10 STEPS TO LAUNCH YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN BUSINESS
Starting an interior design business is tough. It's a saturated market and it's hard to stand out. Here are ten ways that you can launch your business and cut through the rest out there to develop a strong client base!
Every year I see lots of people start Interior design businesses and then start to get incredibly downhearted because it's a hell of a lot harder than people think. Shows like the Great Interior Design challenge bring everyone with a passion for interiors out of the woodwork and whilst I absolutely LOVE to see people diving in to their passion it's good to be knowledgable about how to launch successfully.
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Yes, you might have a great eye for design but it's not called a BUSINESS for nothing. There is a huge difference between being able to make your own home look great and then starting a successful interior design business.
Want to know how to do it? Read on...
1. Build a super slick website
No-one is going to take you seriously as a designer if you can't even create a website that is extra special. Clients are looking for you to prove to them that you are forward thinking with your design approach and this needs to be reflected across the board, from your website to your outfit and so on. It's worth investing in this area heavily as you start up your interior design business.
Take time to find a great web designer or learn as much as you can about creating a great site yourself. If you're going the DIY route I really recommend you check out Squarespace. I have built this site on it myself and it's super easy to use. It's great for portfolio type sites and it has templates that already look great but you can customise to fit your own branding. It's a one time monthly fee that includes hosting so you don't need to pay for that separately. Also there are slightly higher priced options that include getting your URL (domain name) and G suite from google which means you get an email linked to your website too.
2. Do some initial projects for free
You won't get anywhere if you launch a business without images to show off your projects (more on that in a sec). But of course that means you need some projects actually completed in the first place! Find 1-3 new clients that are willing to let you work your magic on something and waive your design fee on the basis that you can have full creative control. I mean, no interior design project is ever FULL creative control because at the end of the day you are designing for real people but try and find the perfect client who will be up for your expressing your style.
3. Have stunning photography
Your design work is going to live and die by its photography. You can't launch as an interior designer if you don't have any photography to show off your projects, is as simple as that.
Don't rely on shooting it yourself unless you're extremely confident in this area. Hire a proper interiors photographer to photograph finished projects. They will know all of the 'on trend' angles to shoot it magazine style, and they will be able to light it and edit the photos to make your work look the absolute best it can. Again this is an area seriously worth investing in.
Make sure to tell your photographer what you will be using the photos for and they can ensure you get the right crop and size of image. For instance, the way you shoot a design project for web would be different to a magazine for instance (size and shape wise).
Here are a few interiors photographers I recommend and/or have worked with myself!
4. Know what you are
Are you an interior architect? An interior designer? Or perhaps an interior decorator? There are big differences between the three and you need to communicate very clearly what clients should expect from working with you. That way you won't end up attracting clients who want you to fully redesign the layout of their home when you just want to work on the decor side of things.
Here's a little video I made a while back that explains the difference between and interior designer and an interior decorator.
The terms still get messed up a lot here in the UK so please make sure you know which you are. And don't even get me started on the whole interior stylist thing. The amount of emails I get asking about tips to become an interior stylist (stylists style photoshoots and film for brands) when what they actually want to do is be an interior decorator (and work predominantly decorating people's homes).
5. Know your ideal client
You have to have an absolute clear cut vision of who your ideal client is. Without this you will NOT be able to communicate that you are the right person for the job and cut through all the middle of the road wishy washy interior designers out there that don't know their own style OR who their ideal client is. Perhaps you will focus on wealthy families in an affluent area. Perhaps your forte is working with cool newly rich creatives in edgy up and coming areas.
Of course you need to know your own brand values and style in order to go about attracting those ideal clients. If you don't know this or you're not sure then you have a LOT more work to do before you go out there and launch your business.
I recommend the book 'How to Build a brand in 30 days' for a quick realisation of what you're about. This is the biggest problem across the board of not only interior designers but EVERYONE! The amount of people I coach who have no idea what their brand is. All that does is set you up for a dodgy foundation that will fall apart in the future. Your marketing efforts will be poor and a waste of money.
If you know your brand and your ideal client then fully brand yourself visually in a way that will attract those people. Think niche and find your speciality. Don't think 'oh but what about my friends mum who said she wanted an interior designer'...NO. She is not your ideal client and you'll just end up with headache and a project that you can't shoot because it's not a good representation of your style. Trust me, I've been there. Stick to your guns people.
6. Don't create a business that isn't sustainable
Please understand that wanting to start an interior design business for those who want 'interior design on a budget' is not going to happen. Those people won't have the money to make it worth your while and you will spend a long time trying to create a design business that won't work.
Because finding furniture and finishes that look great on budget takes so much time that even though you might be able to work within their budget you will not be factoring in your time being paid for and that my friends, means you are working for free and therefore do not have a business.
You may be able to do it for a year or so but you'll soon realise it's not sustainable. You will start attracting clients who come to you with a budget of £500-1k per room and expect miracles. Trust me I've been there and done that and let me tell you it's not worth it and you need to tell them to jog on mate.
If you want to work with that demographic then think about starting a blog or a creative youtube channel where you can share your style and give your audience easy ways they can create it themselves. Ain't no shame in that game (I should know!)
7. Promote the sh*t out of your business
Once you know exactly what you do and who you do it for you can set about creating a solid marketing strategy. Despite all of the fun social media stuff out there, the way that most interior designers get their work is via word of mouth or SEO (search engine optimisation).
Just think about it. If someone is serious about getting an interior designer do you think they are scrolling Pinterest or instagram to find them? Nope. They are going straight to google and typing in 'interior designer South London' or asking their friends who did their amazing property. Focus on these efforts most. Learn everything you can about SEO and optimising your site for your location (because DUH most interior design is location based) and if you don't have the time to do it yourself or you just can't understand it then invest your money in someone who does.
I recommend Attwood Digital for everything SEO related (tell them I sent you).
Ask any past clients to refer you and offer them an incentive to do so. Provide great customer service to any clients you do have - perhaps you could send them flowers on their birthday or anniversary or take them along to a preview of a new art show. Keep them in your good books and they will be ranting and raving about you to their network because everyone loves to be the one who recommended something awesome!
8. Don't forget to build your brand
Now don't dismiss all of the social on the basis of the above. Social media is where you build your brand and create PR opportunities. You must be spending as much time here as you do on your SEO and in person marketing. Make sure the cool brands know who you are and when you're using their products in projects.
Go along to press events and meet interiors journalists. Make efforts to connect and shmooze with them online and in person. It takes time to see any results as they're not just immediately going to feature your new project in the newspaper, but when they have a story or an angle that works they might just come to you for some shots. Remember those photographs? This is why they need to be great. Feature these shots on your instagram and Pinterest accounts.
Make sure to do instagram stories and show people what goes on behind the scenes of designing a room. Show them that you're at the interiors exhibitions like Salone del mobil, London design festival or Maison et objet. Prove over and over again that you are ahead of the curve and you live and breathe design.
9. Look the part
You might take a jump for joy when I say this bit... to be a successful interior designer you MUST invest in your wardrobe!
As I keep saying over and over again you must look the part. If people are spending a lot of money with you to design for them they need to know that you have a strong level of detail and execution across the board, down to your nails or the quality of fabric your coat is made from.
That doesn't mean you have to wear all designer clothes and dress like a Chelsea housewife. However, turning up with chipped nail varnish or tatty clothes isn't gonna cut the mustard because it shows that you overlook the small details.
Whatever your style, when you're meeting with clients, attending events or allowing people to see you on social media you gotta look FLY!
10. Get in with up and coming designers, makers and craftsmen (and women!)
This is something I have seen my besties 2 Lovely Gays do INCREDIBLY well. They know almost every South London maker or designer personally and make a point of trying to specify them on as many projects as possible. They too are based in South London and cater to the up and coming affluent demographic in the area. Smart huh!
Just think about it. If you know all the cool new designers and makers then it has a triple power effect....
a) You start to specify products for projects that add that bespoke / unique touch (rather than just going to Zara home or H&M home) and make the overall project better
b) You also impress your clients with knowledge of new designers, makers and craftsmen that they haven't heard of before
c) You will probably find that all of those people you are hooking up with work and commissions start then doing the same for you. This is the law of how to make a success of business.
Sow the seeds of a money tree for someone else and you too can reap the fruit.
I hope this has given you some useful information! If you are interested in one-to-one business and marketing coaching from me then get in touch. I work with loads of creatives on how they can grow their businesses from the ground up and I specialise in Interiors!