There’s no defined road map to being an entrepreneur, but there’s still so much to learn when starting an interior design business, where creative variables abound. From developing brand identity and managing growth to strategic outsourcing and hiring the right staff (or knowing when to part ways with the wrong employees), the path to growing a successful firm can often be one riddled with trial by error. Yet, as Shaun Smith, founder of Shaun Smith Home, explains, “A clear vision from the start is so important,” though a lot can be learned by example. We asked a group of seasoned design pros for their top tips on everything from accounting to client strategy when taking the leap of faith in going out on your own.
On creating a vision
“A strong vision is essential, but it should always be evolving. As business owners we must be a step ahead of where we are now—always thinking about what’s next, what we can do better, who else is needed on the team, and what more we can offer clients. Ask yourself these questions often and map out your answers frequently. It’s a process.” —Christine Gachot, cofounder, Gachot Studios
“The first thing you have to do when starting a design firm is to really define what your goals and motivation are for doing so. A clear vision from the start is so important and the goals that will define your business and brand should be long-term ones. You (hopefully) are not starting a business that will only last two or three years, so set aims way beyond that for yourself. I have always lived by the ‘If you reach a goal, it’s time to set two more’ mentality.” —Shaun Smith, founder, Shaun Smith Home
“Research is critical to the success of every new endeavor. We constantly craft residences in cities around the country, and the first step in our process is to understand every facet that we can about the landscape before us. What are the key demographics that define this neighborhood, and how can we match our design concept to their lifestyles? Which local artists are emerging with great work, and how can we get to know them? What is everyone’s favorite cocktail bar, and do they have a table available for tonight? By not only understanding but also interacting with the areas immediately surrounding our work, we are able to create an authentic sense of place that sets our work apart, and most importantly, connects closely with our clients who actually inhabit these spaces.” —Andrew Bowen, partner and head of staging, ASH
“I appreciate that we are in a creative field, but it’s still a business. I often share that our first hires included an accountant and a business manager. Being responsible for the livelihoods of 45 people is something I take very seriously. If hiring an in-house team is out of reach at the outset, consider a freelance professional to help establish your business model and train you on useful software. It’s challenging to manage the business while also cultivating new client relationships and designing projects, so acknowledging your limitations and seeking out assistance is smart. I let the professionals take care of what they’re good at!” —Gachot