end of the day. If you don't know what problem you can solve for your client, you will have a hard time getting clients. Do you want to design nurseries or bachelor pads? Do you want to design MCM homes or Southwest homes (blech)?
We know you could possibly design everything, but when you get known for that one special thing it makes everything so much easier in terms of marketing and streamlining your process. The process of designing a kitchen and a bedroom are different in so many ways. Pick something to start with knowing that if you have a client interested in your specialty they will ask if you do can also do X, Y or Z for them.
You won't need a lot of money to get started. You can work from home and set up your online pad. I started my business with $500 I got from selling my Mac on eBay. You need to get money and there's no excuse for not being resourceful when it comes to finding money.
Also, set up a separate bank account for your business. It's a good habit to start from the beginning. It makes tracking your business money a lot easier.
Pick a name for your business and go register it with the government (city, state, country, whatever). If you need a license or a tax resale certificate check out what the requirements are where you live and take care of that crap.
Get A Website
A website will cost you a few hundred up front for a domain and hosting for a year.
If you're going to design the website yourself, go with Squarespace. It's easier to get started with than Wordpress and you won't struggle to put your portfolio up on it.
Create A Portfolio
If you're fresh out of school or a corporate refugee it's likely you won't have any work related to your new design business. You have a couple options to get started... Make up a client, call him Dylan McKay and do work for him. Dylan McKay needs a bedroom to get his freak on with Brenda? Design one. Then showcase it on your website.
Or find a few people you can do design work for in return for a project you can photograph. Make sure that the project you take on aligns with your specialty or design style so you are proud to put it on your website. Don't take on a project to design a bachelor pad if you want to specialize in nurseries, okay?
Know What To Charge The Basics
Starting out you will not know what to charge. Most new designers and decorators charge around $50-$75/hour when they start out. As you figure out how much time it takes you to complete projects (this is why it is so important to document how long each step of your process takes including the administration of the project) you will be able to figure out how much more you need to charge.
When you have more clients than you can handle you can be pickier and raise your rates.
One more thing... do not worry what anyone else is charging. That's their worth, not yours. And you don't know their overhead and if they are actually making money.
Don't Be Wal-Mart
Don’t you dare lower your fees for anyone because they deem your fees to be too high. More often than not those clients who want a fee reduction do not have a hard time affording the other luxuries in life like vacations, a new cell phone, a new car, Starbucks coffee three times a week, etc. And I know this sounds mean, but…
You will not be a designer for everyone.
Do you see Nate Berkus offering $50 room designs? No. Do you see Candice Olsen slashing her fees? No. And don’t you do it, either. You are a great designer! And being a great designer with experience and a great eye for design means you deserve to be paid for it.
Your Ideal Client
When you know what and who you solve the problem for you need to work on refining who this person really is. If you don't do the research and define who this person is you will attract the wrong clients.
My clients are different than some other consultant's clients. My clients are very much like me in what we value, what hobbies we enjoy, what we find funny, what shows we watch, etc.
Create Design Services your Clients Want
Pick one or pick three service packages you want to offer. Do not list the 986 design tasks you offer and expect your clients to hire you from that. Package your services up and make it easy for your clients to buy the result, not the steps.
Whatever packages you decide to offer, do a practice run-through to make sure you have each step of the process covered. You may find out that you need another app or another step to complete the project. It's better to know now instead of when you're on a deadline.
Get The Cash
Let’s first talk about how we shouldn’t be a bank. Giving your client the option to pay you 50% now and 50% later may end up in disaster. No matter what the best intentions are of said client, you may end up doing an entire design job for only 50% down.
We are working in an online environment. During which you will be going back and forth with your clients about the design. And they will see where you are going with your design and…
What has been seen cannot be unseen
You need to protect yourself. And this doesn’t even include the wishy-washy people or the scammer people. Don’t front half of their project. You aren’t a bank. They need to be as invested in you and the project as you are.
Ask for 50% up front, then 35% when the project is three-quarters complete and the balance before you deliver the complete project.
You love what you do. And you know you are really good at it because you help people fall in love or rekindle their love for their homes, right? You do what they can’t. And they know deep down that they can’t do it, so they want to hire you. But you got to get them emotionally attached to you and your business. This is what will be the basis of your marketing tasks.
Focus first on creating your website and blogging so you can attract traffic to your website. Then get people to sign up for your email list. Next, make sure to email those people and start a relationship. As for social media, pick one or two platforms to start with. You don't need to be everywhere, just where your clients are.
How To Start An Interior Design Firm Without Losing Your Marbles?
You can ask yourself how to start an interior design firm and consume information for days (maybe even months) if you let the fear dictate your future. Instead, take action. Action reduces the fear (there will always be a little bit of fear running your own business).
Just start. Start your business before you think you are ready and learn. You will never learn everything you need to know before you start an interior design business. Even if you could, it wouldn't make too much sense because you have to apply the knowledge you get from making mistakes. Make mistakes, learn and move on.
Alycia Wicker is a business coach for creative entrepreneurs. Her clients land more of their own dream clients and make more cash, period. Celebrity gossip whore. Elvis-obsessed.