How to get into interior design and start your own business

Want to work in the creative industries? Have a great visual eye? Then starting an interior design business could be for you.

There’s never been a better time to start a business in the UK. If you have visual flair, you could carve out a niche in interior design. Here, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on how to start an interior design business in the UK.

 What do interior designers do?

You’ll remodel and decorate rooms for a range of clients, more often than not for functional or aesthetic purposes.

But interior design isn’t just about choosing fabrics and furniture. You’ll need strong business and communication skills, because you’ll usually supervise projects from start to finish. You’ll manage client expectations, delivering on time – and on budget.

Some of your tasks might involve:

  • Getting to grips with a brief from your clients, listening to their needs
  • Planning how to meet your clients’ needs and what materials to use
  • Setting budgets and monitoring costs
  • Researching the project, coming up with sketches to show your client
  • Managing a construction team to make sure designs are followed

How much can I earn as an interior designer in the UK?

Interior designers have great earning potential. These figures are for employees, but a junior interior designer can expect to earn up to £23,000. However, as they progress and become more experienced, the average wage can rise to more than £45,000.

As a self-employed interior designer, you might expect to earn anywhere between those figures - or, perhaps more as your skills and experience grow.

Can I become an interior designer without a degree?

Demonstrable design skill is more important than formal qualifications when it comes to interior design, and you don’t necessarily need a degree to become an interior designer in the UK.

However, there are qualifications you could pursue to get your interior design career on the right track. There are many higher education courses available in art and design, and you might want to particularly look at spatial design, interior architecture, and 3D design.

Remember that you’re likely to be working with 3D modeling or computer aided design (CAD) software, so you’ll need to know your way around the industry standard options. Again, training is available in these.

The British Institute of Interior Design offers a comprehensive Professional Pathway scheme that you may be able to enter, regardless of your level of training. You’ll become accredited when you complete it. Read more about the Professional Pathway here.

Types of interior design

As an interior designer you are likely to be designing either residential or commercial buildings. Many designers and practices specialise in either one or the other, although some work across both.

Whichever you choose, you should also be aware of the different types of work involved in the interior design process. You might be:

  • Designing interior concepts
  • Conducting feasibility studies
  • Procuring furniture, fittings, and equipment

How to start an interior design business in the UK – step by step

Now that you know what an interior designer’s day-to-day work looks like, here are some easy steps to start an interior design business in the UK.

1. Find your niche

Interior design is a pretty saturated market in the UK, and you’ll need to think about what it is you offer that’s different from everyone else. You might choose to specialise in one of the types of work explored above. Alternatively, you might specialise in a particular kind of building – for example, some interior designers and architects work primarily in public sector buildings.

You might also consider combining different skills and disciplines. For example, there’s a growing appetite for interior design that also integrates business operations knowledge, the intention being to design office interiors that streamline employees’ daily work.

2. Get the foundations sorted

You’ll need to think about the legal aspects of starting your interior design business.

  • You need to choose a legal structure – the most common options are to operate as a sole trader or start a limited company. Read more about choosing a legal structure.
  • Get registered with HMRC. You’ll need to pay your own tax by Self Assessment, and you may also need or choose to register for VAT. Read how to register as self-employed with HMRC.
  • It’s not a legal requirement, but you should also think about writing a business plan. This will be the document that guides you as you start and grow your business, and you should return to it regularly. We have lots more information on how to write a business plan.

3. Think about insurance

Insurance should be a priority for every new business. Even the most skilled interior designers sometimes make mistakes, many of which will have nothing to do with their actual design work. These mistakes can be extremely costly, so you need to make sure you’re protected.

As you’re giving professional advice, your key cover is likely to be professional indemnity insurance. You’ll also probably be working on clients’ premises, so you should think about public liability insurance, which can protect you against claims arising from injury or loss suffered by a member of the public during the course of your work.

If you employ anyone, you’re legally obliged to take out employers’ liability insurance. If you eventually open your own office or other premises, you should also consider buildings insurance.

4. Find clients

Once you’re all set up, you need to find some clients! Your choice of marketing activities may depend in part on the sort of interior design work that you’ve decided to do.

For example, if you’re specialising in public sector work, then you should think about signing up to the government procurement services. If you’re working mainly in the private sector, here are some simple, low-cost ways that you can begin marketing your interior design business:

  • Get your online presence looking tip-top. You’ll need a beautiful portfolio website (we have a step-by-step guide on how to build a business website), and you might also consider starting profiles on social media platforms. You could also experiment with Google Adwords – you can try your hand at this at a relatively low cost. Make sure you’re also engaging with online review sites – read more about the best online review sites for small businesses.
  • Start local. Use any local contacts that you already have, make sure you’re listed in local business directories, and approach businesses in your area.
  • Remember referrals. Personal recommendations are some of the most valuable marketing you can do, so make sure that you make it easy for happy clients to recommend you to others, for example by making sure that you include a brochure or e-portfolio with your invoices.

5. Grow your interior design business

Once you’ve got a few clients under your belt, you could start thinking about expanding your interior design business. One way of doing this is to hire someone, even if it’s on a freelance or part-time basis. Taking on staff can help you to make sure that you have the resource to complete work while you win new business, and can give you the capacity to take on more projects at once. Visit our dedicated microsite for more information about hiring your first employee – and remember, when you do employ people, you’ll probably need employers’ liability insurance.

Setting up your interior design business? Let us know how you get on in the comments.

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