How I started an Interior Design business

It’s been a little while (ok, a long while) since my last post, so it seems appropriate to get up an running again with what I’ve been up to these last months.  I resigned from my secure job as an Interior Designer and started my own Interiors business freelancing.  Exciting, isn’t it??  I’ve learned a lot and thought it good karma to share my advice and experience with others thinking of doing the same.

JUST DO IT 

Really, the biggest step is making the decision to just do it.  I decided to make the jump with no photographed portfolio or client base.  I weighed up two questions – am I crazy for taking this risk now? Or am I crazier to work yet another year for someone else and have nothing further to show for it?  I think it’s important to focus on what you do have, which for me is many years industry experience, design and computer skills, extensive industry knowledge and supplier contacts.

It’s so important to have faith and trust in your abilities.  Surround yourself with a cheer team.  For me it’s family, close friends and positive colleagues.  Unfortunately I’ve found there will always be someone who wants to push you down.  I was told once that I would never be a designer as my personality was too flat!  Well guess what, here I am and my clients love my personality.  (In hindsight, Oprah was told early on that she was ‘unfit for TV’, so really it was probably a good omen for my future success 😉 ). Push the negativity out best you can, it’s more about them as a person than you.

THE BASICS

* Register an ABN (in NSW).  It’s so easy – go to the Australian government website abr.gov.au and a few minutes later you’ll have a number.  If you register as a sole trader you don’t even have to think of a business name yet, it’s just your name.

* Open a business banking account at your local branch.

* Set up a business email.  I used gmail.  Done in 5 mins.

* Get some simple business cards printed with your contact details.

* Make sure you have basic equipment like a mobile phone, computer with the programs you will use, printer, basic stationary etc.  Working from home initially will save you $$$ and you can claim a portion of your rent/mortgage on tax.

Are you wondering why you haven’t done this yet?

GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW

Experience is so important and the hardest part of working in the design industry.  Do everything you can to get it and watch your ducks start to line up.  Always be observing what the best in the business are doing and make those contacts.

Finance is also a big one.  Everyones circumstance is different but everyone needs a clear plan.  Have at least 6 months pay saved to give yourself a good start.  Financial stress is the LAST thing you need when starting a new venture.  You will also need a good accountant.

PUT THE WORD OUT

Tell your family, your friends and suppliers of your plans.  I was phenomenally lucky and had two big residential clients sign up right at the start.  I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have expected such luck.  It’s amazing what comes back when you put yourself out there.

It’s really important to stay active in the design community so attend any functions you can and visit suppliers regularly. Be visable.  My favourite saying at the moment is ‘opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor‘.

BUSINESS PLAN

This has been my weakest point as I had to hit the ground running much quicker than expected.  You will need to;

* Decide on your design fees and margin.  This has been trial and error for me.  I find a competitive hourly rate + a conservative margin on product sold is a good combination while getting off the ground.  I also pass on discounts to clients where I can as everyone loves a discount and it helps to build trust that they are not being ripped off.  You’ll soon figure out if you’re making enough money.  RUN from people who make issue of paying or bargaining you down from the beginning – you’re already giving them a very fair deal.

* Decide on your branding. Who are you?  What do you do?  What’s your website, social media and profile going to look like?  This will evolve in time so try not to freak yourself out on it too much (like I do).

* Admin.  It’s unavoidable.  Do yourself a favour and get a program like Freshbooks.  I use Freshbooks to create invoices, enter payments and record expenses.  It’s been a life saver and I don’t recommend running a business without it or a program similar.

* Make templates for everything to save time.  This should include a fee letter, a contract, presentation / floor plans, purchase orders and invoices.

* Educate yourself with online information and business books.  They will help you outline a business strategy and set goals.  I like The Big Book of Small Business by Andrew Griffith.

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