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Starting an Interior Design Business: Year 1

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

My first steps on a journey toward taking control of my life, and the lessons I've learned along the way.

First of all, welcome to the new blog, everyone! I have to say, just like starting a business, beginning a blog is a little intimidating, as well. But this has been the year of "becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable", so I'm going to keep the theme going here! Choosing to step away from working for already established design firms with a reliable paycheck was a big decision to make, but the thought of taking control of my life - allowing myself the flexibility and freedom to curate each day - was so attractive to me, that I knew I had to give it my best shot. It was the right time to do so.

I started by making a list of everyone I knew (past graduate school classmates, grad school professors, former colleagues, etc.) who had started their own interior design business. I then proceeded to reach out and ask them to meet for coffee, a drink, or even just a phone conversation, at their convenience. I wrote a thorough list of questions and interviewed each person, one by one. This was SO helpful in determining basic first steps to take, mistakes to avoid, must-do's, etc., and put me on an initial path toward achieving my goal. Here are the basic questions I started with:

1) Did you work for a firm first? For how long? : 

2) How do you know when you're ready to start? What gave you the courage to start your own business?

3) What were the first steps you took to start?

4) How did you get clients at first, and how do you continue to market yourself?

5) How many clients are safe to manage when starting out? Did your business overlap with your first job? Did you already have clients lined up before leaving your job? 

6) When did you hire people to work with you? Do you have a business partner? Recommend a partner? 

7) How many hours per day did you spend working on your business at first?  

8) How do you find contractors you trust? 

9) Do you use consultants (ie: lighting, code, aquatic? Fitness, Play...etc., )?

10) How do you invoice your clients? Do you have an invoice program or an invoice template?

11) How do you charge clients? (Percentages, markups, etc..)  How do you gauge what your design fee should be? Do you calculate it differently based on the client and how long it will take?

12) For someone with an MFA, and my experience thus far, What do you recommend is an appropriate design fee to start? 

13) Critical computer programs you recommend: #AutoCAD/ #InDesign/ #Photoshop, #SketchUp? (#Autodesk and #AdobeCreativeCloud)

14) Are you doing your own renderings? Are your client presentations all done digitally, or do you print? 

15) Which platform did you use to build your website?

16) Did you rent office space? When did you do that? If you need to PLOT drawings, where do you go? 

17) Biggest Up-front costs of starting a new business? Where to invest money and avoid spending money when starting up?

18) What do you LOVE about working for yourself? Are you happy you made the change?

19) What are biggest challenges of starting/owning business? Lessons learned?

20) Based on how you see my work ethic, design sense, creativity level, etc., in your eyes, what are your most important recommendations? 

21) Did you hire a lawyer to write contracts? 

      -Did you hire an accountant to take care of your finances? Taxes, Book-keeping, etc.? 

      -Corporate Formations : LLC vs. S. Corp? 

      -How do I get a tax retail ID number? 

You get the point! I received both similar and varying answers from everyone based on their experiences and what has worked for them, but this was super critical for me as a first step, and it also made me realize, "Other people are doing it... SO I CAN DO IT TOO!"


While I have a #MFA in #InteriorDesign, learning to start a business takes a very different skillset and knowledge base. This year alone, by doing research and asking SO many questions of reliable resources, I learned how to build a website, BE SCRAPPY and get #creative, navigate social media tools for content and marketing (follow @eagstudio_inc on #instagram), research and choose a corporate formation (with advice from CPAs and lawyers, of course), learn to use IVY (design management software) obtain a tax ID number, file quarterly taxes, track business expenses and income, open a business bank account and credit card, make business cards, FIND AND SECURE #CLIENTS, and actually execute their designs. I'm sure I may be forgetting a few things, but what an educational (and adventurous) year it has been!

Opportunities For Learning Around Every Corner

Beyond learning the basics and securing in place the key fundamental pieces to starting a business, I realized the process is not so black and white. There is the technical and procedural side, and then there is the creative and emotional side. Besides investing time and money into building a business, I have also embarked upon an emotional journey - one where I am investing in and learning about myself, my process, and finding greater meaning in how I can contribute to the world. It is a journey and development that I strive to be proud of. Of course, an interior design business is creative, but even just developing the business, itself, has been a creative road. How do I represent my #business? What is my #brand? What do I offer, as a #designer, that clients can only experience with me? And while I am extremely focussed on the details of the day to day, sometimes you don't even realize you are learning other valuable lessons along the way. If I had to narrow it down to a few, I would say the major lesson highlights of this year that apply to both my business and my life, in general, are the following:

-Learning to stand up for myself - I am my best advocate

-Learning my value and knowing my worth

-Setting boundaries

-Practicing #patience, #gratitude and staying #positive

I am a work in progress here (as we all are!) and I look forward to seeing how my business unfolds in this brand new year ahead. Thank you for joining me on this journey!

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