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Steps to Starting Your Interior Design Firm

Diana Mahoney | The Design Partner


• How much money will have to be invested?
• At start up
• For marketing
• For operations
• Develop a Financial Plan

Investing in the business plan takes some money, as well as time and real effort. Determining how much will you need to invest and when is a planning process. First of all, it need not all be at once. That’s why you need a plan, month to month, for at least six months to get started. Software tools like QuickBooks can help with this process. A mentor, business coach or consultant, accountant or some other person whose business judgment you trust can help immensely with this plan.

Starting a business often includes the cost of legal and accounting advice, as well as insurance and possibly licensing fees. Providers of these services can give you quotes or estimates for planning purposes.

Unless you intend to use an existing home office, you will need to purchase furnishings and equipment, and possibly to rent or lease studio space. Utilities and transportation costs should be estimated on a monthly basis, along with miscellaneous expenses for business meals, professional dues and subscriptions, office supplies, postage and such.

Once the business is established, investment needs to be made in marketing, including some printed collateral, a Web site and other tools. But most importantly, you will need to make innovative investments of time to develop relationships that will “get your name out there.”

Estimate your monthly expenses for at least six months, including start up costs, then make a conservative estimate of your income for the same period, bearing in mind project schedules and billing cycles. Once you do that, you will discover how much money you will need to get started.

Going forward, you may need a bookkeeper (even part-time) to help keep track. Remember, your income is derived from design, not accounting, so consider the investment in support staff wisely

Investigate Licensing and Other Requirements

Before you hang out your shingle or start passing out your business card, check that you are in compliance with any and all city, county and state licensing and permit requirements. If you are uncertain which agencies to contact the Small Business Administration (SBA), ask another small business owner or call your local chamber of commerce or merchants association.

Most cities or counties require a business license. If you will be buying goods at wholesale and reselling them to clients or customers at retail, you may need a sellers permit and a sales tax license. If you will be working and/or selling in more than one jurisdiction, you probably will need a license for each one. In addition, if you plan to employ others in your business, you will need to obtain a federal employer identification number (EIN) for tax purposes.

The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 24 states have enacted some form of interior design legislation. Depending on the laws in your state, you may need to be licensed to conduct business as an “interior designer” or to perform certain types of services. Check with the licensing board in your state. For a list of state licensing regulations and board contact information.

Marketing is really just as simple as telling the right story to the right people. Marketing is the process of building a brand, or in other words, recognition for a reputation. Every business has a brand (good or bad), what’s yours?

In order to build the brand you want (and deserve), start by answering some basic questions.

Next: Managing Your Business →

Featured Author: Diana Mahoney
Diana Mahoney has worked in the design industry since the late 1980s. Taking her career skill-set of clothing design and production, sourcing textiles, color and interior design, and retail marketing, Diana created a business for herself in this niche market as a home design writer and sole proprietor of, The Design Partner (est. 2002). Collaborating with her clients to create beautiful living places and working freelance as a home design writer is a dream realized for Diana.

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