An interior design business can be a profitable venture, but it requires some work and dedication to be successful and thriving.
Getting a successful interior design business off the ground takes a bit of organization and skill, but the process doesn’t have to be complicated. From my experience, if you follow the right steps, you can be up and running in no time.
I’ll walk you through the 9 nine main steps you need to do in order to get started quickly and legally.
9 Steps to Start an Interior Design Business
1. Research the Market
When determining how to run your interior design business, it’s important to understand the market and your options within it.
You may work in residential spaces, commercial spaces, or both, depending on your goals and experience. You can work in person or online. As a creative, you’ll want to understand what your unique style offerings are, to better understand your market.
Once you figure out the basics, you’ll want to do some market research for your niche. This will help you understand how saturated the market may be, as well as the current demand. Search online, read forums of other designers, and ask friends, family, or others to see what clients are looking for from their designers.
Check the competition in the area to see what their pricing models are. Look at your competitors’ portfolios, their past work, and the type of clients they work with. This will allow you to better prepare to launch your business and give you insight on how to best target your clients.
2. Determine Licensing Regulations
While a lot of countries and states have no regulations around interior design businesses, some places only allow you to call yourself an interior designer if you have an accredited degree and have passed a professional exam (such as the NCIDQ in North America).
In the US, for instance, three states (Nevada, Florida, and Louisiana) require licensing for interior designers. Several other states may also have distinctions between interior designers and “licensed” or “accredited” designers. Before you begin to practice as an interior designer, brush up on your requirements to ensure you can legally call yourself a designer.
Even if there are no regulations, taking some classes can help you gain professionalism and show your customers you have the expertise to perform well. Otherwise, you could also call yourself an interior decorator, which has no regulations around it and all these steps will still apply.
3. Set Up Your Business Plan
Now that you understand the market more, it’s important to create a plan for your business. There are many aspects of running a successful business – like marketing, payments, client agreements, and taxes – so understanding the ins and outs of your business is vital.
It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but a business plan should lay out clearly what you want to achieve with your business and how you intend to make it happen. Keep it short and focused, addressing a few key criteria, including:
- A brief overview of your business including contact details and business registration
- Your mission statement including core values and your business objectives
- Your business offerings and target audience including your specific style and what differentiates your design from others
- A marketing strategy with details of market research and a plan of action to promote your business
- Financial summary including funding options, expenses, and predicted revenue
- Logistics and operations plan including hiring additional staff, sourcing materials, and more
A business plan should be a living document that changes as your business grows. Your goals and offerings might shift as you find your footing in the market and upskill within your niche, and you can adapt your business plan to reflect the changes.
4. Register Your Business
For any new business owner, it’s crucial to understand your local requirements around owning and running a business. As mentioned above, in some areas you may need to be accredited to work in certain sectors or to legally call yourself an interior designer.
Beyond that, you’ll also need to register your business and determine your type of business entity. This could be a sole proprietorship, an LLC (limited liability corporation), a partnership, or a corporation.
If you generally only plan to work for yourself or only want to operate a small design firm with a few additional staff, an LLC will typically be the best option. This will keep your personal and professional finances separate, while allowing you to limit personal liability.
From there, check your tax filing obligations. If you plan to be self-employed your filing rules may differ from that of an LLC. Taxes can often be the most confusing part of starting your own business, so consult with an attorney or small business advisor in your area if you need help.
5. Find Investment and Funding
While starting an interior design business doesn’t have to be costly, you may still need some capital in order to get started. This could include the cost of materials, tools, additional staff, vehicles, design software, professional group membership (such as to the American Society of Interior Designers) or more.
As a small business owner, the easiest way to secure funding is through a small business loan or line of credit, if you cannot self-fund. The process is relatively straightforward and will require you using your business plan, any accreditations you hold, and your past experience to prove your value as a business.
You could also seek outside funding from individual investors or investment groups. Going this route will usually require giving up some share of the revenue in the form of dividends, and may only be right if you plan on growing the business into a larger agency.
6. Design and Build a Website
A website where potential clients can find you and learn more about your services is a key aspect to creating an interior design business. Since you'll be working in the design space, it’s essential that your site is functionally smooth and well-designed.
Your website can act as your living portfolio, with testimonials from satisfied customers, images and mood boards to promote your style, and general information about you and your business. People want to know they can trust you with their homes and spaces, so use your website to promote the best of your work.
7. Determine Your Pricing Model
While many interior designers charge by the hour, it’s not the only way to price your services and it may not be best for you. To determine how you want to price your services, calculate how much you want to earn and how much you can work, then work backwards.
From there, you can determine how you work with clients best and how much time you plan to devote to different projects. The main types of pricing models include:
- Hourly: charging per hour for the entire length of the process
- Flat fee: charging one set fee for the entire scope and execution of the project
- Cost plus: charging the cost of all materials and labor and then adding a percentage to the total
You can also price on a mixed model, if projects are complex. For instance, you may want to charge hourly for consultations and design time, but also utilize the cost plus model for any materials bought for the project.
There is no one right way to charge, but a mixed approach is generally best to ensure you’re adequately compensated for your time.
8. Select a Payment Service Provider
Once you’ve determined your pricing models, you’ll need to figure how you’ll accept and track client payments. A payment service provider will allow you to access a merchant bank account, while providing front-end services to clients.
Pay.com is a full payment service provider. The system is easy to set up and it allows you to accept a wide range of payment methods, including credit cards. You can easily set up an account and from there, the onboarding process is simple. You can be up and running in no time.
Pay.com makes it easy to send payment requests directly to your clients, in several ways. This includes taking credit card payments over the phone or collecting payments through Pay Checkout, where you can send customized invoice links directly to your clients.
Don’t wait till the last minute – click here to get started with Pay.com now!
9. Open for Business
Now that you’ve got all the administrative tasks out of the way, it’s time to officially open for business! A new business takes time to get off the ground, so don’t worry if you don’t find immediate success. Focus on growing your brand and reputation by finding your first couple of clients and doing impeccable work.
You can market your services through social media, paid search ads, word-of-mouth referrals, or cold outreach. There is no one right way, but getting referrals and testimonials will help you gain a positive reputation within your community and can lead to additional work.
Don’t be afraid to tweak your marketing strategy as needed, especially as you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Being a rigid business usually spells disaster, but moving as trends and the market shifts can help you stay relevant and needed.
The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Interior Design Business
- Interior design is a growing industry that is very scalable
- Low overhead cost as you don’t need an office or extra inventory
- You get to flex your creativity and genuinely help clients
- It can be a very lucrative business with the right clients and perseverance
- Certain places may require you be accredited to call yourself an interior designer
- You may encounter difficult clients that don’t understand what they want or need
- Some clients may prefer the work of a design agency over an individual
- Business growth takes time as you develop a good reputation
The Bottom Line: Is Starting an Interior Design Business Right for You?
Starting an interior design business can be a great way to show off your creative talents and help your clients get the most out of their space. However, it’s a competitive market and you need to be sure to set yourself up for success.
With a bit of grit and experience, you can get started with only a few basic steps, but you’ll need to work hard to grow your profits and see your business succeed.
With Pay.com you can easily send out payment requests and track the status of all your transactions. Plus, with a variety of payment options, including credit cards, ACH transfers, digital wallets, and more, you can make it more convenient for your clients to pay you.