How to Start Your Own Interior Design Business
Do you have an eye for color schemes? Do you mentally rearrange the furniture wherever you
go? Do you find yourself thinking about the best way to use space in commercial or retail
settings? If you’ve always dreamed about starting your own interior design business but aren’t
sure where to start, here’s a step-by-step plan for success.
1. Get a degree.
If you don’t have any previous interior design experience, no one is going to hire you on your
word alone. You’re going to need to acquire some credentials before clients trust you with their
space. A career school that offers interior design degrees and hands-on, project-based training
will accomplish two goals. The first is that you’ll have a degree to show potential clients that
you’re trained and certified. Some states even require that you pass an exam before you can call
yourself an interior designer. The second thing an interior design school will do for you is give
you practical experience and a body of work that you can show off.
2. Put together a portfolio.
All of the blueprints, sketches, and computer-aided designs you make for your interior design
courses should be put into a professional-looking portfolio that potential clients can flip through.
Organize your portfolio by project so that clients can see the process from beginning to end for
each completed design. If your interior design program includes an internship, designs and
photographs from projects you work on as an intern should also be included.
Until you have photographs of professionally completed projects and client testimonials, include
letters of recommendation from professors and internship supervisors that can attest to your real-
life skills and accomplishments.
3. Network with professionals in similar businesses.
When you’re fresh out of interior design school and looking for clients, you’re most likely to get
your first professional jobs from friends or friends of friends. If you know contractors, builders,
office managers, land developers, real estate agents, or anyone remotely connected to those
industries, make sure they know you’re in business and available to work. Give them cards to
distribute to clients who might be in the market for an interior designer or decorator, and make
sure those cards have a website address where those potential clients can see your work and your
4. Develop a presence on the web.
What do you mean, you don’t have a website? Anyone who wants to work as a professional
interior designer needs a website. If you can’t figure out how to make your own, pay someone to
do it for you. (You can write it off on your taxes as a business expense.) Your website should
serve as an online portfolio for potential clients to see your work.
In addition to a website, you should have a strong presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and
anywhere else you can connect to people as a professional business entity. While your initial
“fans” are going to be your friends and family members, their friends and family will also be
checking you out through them. If you build a strong enough social network, you’ll end up being
the first interior designer who comes to mind when your old roommate’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s
mother wants to remodel her vacation home.
5. Document all your professional work.
When you get your first professional jobs from friends and family, they may be small remodels
or simple decorating tasks. It doesn’t matter how insignificant you think the job is or how little
you got paid. You need to use these first jobs out of interior design school to beef up your
portfolio and give yourself some real-life credibility. Save all your sketches and written
proposals, and don’t forget to take photographs at all stages of your work.
6. Ask your first clients for testimonials and referrals.
After graduating from an interior design program and doing work out in the real world, you
should gradually replace recommendations from professors with client testimonials in your
portfolio. Ask those first clients (especially if they’re friends) to write testimonials about the
quality of work, your design skills, and your professionalism. These will also look fabulous on
Because word-of-mouth is a great asset to interior designers just starting out, offer referral
incentives to your clients. Future discounts, cash back, or other related products and services are
all excellent ways to encourage them to recommend your services to others and to earn repeat