8 Steps to Start an Interior Design Business [Complete Guide]
Setting up an interior design business might sound like a huge task, but in reality, you can break it down into seven key steps to maximise the potential success of your venture.
There are many encouraging reasons to set up an interior design business sooner rather than later:
- You don’t need a large amount of money to start.
- You can be self employed and start without registering a company.
- You can work from home.
To name just a few.
A passion for creating exceptional design and living spaces is the very first thing you should have. That desire for creating homes your clients will love to live in will be your pinnacle of growth in the industry.
Once you are sure you want to start your own interior design business, here’s how you should plan the next course of action…
1) Create Your Brand for your Interior Design Business
Your brand is probably the most important part of your business, it needs to clearly define who you are, what you stand for and be recognisable. There are multiple parts that form your brand which includes everything from your business name, domain, logo, website, social media, etc.
Discovering your niche is essential to uncovering your unique talents and gifts, and ultimately what you have to offer your clients. Knowing what you enjoy most about interior design, whether it is a particular room, a particular style, whatever is may be, this will be crucial to identifying your service offering later in the process of setting up your interior design business.
Identifying your ideal client will help you set up your brand and marketing activity and help you get the perfect clients. Knowing your target audience will allow you to market your services more strategically and effectively. Find out their likes, dislikes, where they hang out online, their demographics. Create a set of personas who you believe to be your target audience.
Next up is setting the name of your interior design business, it’s not uncommon to keep it very simple in the interior design industry and just use your own name, potentially followed by ‘Interior Design’ to make it clear what you do. This often makes complete sense for most interior designers, the only slight hiccup may come as you look to grow your interior design business and add more interior designers you might prefer to have a branded business name.
Don’t fret too much over your logo, some of the best logos are best when kept simple and easily readable. It should match your own style and the niche you have chosen to serve as part of your design business.
You need to prove your design skills through your website, it needs to be quick, easy-to-use and showcase your best work. Your website will often be the first impression potential clients get of your interior design business it will need to be kept up to date, especially if you include a blog.
Securing your social media accounts to align your messaging is the final step of setting up your brand, you need to completely fill out all of the profiles in as much depth as possible to maximise the potential success of your social media promotion.
2) Get Some Experience
It can be difficult to get paying clients when you have no case studies in your portfolio – but this doesn’t need to remain the case for very long. Not having the images to show off your skills will prevent some potential clients signing up as paying customers.
So, you need to get some smaller projects in place before you go hard on your marketing.
To do this, offer your services for free to some clients who are willing to let you work your magic on their project. This doesn’t need to be a major project, it can be a small styling project for a family member or a friend.
The most important part of these ‘experience projects’ is to get that photography that really showcases your brand, get it on your website, and you are ready to continue with your interior design journey.
3) Define Your Services
There are many options available to interior designers in terms of potential services to offer to their clients. The days of straightforward interior design services only are long gone (although that is still an extremely lucrative service) with many new services being offered such as e-design, product sourcing, renters room styling and home staging to name a few. Let’s take a look at a few of the main options:
Traditional Interior Design
The most common form of interior design is still common practice by most interior designers, and offering full house, turn-key interior design is still the highest valued service you can offer your clients. However, as it is the most expensive, it can be more difficult to acquire clients.
Online Interior Design / E-Design
The online interior design service has been on the rise in popularity for years – it enables much more access to interior design services often at a more affordable rate, so you can target a wider potential of clients. One of the most important factors of online interior design is ensuring you get the valuable information often obtained through the initial face-to-face consultation.
Sometimes clients know the exact style they want but are having trouble sourcing the most suitable products to align with their style in their home. This is a popular service for interior designers to also offer their clients as its often a repeatable service that can vary in size.
Another growing service offered by interior designers who are diversifying their service portfolio is home staging – the styling of a property to make it as sellable as possible. It’s liked by many interior designers as the styling approach offers additional revenue to their business.
Renters Room Styling
With house-buying becoming less attainable and with more and more people renting for most of their lives, a very untapped market is styling rented properties. Usually there are a lot of restrictions when renting with what you can or can’t do with the interior design, so working around these restrictions to give your client a property they can call home is key.
Room Specific Interior Design
An uncommon focus for most interior designers, as it can be somewhat limiting, and it can be covered within traditional interior designer. However, if there is a room you really enjoy designing – don’t be afraid to become a hyper-focus on a specific room. The most common room specific designers combine other components than just great design, for example home office designers combine productivity boosting elements and bedroom designers include sleep maximising elements.
4) Outline Your Process
A vital component of your interior design business is detailing your processes, these are both your customer-facing processes such as your initial consultation, proposals, contracts, when you take payment, etc. and also your behind the scenes processes such as your accounting and bookkeeping.
Client Facing Process
Note: Your client facing process doesn’t need to be visible to your clients, but should detail exactly what happens during the entire working relationship.
Your client facing process should clearly define key points of your client’s experience working with you, it should detail the full journey from the initial enquiry from a prospective client all the way through to project completion. It should include all key communication points during the process, where client sign off is required, where contracts need to be signed etc.
An example of this process could be:
- Prospective client enquiry received
- Email/phone response to enquiry – set up initial consultation
- Initial consultation (face to face)
- Detailed proposal sent to client for approval
- Upon approval, send contract/statement of work to client to sign
- Present moodboards to client for approval
- Present 3D modelling of room design to client for approval
- Source products for client
- Liaise with tradesmen for painting/wallpaper
- Attend clients home and place products
- Review session with client for feedback
- Make any tweaks or changes for your client
- Close Project – send testimonial form to your client.
The above is purely an example, the chances are the full process would be longer with lots of stages that vary depending on the client.
Your client facing process should evolve as your business grows. Keep it simple to start with and add new steps as you learn more about your clients and their needs. Every client will be different, but clear communication will keep them all happy.
Behind The Scenes Process
Your behind the scenes process covers the full spectrum of activity you need to do in order to keep your business running to the best of its abilities. This will reach beyond set processes and you will need to create a whole range of templates ready for new clients. These will include:
- New Client Proposal Template
- Statement of Work Template
- Client Contract Template
- Invoice Template
- Branded Moodboard Template
- Testimonial Form
These templates will enable your interior design business to run very smoothly as you can reuse the same templates and personalise them for each of your clients.
A quick note on your client contracts, they are absolutely necessary for every client you work with as they protect all parties involved. It makes clear the responsibilities of yourself and your client through the whole process. It is also advisable to ask for half the pay up front when the contract is signed. This will protect you in case your client has a change of heart. The more professional you are from the onset, the more you will be valued for your time, talent and business sense.
Managing your finances is crucial to ensure the success of your interior design business. You need to keep receipts and all your finances in order to fully comply with business law. Accounting might not be your strong point, so speak to an accountant (and potentially hire them) for advice on how to stay compliant.
5) Start Your Little Black Book
Contacts are very important in the world of interior design, both in terms of referrals of clients as well as sourcing the right products.
As soon as possible you want to start your little black book of contacts. Initially, you can fill it up with your business relationships who you use for your clients so you will need to carefully vet these people and make sure they believe in the same quality standards as you do.
Find local tradesmen, be that decorators, curtain makers, etc. and get their details, prices, etc. and save them in your little black book (note: it might be safer to save these online on the cloud to make sure you never accidentally lose it).
Next up, set up trade accounts with reputable companies and brands you will be recommending to your clients, this will often allow you exclusive discounts on a range of products to offer your clients. Get started with Amara, OKA and Rockett St George – simply fill out the forms and you’re away. Remember to save your login details.
6) Set Your Pricing
Just as there are numerous services you can offer to potential clients, there are many different ways to set your pricing strategies. Some of the most common ways to charge include:
This is probably the easiest way to charge since all you need to do is multiply the number of hours you work by your hourly rate. This is especially useful for a new interior designer because you won’t know exactly how much time each job will take until you have a few under your belt. The real challenge is setting your price to be fair to your clients whilst also ensuring your business is profitable (we’ll come to working out your hourly rate shortly).
Charging a flat fee (or project fee as it is otherwise known) is quite inviting for clients as they have one set price they know they will have to pay. It can be worked out by multiplying your hourly rate by the number of hours you think you’ll take to complete the project (plus any expenses). However, the risk with this approach (particularly with new interior designers) is that you may end up underestimating your time and end up losing out on a lot of money on some projects – this will swiftly put an end to your interior design business.
With this method, you add up all of the costs for the necessary furnishings and materials as well as any subcontractors to perform the work. You then add a set percentage (agreed with your client) to the total as your fee. This is a pretty common method of charging in the interior design industry, however, it lessens the payment that you get for your actual service and purely relies on the cost of the products your client accepts you use so you can end up spending a lot of time on lower-paying clients.
This entails simply charging your clients the retail price for every item you purchase for them – your fee is the difference between the cost you paid (using your trade connections) and the retail price. This is loved by clients as it means they almost feel like they aren’t paying for any service and just paying for the products. This is not a particularly scalable pricing model for interior designers but can work on smaller projects or on purely product sourcing projects.
Most Common Approach (Hourly + Retail)
No matter which method you choose, you will need to account for all of your expenses to make sure you cover them all. The most common approach to pricing is a hybrid of Hourly & Retail pricing.
This method ensures that you are paid for your time that you actively spend on each client, whilst also covering the costs of any subcontractors. The addition of the Retail pricing model ensures that customers are only paying the retail cost of products, whilst you make a slight buffer of additional revenue based on the relationships that you build.
How Much To Charge?
Based on using the most common approach to charge your clients – an hourly rate combined with the Retail approach.
You can set your hourly rate using this simple model:
- Decide what you want to earn per year (example: £50,000)
- Decide how many hours you are willing to work per week (example: 40 hours)
- Decide how many weeks off you would like to take each year (Example: 4 weeks)
Using these numbers, you can work out what your hourly rate should be. To save you some time you can use this tool to calculate it for you. The above example works out at £52 per hour, which it adjusts simply by doubling to account for taxes and savings.
You might notice that the above formula does not consider the Retail option at all, this has been done so this income is an extra bonus for you.
What Payment Methods to Accept?
There are a few different payment methods on offer to interior designers, the two most common options are Bank Transfer and PayPal.
Bank transfer is the most common type of payment used by interior designers as it comes with no fee, simple to process by both parties and most importantly very quick.
PayPal is an increasingly popular payment option offered by interior designers as it allows them to accept card payments easily without the need for card machines, payment processors, etc. However, PayPal does charge fees on payments so this should be taken into account as it will result in additional expenses.
7) Find Your First Paying Client
You are now ready to get your first paying client. Finding this first paying client can prove extremely difficult but as you have set up your website, with a few case studies and clear branding you have set yourself up in a great position to get a client.
The first place any business should start (this applies to all businesses not only interior designers) is looking for referrals from friends and families.
Get active on social media, and get your friends and family to share your website as much as possible, it shouldn’t be too long until you start getting some enquiries come in.
You can go one further than asking them to share your site, you can even write the post you want them to share so they simply need to copy and paste it to post.
8) Market Your Business Like Your Life Depends On It
There are hundreds of ways to promote your interior design business, but these are the five best opportunities for new interior designers to promote themselves and get some paying clients as well as protecting your business for long-term success.
Speak to Local Journalists – Local newspapers and magazines love it when a story lands on their lap. So help them out by getting in touch with them to announce the launch of your new business – the chances are they’ll come an interview you as a local entrepreneur and you’ll get some free coverage for your business. This will also help you in the long term and can result in continued local exposure for your business.
Learn Basic SEO – Search engine optimisation is often forgotten by a lot of interior designers, so you can capitalise on this by making a few tweaks to your website. SEO is made up of many different parts but if you can learn the basics then you can end up driving continuous traffic and prospective clients to your website forever.
Build an Email List – Building an email is crucial for almost every type of business. This is a way of building a ‘tribe’ who follows your expert advice and hangs on your every word. Not every visitor to your site is ready for your services, but they might be in future so start an email list on day 1 for a lot of future success.
Ask for Referrals – Now you have started getting some paying clients (and have given them a great experience throughout their projects), similarly to when you asked friends and family for referrals you can now ask your clients for referrals, if you add an incentive then this could reap more rewards.
Start a Blog – A blog can showcase your experience and knowledge of your niche and help grow your potential audience of clients. Commit to posting a minimum of once a month to ensure your site is always up to date.
Download our Starting Your Own Interior Design Business checklist. It will really help you achieve your goals.
Once you’ve done that, get to work. Start defining your brand, getting that experience and launching your own interior design business.