At the beginning, when I wanted to start an interior design business, I thought that I would never get clients without a portfolio or large body of work, a long list of contacts or a lot of money to invest in marketing and equipment to run my business.
The fear of failure held me back more than anything. I was afraid of not making enough money to survive and I wouldn’t leave my job even though I was working long hours in a job that was exhausting and soul destroying.
Ironically, even once I had savings in the bank, it never seemed enough to give me the confidence to take that first leap. I now know that the reason I succeeded had nothing to do with money or a portfolio. In my first year of business I ended up working with over 30 clients (and 60 projects!) and now, I’m able to pick and choose which projects I take on.
Even though I studied architecture, my passion has always been interior design and I, like many people, I took a different career because I didn’t think I could make a living from interior design alone or ever start an interior design business myself. I believed it was my hobby and actually once I was an established designer in the architectural industry, it felt even harder to transition into interior design because it was looked down upon by the architects saying that all of my knowledge would go to waste because all I would be good for was pillow-plumping.
I actually tried setting up my own business for years. My first business was actually when I was 6 years old and since then I have always had a side project of some kind that I was always working on. Those kinds of extracurricular activities always made me different to everyone else in my industry. I always seemed like the odd one out because I would think differently about things when everyone else would just follow the standard path and tick the boxes off as they went.
When I finally transitioned into working full time for myself (which was actually the 3rd attempt at trying to do so) and was finally able to start an interior design business, I knew that this was it and that I was going to make it work this time. I was working in a job that totally depleted and depressed me, mainly because I was working with huge developers which, in my opinion, were doing things that I believe were not ethical and so every day was like torture and I was the odd one out wondering why no-one else could see what was so wrong with what they were doing.
Not to mention it was made worse by the fact that my physical surroundings where I worked at that place felt like a concrete jail cell with bars on the windows and you couldn’t see through them, it was total sensory depletion. As you can imagine, having grown up in Australia, I am very outdoorsy, I snowboard, surf, cycle, run, swim and just being in nature and breathing fresh air is integral to my wellbeing.
So it took me much longer than I like to admit to finally take the leap and start an interior design business. I basically had to be pushed to the limit of my sanity before I finally quit. But even when I finally started working as an interior designer for myself, I was scared that no-one would hire me because I was starting from scratch and the research I had done into my target market told me that clients wanted to see a large portfolio of work so that they could choose me as their choice of designer from a palette of other designers. So that was not only the traditional way interior designers won projects, but it was also what I was told by people who I interviewed asking them how they would make the choice to hire an interior designer. So you can see I was even proven right that there was no way that I would get clients.
What I figured out though, was that actually isn’t true. It might have been in the past but the world has changed considerably since the traditional form of interior design as a profession began. The market has changed and indeed those things that I was told by clients that they wanted to see were my client’s preconceptions of what the industry is about. I didn’t realize that I was starting out in this profession in a time of huge change and in the end, I helped them see that there are lots of other ways to do this interior design thing.
I also realized that the market for interior designer’s has opened up now to include a much broader range of people. Renters, estate agents, developers as well as the average house buyer were all new potential clients which varied from the old school way of working which was that only high end, luxury projects required interior design or projects that I worked on for big commercial projects like hotels, airports and convention centres. In fact what I found out was that more than ever, the average person not only needs interior design but is more willing to invest into a designer now too. And not only once in their life, I have clients now that will continue to come back to me when they move house, or when circumstances change.
But because I had no choice, I had to make a living and my husband who had lost his previous business when we moved cities was still working on rebuilding his own business at the time, so we were terrified when I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided to give it a go. What I wish I could have told myself back then though is that it is totally possible to create a successful career in this industry and that all of my fears about not getting enough money or clients was nonsense.
Also, I realized that there really is no such thing as competition between me and the other local interior designer’s because everyone will be drawn to the person who is right for them, its not just about having a particular style to sell as your standard blanket offer, like I was made to believe when I was starting out, its about much more than that and the old-school ways of choosing a designer based on their style and portfolio is pretty much outdated and obsolete.
So the biggest question I always get asked by those who either join my interior designer’s business school or who are trying to gain experience to transition into the interior design industry is “how do I start an interior design business? Where do I start? What do I do?” And understandably everyone they asked these questions to gave them a different answer. That is because they are right, there is not just one way to do this, but there are ways that work much better than others and I’ll show you the way that helped me succeed really quickly and now continues to help my students to succeed.
How to communicate visually and professionally
How to run a project from start to finish
How to form legal agreements
How to continually grow as a designer
Decide on your business, legal and trading structure
Set up a functional business that is relevant to your long-term goals
Create a brand that you love and that helps you to stand out from the crowd
Research your target market and your niche
Create products and packages that your clients will find irresistible
Having key systems in place
Having key systems in place that facilitate an easy and functioning working environment for you and your business model. Things that people often overlook in their day and they blame on low productivity, lack of motivation or too many distractions or interruptions.
Have a business plan or strategy that you stick to and want to follow
Keep a diary, stick to schedules and allocate time for specific tasks
Realize the difference between a hurdle and an excuse
Feel the fear and do it anyway
My 90 Days To A Freelance Life Mentorship Program is relevant worldwide and can be studied from anywhere in the world. It is an online program, with interactive and fun lessons, a social hub, forum (which I make sure gives you the answers when you need them) and you’re held accountable each week with our live mentorship calls.
You’ll never feel alone, you’ll make lifelong friends and if you complete it from start to finish you will have your business set up for success, working with your first few clients sooner than you ever thought possible. It is the fastest way to start an interior design business, it’s also fun and absolutely life-changing.
It is relevant for anyone who wants to get into the interior design industry by working on real projects or for those of you who want to start your own business as well as work as a freelance interior designer.