STRATEGIES TO START OR GROW YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN BUSINESS | PART 1
The best strategies to start or grow your interior design business in today’s world require more than simply creating a marketing plan designed for another business type (creating a free downloadable, following a generic marketing plan and building an email list). You need to step back and make a clear business plan specific to the type of interior design business you want to start first! Then you’ll get the clarity required to understand which strategy is suitable for your particular type of interior design business.
This post is part of a series of articles I have been writing on strategies to start or grow your interior design business.
Today, I want to focus on the first step you should take when starting or growing your interiors business. Everyone misses the step because they’re already convinced that a particular strategy is the right one for them! But wait! What if you knew this?: “You can’t use the same business, marketing or growth strategies for every type of interior design business.”.
If you understand the interior design industry, you’ll know very well that one system cannot possibly be the right solution for every interior designer. Why? Because selling design services (such as design, drawing, consulting, etc.) requires an entirely different business strategy to selling interior design products (such as decor and furniture). You’ll also need another system if you plan to complete services requiring contract administration, project management, construction, and installation. One size doesn’t fit all.
Side note: A post-Covid world has brought about loads of online scams. Many quick-buck mentors, business coaches, careless-advice-givers and course creators providing goodwill advice, but these people don’t know the interior design or construction industries. Most haven’t started or grown a profitable interior design business (so why would you trust they’re the right person to grow yours?). They are typically regurgitating the latest online marketing guru’s advice they’ve just learned themselves. You’re getting business advice from people who don’t understand the nuances of an interior design business or don’t have enough experience or knowledge to help you start or grow your interior design business in a proven way. My aim with this blog is to give you trusted and accurate information so that you know before publishing; I’ve checked the information is accurate (plus I’ve got over 20 years experience and still run a successful architectural and interior design firm and have mentored hundreds of start-ups to successfully do the same). So hopefully, you’ll know that what we write here isn’t swayed by affiliate links or sponsored posts (both of which we refuse). We intend to help as many interior designers succeed in this rewarding career as possible. That’s it.
The First Step To Finding The Right Strategies To Start Or Grow Your Interior Design Business
So how do you know which business strategies to follow? First of all, you need to clarify what phase of business you’re in before you can choose a business strategy designed for the specific problems you’re dealing with at the particular stage of business you’re in.
Many designers don’t realise they’re following growth phase business or marketing advice, but they’re still in the start-up phase. This can stop a design business in its tracks, prolong your success, or worse, send you round in circles where you’re working hard but not seeing any results!
What phases of business are there? There are usually between 3-6 phases of business depending on who you ask (or where you are in the world). The typical phases of business are:
- the start-up phase
- the growth phase
- the scale phase and
- the maturity, renewal, or decline phases
As we’re focussing on strategies to start or grow your interior design business, we will only focus on the first three and ignore the others. Please note that it’s essential to read through each of the descriptions below because you might think you’re in one phase. Still, you’re actually in another and making bad business decisions, using the wrong business or marketing strategies for your stage of business, wasting your money, time and taking an unnecessarily stressful route.
The Start-Up Phase
If you’re in the start-up phase, you’re still dealing with the most challenging phase of business. Your business strategy and model will rarely be the same as someone else’s (because that depends on your unique experience, education, location, speciality, clientele, type of projects you want to work on and prices), and where you will need the most guidance and help. Yet, this is typically where most designers will wing it and go it alone or copy information from other websites, thinking that because someone else is offering e-design for $100, then that must be an excellent place for them to start too!
At the start-up stage, you need to clarify your brand, what you offer, who you’re clients are, your niche, your prices, what services you’re providing, and what your business is about before you even start creating a marketing plan! Most interior designers don’t realise that; that’s all part of a start-up business strategy.
You’re typically still in the start-up phase if almost all of the following apply to you:
- You’ve been in business for less than two years (sometimes longer).
- You haven’t earned more than $70K (about £50K) in revenue in the whole time you’ve been in business (or you haven’t hit the higher tax threshold in your country in the past year).
- You’ve gotten jobs typically through word of mouth, friends/family.
- You’re offering every or any interior design service based on what your clients have asked for.
- You’re worried that something in your business hasn’t been set up correctly, such as the legal side, business administration or procurement method.
- You don’t have a process to follow for running projects efficiently/professionally.
- You’re saying yes to doing anything/everything, to “get the experience”.
- You’re discounting or under-pricing to secure clients.
- You think you can figure everything out on your own by doing enough research or copying what other interior designers are doing.
- Money is tight, and you’re either not making enough to cover costs or spending money on the wrong things (such as finding clients or lead generation).
Or you’re still asking at least one of the following questions:
- How do I market myself?
- What services should I offer?
- How do I get consistent income/clients?
- What contract should I be using for this project?
- What information do I provide at which stage of a project?
- How do I run a big/small/medium project (or don’t know the difference)?
- How do I organise/track my time on projects?
- What should I be working on work on to grow my business?
- What is my brand/how do I create a brand/do I need a brand?
- What is my niche (and how can I make it profitable)?
At the start-up phase of business, you should be following a business strategy that clarifies, refines and confirms the foundational pieces of your business, so there’s no doubt what your business is about, how it’s going to make money and how you’re going to reach your short, medium and long term goals.
It can be disheartening to think that you need to take a step back, but sometimes, going back and “fixing” a few niggling issues you missed at the start-up phase will skyrocket your success once you solidify that key foundational element.
If you’re starting an interior design business and would like some help, have a look at our mentoring program here: IDBS Interior Design Mentorship Program
The Growth Phase
The growth phase can be equally as scary as the start-up phase because you know that you have to make some changes, and the fear of the unknown can be daunting, especially as everything seems to be working, so it can take you a long time to “talk yourself into” changing things.
Typically, at the growth phase, you’re confident that you know where clients are coming from, you know what type of projects you want and don’t want to work with anymore, you’re ready to set new goals, earn more money, refine your systems and do more of what you love.
Typically, you’re at a point where you need to revisit your services at the growth phase because you want to take on fewer projects. You most probably want to take on larger, higher-paying clients, and you’re probably ready to hire help. To do that, however, you need to revisit your services, your long, medium and short-term goals and follow a new business strategy, one designed for growth.
At the growth phase, understanding the nuances of the interior design industry is critical. Do you know what services higher-end clients are willing to pay for? Do you know what to add or take away from your services or what resources are required to deliver those types of projects, and do you know what’s needed to secure a client at that higher price point?
The key to the growth phase business strategy is knowing what services create the value required to increase your prices and knowing what resources are needed to provide those services. You can’t just sell the same service you provided at start-up for more money without changing anything… You have to understand interior design clients, those who invest in the skills that you have and the outcomes you provide and rearrange your business to deliver these types of projects.
So how do you tell you’re in the growth phase of your business? Well, firstly, you’re no longer asking the questions above that you should have nailed down and worked through at the start-up phase. If you’re still asking those questions, go back and continue to follow your start-up phase business strategy. You’ll know once you’re ready for a growth phase or a revised business strategy because the following will apply to you, and there will be no confusion. So if you’re feeling/thinking or asking the following, you’re definitely in the growth phase of your business:
- You’ve been working in your business/with clients, and you feel like something needs to change.
- You’re confident about the services you’re offering but want to earn more/get better quality clients.
- You’ve reached the upper limit of the number of clients you can work with.
- You’re earning what you consider to be “good money”, but you feel you’re undercharging, or you know you can get more for your services (but don’t know how or what to do).
- You’re feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work and projects you’ve got on.
- You have a few loose ends on projects that seem to be dragging out, and you can’t seem to finish them.
- You’ve got enough completed projects for the type of client you want to attract to create a portfolio for your website or marketing strategy.
- You know you need to make changes to your marketing. You’re just not sure which areas to focus your energy on (and you know that paying someone for their knowledge is worth it).
Or you’re asking questions such as:
- How do I streamline my processes?
- How can I make my clients happier?
- How can I make more revenue?
- How can I provide more value to my existing clients so that I can command higher prices?
- What is a discovery call, and is it right for my business?
- How can I stop wasting time or time-wasters in my business?
- How can I refine my processes and work more efficiently?
- What can I automate/outsource?
- How do I find the right support/help/staff?
- How can I reduce the daily stresses of running my design business?
- How can I take more time off?
- What kind of advertising budget should I set and on what platform?
- Should I consider a passive income product?
- How can I reach an annual revenue goal of six figures or more?
Once you reach the growth phase of business, you should be following a business strategy that helps you refine your existing systems, set new goals, and increase your income whilst freeing up your time to focus on doing the things that bring you the most joy. This type of strategy requires data about what’s already working or not working in your business to make it a success. Can you see that at the start-up stage, you don’t have enough data, knowledge or experience in running your business to make these decisions because you’re still busy figuring out what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it? Even if you whizz through the start-up phase to gain this information, you can’t skip it – you can’t succeed with a growth plan business strategy without the knowledge/foundations that the start-up phase gives you.
Once again, know that not every strategy is suitable for every type of interior design business. For example, you wouldn’t follow an automated onboarding strategy if you offered a personalised, luxury, full-service interior design package. Why? Well, because you’ll know from your data that clients who spend thousands (or hundreds of thousands) on interior design fees, no matter how great your lead magnet is, will never convert from a cold lead with an automated funnel and a three-part video… These clients and projects need a completely different strategy.
If you’re growing an interior design business and would like some help, have a look at our mentoring program here: IntoDesign
The Scale Phase
So what about the scale phase? Well, this is probably the most confusing one in today’s world because this is what all of the online “get rich quick” schemes are teaching you. If you’ve seen an advert that promises tremendous results in a short amount of time, it’s likely teaching you a scale phase strategy. You know the ones: “use our sales funnels and secure ten clients in ten minutes”, “Grow your email list with our system to make $10K this week”, “Create an online course and scale your business from zero to a million in a month”, or “sell your expertise, not your skills with our system to secure hundreds of clients in the next 14 days”.
These business strategies are for scaling! I’m not saying that these don’t work (I’m using scaling strategies myself, so I know they do), but they won’t work for you if you’re still trying to start or grow your interior design business! Why? Because you’d be following the wrong business strategy at the wrong phase of your business! In most cases, you just don’t have the data/knowledge required to follow scale phase strategies or the team in place, ready to scale. You can’t scale on your own. It’s simply not humanly possible, and anyone who is telling you otherwise is lying.
So how do you know you’re ready to start following a scaling phase business strategy? Firstly, you already know how to make money easily in your business, you’re turning over a healthy profit, and business isn’t particularly stressful – you just want more of something (or all the things). Yes, you want to make a bigger impact, you want to make more money, change more lives, you want more exposure, more clients, more love, more followers, more everything. You want to go big, and you’re ready. The confusing thing here is that everyone (ok, almost everyone) wants these things, no matter what stage of business they’re at – but their business experience and knowledge aren’t ready for it. That’s why it’s so hard to ignore these get rich quick or “scale strategies” advertised on every social media platform.
So when will you be ready? These are the signs you’re ready to follow scale phase strategies:
- You already know how to sell what you’re selling, and you’re making good money doing just that.
- You’re an expert in at least one thing, you’re known for it, and you know that no one else in the world is like you.
- You know how to sell your product or service and can do it with your eyes closed, on autopilot.
- You understand your client journey like no one else, and you’re ready to do what it takes to create the products/services that solve that problem (on a massive scale).
- You’ve ready to add complementary services or products to your “suite”.
- You’re looking for automated strategies and the reasons why.
- You’ve got lots of data, experience and proof (or know how to get it) to position your products/services in the market in a way that is profitable and scalable.
- You’ve got the systems, people in place (or close to it), and you’re ready to implement the right strategy to escalate and scale quickly.
- You’ve got money (or know how to get the money) to invest in scaling.
- You’re ready to create and know what marketing strategy works best for your niche/service.
- You’ve got a clear advertising budget or strategy to reach more potential clients.
- You’ve got a clear vision of where your business is headed, what it’s about, how you’re going to get there, and your goals are a big leap but achievable (and you can prove it with facts, stats and figures).
And you’re asking questions such as:
- What do I need to do to make multiple six figures or seven figures with my skills/knowledge/current business?
- How can I scale?
- What is the one thing I can do to increase the quantity or quality of clients I can serve?
- What are the best passive strategies I can introduce that make sense to my market?
- How can I do more efficiently?
- What kind of products or services do I need to add/take away to reach my new goals?
- How do I increase conversions/my ROI/top line?
- How do I free up my time to focus on my zone of genius?
- Who do I need to outsource to or hire to make this possible?
- Who can keep me on track/hold me accountable, steer me in the right direction?
If you’re scaling your interior design business and would like some help, have a look at our 1:1 mentoring here: 90 Minute Consultation Call
Can you see that taking a step back and understanding what phase of business you’re in is crucial to choosing the right business strategies for your interior design business? Can you see that not all business plans or strategies are suitable for every interior design business?
I’m proud to say that if you follow the paths of my mentees (you can check them out here), you’ll see that many get to the growth phase of business quite quickly, (some within a few months of starting out)! That’s because they focussed on laying the right foundations at the start-up phase and followed through right until they achieved their start-up business strategy goals. If you want to succeed in your interior design business and you want to do it as quickly as possible, you need to follow the right strategy and you need to follow it through until you reach your goals. No wavering, no shiny object syndrome, no new marketing guru course to scale to a billion figures within one month. Stick to the strategy that is meant for you, work through it and you cannot fail. Doesn’t sound as sexy as scale to a million in three days by doing nothing, but at least you’re guaranteed to get there.
Until next time my friends, in the next post we will focus on some example start-up phase business strategies you can follow. Let me know below how this has helped you and please do ask me more questions, especially on topics that are misguided, where there is a lot of conflicting or confusing information online.
About the author
Jo Chrobak is the founder and CEO of The Interior Designer’s Business School. She has over 20 years of experience working in architecture and interior design, across the world on commercial and domestic projects from international hotels to developments and new builds. Her vast experience transcends industries to give her unique knowledge of processes and strategies which she passes on to her students to help them succeed as interior designers as quickly as possible.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Jo decided to travel the world in her twenties to gain experience and education from as many sources as possible. She graduated with first class Honours, top of her graduating class and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2007 and since then has worked on projects in Norway, Oman, The UAE, Egypt, Australia, Canada and across the UK and Europe.
She currently runs her architectural and interior design studio (www.jochrobak.com) and specialises in complex projects that require both architectural and interior design knowledge.
Jo is also trained as an Ashtanga yoga instructor, a life and business coach and is a passionate artist creating bespoke artwork for clients.
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