Homeowners are always looking to improve their interiors, but many need the help of a creative mind to come up with their dream design. That’s why the skills of an interior designer are highly sought after, and demand is only rising with homeowners now spending more than ever on their homes. As such, there’s no better time to go self-employed in the sector.
Going self-employed means you’ll be able to build your own client base, choose your working hours and pursue the type of jobs you enjoy the most. This guide explains how to start your own interior design business – from necessary equipment and skills through to marketing and planning. By the end you should have everything you need to go solo and make the most of the exciting opportunities out there.
Do I need qualifications to start an interior design business?
Interior design is a specialised profession that requires more than just creativity. Colours, space arrangements, fabrics and architecture are all major parts of the job, so you’ll need the qualifications and a portfolio of work to prove to customers you’re competent. Having qualifications will make you appear more reliable and encourage more clients to approach your business. While not essential, undergraduate courses in the following areas will give a good base knowledge:
- Interior design
- Art and design
- Interior architecture
- Spatial design
How to start an interior design business without a degree
If you don’t have a degree level qualification, it doesn’t mean you can’t start a successful interior design business. Either of the following credentials should equip you with all the relevant skills and knowledge you need to attract customers to your business:
- Level 3 Diploma in Interior Design or Art and Design
- Furniture Design Technician advanced apprenticeship
What equipment do I need for interior design?
To provide great service, you’ll need a full inventory of top-quality tools. Not only does this make your life easier, but customers will more likely come away satisfied with your work. While there will always be bespoke jobs that require specialist equipment but here are the essentials for any interior design business:
- Computer-aided-design (CAD) software
- Drawing tools including pencils, rulers, compasses, protractors, T-squares and graph paper
- Colour wheel
- Paint chips
- Fabric samples
- Measuring tape
- Digital camera
What qualities are required to start an interior design business?
As a self-employed interior designer, you’ll face a range of different challenges. Some are unique to the sector, while others are more general skills you’ll need to make a success of your business.
- Design skills are vital to create convincing interior plans for clients
- Knowledge of the latest trends and approaches
- You must be able to pay close attention to detail for precise design measurements and colour harmony
- You need to be willing to accept criticism from clients so you can take their thoughts onboard and make design tweaks
- Technical understanding is important for using CAD software with confidence when modelling designs
- You’ll need numeracy skills not just for design measurements, but also for managing your business finances
- Understanding of building codes and regulations is crucial for carrying out compliant work
- Be sure to maintain a high standard of customer service to leave customers happy with your service and encourage recommendations
How do I start my own interior design business?
For legal reasons, you’ll first have to register your business with HMRC. As a part of this process, you’ll also need to decide on a structure for your business. Setting up as a sole trader tends to be simpler, but you’ll be personally responsible for any debt or losses your business suffers. A limited company, on the other hand, grants better financial protection, but comes with more admin and paperwork to manage.
These are just some of the pros and cons to weigh up. For a more detailed comparison of sole traders and limited companies, read our handy guide here.
Planning your interior design business
Gaining a steady source of work relies on you putting together a solid business plan that outlines your services and target audience. Bringing these two together will allow you to find a niche and capitalise on gaps in the market.
For your services, you’ll want to specialise in an area that matches your interests and expertise. If yours isn’t completely set in stone, here are a few examples of interior design businesses to consider:
- Design consultation – offer professional support and advice on just the design stages of an interior
- Room expertise – specialise in certain spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms or bedrooms
- Interior re-design – help clients to reinvent their interior using the original furniture and furnishings
- Home restoration – spruce up antique home interiors that need a revamp
Once you’ve settled on the ins and outs of your service, the next step is to choose your target market. You’ll want to try and identify an audience that’ll be more inclined to hire you, so keep this in mind before offering your services. For example, if your speciality is home restoration, it would be a good idea to target neighbourhoods with older homes.
Make sure you also research your market beforehand to scout out the competition. If there are too many competitors in the area, you may need to rethink your business plan or location. Cities will tend to have more corporate design opportunities, such as in offices, but you’ll need a strong portfolio of work to secure repeat business in this area. Consider how to showcase your work and tailor examples to specific opportunities when you’re first meeting new customers.
Insuring your business
Sometimes clients might not be happy with your work, or you may experience technical difficulties with your equipment. That’s why you need the right insurance policies in place to save you from heavy financial losses. Here are the most important types for an interior design business:
- Public liability insurance – This will protect you if a customer feels their property has been damaged by your work
- Equipment breakdown insurance – CAD software is pretty essential to your work, so you need financial protection in the event that your computer malfunctions
- Professional indemnity insurance – If a customer is unsatisfied with your work, you’ll be covered against any compensation or legal fees
Managing your finances
As you get your business up and running, make sure you keep a close eye on your finances. The only way you’ll know if you’re making profit is by monitoring your income and expenditure. This way, you can make adjustments to your business to ensure you’re making enough revenue at the end of the day. At the start you may find you’re operating at a loss, but this is expected after the upfront costs of equipment, supplies and such. If this is cause for concern however, you could take out a business loan to cover the expenses.
Don’t forget to file your taxes on a regular basis as part of your bookkeeping. Different taxes apply to different business structures, so it’s important to do your research. If you’re still unsure how to go about documenting your taxes, you can always hire an accountant to help out. For more advice on employing an accountant, read our guide here.
How do interior designers get clients?
Marketing is crucial to gaining more business. There are multiple approaches you can use to build your client base and raise your profile.
Boosting your online presence is a major part of marketing, and joining Checkatrade is a sure-fire way to do this. When you become a member, your interior design business is opened up to over three million monthly site users that could become your clients. Not to mention you can enhance your profile by displaying client recommendations and showcasing images of your best finished work.
Showing off your stunning designs is important in this field, so creating profiles on social media is essential for giving people an idea of what you can do. Building your online presence also gives you the chance to interact with other users and build new client relationships.
Setting up a website is another way to establish yourself, while also creating a useful contact point and source of information for clients. You can set this up yourself quite easily by using a simple website template, or you can hire a web designer to put together a more polished page.
While digital marketing is really important, you shouldn’t ignore the value of gaining recommendations via word-of-mouth in a field like interior design. It’s still a really effective way of pulling in clients, so make sure you treat every job as unique. For more handy tips on building your reputation and making your business stand out, read our article here.
How much does it cost to start an interior design business?
The average start-up cost for an interior design business is about £11,500, but this can vary depending on what equipment you already have and whether you’ll be setting up a studio for clients to visit.
Is an interior design business profitable?
Interior design is experiencing rising demand, so you’re likely to benefit from a steady stream of revenue if you nail your marketing. It also has low overheads to begin with, especially if you’re working on your own, so you can take home more of what you earn.
What’s an interior design business owner’s salary?
The average salary for interior designers is anywhere between £23,000 and £45,000 a year, but the best agencies often earn far more than this. Find a niche, develop a strong portfolio and take lessons from the most successful companies. You’ll be able to build on their successes and make the step into self-employment that bit easier.