All you need to know – author of Interior Design: A Professional Guide, Jenny Grove, shares her Five Essential Tips for Growing Your Interior Design Business, along with advice from some of the most successful and enduring interior designers working in the industry today.
1. BE A PROFESSIONAL
In the last twenty years interior design has grown into a huge industry and profession. It covers everything from interior architecture to styling and furniture design. Because of this, you need to understand your place in it and the responsibility and liability that you carry as a design professional.
Understanding and believing in yourself is key to being able to place yourself within the profession. Consider why have you chosen interior design as a job, what type of work you want to do, what type of clients you want to work with, what are your future goals?
It’s competitive out there, so figure out what your offer is to your clients. Know your limitations and boundaries and manifest your ethos and ethics in everything that you do. Be true to yourself and always consider how your work fits into the other areas of your life to have a balance.
Join a professional body that demonstrates your professional status and will give clients confidence in your abilities: for example, The British Institute of Interior Design.
The relationship you have with your client is key to every successful project, but always remember that they are not your best friends. Inevitably, there will be tensions on projects so be friendly and accommodating to your client, but at the same time keep it professional. Never over promise – it’s much better to exceed expectations than disappoint.
“Always believe in what you do, and don’t you ever do it just to please your client, but because you are convinced!”
“Reinvent yourself constantly, continue to learn, continue to push your own boundaries.”
2. GREY IS NOT THE NEW BLACK
Grey areas create confusion and stress, which ultimately cost money. Clear communications are crucial at all stages of working with clients, during projects and within your own business environment.
Never presume that people understand, especially clients. Even if they have worked with a designer previously you may have different working methods, so this needs to be carefully explained. It is always better to over-explain than leave things open to interpretation – ambiguity is where the grey lives.
Get everything down in black and white, make a record of every conversation, meeting, phone call and use a comprehensive design services contract: for example, the BIID/RIBA Professional Services Contract.
Never take on services for which you do not have the experience or knowledge. Instead, build a collaborative team of other professionals who compliment your own skills and abilities.
“Outsourcing is key – maintain strong and positive relationships with your tradesmen and suppliers.”
Lavinia Dargie, Dargie Lewis
“As I stress in my book ‘Squeezing it in – designing for compact spaces’, communicating ideas will be much easier if you show your clients hard copy plans and elevations, which should be covered in notes and sketches by the end of a constructive meeting.”
3. BE CONSTANTLY CURIOUS
Never stop learning. The world of interiors is continually changing and progressing, there are always new sectors, products, materials, methods, regulations and specialisms that we need to be aware of – but not necessarily an expert of.
We can never know everything about our industry and profession, but continually feeding ourselves with information will help us ask the right questions. We need to choose carefully and understand what we are good at or enjoy doing. Then either fill some of those gaps with learning or by finding people who can offer that help and knowledge.
Get out and about as much as you can to see new products, visit interiors, buildings, exhibitions, see what others are doing. Be aware of social and cultural issues that are challenging us and how you can make a difference. Always be looking out for new opportunities, new sectors and communities who might benefit from your interiors and question preconceptions (yours and those of others).
For example, recognising that the global population is ageing and that there is a market for interior design in this sector. Remember that potential clients in their seventies and eighties were the pioneers of the sexual revolution, the birth of the computer, punk and feminism and won’t want to be living a lonely life in a beige old folks home!
“Never grow complacent. Invest time in identifying what is looking dated, whether it’s in your social media or your communication with clients and be on the look-out for new gaps in the market and how your business can fill them. It’s a really interesting moment in time and as an industry, we can’t afford to sit still.”
4. THINK LONG TERM
Of course, interior design is influenced by trends, but by offering clients benefits and value rather than just fashion, your work will have longevity and be sustainable. Benefits last, trends don’t.
Benefits come from a deep understanding of what your client needs and wants, and then fulfilling that. Investigating and understanding the benefits your client desires is a large part of your design brief. And it is the brief that will drive the project; all decisions come back to it. Time spent on developing the project brief is time well spent.
It’s not just clients that need to benefit from your work – our planet should as well. We cannot harm it anymore, so for example, explaining to your client the benefit of using a more expensive material that has longevity, comes from a sustainable source and isn’t greenwashed is a major responsibility that you have as a professional interior designer. Get your client on board with this. The age of disposability is long gone.
By understanding which benefits you can offer, explaining what benefits are to clients and how you will achieve them, will produce successful projects. You will fulfil and hopefully, exceed their expectations and provide an interior that has longevity and doesn’t fade with a current trend.
Successful projects also mean long-term relationships. Your clients will become your ambassadors and recommend you, will come back with new projects and you will attract new clients who value not only your beautiful interiors, but your professional ethos.
“Choose your projects with care; keep true to your ethos and design values to ensure you are aligned when taking on new clients. This will give the best results in terms of your design work and will also attract more of the types of projects you and your team love.”
“A strong brand identity, particularly on social media, is key. Instagram is a vital platform for us, and with consistent and regular sharing of high-quality images and videos from our projects, we’ve been able to attract the right clients. It’s not just about posting though; it’s crucial to engage with the audience too, to continue conversations, keep interest keen, and build trust amongst your followers and supporters.”
5. COLLABORATE AND CONNECT
Interior design is all about people. We design interiors for people to use; we have clients, we have a team of people around us who facilitate and build projects. People are the heart of our work.
Go out and make connections wherever you can – to collaborate, to find new clients, new makers, new suppliers, specialists, contractors, other designers. Connect with journalists, writers and photographers, PR experts to publicise your work. They can be your influencers and introduce you to potential clients.
Stay in touch with past and current clients because word of mouth really works and for many practicing designers is how most projects come to them.
Don’t spend money on expensive marketing campaigns, spend time on connecting and nurturing.
“Marketing is an important aspect of growing any brand or business. A strong presence across social media, particularly Instagram, has become imperative to success. It goes without saying, however, that word of mouth is the best tool.”
“Make customer service and after sales follow up service your priority – clients will return again and again when downsizing, upsizing or when kids leave home.”
Interior Design: A Professional Guide, is a tour de force setting out how to raise your professional profile, the specialist knowledge required to be an interior designer and the skills necessary to bring a project to fruition.
Topics covered include the people, roles and relationships involved in interior design, the skills and knowledge that designers need, the benefits of using a designer, the variety of project types and the importance of a good client-designer relationship.
“The book considers interior design in its broadest and purest sense,” said Jenny. “How it is now a multi-layered, cross-disciplinary global profession, which includes design and architecture, cultural, social and business contexts, and how these all impact on decisions and choices. I hope it encourages designers to consider what value and profit really mean to their clients and their own businesses and the impact our profession can have in terms of people’s wellbeing and state of mind.”
Interior Design: A Professional Guide, RIBA Publishing, available from www.waterstones.com.
Jenny Grove has over 30 years’ experience working professionally within the field of interiors and architecture as an author, designer, lecturer and developer of interior design professional practice courses.
Jenny works directly with interior designers and creative entrepreneurs as a writer and creative sounding board, freeing up your time and converting your thoughts into clear, on-brand content and copy – and even ghostwriting that book you’ve always wanted to write but don’t know how to start. You can reach her here.
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