Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 First Steps in Starting an Interior Design Career

I made my decision to become an interior designer!  YIPPEE!  But now what? 

Here are my Top 10 first steps in starting an Interior Design career…

1)     1) RESEARCH & VISIT AN INTERIOR DESIGN SCHOOL To become a true interior designer, most people need some education.  Sure, everyone says your rooms are fabulous and you may not need one, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  It’s good to have some basic knowledge of the software tools, drafting, CAD, design boards, etc.  I looked for the schools closest to me, but knew I couldn’t go to a school which required me to “dorm it” (I have a husband and two kids).  I visited and talked to quite a few people at the Art Institute of Dallas, and ultimately decided to enroll there because of its strong program, hands-on approach, and proximity to home.   I also knew that my education there would prepare me to pass the NCIDQ test  down the road.

1)   2)MEET OTHER DESIGNERSI can’t tell you how valuable this is.  Everyone has a different story: some have degrees, some don’t; some are profitable, some aren’t.  Each phone call, lunch and email has really improved my understanding of this career path.  I even visited with Dwell with Dignity, a non-profit organization whom I plan to help very soon!  Above is one of their bedroom installs for a mom with two young kids.

1)     3) SUBSCRIBE TO BLOGS & MAGAZINES – They are everywhere.  You can see some of my blog favorites in the list to your left.  Subscribe to them and learn. You will get ideas for shops, trade ideas, new designs,  boards and more.  Emily Johnston from Material Girls, logo above, has an awesome blog.  You may already subscribe to many magazines (e.g., House Beautiful, www.housebeautiful.com, Architectural Digest, etc), but don’t forget the free trade publications out there, too. 
1)   4) VISIT WEBSITES – Go visit some of your favorite interior designers’ websites.  One of mine is Jan Showers.  Don’t you love her bedroom above? You will learn about them and their experience and take note of how they promoted themselves.  And then start thinking about your own website, even though you don’t have a whole lot to highlight just yet.  I worked with a friend of mine in designing and building my own.  Not to mention my photographer friend who helped shoot my house.  

1)   5) FIND A MENTOR – Find someone in the field you can relate to and who can give you advice going forward.  He or she may be an instructor or just a designer who is already in the business.  I lucked out and found one who is not only a designer, but had gone my school as well. 

2)   6) CREATE A WORKPLAN & BUSINESS PLAN – In my former career I was a project manager, so Excel is my friend.  I created a workplan of all the details I needed to complete and a tab for all my new resources and websites.  I also created a business plan with my expectations, including financial projections and organization, and ran it by many of my friends.

1)   7) INCORPORATE YOUR BUSINESS – This required several tedious steps including setting up my federal id, submitting my LLC paperwork to the state, obtaining business cards, getting my sales tax id, setting up Quickbooks and just getting a decent understanding of how to set up shop.  This requires a whole separate blog in itself.

8) PREPARE YOUR OFFICE & iPHONE– You need a space to work, a place to keep your sample books,  paint decks, drafting table, drawing tools, magazines, books, etc.  Find a spot that works and makes you happy.  And do that before you start school.  And I even updated my iphone with the latest design apps including…Ben Color Capture (find matching paint with Benjamin Moores), Colorsnap (Sherwin-Williams), and ColorChange.

2)   THE TRADE & DISCOUNTS – Get to know the “To the Trade” vendors in your area.  From stores, to other designers, antique shops and more.  You can also start setting up your trade discounts once you have your sales tax id, your business cards and affliliation with the ASID (in some cases).  Here is an example of Williams Sonoma’s design trade program. 

1)     10)RECRUIT FRIENDS & FAMILY – Sure, I’d start building my portfolio in school, but what about my friends?  Surely they could be my first “clients”.  I could do some work for a low price, they can give me feedback and I can test out my whole process.  It would give me the confidence and start I needed, without risking my reputation right out of the gate.  I also used various friends in my blog, to help me with my website and photograph and just to bounce ideas off of.  And I’m currently working on a nursery for my niece.  The Elle Décor picture has already inspired me!

 All in all, do as much as you can before you start school.  I took a off a month to get do all the stuff above and my company setup….but you could have called that good timing.

Best of luck!

Love, C

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