Successful Professionals’ Advice on Managing an Interior Design Firm

Being an entrepreneur has no set path, but there is still a lot to learn, especially when launching an interior design firm where there are many of creative options. The road to expanding a successful business can frequently be paved with trial and error, from creating a brand identity and managing expansion to strategic outsourcing and selecting the right personnel (or understanding when to part ways with the wrong workers). Even yet, a lot may be learnt by example, as Shaun Smith, the creator of Shaun Smith Home, notes, “A clear vision from the start is so important.” When deciding to take the risk of going it alone, we asked a collection of seasoned design professionals for their best advice on everything from bookkeeping to client strategy.

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Regarding forming a vision

“Having a clear vision is important, but it should also be dynamic. Being forward-thinking is essential for company owners; we should always be considering what comes next, how we can improve, who else needs to join our team, and what more we can do for our customers. Make a plan for your replies to these questions and ask yourself them regularly. It’s a procedure. —Christine Gachot, Gachot Studios’ cofounder

When establishing a design business, the first step is to clearly identify your objectives and driving force. Establishing a well-defined vision from the outset is crucial, and the objectives that will shape your brand and business should be long-term in nature. Assume that you are not launching a firm that will fold after two or three years, and set far higher goals for yourself. I’ve always operated on the motto, “If you can accomplish one goal, it’s time to set two more.” Founder of Shaun Smith Home, Shaun Smith

Every new project needs research to be successful. We are always building homes in cities around the nation, and the first thing we do is attempt to comprehend every aspect of the environment we are working with. Which major demographic groups best characterize this area, and how can we adapt our design approach to fit their needs? Which young local artists are producing outstanding work, and how can we find out more about them? Which cocktail bar is everyone’s favorite, and is there a table available for tonight? We are able to establish a unique feeling of place that distinguishes our work and, more significantly, fosters a deep relationship with our clients who occupy the regions immediately around it by not just comprehending them but also engaging with them. ASH partner and head of staging Andrew Bowen

Regarding accounting

“While I recognize that we work in a creative industry, this is also a business. I frequently mention that we hired an accountant and a business manager as our first employees. I bear great responsibility for the well-being of forty-five individuals. If you can’t afford to hire an in-house staff right now, think about working with a freelancer who can help you develop your business plan and teach you how to utilize practical tools. It’s difficult to run the company, build new clientele, and create projects at the same time. It’s wise to recognize your limitations and ask for help. I leave the experts to do what they do best! —Gachot

“A company license and tax ID issued by your state should come first: This one should go without saying. I had professional billing procedures, design management software, and an independent accounting company set up from the first day. My templates were branded, well-organized, and consistent. I managed my own P&L statements and sales tax filing for a little too long. Looking back, I wish I had delegated those tasks much earlier. Actually, they are the kinds of things I ought to have included in my outside accounting services from day one. When you have to go back years later and piece together development trends recorded in many systems, you realize how important it was to have consistent reporting from the start. —Founder of Drew McGukin Interiors, Drew McGukin

In the design sector, billing is still a challenge for me. It’s one of the few professions where a standard formula doesn’t exist. The most important thing is to be confident in your value and to never waver. Since we seldom shut down as designers, the work we produce for clients benefits from this trait. It’s crucial to bill openly and transparently. In the beginning, I would submit orders in good faith but without payment since I just wanted to start things going. I discovered that’s not how a successful firm is run. In the end, you steal from Peter to pay Paul, which throws orders into disarray. Communicate openly with your clients. You are a small business that offers goods and services that must be paid for on time; you are not a bank. —Smith

“Everything needs to be fully invoiced and paid for. In case of bespoke orders with extended lead times, we could ask for a 50% deposit and full payment before shipping. Founder of Alex Papachristidis Interiors, Alex Papachristidis

Regarding interior design company branding

“Until I had a solid, finished logo design and collateral materials (business cards, notepads, presentation folders, etc.), I did not formally announce the launch of my company. Making sure I was “dressed for success” was crucial. The webpage has a new meaning now. Your real website is your new gateway, and your Instagram feed is your new website. For my whole first year, I had a “Coming Soon” splash page using the Drew McGukin Interiors logo. I insisted on displaying only images that were professionally done. It took me some time to complete the task. — McGukin

People may learn about your identity and what you have to offer through branding. It’s a chance for you to showcase your design philosophy and show prospective customers how you’ll work together. The tone of all written communications, digital assets, and printed materials should be the same. If you are not skilled in graphic design or communication, you might want to consider hiring someone to assist you in creating your brand guidelines. —Gachot