Starting your own interior design business is a special time filled with firsts. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and forget to iron out the finer details. Writing a business plan is the best first step you can take when it comes to starting your interior design business because in doing so, you’ll force yourself to get specific about your dreams, look at the practicals, and carve out a clear course of action. Your business plan is your roadmap for setting up your business processes, spreading the word about your services, and finding new clients. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Determine Your Niche
You have the opportunity to create the interior design business of your dreams. While the project possibilities are endless, it’s important to define your niche. Defining your niche will set you apart from your competition by making you a specialist in a specific design style, a certain type of space, a particular type of client, or even for designing within a certain budgetary range.
According to Carla Aston, there are many ways to find your niche. "I think it’s important after each project or even consultation, if you do those, to reflect back and make notes of what sparked joy within you." Maybe you love the farmhouse look, traditional homes, or a more sleek and modern style. You might also want to ask yourself who you enjoy working with. Maybe you’ve found that certain types of clients, like young families or single millennials, are consistently a delight for you to collaborate with, or perhaps there’s a certain type of space like kitchens or luxury hotels that you genuinely enjoy designing.
Once you’ve found your niche, it’s important to develop a detailed understanding of who your ideal clients are, the pain points they’re likely facing, and what their desires are, so you can develop a design process that delights them at every touchpoint. This will also help you create a marketing strategy that speaks straight to the hearts of those seeking out your services and positions you as the obvious choice.
"Over time, I've developed budget parameters, personality traits of desired clients, style of design, size of projects, locations where I want to work, etc., that spark joy for me and I've designed my business model to accommodate only those jobs. Remember that saying no to a job that doesn't fit into your model is almost more important than saying yes to one that does,” says Aston.
Step 2: Define Your Services
The next step is to define your services. What services bring you the most joy? Some interior designers love managing projects and coordinating with tradespeople, while others would rather delegate these tasks. Decide on which services you’d like to offer and personally tend to and which you’d rather have someone else handle.
There are so many different types of interior design services you can offer. Design consultations, space planning, furniture selection, art curation, custom window treatments, plumbing, flooring, lighting, installation, and re-designs are just a few. Some services, such as construction and window design, even overlap with architecture. It’s also important to specify which types of spaces your services are for so you can attract projects you enjoy. Commercial, institutional, residential, and office spaces are just some of the spaces to consider.
Next, conduct market research by taking a look at the language your competitors are using and interviewing prospective clients about their desires and pain points. Having this information in your back pocket will help you further define your services and communicate them in a way that speaks straight to your ideal clients.
Step 3: Decide on Your Rate.
There are many questions to consider when it comes to determining your rate. For starters, how much money do you need to make at a minimum to cover your current expenses and meet your income goals? How much money will you need in addition to meet your savings goals and also to live comfortably? Next, ask yourself, in a given amount of time, how many projects can you reasonably accomplish? Will you bill hourly or charge a flat rate per project? Once you’ve decided on each of these factors, establish your rates. It all boils down to the number of projects you can do in a certain amount of time and how much money you’ll need to live comfortably.
And don’t underestimate your expertise. Sharing knowledge is a service in itself, implementing it for people will naturally cost even more. If you charge too low, you’ll give people the impression that your services aren’t as high quality as other designers who might charge more for the same services. No matter what, it’s important that you make a profit.
You can also find creative ways to save money. Develop good relationships with vendors and tradespeople and look for vendors who offer discounts for interior designers. You can also consider upcharging for materials by a certain percentage.
Most importantly, when sharing your rate with your clients, it’s important to communicate your process to them and explain the amount of time that’s involved. Your clients will never understand how much work goes into a single project unless you clearly define the scope and lay out all of the details for them.
Step 4: Develop a Marketing Strategy.
Now, it’s time to get started on your marketing strategy. Where do you want to be in 5 years? Dream big. For example, do you need a certain number of projects by a certain time? Do you want your work to be published in a certain magazine or a certain number of magazines to help build brand awareness and showcase your work? Marketing yourself well will get you there.
The best way to spread the word is by word of mouth. Attend networking events and local interior design shows. Build relationships with local vendors, and hand out business cards and other marketing collateral. When people enjoy working with you and love the quality of your work, they’ll naturally want to tell everyone about your services. This is why it’s important to create the best client experience possible where you delight your clients at every stage of the process, which begins with building a beautiful and consistent brand.
Develop a consistent brand that reflects the personality of your business as well as your niche. You’ll need a logo and a beautifully designed website that matches the quality of your work. If you settle for anything less, you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice, some might even call it self-sabotage.
Squarespace has stunning website templates that you can use to showcase your interior design work. There’s no need to have a lot of pages on your website—the simpler the better. For optimal results, you’ll need a homepage, about, services, portfolio, and a contact us page with testimonials and beautiful images placed throughout your site. Since interior design is largely visual, hiring a professional photographer is key.
To learn more about branding for interior designers, check out our post Identifying Individuality and Building an Authentic Brand.
And don’t forget to ask your clients for reviews about their experience working with you, and keep all of your reviews on your website. You’ll also want to create a social media presence to provide an online community for your dedicated clients and a platform to attract new ones. You can share your client reviews on social media periodically with an accompanying image or blog post. Have fun with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and PPC ads, and use Canva to easily create stunning social media graphics.
Step 5: Get a Solid Accounting System.
Last but not least, get a solid accounting system to make your life, or your accountant or bookkeeper’s life, easier. Design Manager is an accounting software designed with interior designers in mind. With careful item tracking, in-depth drill downs for each item, interior design specific reporting, and easy anywhere, anytime access, Design Manager can help you save time and money by streamlining your entire interior design business from anywhere in the world.
Once you’ve determined your niche, defined your services, decided on your rate, developed your marketing strategy, and found a solid accounting system, you’re well on your way to starting a successful interior design business. Write everything down so you can periodically refer back to your business plan to keep yourself on track.
Learn more about why Design Manager is the best accounting software for interior designers by checking out our interview with bookkeeper Brad Shark right here.