Where to Start?
It is never easy to start an interior design business, more so if you are strapped for cash. You have passion, you have the eye, you have a plan, but, you do not have the one all-important factor to get started on your interior design business- MONEY.
This article shows you some of the ways that you can get your dream interior design business off the ground and into the air with limited funds. But before you start googling for “best names for interior design business” there are some very important practical aspects to consider.
Stage 1: Assessment
Assess Financial Status
Your current employment status is often a reflection of your current financial status. Unless you come from a wealthy family, healthy savings, or a spouse that can afford to fund you, you have to take a breath and first assess your financial situation. If you are currently employed elsewhere and are looking to quit in order to start your own interior design business, you have to first assess if you have enough money to last you for at least six months to a year without dipping into your savings. If not, then it would be wise to keep your job until you have saved up enough. If you are currently unemployed, but have saved up enough, it is well worth a try (because you have nothing to lose.)
Assess the Expenses
There are expenses you should budget for before you start an interior design business. These include overhead, software and hardware, rent, supplies, marketing, salaries, fuel and transportation, business license, insurance, membership, taxes, bills, etc. Ask yourself if you’re capable both financially as well as emotionally to handle all these expenses.
Assess the Market and Your Competition
Look around your area closely and understand the market. Who are your potential clients? Are they your ideal clients? Who are the other interior designers in the area, and what drives their popularity? How can you position your talents and aesthetics as unique and different from your competition?
Assess Your Experience
Are you a student fresh out of design school? Are you just starting out as an interior designer? Have you worked as an assistant to an interior designer? What qualifications do you have? Do you have a strong portfolio or can you create one out of the personal projects that you have worked on? Do you have a network of existing local relations that have money to spend on their interiors?
Stage 2: Building a Portfolio on a Budget
If you’re new to the business side of interior design, then the first thing you would need is a portfolio of your best works. But then again, if you’re new, it is most likely that you do not have anything to showcase. One of the best ways to start building your portfolio is to design your own home. Many designers say that they knew that interior design was their true calling from a very young age, when they would rearrange and decorate their rooms every other month. Similarly, you could start by decorating a corner of your house, photographing it, showcasing specific details, and adding them to your portfolio. Just make sure that you do excellent photography. If you can’t manage to do it yourself, find an affordable, aspiring interior photographer on Craigslist or elsewhere online.
Design your home office, even if it is just a corner of your living room. Carve out the business nook in your home, take pictures, and add these to your portfolio.
It is alright to work for free or for a nominal design fee during the early stages while you build your business portfolio. You can design spaces for your friends and neighbors, or go straight to nonprofit organizations that you value and offer to design their tired spaces. Often you’ll find it easy to get donated products when doing philanthropic projects. Inform them about your new business venture and let them know that you will be photographing the spaces you design, to be used for marketing purposes and for your portfolio. You can even design spaces in exchange for their skills, goods, or services. Think a lifetime of ice cream in exchange for designing an ice cream parlor! The more public your designs, the better it is for building your brand.
If you are good at e-design, create beautiful renderings of spaces and mood boards and add them to your portfolio. Each e-design can act as a project in your portfolio.
Stage 3: Marketing on a Shoestring Budget
To make a thriving business out of your passion, you have to be visible to your clients. Your business has to become so visible that when someone thinks of interior design, it is your business that pops to mind. Or, you need to be easily found when they are searching for a designer in Google and other search engines.
And the only way to do that is by marketing yourself consistently and cleverly to attract your ideal clients. Many designers outsource the marketing of their business to marketing agencies who do the heavy lifting for them. But if you are on a shoestring budget, here are some ways to do your own marketing with limited funds or even for free:
When it comes to marketing, never underestimate the power of social media. Free social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Twitter, can be harnessed to market your talents without having to spend a lot (or any) of your precious dollars.
Setting up your account is free, and once your page is live, you need to regularly post enough content to build an engaging audience for your business. Make sure that the content you post is of high quality and must be focused on your target demographic. Ideas are endless, such as visiting a fabric store and putting together some of the fabrics that are trending for living room decor, and take a picture of the arrangement for your social pages. Don’t forget to tag the store. Focus on educating and entertaining your audience.
Your website is the digital face of your business. Setting aside some budget for a good website for your business is one of the best investments you will make. You can hire a professional, or else, build your own website using one of the myriad hosting platforms such as WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace. Your website should have high-quality images showcasing your best works. Include testimonials from past clients to speak for you. If you do not have any past clients, you can ask your friends whom you have designed for to say a few kind words about your design talents. Keep in mind that the drag-and-drop site builders, like Wix and Squarespace, often serve better as online brochures than as lead-generating marketing machines, as they are difficult, if not impossible, to fully optimize for SEO (Squarespace is notoriously problematic for SEO). If you are serious about marketing success, consider getting your site developed in WordPress and make sure that the development contract includes the need for the site to earn high Google PageSpeed scores.
There is no shame in sending out an email introducing yourself, your business and what you can do to improve the quality of people’s lives. Use email marketing tools such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact to reach potential clients on a consistent basis. Start with all of your friends and acquaintances, and slowly build your list over time. It is seen as one of the most important assets of a business. If you want to really be a pro, look at HubSpot or Active Campaign to run your outreach system.
A blog is one of the easiest ways to let the world know that you have a complete grasp over your professional field as an interior designer. Write articles about the latest buzz in the industry, an emerging trend, pros and cons of certain styles of design, fabric management, the importance of color, and all other aspects that govern the field of interior design. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a name for a wide range of strategies that helps place your business higher up in search engine results. Create quality, lengthy content and use specific keywords to enhance your SEO game. If you are lacking the capital to hire SEO pros, prepare for a future SEO effort by writing and posting plenty of good copy to your website and building your collection of reviews and project photographs.
A great chunk of most designer’s clientele comes from their networks. So get out there and network as much as possible. Join organizations such as ASID and ISD, attend markets, connect and build relationships with industry partners such as builders, Realtors, suppliers, contractors, and vendors, and attend conferences and seminars. Just keep in mind that you’ll want to spend much of your networking time outside of the industry.
Leave business cards with contacts in your network to make yourself visible. Network with the local media in your area as this can help you gain some free press. Make sure to regularly remind people that you are a designer by casually dropping it into your conversations or even by having a license plate that hints at it.
Word of Mouth
Ask friends and family to share the word of your new business in their networks. Just like rumor and gossip, word spreads faster than you think. Give your family and friends a brief description of your ideal niche, and request them to spread the word. Ask them to share your social posts and website with their social networks. Once you start getting clients, see each of them as possible brand ambassadors.
While starting your business on a budget is tricky, it is very doable. It requires determination, skill, and consistency. While there may be many recipes to success, there are no real shortcuts. You need to make a business strategy. For this, you may have to try several methods, mix them up, or maybe you would even stumble upon an utterly unique idea that might catapult your business to greater heights. Whichever it may be, the key rule is to be consistent. Get yourself out there and keep marketing consistently. You have to stay organized, visualize your success and make that your goal.
Have you started an interior design business on a tight budget? Do you have any tips that would help others do this? If so, please comment below. We look forward to reading about your experience.