interior design business

How to Start an Interior Design Business on a Budget?

An interior designer has a passion for designing beautiful and functional spaces. You can profit from your experience, skills and creativity as a professional interior designer. If you want to get the ball rolling to start an interior design business, then you’ve come to the right place.

Do you dream of starting your own interior design business, but don’t think you have the cash to get it going? Starting your design business on a budget can be challenging, but with the proper preparation, it’ll be fun. If you can break the process down into simple steps to maximize the potential success of your interior design business, there is no need for VC money or a wealthy family member.

Is interior design a good business?

There are several reasons you should seriously consider starting an interior design business:

  1. It doesn’t take a lot of startup capital to start an interior design business.
  2. You can start your business as a side hustle. Owning a business that you can run part-time is less risky.
  3. As a professional interior decorator, you can work from home. Owning a home business gives you many freedoms and it can also save you money.

With this detailed guide on how to start an interior design business, you’ll be on your way to start a successful and highly profitable venture in no time.

Can an interior design business be profitable?

Yes, an interior design business can be very profitable. But it is like any other business; your work has to be excellent and your prices reasonable. There is plenty of competition in interior design. Having the right personality will help you build a profitable interior design business.

If you start your design business in an area where there is a building boom, you are more likely to run a profitable business. But it takes time to get established. And marketing is your first and most important job in this business. So if you work 40-hours on your business in a week, at least ten of those hours should be spent on marketing and networking.

Is it hard to start an interior design business?

It isn’t hard to start an interior design business, but there are no shortcuts to success either. But if you do your homework, plan out your business, invest your time and energy, you can set your business up for success.

Can I start an interior design business without a degree?

A degree might give you more confidence, but it isn’t required for starting an interior design business. But, being proud of a degree won’t help you start a business, and it certainly won’t help you succeed. I also understand why some people with a degree would like others to have a degree to start an interior design business.

Some of your clients might require their vendors to have an interior design degree. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot build a profitable interior design business without a degree.

Start your interior design business as a specialist

If you want your interior design business to succeed, you must have a niche. Having a niche as a designer means that you have a specialty. Being a specialist, you won’t have to compete on price because you are an expert. And clients are willing to pay top dollar for experts.

Your niche makes your interior design business unique. And as you know, uniqueness is a beautiful thing. It’s your uniqueness that will seal the deal for clients. When you meet with a prospect, your niche will be the deciding factor on who they hire to redesign their home. So choose a niche to help you stand out and get noticed.

Examples of niches in interior design

Your interior design niche can be a specific style, a particular outcome, a budget range, a certain mood or state of mind, a type of client, a building type, or a combination of many factors.

Here are a few examples of potential niches for your interior design business:

  • Staging homes for a faster sale
  • Aging in place design
  • Redesigning rooms or entire homes for empty-nesters
  • Virtual design
  • Open-concept corporate offices
  • Professional organizing
  • Interior redesign
  • Feng Shui design
  • Biophilic design
  • Zen home offices
  • Floral design
  • Gourmet kitchens
  • Mid-century modern
  • Upscale restaurants
  • Art deco

How to plan your interior design business?

If you want your interior design business to succeed, you should take the time to create a business plan. A business plan is the roadmap to take your business idea and turn it into an interior design business.

Your plan is the roadmap to take your idea and turn it into a thriving business. A business plan is an important tool for you to use as a blueprint when starting your interior design business. Having a plan is also critical if you seek funding, as investors and banks require formal documentation regarding how you plan to turn a profit.

Your business plan should include:

  • An overview of your company’s leadership team
  • Legal structure
  • Market analysis
  • Sales and marketing strategy
  • List of the types of services you’ll offer as an interior designer
  • Financial projections

Writing a business plan may feel overwhelming if this is the first time you start a business. The good news is you can write a short business plan without using business plan software or a business plan template.

Register a memorable name for your interior design business

As a future-but-not-yet hugely successful interior designer, you need a business name that grabs the attention. The right business name will be memorable to all who hear it, holding their attention with a tight grip. But choosing a winning company name is a common obstacle for interior designers.

More than anything, focus on selecting an original business name. Finding a name that is memorable, original, and grabs the imagination of your potential customers can be hard. But, it’s critical to help you stand out from the crowd.

As a new interior design startup, your name needs to compel people to sit up and take notice. You should start the process by brainstorming. It will help you generate a boatload of options. At this point, resist the urge to judge or edit yourself. Keep your ideas flowing.

Register your interior design business with the IRS

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is essential for every interior design business. The 9-digit EIN is important for separating your personal and business finances. To get an EIN, you must register your interior design business with the IRS.

Applying for an EIN is an easy process, and it only takes a few minutes online. The best part is that the application is free, and you could be approved immediately.

Even if you plan on running your interior design business as a sole proprietor, it’s beneficial to have an EIN.

Having an EIN simplifies business in several ways. With the EIN, it is easier to:

  • Open a business bank account
  • File business taxes
  • Hire employees
  • Get credit reports

Obtain any licenses or business permits

Failure to obtain the necessary permits and licenses could get you in trouble with the law. Operating your interior design business without the proper documents could result in hefty fines or even shut down your business.

Check your state if you are required to have an interior design license to own an interior design business. The registration process varies from state to state.

Contact the Small Business Administration to find out which city, county, and state permits you are required to have for your interior design business. You might also need a sales tax license and a seller’s permit.

Do you need a license to become an interior designer?

As a general rule, no U.S. state requires a license to work as an interior designer. But, in the following states, you must be registered if you want to work unsupervised in a commercial space:

  • Florida
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Louisiana
  • Puerto Rico
  • Nevada

In other words, the above states require registration if your business is working in sporting facilities, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, medical centers, office buildings, and more. The same requirements might also include the common areas of apartment buildings and condos, such as rec centers, lobbies, laundry rooms, and pool areas. Within these areas, unlicensed interior designers can still perform their services. Still, they must be overseen by a building professional with a license, a licensed interior designer, architect, or engineer.

While the states mentioned above regulate commercial property, they legally allow registered and unregistered decorators to provide services unsupervised in any residential space. In addition, the rest of the U.S. states have no laws restricting the scope of practice or settings any interior designer can work.

Build a website for your interior design business

An online portfolio is a must for every interior design business. In addition, your website will help you get new clients.

You need a website that demonstrates your expertise. If you try to build your website, it could really slow down starting your interior design business. So if you are not an experienced web designer, hire one to help you. It’s money well spent.

Here’s what your website should have to help your interior design business succeed:

  • Register a memorable domain name.
  • Make sure your website is built on the WordPress platform.
  • Use stunning images of your previous projects.
  • Show more than images. Explain your process and design philosophy.
  • Share customer testimonials. The more authentic customer testimonials you have on your website, the better.
  • Provide several ways for people to contact you. Be sure to include your phone number, physical address, social media links, and a contact form.

Pricing and your interior design business

When starting your interior design business, you have to set your rate. Pricing is an art and a science, but it’s important for building a profitable interior design business.

To set your pricing, you need to have a ballpark idea of how much money interior designers charge in your area. Do you have interior designer friends, you can ask? How much design experience do you have? What are your specialties, and how much can you charge for them?

In your interior design business, you can charge clients in the following ways:

  • Cost per room
  • Management fee
  • Design fee
  • Hourly rate
  • Day rate
  • Percentage of the overall cost
  • Commission
  • Fixed-rate or flat rate based on project
  • Cost per square foot
  • Retainer or Deposit

Once you’ve decided on your pricing and how you want to charge your clients, it’s time to put it in writing. Always include your pricing in the agreement your client signs to seal the deal.

How to be transparent about pricing?

Many interior decorators are vague about their pricing. But, how you charge your clients should not be complicated—transparency demands clear communication on your pricing structure.

Tell your clients how much products and services cost. Share your sources and the markup. Your customers understand that interior design isn’t cheap.

How to promote your interior design business?

By far, the least expensive yet most effective way to get new interior design clients is through word-of-mouth. Word of mouth marketing is so powerful that it could drive 100 percent of your new business. This type of marketing covers a broad spectrum of ways people will tell other people about your interior design business. Of course, it starts with friends and family recommending you, but clients, suppliers, real estate agents, and other service providers can refer you to their clients.

Know your target clients

Interior designing business covers a wide range of sub-sectors, including staging homes for sale, floral design, basement remodeling, custom furniture design, virtual design, home furnishing, aging in home design and many more.

So, most importantly, know who your clients are. Your clients will have a huge impact on how you start and grow your interior design business. Once you have determined your niche, learn everything about it. Research the backgrounds of your potential customers.

Understand the market size and find out which services and products are in demand. Most importantly, know what your customers expect from your interior design services. The bottom line is that before you start an interior design business, you must have a clear idea of your ideal client.

Word of mouth marketing for your interior design business

Mostly you get prospects from family and friends of clients. This is natural since they want what their friends have. And if they can get you to do what you did for their friends, then they’ll be happy.

Don’t expect every referral to become a new client. You won’t get every job you go for, but meeting new people can still help you. Some prospects just want to meet you; some just throw around ideas and talk it over with someone. But, the same prospect that wasn’t ready to hire you to redesign their kitchen may refer your business to a friend or family member. Either way, the recommendations can be lifeblood when you’re starting.

Recommendations prove that you’ve done a good job, and people appreciate your work based on what they’ve seen.

How to market your interior design business online?

The goal of marketing your interior design business online is to differentiate you from other interior designers. When it comes to hiring an interior design firm, clients want to hire someone they like and trust. Online marketing is about building a following that will like you, trust you, and either hire you or recommend you to their friends.

The following are the building blocks of marketing your interior design business online:

  • Website marketing – A great-looking website goes a long way to build credibility for your interior design firm. Keep in mind that your site is worthless without a solid website marketing strategy.
  • Video marketing – Video marketing is one of the most powerful tactics to get the word out about your design business.
  • Blogging – A blog gives you a chance to share your design philosophy. You can write about the projects you work on right now.
  • Pinterest – Share the photos of your work. It’s impossible to market a design business without a visual appeal. Create and publish stunning images of your work.
  • Guest post – Offer to write guest posts on non-competing complementary websites. Find websites with the same target customer you are marketing to and see if you can write a guest post for them.
  • List your business on Google – Listing your business in GMB (Google My Business) is a free tactic to attract potential customers to your business.
  • Network on social media – Use social media to make new connections with potential referral partners.
  • Email marketing – Regularly send emails to your prospects, current and past clients. Always start your email message with useful information, but at the end of the email always respectfully ask for a referral.
  • Ask for testimonials – Ask your clients for testimonials. Then, share the testimonials on social media and on your website. You can also include a client testimonial in each email you send.
  • Measure your online marketing – Measure how the performance of your marketing tactics. If a marketing tactic works, do more of it. And if something didn’t work as expected, tweak it or try something different.

Are you thinking about starting a small business but don’t have a big budget?

You might be wondering what to do if you want to start a business but have no money. The solution may be to focus on starting an interior design business. An interior design business can be started with a small investment.

You have undoubtedly heard of people starting businesses with very little money and making a fortune. This can certainly be done, especially if you start an interior design business. Take heed, though, that for every success story you hear there are several failures you don’t hear about.

It is vitally important to be smart when starting a small business. You need to be willing to do your research, work hard, and have a solid business plan before you launch your startup.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.

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