Steps to Help You Start an Interior Design Business

Steps to Help You Start an Interior Design Business 1

BizCom day is one day away! And my girl Stephanie from The Divine Living Space and I are leading a breakout session all about how to get started in the design industry. And of course, wanted to compile all the things into a blog post for you all to follow along.  

Get Legal Out of the Way

First things, first, get all of the legal stuff out of the way. Although this is not the fun and glamorous side of running a business it is a necessity and it will set you up for success. And you’ll be very thankful when those issues arise.

Here’s a quick bullet point checklist: 

  • Get a Business Name
  • Get a Business License
  • Obtain federal tax and state ID’s
  • Hire a lawyer
  • Partnership Agreement, if partnering
  • Incorporation Documents
  • LLC articles of incorporation
  • Trademark 
  • Contracts
    • Clients
    • Employees
    • Subcontractors
    • Social media
    • Photography releases
  • Hire an accountant
    • Payroll
    • Taxes 
  • Figure out invoicing, database, systems
  • Figure out founders + team salaries, hourly rates
  • Obtain insurance + workers comp

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Define Your Goals + Projections

We don’t feel you necessarily need a business plan, however, we do highly recommend you define your overall goals and projections. This will help you to stay on track as well as know your rates. At construction2style we go over this every year as a team and wrote a full blog post about here – How to Create an Actionable Plan to Achieve your Business Goals.  

We’re all about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Time Orientated) and spreadsheets and breaking our goals down into quarterly goals. This way you ensure you are staying on track for both financial and business goals to get you to that next level. We review these as a team each month to ensure we hit the mark. 

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What Services do You Want to Offer

There are a lot of interior services that you can jump into. We both started small, only offering a few services and eventually growing as our teams grew as well to ensure we could handle them all. Think about the software you have to ensure you can offer these services, the bandwidth of projects you can take on, or how well you know vendors to sell these services. The last thing you want to do is sell a service and it goes south and you jeopardize your brand and recognition. No matter how big the city you live in, word of mouth gets around quickly and this industry is way too small, even from a national level. 

Here’s a quick bullet point list of the combined services that we both offer. Although we don’t both offer all of these. 

  • Design selections
  • Floor plans
  • Elevations
  • 3D renderings
  • E-designs
  • Styling
  • Construction management
  • Furniture selections
  • Custom Furniture
  • Custom window treatments

Research furniture so you can educate your clients on custom vs standard, sustainability vs. not, made in the US vs imported. This is a mistake both Stephanie and I have made in our businesses. Now, Stephanie no longer offers all furniture selections, she only goes with custom and she’ll explain why in today’s presentation. 

Research which brands you love and the cost to be able to market your clients accordingly. Visit your local showrooms, take a trip to Highpoint Market. If you’re local here to the Twin Cities, go walk through IMS, make appointments and get to know the vendors, brands, and educate yourself on what you truly want to sell. This will also help you to know how to price things out.

And most importantly, figure out your delivery. Do you want to get it delivered to the showroom and pick it up, or have it delivered to a client’s home? Who will inspect it, assemble it, etc? These are all things you’ll want to be thought of again, so you can price things accordingly. 

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Design by: The Divine Living Space

Hire a Branding Expert

The last thing you want to do is look like your brand came out of Clip Art, especially when you’re in the design industry. And something we both see far too often and makes us cringe. This is also something you don’t want to go cheap on.

This is something we waited over five years today and one of my biggest regrets. We hired Sara Schultz Co. to give us a brand refresh with logo, colors, fonts, etc. And we are now currently on a retainer with her and it’s worth every penny. This means she makes graphics for us for social media, client handouts, templates, newsletter, thank you cards, stickers, packaging, etc. Ever since we hired Sara, our entire team has been wondering how we lived without her for so long.

After we hired a branding expert, it took the visual of a brand to the next level. Our website felt cohesive, our social channels seemed to flow, and most importantly we started attracting our ideal clients! Ones that fit our brand. 

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Figure Out Your Processes

This is going to be a biggie! And one that will keep evolving as you are in business. With each new project we do, we learn and are always revamping our processes to become that much better. Here’s a quick bullet point list from beginning to the end of things to think about when building out your processes. 

  • New client exploratory
  • Website- What CRM tools can you utilize to streamline your processes 
  • Getting to know your client – Design Questionnaire
  • Setting expectations upfront – Project timelines, realistic budgets, etc. 
  • Project Management Software (Dubsado, Ivy, Design Manager)
  • Client handbook
  • Vetting clients – what does that look like? 
  • Zoom call vs. in-person meeting
  • Onboarding
  • Design kickoff 
  • Mood boards
  • Selection sheets
  • Design + concept boards
  • Presentations
  • Iterations – how many? 
  • Scope creep – how will you handle it? 
  • Change orders
  • Sign off + handoff

Vendors, Brands, Materials

You’ll also want to figure out what vendors, brands, and materials you want to use. This may also be a learn as you go but again the last thing you want is to spec is a product that isn’t quality or that a brand doesn’t stand behind because you will be the one eating the costs. 

Here are a few things to do as well as things to look into: 

  • Research vendors and what products they carry
  • Check out their warranty 
  • Installers
  • Options for deliveries
  • Lean on industry colleagues
  • Educate yourself so you know the difference between two of the same products but different brands and why one is better than the other
  • Look into affiliate
  • Look into partnership agreements
  • Exclusivity
  • Trade discounts 
  • Showrooms
  • Samples, do you have to pay or is it complimentary 
  • Do you need a meeting scheduled to go into the showroom, office, or studio?

Steps to Help You Start an Interior Design Business 6

Invest in Software + Management Tools

Another big one, is what software and management tools do you need for the services you offer? 

the primrose place | construction2style

Figure Out Your Pricing & Rates

We’re all about excel spreadsheets when it comes to design estimates. First, figure out what your hourly rate is then figure out the services you are offering and how much time each of those services will take for you to design out. Will you be doing in-person meetings or a zoom call, will you be doing design presentations in person or simply sending them over via email? Will you be going to showroom meetings with them, running around and grabbing samples and bringing them to their home? 

We don’t give a breakdown for our clients, but with our excel spreadsheet, we line item everything out of what we’ll be offering, and times that by how long it will take and our hourly rate and then to come up with the grand total that we then send to our client for a packaged amount.

Things to think about when setting your prices:

  • Will you offer a free consultation or paid
  • Think about your time management
  • The exploratory meeting, in person or via zoom
  • Design presentations vs. sending via email
  • Showroom visits
  • Admin work
  • Hourly vs. packages
  • What will your hourly rate be set at? 

Steps to Help You Start an Interior Design Business 7

Design by: The Divine Living Space

Build a Website

Time to get your website built! And this is a very important step. I’m a huge advocate of not relying on social media for your marketing. That is a rented space! Remember when Instagram went down and everyone was freaking out? Just like that all of your content that you have worked years building could have been gone. We always have our content on our website and then use social as a platform to push the content we own.

And we have a full step-by-step on how to build a website – How to Start a Blog or Build a Website. However, if you have the funds we recommend paying a professional to do this. But when you’re first getting started that might not be the case. A professional website can range from $10 – 50K. But if you do it yourself, it’s a different story. 

What I always say about websites is do you want to own or rent? I always recommend WordPress because, as I like to explain it, you own the space. When you sign up for sites such as Wix or Squarespace you are renting. 

Here are some options for building and hosting your website: 

  • WordPress
  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • GoDaddy
  • BlueHost

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Claim Your Social Handles

We always say, even if you don’t want to utilize all social media platforms at least grab your handle with your business name. The last thing you want to do is have someone come and grab your handle and then you have different names for all of your social channels. You want to make it easy for your ideal clients and readers to find you, so grab your cohesive handle for all social platforms right away. 

Social media platforms to be on: 

  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Clubhouse
  • Google
  • Pinterest
  • Houzz

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Design by: The Divine Living Space

Build a Portfolio

Then it’s time to start building that portfolio of yours. When you’re first getting started out, you might not have any potential clients so at first, you might need to lean on some of your friends, family, or influencers to do complimentary services to get that business portfolio built. 

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues
  • Internships
  • Neighbors
  • Referrals
  • Influencers

We did a complimentary design for The Styled Press in her lower level and I can’t tell you how valuable this was! We finished this project a year ago, and this blog post is still one of our most viewed posts and even a year later, we still have referrals pouring in. Every time we share it online, she reshares it, and/or anytime she posts about her lower-level someone asks who designed the space and she is always tagging us. Something that took us a few days and has since evolved into multiple clients and revenue over time. 

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Marketing, Finding your Ideal Client

The marketing game never ends! This is something that is constantly evolving and something that you have to work on every day when building your business. Think about building that newsletter subscribers, pushing social content from your website through all the social channels through Tailwinds or Buffer, so you don’t have to be on social every day. Write blog posts, pitch newspapers, magazines, and more. Do a few guest blog posts – anything to get your name out there and get in front of your ideal client. Think about the brands and vendors you use, and send them over some of your projects that showcase their products to get some features. 

Here are a few different marketing initiatives that you should start thinking about: 

  • SEO
  • Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Website
  • Cross-promotion 
  • PR agency
  • Media, TV outlets
  • Pitch print media – get published
  • Google stories
  • Instagram takeover
  • Guest blog posts

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Continuing Education + Inspiration 

Alongside marketing, you always want to be exploring and continuing that education! And we’re not talking about getting those design credits. We’re talking about always seeing through a new design lense to ensure that you are continuously staying ahead of the trends for those clients of yours, and always staying inspired. Because this industry can quickly burn you out! Stephanie and I lean on one another constantly as we hit burnouts and roadblocks often and help one another to feel inspired and also, we are constantly sharing what we have learned from one another when we do learn something new. 

Here’s a few organizations and recommendations of ways to stay education and inspired: 

  • NKBA
  • BATC
  • NARI
  • WINC
  • ASID 
  • Vendor events
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Nature
  • Museums 
  • Showhouses
  • Showrooms
  • Brainstorm with colleagues

Steps to Help You Start an Interior Design Business 12

Design by: The Divine Living Space

Build your Team

You need to find your people to build the best team. That means when it comes to who you are going to recommend to your clients for contractors, sub-contractors. Who will you be hiring for photography and video? What about building your website, maintaining it, helping with branding, etc. 

You can’t build a successful business on your own, and do it all – we all need our people. 

People to think about … 

  • Contractors
  • Sub Contractors
  • Photography
  • Vendors
  • Videography
  • SEO
  • PR
  • Website development
  • Branding
  • People to lean on when you’re breaking down!

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Create Content, Content & then MORE Content

This goes hand and hand with marketing and something that gets overlooked and is always on the back burning. But we can’t tell you how important continuously building content is. Whether that’s when you are refining your processes and creating new content, writing articles and reveals for your website and blog, or newsletter to pitching articles to others to step up that marketing game. Always be thinking about more content! If you keep on writing this will also help you spark new design or business initiative ideas. 

Content to think about… 

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Newsletter
  • Social media
  • Client handouts
  • Cross-promotion marketing
  • Publications
  • Pitches

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Rock and Roll – YOU GOT THIS!

And throughout the highs and lows, Stephanie and I will be here for you. Always let us know how we can help. 

If you’d like to read more about getting started in the design industry Stephanie and I chat more about it here, How to Get Started in the Design Industry

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