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How to Start an Interior Design Business Without a Degree

Do you want to start an interior design company? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a interior design business without a degree, NO money and NO experience plus a sample interior design business plan template.

If you are interested in the interior design industry, you can be rest assured that there is no limit to the fortune you can make from the industry as long as you are creative and have good networking skills.

If you are looking for a business to start as an entrepreneur with a design and creativity background, then you can consider starting your own interior design company. Although an interior design company can be operated from home, especially if it is being managed by an individual, but it pays to operate from an office facility.

The truth is that you would need an office space to be able to run this type of business if indeed you want to work for corporate organizations and even government agencies.

Just ensure that you secure an office decent enough to host the caliber of clients you will be dealing with. An office in the business district of your city might just be ideal for you – but all the same, you don’t need to go beyond your means to get a very expensive office space.

It is advisable to start your business small and then grow it big. If indeed you are interested in starting an interior design company, then you will surely find this article very helpful.

Steps to Starting an Interior Design Business Without a Degree

1. Understand the Industry

When we talk about interior design or interior decoration, we are talking about the art or process of designing the interior and in some cases the exterior of a facility; it could be a room or building. An interior designer is a person whose job is to coordinate, manage and execute such projects.

The truth is that, interior design is a multidimensional vocation that covers activities such as conceptual development, communicating with the stakeholders of a project and the management and of course the execution of the design (project as agreed).

Interior design companies are responsible for planning the design of both living and commercial facilities; they have mastered the craft of turning their ideas or concept into reality. The projects that interior designers handle can be broad in scope.

It could range from structural modifications to the selection of matching furniture, curtains or blind, wallpaper and lighting et al. The interior design industry is indeed a big industry that has experienced consistent growth over the last five years. However, the industry is projected to experience marginally better conditions over the next five years.  

As long as the housing market is expected to improve strongly, there will also be corresponding growth for residential interior designers.

So also, increase in corporate profit, growth and expansion of corporate organizations will open up business opportunities for interior design companies simply because there will be need for organizations to remodel their facilities to meet up with the changing trends.

Statistics has it that the interior design industry has a low level of market share concentration. For instance, in 2016, the top four leading interior decoration design companies are projected to account for less than 10.0% of the industry’s total revenue. It is a fact that market share concentration has not changed significantly in the last five years.

It is important to clearly state that the interior design industry is a highly-fragmented industry with thousands of players, of which only a small percentage of the players in the industry generate an annual revenue exceeding $1.0 million.

A large number of players in the interior design industry are self-employed simply because of the nature of the job they do and of course the low start-up capital required to start the business.

The interior design industry is indeed a very large industry and pretty much active in all the parts of the world. Statistics has it that in the united states of America alone, there are about 102,848 registered interior design companies responsible for employing about 127,467 and the industry rakes in a whooping sum of $13bn annually.

In 2014 alone, the federal government of the United States of America spent a total sum of $11,270,048 on interior designers. During the period in review, they awarded 437 interior design contracts to 77 interior design companies, averaging a value of $146,364 per company.

The industry is indeed a highly competitive industry and of course a growing industry with steady growth rate of 3.0 percent annually. The interior design industry is very open to any aspiring entrepreneur who has the required skills to start his or her own interior design business and of course make good money from the industry.

As a matter of fact, it was projected that over the next five years, new technology will continue to emerge that will make it easier for more players to come into the industry hence increasing the competition in the industry.

The interior design industry will continue to blossom because more and more households and corporate organizations are beginning to realize that somehow, they would need the services of interior designers to help them give their facility the needed look befitting of their organization.

From all available statistics, it is safer to say that the industry is growing steadily despite the competitive nature of the industry.

Some of the factors that encourage entrepreneurs to start their own interior design companies are that the business is easy to set up and the start-up capital is indeed affordable; you can actually start your own interior design business from the comfort of your house.

All you need to do is to create an office somewhere in your house. People usually pay you for the result you can deliver as it relates to helping them design their facility to their expectation.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

The demographic and psychographics composition of those who require the services of interior design companies is not restricted to household and those who are into real estate business, but also corporate organizations who are also interested in ensuring that their facility meet the expected standard of the industry that they are operating in.

So, if you are looking towards defining the demographics for your interior design business, then you should make it all encompassing.

It should include Construction Companies, Property Development Companies, Home Owners, Corporate Organizations, Realtors —for their clients’ homes, Home Improvement Companies, Commercial builders of office and home complexes,

Home builders associations, Furniture stores, Paint and wallpaper stores, Flower shops, Real Estate Owners, Developers and Contractors, The Government (Public Sector), Hotels, Religious Organizations (Church hall and other places of worship) and Television Stations (studios and offices) amongst others.

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

Most interior design companies tend to operate a general interior design business that involves every business activities or services that a standard interior design company is expected to offer. That is why it seems that there are no niche areas in the industry.

These are some of the area of specialization a start-up interior design company can specialize in within the interior design industry;

  • Residential interior design services
  • Commercial interior design services
  • Merchandise sales
  • Interior decorating consulting services (Consulting on interior decorating matters, Consulting on residential design matters, Consulting on institutional design matters)
  • Other related services like giving interior makeover to historic buildings, vehicles, such as ships and aircraft et al.

The Level of Competition in the Industry

Surviving in the business world as an interior design company requires more than your expertise and knowing how to conduct your business but also how to network with key people that matters; decision makers that can decide who will get an interior design contract or a business deal.

The level of competition in the interior design industry to some extent depends largely the location of the business and of course the area of specialization. If you can successfully create a unique concept for your interior design business, you are likely going to experience little or no competition.

For instance, if you are the only interior designer that specializes in giving interior makeover to historic buildings or vehicles, such as ships and aircraft et al in your location, you are sure of monopolizing that aspect of the business; your competitors can even sub-contract jobs to you to help them deliver.

But over and above, there are several interior design companies scattered all around the United States. So, if you choose to start your own interior design company in the United States, you will definitely meet stiffer competition amongst interior design companies in the United States.

Besides, there are larger interior design companies that determine the trend in the industry and you should be ready to compete with them for clients.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

These are some of the leading interior design companies in the United States of America and the globe;

  • Gensler San Francisco
  • HOK St. Louis
  • HBA / Hirsch Bedner Associates Santa Monica
  • Perkins+Will Chicago
  • David Collins Studio
  • Marcel Wanders
  • Stantec Edmonton
  • IA Interior Architects San Francisco
  • Skidmore, Owings & Merrill New York
  • Worldwide Luxury Interior Design Firm
  • CDC Designs Costa Mesa
  • DB & B Singapore
  • CannonDesign Chicago
  • Wilson Associates Dallas
  • M Moser Associates Hong Kong
  • AECOM Technology Los Angeles
  • Marc-Michaels Interior Design Winter Park, FL
  • SmithGroupJJR Detroit
  • Fentress Architects Denver

Economic Analysis

If you are looking for a business that requires less stress and perhaps minimal start – up capital, you can consider starting an interior design company. The cost of running an interior design company when compared to the turnover you get can be poles apart (this is applicable when you have been able to establish your feet in the industry).

People that venture into interior design business can as a matter of fact start the business from their home and still make headway in the business. One thing is certain when it comes to interior design business, you are sure of making profits when you successfully give your clients the expected design for their facility.

As a matter of fact, the cost of running the business process from start to finish could be restricted to the cost of making phone calls, transportation and internet subscriptions, PR and in some cases materials such as TV air time, Radio air time, digital billboards et al.

This is excluding the cost of materials that your clients are expected to pay for based on what they want. With that, it is easier to place a projection on the profits you are likely going to make if you are able to successfully seal an interior design deal from an organization or household.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

When it comes to starting a business of this nature, it will pay you to start from the scratch as against buying a franchise.

First and foremost, before you can secure an interior design job, your profile/catalogue will be scrutinized even if you are operating the franchise of a successful interior design company brand. Besides it is expensive and perhaps difficult to come buy a franchise of an interior design company

Please note that most of the big and successful interior design companies around started from the scratch and they were able to build a solid business brand.

It takes dedication, hard work and determination to achieve business success and of course you can build your own interior design company brand to become a successful brand in your area of specialization and even go ahead to work for clients both at the national level and global stage.

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

If you decide to start your own interior design business today, one of the major challenge you are likely going to face is the presence of well-established interior design companies who are offering same services that you intend offering.

The only way to avoid this challenge is to create your own market; concentrate on start-ups and households in your community who can’t afford the high – end fees charge by well established interior design companies.

Some other challenges and threats that you are likely going to face is economic downturn, if the economy is in bad shape.

Again, history has it that businesses such as interior design and the likes usually struggle to maintain their old clients or even win new clients. So also, unfavorable government policies can also hamper the growth of your interior design company.

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

When it comes to choosing a legal entity for your business, what you want and the type of business model that you intend building should be some of the factors that should guide your decision.

Generally, you have the option of either choosing a general partnership, limited liability company which is commonly called an LLC, or a sole proprietorship for a business such as interior design business.

Ordinarily, sole proprietorship should have been the ideal legal entity for an interior design business especially if you are just starting out with a moderate start-up capital. But people prefer limited liability Company for obvious reasons.

As a matter of fact, if your intention is to grow the business and handle big contracts for government agencies and construction and real estate giants, then choosing sole proprietor is not an option for you. Limited Liability Company, LLC or even general partnership will cut it for you.

For example, Setting up an LLC protects you from personal liability. If anything goes wrong in the business, it is only the money that you invested into the limited liability company that will be at risk. It is not so for sole proprietorships and general partnerships.

Limited liability companies are simpler and more flexible to operate and you don’t need a board of directors, shareholders meeting and other managerial formalities.

These are some of the factors you should consider before choosing a legal entity for your interior design business; limitation of personal liability, ease of transferability, admission of new owners and investors’ expectation and of course taxes.

If you take your time to critically study the various legal entities to use for your interior design business, you will agree that limited liability company; an LLC is most suitable. You can start this type of business as limited liability company (LLC) and in future convert it to a ‘C’ corporation or an ‘S’ corporation especially when you have the plans of going public.

Upgrading to a ‘C’ corporation or ‘S’ corporation will give you the opportunity to grow your interior design business so as to compete with major players in the industry; you will be able to generate capital from venture capital firms, you will enjoy separate tax structure, and you can easily transfer ownership of the company; you will enjoy flexibility in ownership and in your management structures.

8. Choose a Catchy Business Name

When it comes to choosing a name for your business, you should be creative because whatever name you choose for your business will go a long way to create a perception of what the business represents. Usually it is the norm for people to follow the trend in the industry they intend operating from when naming their business.

If you are considering starting your own interior design company, here are some catchy names that you can choose from;

  • Taffy & Tanya House of Decoration™, Inc
  • Broad Way Interior Design Company
  • James and Janell Interior Deco, Inc.
  • Parrot Interior Design Company
  • Hilary Jenkins and Associates Interior Design Group
  • Liberal International Interior Deco Company
  • Bailey Erickson and Sons Interior Deco Ltd.
  • Zion Interior Deco Company
  • The Interior Deco People Company
  • Hong Kong Connections, Ltd.

9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

In the United States and in most countries of the world, you can’t operate a business without having some of the basic insurance that are required by the industry you want to operate from. So, it is important to create a budget for insurance and perhaps consult an insurance broker to guide you in choosing the best and most appropriate insurance policies for your interior design business.

Here are some of the basic insurance cover that you should consider purchasing if you want to start your own interior design business in the United States of America;

  • General insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Liability insurance
  • Workers Compensation
  • Overhead expense disability insurance
  • Business owner’s policy group insurance
  • Payment protection insurance

10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

If you are considering starting your own interior design business, usually you may not have any need to file for intellectual property protection/trademark.

This is so because the nature of the business makes it possible for you to successfully run the business without having any cause to challenge anybody in court for illegally making use of your company’s intellectual properties.

But if you just want to protect your company’s logo and other documents or software that are unique to you or even jingles and media production concepts, then you can go ahead and file for intellectual property protection.

If you want to register your trademark, you are expected to begin the process by filing an application with the USPTO. The final approval of your trademark is subjected to the review of attorneys as required by USPTO.

11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

Asides from the results you produce, professional certification is one of the main reasons why most interior design companies/interior designers stands out. If you want to make impact in the interior design industry, you should work towards acquiring all the needed certifications in your area of specialization.

You are strongly encouraged to pursue professional certifications; it will go a long way to show your commitment towards the business. These are some of the certifications you can work towards achieving if you want to run your own interior design business;

  • Certified Interior Decorator
  • Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture

Please note that the higher your qualifications and experience (expertise), the easier it is for you to secure high profile interior design contracts.

12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

The essence of having the necessary documentation in place before launching a business in the United States of America cannot be overemphasized. It is a fact that you cannot successfully run any business in the United States without the proper documentation.

These are some of the basic legal document that you are expected to have in place if you want to legally run your own interior design business in the United States of America;

  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Business License
  • Business Plan
  • Non – disclosure Agreement
  • Employment Agreement (offer letters)
  • Operating Agreement for LLCs
  • Insurance Policy
  • Consulting contract documents
  • Online Terms of Use
  • Online Privacy Policy Document
  • Apostille (for those who intend operating beyond the United States of America)

13. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

Starting an interior design business can be cost effective especially if you choose to run the business from your home, share office space with a friend or make use of virtual office.

Securing a standard office is part of what will consume a large chunk of your start – up capital, but if you choose to start the business on a small scale, you may not have the need to go source for fund to finance the business.

No doubt when it comes to financing a business, one of the first things and perhaps the major factors that you should consider is to write a good business plan.

If you have a good and workable business plan document in place, you may not have to labor yourself before convincing your bank, investors and your friends to invest in your business. Here are some of the options you can explore when sourcing for start-up capital for your interior design business;

  • Raising money from personal savings and sale of personal stocks and properties
  • Raising money from investors and business partners
  • Sell shares to interested investors
  • Applying for loan from your bank/banks
  • Pitching your business idea and applying for business grants and seed funding from donor organizations and angel investors
  • Source for soft loans from your family members and your friends.

14. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

In starting an interior design business, it is very important to be strategic with the location you chose to pitch your tent. It is important to note that interior designers are in high demand in places where massive construction jobs are ongoing and also in places where you can easily find property management companies, property development companies, interior decors/facility, makeover professionals and construction companies.

Aside from the points stated above, these are some of the factors that you should also consider before choosing a location for your interior decoration business;

  • The demography of the location
  • The purchasing power of the residence of the location
  • Accessibility of the location
  • The numbers of interior designers/interior design companies in the location
  • The local laws and regulations in the community/state
  • The nature of construction and real estate activities within the location

15. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

On the average, there are no special technology or equipment needed to run this type of business except for computer, internet facility and social media management software applications et al. In the bid to work out sales and marketing solutions for your clients, you might be required to design a customized software application.

When it comes to choosing between renting and leasing an office space, the size of the interior design company you want to build, and your entire budget for the business should influence your choice. If you have enough capital to run a standard interior design company, then you should consider the option of leasing a facility for your office; when you lease, you will be able to work with long – term planning, structuring and expansion.

As regards the number of employees that you are expected to employ in other to kick start the business, you would need to consider your finance before making the decision.

Averagely, you would need a Chief Executive Officer or President (you can occupy this role), an Admin and Human Resource Manager, Creative Director, Accountant, Interior Designer, Business Development Executive/marketing Executive, Customer Service Officer or Front Desk Officer.

Over and above, you would need a minimum of 7 key staff members to effectively run a medium scale but standard interior design company. Please note that there will be times when you are expected to go out of your way to hire experts to help you handle some high – profile jobs.

If you are just starting out you may not have the financial capacity or required business structure to retain all the professionals that are expected to work with you which is why you should make plans to partner with interior designers cum architects that operate as freelancers.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

On the average, the way interior design companies work varies from one company to another company, but ideally, an interior design company is expected to first and foremost build a robust company profile before biding for interior design contracts from top clients/corporate organizations; it will give them edge amongst their competitors.

The service process involved in the interior designs industry depends on the niches or the services the interior design company offers. On the average, the process starts with biding or submitting proposal for an interior design contract, once the contract is won, then it is expected for all the contract document to be signed and advance payment made as required.

Once the payment has been sorted out, the next step is for the interior design company to deploy interior designers and equipment and supplies as required to execute the job.

Over and above, it is the practice for interior design companies to first access the risk involved and the nature of job they are to do before billing the organization that requested for their services.

Most often than not, if the contract involves ships and high-rise building et al, the bills would usually increase because of the high risk involved in climbing and also the equipment such as gathers et al that would be used in executing the job.

16. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

As an interior designer, you would have to prove your worth over and over again before you can be awarded any interior design contracts from high profile clients and corporate organization. So, if you have plans to start your own interior design company, it will pay you to build first build a successful career in the interior designs industry.

People and organizations will hire your services to help them handle all their interior design jobs if they know that they are going to get value for their money.

So, when you are drafting your marketing plans and strategies for your interior design company, make sure that you create a compelling personal and company profile and a rich catalogue of your previous job.

Aside from your qualifications and experience, it is important to clearly state in practical terms what you have been able to achieve in times past as it relates to interior design and the organizations you have worked for. This will help boost your chances in the market place when sourcing for interior design jobs/contracts et al.

Please note that in most cases, when you bid for interior design contracts et al from organizations, you will be called upon to defend your proposal, and so you must be pretty good with presentations. Here are some of the platforms you can utilize to market your interior design services;

  • Introduce your business by sending introductory letters alongside your brochure/catalogue to all the Construction Companies, Property Development Companies, Home Owners, Corporate Organizations, Realtors —for their clients’ homes, Home Improvement Companies, Commercial builders of office and home complexes, Home builders associations, Furniture stores, Paint and wall paper stores, Flower shops, Real Estate Owners, Developers, and Contractors, The Government (Public Sector), Hotels, Religious Organizations (Church hall and other places of worship) and Television Stations (studios and offices) amongst others.
  • Promptness in bidding for interior design contracts et al.
  • Advertise your business in relevant business magazines, radio stations and TV stations (make yourself available for interior design related talk shows and interactive sessions on TV and Radios).
  • List your business on local directories/yellow pages.
  • Attend recruitment/HR expos, seminars, and business fairs et al
  • Create different packages for different category of clients in order to work with their budgets.
  • Leverage on the internet to promote your business (when you blog regularly on key issues as it relates to your business, people who consider you an expert in the field).
  • Join local chambers of commerce around you with the main aim of networking and marketing your services; you are likely going to get referrals from such networks.
  • Engage the services of marketing executives and business developers to carry out direct marketing.

17. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

If you are in business and you are not deliberate about boosting you brand awareness and communicating your corporate identity, then you should be ready to take on whatever the society portrays your business to be.

One of the secrets of larger corporations is that they are willing to spend fortunes year in and year out to boost their brand awareness and to continue to communicate their corporate identity the way they want people to perceive them to be.

If your intentions of starting an interior design company is to grow the business beyond the city where you are going to be operating from to become a national and international brand, then you must be ready to spend money on promotion and advertisement of your brand.

No matter the industry you belong to, the truth is that the market is dynamic and it requires consistent brand awareness and brand boosting cum promotion to continue to appeal to your target market. Your corporate identity has a lot to do when it comes to building a business that is profitable and lasts long.

Here are the platforms you can leverage on to boost your brand awareness and create corporate identity for your interior design company;

  • Place adverts on both print (newspapers and magazines) and electronic media platforms
  • Sponsor relevant community based events/programs
  • Leverage on the internet and social media platforms like; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google + et al to promote your business
  • Install your Bill Boards on strategic locations all around your city or state
  • Engage in roadshows from time to time in targeted neighborhoods
  • Distribute your fliers and handbills in target areas
  • Contact Construction Companies, Property Development Companies, Home Owners, Corporate Organizations, Realtors —for their clients’ homes, Home Improvement Companies, Commercial builders of office and home complexes, Home builders associations, Furniture stores, Paint and wall paper stores, Flower shops, Real Estate Owners, Developers, and Contractors, The Government (Public Sector), Hotels, Religious Organizations (Church hall and other places of worship) and Television Stations (studios and offices) amongst others in your target areas by calling them up and informing them of your interior design company and the services you offer
  • List your interior design company in local directories/yellow pages
  • Advertise your interior company in your official website and employ strategies that will help you pull traffic to the site.
  • Ensure that all your staff members wear your branded shirts and all your vehicles and trucks are well branded with your company logo et al.