Do you have a special talent for making spaces feel exactly as intended? Are you able to transform four walls and a floor into an enchanting, inspiring environment? Can you be creative but also organized, forthright, and service-oriented? Then starting an interior design business could be the perfect route for you.
Making spaces beautiful is not only an incredible talent, it’s a lucrative one. The interior design business raked in $14.6 billion in 2020. While the industry is declining a bit, someone with talent, skill and commitment to work can still make it. And knowing exactly how to start an interior decorating business will help you dodge critical mistakes.
Benefits of Opening an Interior Decorating Business
The benefits to opening an interior decorating business are as thick as deep pile carpets. Chief among them is that you get paid for being your creative self! The average interior designer salary is $69,990, though that number is impacted by your location and your client base.
Owning your own business also lets you set your schedule, choose your clients, and build the professional community and life you desire. And, as a bonus, there are no educational requirements to interior design. However, you may benefit from some of the higher-education opportunities in this field, and a few states do require licensing.
How to Start an Interior Decorating Business Checklist
You can get started with your interior decorating business by following these steps.
Checklist for How to Start Your Interior Decorating Business:
1. Create a Business Plan
Remember how we said you’ll need to be not only creative, but also organized and dedicated? Here’s your first chance to showcase those skills. Writing a business plan is your opportunity to put your dream on paper, figure out exactly how this adventure could play out successfully, and avoid common, costly business mistakes many small businesses make. To write your small business plan:
- Describe your business: Why are you creating it? What problem or issue does your interior decorator business address?
- Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely): As Shaun Smith, founder of Shaun Smith Home, told Architectural Digest, “A clear vision is so important. The goals that will define your business and brand should be long term goals.”
- Consider what could go wrong and how you’ll manage it: Do you have a plan for bad Yelp reviews or an unhappy design client?
- List the design projects and services you’ll offer: Home decor? Home staging? Both and more? Research what particular training and certifications you may need, like an NCIDQ.
- Identify your target market, as well as your ideal client: Do they live in upscale downtown townhouses, small apartments, or country farmhouses?
- Describe your team including other decorators, and consider vendor relationships. Don’t forget your attorney, accountant, and bookkeeper.
- Choose a pricing strategy: Will you charge a flat fee? By the square foot? A percentage of the entire project cost? Time-based fee?
- Lay out your interior design business costs.
- Create a services contract: This should clearly outline what is expected of both you and your new client.
Want more info? Check out this set of interior decorating business plan templates.
2. Choose a Business Structure
You must register your business with the IRS. Multiple company structures are available, though most startups are either sole proprietorships or limited liability companies (LLCs). Choose the structure with the best legal and tax setup for your situation.
Since you’ll likely be in other people’s spaces and spending money on their behalf, the liability protection of an LLC is worth considering. Housing your business in an LLC structure shields your personal assets from the business’s liability. It also prevents the double taxation that corporate structures experience.
You can file for an LLC online. Research what business license you may need, too. Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have registration requirements for interior design professionals.
3. Determine Your Business Costs
What will it cost to start your interior design business? It can be helpful to think of costs in terms of one-time and ongoing expenses.
One-time expenses include furniture, computer equipment, tools of the trade, logo design, and business registration fees. Consider what is truly necessary right now and what could wait until the business can afford it.
Ongoing expenses could be your salary, taxes, consultant fees, and office rent. Factor in skills and relationship development costs as those will be key to achieving success. This means travel to trade shows and meetings, meals, classes, and thank-you gifts.
It can be tempting to take everything on yourself to keep costs low. Really consider the worth of your time, though.
“The design industry is a very specific industry when it comes to fees and commissions, “Ellie Cullman, cofounder, Cullman & Kravis told Architectural Digest, “and so I would recommend that from the beginning you should bring on board an attorney and an accountant who has knowledge of the design industry.”
Cullman also recommends hiring a bookkeeper to handle the paperwork. Bookkeeping can be a very tedious process. You probably won’t want to waste time that would be better spent shopping for new clients.
How do you fund your startup costs?
Check out these forms of government assistance for small business owners. Loan programs from the Small Business Administration (SBA) may be available at your bank, or a personal loan could make sense.
Think about family and friends, too. They may be willing to loan or invest to help get your interior decorating business off the ground, but consider the impact on these relationships if things go wrong.
Business credit cards are an option, just be cautious you don’t run up a big debt with no payback plan.
4. Name Your Business
Your business name should be memorable, unique, and reflect the business brand. You could use your personal name if you’d like (e.g. “Sunny Travis Interiors”).
Check to ensure the website domain and social media profiles are available for your business name. You don’t want anyone confusing your business with another one of the same name, which could cost you clients and bring on legal repercussions.
Be as creative as you’d like here, and don’t rush. Make a shortlist, and live with the names in your head for a few days. What resonates? Many interior decoration businesses choose a doing business as (DBA) name for the books, and a more creative name for client-facing materials like websites and social media.
5. Register Your Business and Open Financial Accounts
Using the structure you selected (LLC, sole proprietor, etc.), register your interior design firm with state and local agencies. Get an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. You’ll need an EIN and business registration documents when you open bank accounts. Don’t mix personal banking with the business. It “pierces the corporate veil” and can impact your liability protection.
Check with your local municipality to see if there are licensing requirements for interior designers. In a handful of states, you must take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification licensing exam.
Finally, consult local insurance agents to determine what type(s) of general liability insurance are best for your interior decorating business.
6. Purchase Equipment For Your Interior Decorating Business
Much of your up-front spend will create the look and ecosystem for the business. It will set you up both virtually and in real life, and equip you to provide the services you promise.
To create your business brand, a logo and website are crucial. If you can’t design them yourself, hire a professional. Business cards, letterhead, and thank you notes will be needed as well.
Also, create an office space that reflects your interior decorating business brand. Paint, lighting, furniture, rugs, desks — consider this your first job for your new business, whether you’re setting up shop in a coworking space or a home office.
Now, to actually provide the services you promise, you’ll need a computer and a good printer, along with interior design software that helps communicate your vision to the client. Other tools of the trade include a measuring tape, paint swatches, color wheel, camera, fabric samples, and more. Here’s a good list to get you started.
7. Market Your Interior Decorating Business
In addition to your website, which is important to optimize for search engines, social media plays a major part in marketing your interior decorating business. It gives you an opportunity to share visuals related to all your design work and even share free design tips to attract potential clients. Be consistent in both your timing and look across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and whatever other social media sites you use.
Also, register with Google My Business and get included in local business and telephone directories. Offline, attend networking events, join local business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, and hand out business cards liberally. Consider providing services free to a charity, which raises your community visibility.
Need more? See this list of 14 interior design marketing strategies.
Examples of Interior Decorating Businesses to Start
With over 60,000 interior designers operating in the United States, there are numerous examples of successes. They include Kelly Wearstler (clients are Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, and Gwen Stefani), Vicente Wolf (clients are Prince and Princess Von Furstenburg, Julianna Margulies, Clive Davis, and Bryan Cranston), Nate Berkus (of Oprah fame, and who has a line at Target), and Justina Blakeney (1.2M Instagram followers). These designers and more reveal there’s not just money to be made in interior decorating, there’s also fame.
Starting an interior decorating business is challenging right now, with the industry in a slight decline. However, with hard work, talent, and dedication to relationship-building, designers with talent can still find success in this industry. That’s true both for earned income and fame (if that’s your thing). Startup costs are low, too. And while certifications and higher education are available, they aren’t required in most states. Best of all, you get to be creative all the time and get paid for it.
Interior Decorating Business
- Where should I incorporate my interior decorator business?
Consider formation fees, franchise taxes, the legal and court system, investor relations, and the tax structure of states when determining the location for your business.
- How much should I capitalize my business with at the beginning?
Alycia Wicker, author of The Cost to Start Your Own Interior Design Business, estimates start-up costs between $500 to “somewhere in the thousands.” She describes the costs on her blog.
- Is an interior design business profitable?