Are you creative? Do you have an uncanny ability to throw some furniture together and end up with the coolest comfy interior, then maybe you should start looking at becoming a home decorator and starting your home decor business.

It will interest you to know that you can start your home decoration business with no certification or diploma. Yes, you only need your skills to see you through. Before you start taking clients, you should make it a point to practice on the homes of friends and family, assemble a portfolio of your work and license your business.

If you’re interested in starting your own interior decorating business, there are a few things that you’ll need to take into consideration. You need to learn as much as you can about the craft before you can start. Once you feel confident in your skills, then maybe you’re just about ready to delve into this creative industry.

16 Steps to Starting a Home Decoration Business

Here is an outline of how you can start your own home decoration business in the United States of America.

  1. Outline your plan

Whatever business you want to delve into should always start with a plan. You should determine whether you will be a product-driven designer who conceptualizes the design and sells necessary products to the client, or simply a consultant who does not sell products. Designers with less experience usually begin as product-driven designers. Make a list of equipment you’ll need to get started and determine how much capital you will need.

You’ll also need to research companies who manufacture flooring, fabrics, carpet, wall coverings and furniture, or distributors who represent multiple lines. Interior decorators can get discounts of up to 50 percent from certain manufacturers, so shop around to find out who will give you the best deals. This way you can pass savings on to your clients.

Also contact painters and carpenters to find out their rates for designers. You’ll need them sometimes to complete your designs, and in turn they can become sources of new work for you.

2. Get yourself trained

In as much as you do not need formal education to start a home decoration business, but the fact remains that you need to learn the trade. Visiting spaces that have been designed by a professional interior designer or decorator will help train your eye, enabling you to learn more about the most desirable trends. Pay attention to color schemes, space planning, and small details.

Keep a notebook with you and record your observations, both positive and negative. This is a great way to grow and learn as a decorator. Keeping up-to-date with the most relevant decorating and design trends will help you build a decorating business that will attract your ideal clientele. You will always want to be one step ahead of your clients on the design front, suggesting to them the newest design concepts that are beyond their imagination.

Some magazines you should make friends with include: Architectural Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Home, Design Directions, Elle Décor, Home Restoration & Remodeling Magazine, House and Garden, Interior Design, Interiors & Sources, Metropolitan Home, Style at Home, Traditional Home, and Victorian Homes. Make sure to review commercial interior design magazines as well as consumer-driven interior design.

The single most important element of interior design is lighting. For example, there are three forms of lighting: ambient lighting, which provides overall illumination; task lighting, which provides light for specific activities; accent lighting adds focus to particular elements of the space. Focus on developing you own style and interests to give your decorating business a unique and personalized touch. Do this so that people will seek you out for your particular specialty.

3. Write your business plan

Similar to starting any business, starting a home decorating business will involve creating a solid business plan. Your business plan should include information such as the budget for your business, the type of clients you wish to have, and the medium you will use to reach your clients.

Decide whether you will be a product-driven decorator or will be a consultant who does not sell products. There is room for both types of decorators in the industry. Remember to consider how and from where you will purchase your inventory, and don’t forget to include costs such as insurance and vehicle maintenance in your plan. Remember to make this plan as comprehensive as possible.

4. Weigh the Competition

The competition can make or mar your business, so you need to know about them before you set up your business. Research other decorating companies in your area to see what they specialize in, how much they charge and what their designs look like. Consider how you can set yourself apart from other design companies by offering a different style of design, specializing in certain types of design, offering lower prices or by specializing in specific areas such as window treatments or use of color and light.

5. Build your Portfolio

Even your first clients will want to see a portfolio of your work, so start by redecorating your own home and taking before and after pictures of the improvements you make as evidence. Volunteer to redecorate for friends and family, using the widest appropriate range of styles and techniques, and take pictures of these projects as you work. Choose 17 to 20 photographs that you feel best represent your work and put them in a physical or virtual album. Add letters of recommendation from those whose homes you have worked on.

Whenever you decorate a space, whether in your own home, a friend’s home, or something that you are commissioned to do, take pictures of it for your portfolio. Your portfolio should be an example of all the work that you’ve done. If possible, have a professional photographer take these pictures, or take them with a quality camera. Your portfolio is an important part of starting a decorating business as it will show off you talents and design abilities to potential clients.

Make sure you include pictures of the rooms you decorate from various angles and take close-up photos of any special details. Include before-and-after photos of your work. This is a powerful way to show your potential. Place your photos in a leather presentation case or have them professionally mounted on art board. Create an online or digitized portfolio. If you end up making a website for your decorating business, you will want to include this presentation on your site. Add letters of recommendation if possible from those whose homes you have decorated.

6. Select your business name

Every business needs a name, and so does your home decoration business. A good business name will be something that is evocative, professional, and memorable. Think about choosing a name that is imaginative to show your clients your creative side. However, it’s probably best to avoid a name that’s too “cute” or trendy. Your business name should provide insight into the kind of professional work your interior decorating company will provide.

Give your company name a lot of thought. Selecting a business name is one of the most important steps in planning your business. Don’t underestimate the power of your name. Some of the best names for businesses are simply a combination of your name and what you do; for example, “Milly Jake Decorating”.

7. Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your home decorator business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC’s, and DBA’s. You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

8. Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business. In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It’s really easy and free!

9. Open a business bank account 

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection. When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business’s name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more. This separates your personal assets from your company’s assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection. It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

10. Get Business Insurance

This is a very important aspect when it comes to setting up your home decoration business. Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business. Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers’ Compensation Coverage.

11. Find the funds to start

Startup costs for decorating businesses are often relatively low and you likely won’t need a big budget to begin. Two must-haves are a good computer and reliable transportation that is also in good condition. Your basic startup costs will include the purchase of sample books, business cards, software, and promotional tools (such as brochures or any advertising you might like to do).

You’ll likely need to prepare a certain amount of working capital to start your decorating business. Unless you plan to work from a home office, you’ll need to pay rent for an office space, electricity and internet access. You may need to pay for parking space for yourself and your future clients.

12. Learn how to estimate your price

Estimating the price of your decorating project is going to be one of the most important parts of starting your decorating business. You neither want to price your services too low or too high, so it is essential to make sure that you are pricing your work correctly. The median hourly rate for interior decorating work is $18.89 per hour, but rates may vary in your location.

In order to properly estimate the price of a job, consider:

  • The size of the job (this includes the number of hours that will be required to complete it)
  • The cost of the products used for the job
  • The number of outside helpers you will need to hire (for example, carpet layers, painters, etc.)
  • The deadline of the job (bill higher for a rush job)
  • Your personal markup, typically 15% of the total fee.

You can set your rate based on an hourly fee (the easiest way to charge), charge by square footage (usually the choice for commercial work), or charge a flat fee (though this will only work if your client supplies all the necessary products and furniture.

Remember your markup. A markup for an interior decorator is typically a minimum of 15%, but you may choose to vary this based on your experience and potential for work in the market.

Know what your competitors are charging, and also how they are charging (for example, by hour or by square foot). This will make your business more competitive in the market.

13. Licenses and Registration

When it comes to licenses and permits, you may need to consult with several specialists as requirements vary by state, county and municipality. Make sure you have the appropriate business license before decorating any homes on commission.

The Department of State can provide you with the business licensing and permit requirements for you to start a business in different states. Keep in mind that these requirements may vary widely based on state. Consult an insurance agent to help you find the proper coverage to protect your personal assets from business liabilities. Talk to a tax professional to learn how to ensure that your company is paying the correct amount of taxes. See an attorney or consult the Department of State (for your state) for guidance in incorporating your company.

Apply for a business license by going to your local city hall or county clerk’s office to fill out an application, or do it online if that’s an available option in your jurisdiction. If you plan or hope to employ others, subcontract to a builder or to build credit under the business’ name rather than your own, you’ll also need to apply for an Employer Identification Number or EIN from the Internal Revenue Service.

14. Set up your office

In as much as you can start this business from home, but it will do you well to get a business location. You should endeavor to invest in basic office necessities, such as a computer, telephone and word processing software. You might also want to purchase specialized design software so that you can present professional-looking designs to your clients. You’ll need books of wallpaper, paint and carpet samples from the manufacturers you’ve chosen to deal with. Avoid wallpaper and fabric companies that require you to purchase samples each month.

15. Market your decorating business

To get clients, you need to publicize your home decoration business. Advertising can follow many different paths. You may want to start spreading word of your business by word of mouth; to do this, you should speak with as many members of your community as possible. Let them know about your business and encourage them to contact you with any potential inquiries.

Make sure you attend any markets or trade shows where people might be going to look for goods for their homes, and discuss your availability as an interior decorator. Once your business is official, you can start advertising in newspapers, on radio, or on television. This is a great way to spread information about your business without depending on word of mouth alone. You will reach a much larger audience this way.

Another way to advertise your home decorating business is by starting a website. You should fill this website with as many pictures as possible of your home designs and decorations.

16. Keep your customers coming back

Clients want a beautiful home at an inexpensive price. They want one-of-a-kind pieces they can use as conversation starters when they have guests over. The more a decorator can provide this, the more likely it is they’ll be able to keep their clients while simultaneously growing their customer base.

Home decorators will likely find their business primarily through word-of-mouth, which is why it can be helpful to start by helping family or friends with their home decoration dilemmas. Decorators may also want to join community website groups on sites such as Facebook where people swap advice with one another. They can recommend professional advice for free in an effort to get their name out there and inspire real business.

Use every opportunity to try out your ideas of interior design to improve your skills. Discuss your end visions with an experienced or professional decorator or designer. For example, take a random swatch of fabric or paint chip and attempt to design a room (either mentally, through sketching, or using a computer) that incorporates those details. Learning how to take pieces of a puzzle and create a full picture is an essential part of becoming an interior decorator.

One beneficial way to get trained in home design is to get a job working for someone who has his or her own business. You’ll learn more about what starting your own decorating business will be like in the future.

Ajaero Tony Martins