What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Interior Design Business
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And Glad I Didn't Know
I didn't plan on becoming an interior designer....it found me. I had always designed as a career, working in fashion and then owning a clothing company, then transitioned into flipping houses and then....finally I gave in to designing homes.
I began designing houses for clients because people noticed what I did and was always doing and that was projects - being creative. It showed in the way I dressed, in my own houses, properties and they loved my eye for design. They kept asking me to help them with their homes.
At first, I declined but I finally gave in and took a project. One thing lead to another and soon I had a full-service interior design business.
Five Things I Wish I Knew
Since I had done projects for myself and flipped properties, I had some general knowledge. I also knew about textiles, sewing, and construction and some business knowledge.
1) Presenting ideas - I had a mentor I could reach out to but I pretty much had to figure out how to present my ideas in a way that would convince my clients to agree with my design direction and have faith in where I was taking them. I was lucky because many had already seen my work and believed in me. But learning this and how to "Wow them" and address concerns in a winning and persuasive manner took a trial and error period I wish I had someone advising me on.
2) What to charge. Again, my mentor gave me a number but I had no idea of how to support that number and why. I was on the lower end because I was just starting out. Coming from a manufacturing business to a service business. I needed a stronger understanding on what to charge, when, why and where those numbers came from so I could confidently explain them to my client. Numbers/money have to be discussed with confidence and have supporting data.
3) Setting up a Letter of Agreement or Interior Design Agreement. Again, I was lucky because I had some experience with contracts but very basic. I needed to be able to present the Agreement with confidence and properly explain the scope, the invoicing, how I was to be paid and so on. There are areas and nuances that pertain to Interior Design that a standard Letter of Agreement won't cover.
4) Better bookkeeping - That came with time but I had to learn the programs. I had taken business classes in school and my manufacturing business was pretty cut and dry when it came to the books. A service business with trades, subs, purchasing, charging tax, etc. etc. I needed guidance and got it along the way but I am sure I lost money with poor records and long hours because of an inefficient system.
5) I didn't take photographs!! I would finish a project and move on..I liked what I had completed and my clients were thrilled but I didn't think about posterity. I didn't want to spend the money on a photographer and honestly, I figured it wasn't so important. I was doing great work!! Great projects...whole houses. They would have a party and boom! I had another project. I went along that way for awhile until I woke up!
Continue on...There were things I didn't know and that was a good thing:
1) No one told me I couldn't. My mother never told me that I couldn't create something I imagined. She may have thought I couldn't, but she never said it. I just kept creating things and people noticed it. I did it because I love to design. Period.
2) What could go wrong. Knowledge of construction and various tasks was important. Being a designer and owning my own manufacturing business helped with that. I was careful and not fearful...and because of that I had success in most everything I embarked on in my interior design business. I never thought it couldn't be done. If I hit a roadblock, I would find a way to convince the contractor it could be done - or- come up with another creative solution.
3) I sold my ideas easily. Having some success in design and my career already, I didn't second guess myself. THAT helped me to sell my ideas to my clients because I believed and so did they. Executing the ideas was another thing and I made sure it happened. My ideas I had presented to and sold to them - became a reality.
4) I didn't overthink it....I dove in and business evolved. I realized when I had an actual business that I needed to develop structure and a plan but that was when it was clear I was growing a real business. At the first few projects, I stumbled through and a protocol would have been nice.....had I had one in place.
5) I saw that I could help people. What came so naturally to me and thrilled my clients, was something they really needed help with. I wasn't a designer straight out of design school and naming myself as an interior designer. I would tell people I own a design business and most all of my work came from word of mouth. I didn't market myself but my business grew because I was confident that I a) could create it b) could see it through. They needed me to do that and it helped them to have a home they loved.
"I stumbled through my first projects..."
The creative part, dealing with people, logistics I had that covered. It was the business protocol. The business contracts, money, agreements, covering myself and my client, purchasing for clients, tracking those purchases, and more. Those things are what I am wanting to provide to you because I love being my own boss, designing and getting paid for it and helping people to love their homes they lived in.
Elizabeth Ribons, ASID, CID
Better by Design academy delivers tips, guidance, and knowledge from years of experience as a creative entrepreneur and interior designer. Through online courses, blogs and events Elizabeth Ribons endeavors to bring the necessary components to building a successful design business to her followers. Join the Friday 5 and get 5 bullet point tips and blogs.