Home Decorator Business Idea

How to Become an Interior Designer Decorator Start Business

FreeVideoClips 6/2/2008

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Business Summary:

Home Decorating in America: It’s What We Do

The home decorating industry in America is huge, annually generating more than $270 billion in revenues. The popularity of Home and Garden Television (HGTV), home décor magazines, and the ever-growing number of home decorating and home improvement televison programs and websites are just a few indicators of how people from a wide range of income levels are focusing on upgrading the appearance of their homes.

Decorator or Designer? Why the Difference is Important

The terms interior decorator and interior designer are not synonymous, although they are sometimes used interchangeably. In the professionally accurate sense, interior decorating includes decisions on surfaces and items within a room: choosing a style and color palette, then selecting appropriate furniture, floor and window coverings, accessories and artwork, and appropriate lighting. Interior designing involves decorating plus planning layouts and comprehensive home renovations, including and collaborating with electricians, plumbers, architects, and construction contractors. Interior designers must be able to read blueprints, understand building and fire codes, and know how to make space accessible to people who are disabled. To portray oneself as a professional “interior designer” in most USA states requires state licensing, a degree from certified college interior design programs, documented experience, and passing a comprehensive qualifying test. Look on the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) website under “State Licensing” for details on licensing requirements in individual USA states and territories.

Getting Started on a Shoestring – Investigate Your Options

If you don’t already have the education, experience and certification qualifications of an interior designer, starting an interior design business at home will require you to limit the scope of the services you will offer. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to concentrate on services you are best at and hold down your startup costs. There are many avenues to investigate; one of them may be perfect for you in starting a home-based design services business.

Partner With Retail Stores and Shops as a Freelance Designer

In getting started as a home-based design entrepreneur you might consider working freelance for a particular home-furnishing store, window treatment business, or specialty home accessories business. Some of these may require their design freelancers to hold certifications, but it’s possible you may be able to show photo examples of your expertise and, if you bring them business on your first job, you may have the start of a great professional relationship.

Got Talent and Some $$ to Invest?

To get up and going, trained and on your way in a design business within about four or five months, you might consider one of the franchise design services that are out there such as Decorating Den. For approximately $50K in initial franchise fees and working capital requirements, plus the cost of acquiring and outfitting your custom vehicle per their specifications, you can be the owner-operator of a decorating service backed by the comprehensive Decorating Den resources. Even though much support and guidance is provided by such franchised opportunities, it is still up to the individual owner to make it work. Also, under a franchise, you will be be bound to operate within their franchise policies, sources, and systems.

Interior Redesign and Home Staging

Two “cousins” of the traditional interior design profession that may work well as a home-based business are interior redesign and home staging.

Interior redesign, as frequently featured on HGTV and in many decorating magazines, is basically a quick-fix design process. The home-owner’s furniture, art and accessories found throughout their house or in storage are re-arranged by a talented, knowledgeable redesign expert, creating transformed rooms.

Several HGTV regular programs are dedicated to home staging, or the process of cosmetically improving homes for sale so that they will appeal to buyers. Home stagers work primarily with realtors, but sometimes have home owner clients as well.

Startup costs to train, certify and join national professional associations in these two areas are relatively low. – you can do all three for between approximately $1000-$1600, depending on the options you choose — and single training courses can be purchased for around $400. To get information on interior redesign and home staging, review the website of the American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners.

Start Up Cost: $3,000 – $75,000

Can Be Home Based?: Yes

Can Be Operated Part Time?: Yes

Skills Required:

An “Eye” for Design

Most interior designers have a natural eye for fashion; they can quickly and intuitively add style and elegance to any space. If you are considering starting a design services business, you have doubtless already had success and fun in designing your own home, and you have probably designed rooms for friends and family members with great feedback and compliments from others.

Learn What the Experts Know

Although you don’t need a college degree in interior design to make a success of your home business, you will want to broaden your experience and expertise by becoming familiar with different decorating styles and techniques as well as effective project management skills of the trade. If you can’t attend a design school, there are many books and video courses available. Start by finding educational materials from the websites of the many interior design and niche design professional trade associations.

The Basic Traits of an Entrepreneur

As owner of in interior design service business, you will need to be a high-energy, driven person, with the self-discipline to start projects on your own, budget your time, and meet deadlines. You must be able to communicate ideas visually, verbally, and in writing, and have the ability to sell your ideas. Problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently and under pressure are other important traits.

Staying on Top of New Trends

Design trends and “what’s in style” can change quickly. As a design services owner, you’ll need to keep up with the latest in popular colors, design styles, and products on the market. The most successful designers are open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing trends.

How Much Can You Earn:

The average salary of a company-employed interior designer is around $48,000 annually. Operating a home-based design business may offer you a potential of considerably more. This depends on whether you will go all-in, full time and working your business to the max, or if you will be doing a few projects for friends and referral clients part-time.

Few revenue statistics are available for freelance designers, particularly those who fall into the niche design and decorating areas. Suzanne DeWalt, author with Nita Phillips of How to Start a Home Based Interior Design Business 4th Edition (2006), available at Amazon.com, has said that she made about $745 on her average freelance project, and that she usually had income of around $4000 monthly. Suzanne’s design business niche was built primarily around selling window treatments, floors and furniture coverings.

Planning Your Pricing Structure

Some of the ways decorators and designers charge for their services include:

  • Fixed fee (or flat fee) --The designer identifies a specific sum to cover costs, exclusive of reimbursement for expenses. One total fee applies to the complete range of services, from conceptual development through final installation.
  • Hourly fee--Charges based on the actual time spent on a project or specific service, with fees ranging from $35 to $125 per hour.
  • Retainer fee --Some designers require a retainer fee before the start of a design project. A retainer is an amount of money paid by the client to the designer and applied to the balance due at the termination of the project.
  • Percentage fee -- Compensation is computed as a percentage of project costs.
  • Cost plus -- A designer purchases materials, furnishings and services (e.g., carpentry, drapery workrooms, picture framing, etc.) at cost and sells to the client at the designer’s cost plus a specified percentage agreed to by the client. The service charge is often put at 20 percent.
  • Retail – Other designers charge their clients the retail price of furnishings, furniture and all other goods they get wholesale, keeping the difference as designer’s fee and services. Retail establishments offering design services commonly use this method. With this method, clients get the designer’s services at a price no greater than they would have paid for the products at retail.
  • Per square foot - Often used for large commercial properties, the charge is based on the area of the project.

Understanding Customers:

Take Time to Learn About Your Clients

No matter what the project parameters are, almost all designers follow the same, time-honored process of starting a job. The first step, known in interior design lingo as “programming,” is to determine the client’s needs and wishes. As a business owner, you will take time to find out everything relevant about the potential customer’s lifestyle, financial situation, and personality traits-—all these will inform the design plan you propose and ensure a smooth working relationship during the project.

Meet Face-to-Face, Evaluate the Space

You will usually meet face-to-face with the client to find out exactly what they are wanting to accomplish, specify their preferences, and--very important--establish a workable budget before going further. You will need to spend some time in the project space to see what’s there now, take measurements, find out what the clients want to keep, and generally identify what problems you will need to solve to accomplish the project objective.

Design Your Plan, Estimate Costs

After making sure you have asked all relevant questions, measured carefully, and taken time to allow your creative side to come up with various ideas, you will then be ready to formulate a design plan and estimate costs. Today, most professional designers use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to produce plans for clients. CAD software programs can cost from around $1400 upwards, and may not be needed for your startup operation, or if you will not be focusing on large floor plan jobs. CAD programs provide more detail and easier revisions than sketches made by hand; you may want to research and consider obtaining one of these software programs for your business in the future.

Your Project Plan Proposal: Show the Client Your Vision

Once you have completed all details of your project plan, there are many ways to present it to the client. Your initial projects may not warrant such elaborate and colorful project boards as seen on HGTV’s “Designers Challenge,” but take a page from the books of these successful designers and make your proposal as attractive and visual as possible. Where possible, attach fabric samples and photos of items you are recommending—-demonstrating textures and color palette will help your client see your vision of the finished project and make any changes to the design early on.

Timeline for Completion: Groom Customer Expectations Wisely

When talking with customers at the proposal stage about completion dates, groom their expectations by estimating times substantially over any best-case scenarios. The old saw to “under-promise and over-deliver” is especially appropriate for the design service business, where seasoned designers know to anticipate the likelihood, rather than the possibility, of delays and contingencies. Although responsibility for finishing your design projects as specified lies with you as the design services owner, in this business you will always be coordinating with other suppliers and service contractors. Their problems become your problems and when they can’t deliver as requested, your whole project and business reputation will be on the line.

The Clients Say “Yes”--Now, Back to the Drawing Board

Your proposal is accepted! Now, after learning in detail what changes or additions the customer wants, you will need to revisit every part of your original plan to determine how these changes will affect the overall look, product sources, schedule and costs of your original proposal. Unless the project is extremely simple, a second client presentation is usually made to ensure complete understanding and agreement between you and your customer on every aspect of the revised project.

Full-Speed Ahead

Your planning has paid off, the details of your project have been nailed down --now you go into action-mode. Your tasks include developing a timeline for the project, coordinating contractor work schedules, and making sure work is completed on time. You will do the installation of the design elements or supervise others in doing so until you are pleased with the results.

Customer Satisfaction: Get It Right, And Celebrate!

Whatever it takes for both you and the customer to feel satisfied and happy with the finished space, as the designer you will make it happen down to the last detail, not only because you take infinite pride in seeing your vision come to fruition, but also because business reputation and referral business is the number one, hands-down most effective way in which design businesses grow. In fact, many of the most successful home-based designers report they never advertise; they have all the business they can handle just from referrals. Your final project task will be a visit to celebrate the space with your client--make it a festive occasion by bringing a gift basket, a bottle of wine, or a final, special room accessory to place in the project space.

Marketing Strategy:

Start With Your Own Home

Your home should be your best advertisement. You probably already have a beautifully decorated home, but if there are spaces you need to complete or update, do this before launching your business. As you get busy with client projects, and this may happen sooner than you think, you won’t have time to work on your own home spaces. So get cracking and finish your home as the ultimate showcase of your talents.

Photograph Your Completed Design Projects

Photographs of interior spaces you have already designed, as well as any garden or outdoor living areas, will be crucial in marketing your services. You will immediately need representative images of your work to put in a print portfolio and on your website, and you will need a photographer to ongoingly update photos of your latest projects.

Photographing interiors requires special expertise. If you don’t already have this expertise, hire an experienced interior photographer to do your work. It is worth going to a lot of expense and trouble to find a photographer that can work with you. The beauty of your design work needs to come through: if photographs don’t flatter the spaces you’ve done, they should be set aside, and a new photographer interviewed. Review the ASID website Member Directory for access to member photo portfolios in your local area to get a feel for the quality of interior photographs required.

Your Portfolio as Key Sales Tool

A handsome photo scrapbook, similar to those used by wedding planners for cakes and flowers, will be a basic marketing staple that you have with you at all times along with your business card. Your portfolio will come into play constantly as people ask to see your work; you will use it for multiple presentations and multiple purposes and you have to keep it current. You may have an opportunity to be featured in a newspaper article or a local magazine; with an updated portfolio on hand, you are always ready to furnish a picture for publicity.

Show and Tell: A Professional Website is a Must

If you truly intend to have an interior decorating business, rather than a decorating hobby, you’ve got to have a great-looking website. Even though your business is built client by client, a professionally done, uniquely designed website is an investment that will not only pay off, but for a design business, is a must-have, basic marketing tool. You never know who may be browsing your site, considering you for projects or for publicity. Recent clients will also be proud to show off their project as seen on your site, and will tell people to look at your site. Make sure your URL is listed on all print materials, such as your business card.

Your Business and Personal Image Must Be Upscale

Because you are starting a business based on aesthetics and targeted toward customers who have the budget to demand high quality, you will need to pay close attention to image in everything having to do with your design business. Translate: you are going to have to spend some money to get professionally done advertising, photos, web and print materials that present a high-end image for your talents. And, since your business is you--your design talent and expertise--you will need to maintain the same sophisticated, upscale image in your home, vehicle and wardrobe.

You Can’t Skimp on Basic Business Image Expenses—-But Spend Wisely

Since the design business is all about maximum appearance and aesthetic impressions, you can’t afford to go on-the cheap for most things. That being the case, stick to the basics in your startup activities. Don’t go all-out on expensive promotions or ad strategies that may not work, or buy large numbers of specialized print materials that can become obsolete as your business changes.

Personal Referrals

For interior decorators, the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth. You probably have family and friends in the market for space makeovers, so offer your services to them first. You may have already done projects for them as favors, so use their spaces for your portfolio and encourage them to refer you to their friends and colleagues as well.

Join Organizations and Clubs

Your ideal new clients would be home builders, new home buyers, wealthy home owners, professional couples, advertising agencies, art galleries, boutique stores, corporate head offices, hotels, law firms and restaurants. Join organizations where you will rub shoulders with these potential customers; in addition to organization “Meet and Greets” there are often ways to promote your business free within the club activities. Make the most of every chance you get to meet your target customers.


Home Office Equipment

Every business owner needs a computer with the usual office software set, internet access, and a printer-scanner-copier.

For a design business, there are other specific items you need to begin.

  • Business License – necessary to purchase wholesale furniture, the best decorator fabrics, and other products you will need at wholesale prices.
  • Instant Print Camera – for photographing items considered for projects as you shop, and for use in your client proposals.
  • Fabric and Flooring Sample Books – these sample books of the product lines you will be using often cost as much as $250 upwards each.
  • A Killer Home Space – even if you live in a simple apartment, you need to have it decorated to die for! Why should people contract you for design services if your home isn’t smashing. Keep in mind that your home will serve as your office and your showroom and decorate accordingly.

Resource Urls

  • www.ashsr.com  American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners. Information on the two industries. Certification and Training programs. Interesting links to member websites and design resources.
  • www.asid.org  American Society of Interior Designers. State Licensing Regulations for interior designers. ASID Membership requirements. ASID Member Design Portfolios in your area.
  • www.decorate-redecorate.com  Decorate-Redecorate. Offers training programs for Home Redesign and Home Staging. Links to design resources.

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