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How to Become a Successful Interior Designer with no Experience

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In this video, our expert Alexis Peters guides you through the process of becoming an interior designer. Alexis shares her experience and gives advice on building your career – from getting education to creating a business and getting your first clients.

Watch the video below or read the transcribed version to learn how to start up your interior design business career.

Video Version
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How to Become an Interior Designer with no Experience: Video Guide

Text Version
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Introduction

Hi. I’m Alexis Peters from Home Styling by Alexis. In this video, I am going to guide you through the whole interior design world. You will learn:

  • How to become an interior designer with no experience.
  • How to start your own business.
  • The pros and cons of doing that.

So, let’s dive in and get started.

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How to Start as an Interior Designer with no Experience

It is absolutely possible to become an interior designer with no experience. The best way to get experience is right when you get out of a certificate program or college, or whatever program that you studied. However, you could finish a master’s degree or a certificate program, but at the end of the day, you could still be asking yourself, “how exactly do I get a job?”

Either way, do stuff for free. When I first started out, I sent out newsletters to promote that I was doing home styling and organization for free. Four or five months later, I sent out another one that highlighted I was giving a discount.

I got so many clients because:

  • It was free.
  • It was friends and family.
  • I got calls from people who were referred to me by clients I worked with for free.

These initial clients referred me to their friends and their family, who then paid me.

At first it could feel frustrating to offer your services for free, especially after studying, building your confidence, and creating a really good portfolio, knowing you have so much to offer and believing that you can really help change someone’s home and life.

Yet, it’s worth it because you are making an investment in your career and your life, and those pay off. So, absolutely, you can become an interior designer with no experience if you are willing to do a bit of a sacrifice in the beginning and let your work speak for itself to earn a living out of it.

 

What Skills Do You Need to Be an Interior Designer?

First of all, you need to have a love for design. It’s not really a skill, but you need to love design – everything about design and the elements that come with it. You need to love the process. You need to love beautiful things. You need to absolutely find the most pleasure in your life doing this exact job.

Now, let’s look at skills.

 

1. Adjust to Your Client’s Style

You have to love helping other people have a room of their dreams – not your dreams but theirs.

When I was starting out, I would go into someone’s house and think, “well, okay, we’ll do this whole look…” It was more like my style. It was more of what I thought would look amazing. It did look amazing, but it wasn’t what they wanted.

Was it the room of their dreams? No. Once I really got hooked on that idea and started to really understand that I am helping people have a home that they dream of and not what I dream of, it made me realize that it’s my job to make it happen for them and make that dream home look really good.

If they want to do a Moroccan theme, I am going to do a Moroccan theme. I’m going to do the best space planning I can. I will make sure that the living room, the chairs, or the couches are centered around the fireplace, and I’m going to make it look good in the style that they love.

Doing exactly what they want will have them calling you back and referring you to people they know. Whereas if you show up and make it all your style, you probably won’t see them again.

 

2. Project Managing Skills

Figure out what you want to do. Do you want to do commercial or residential design? Do you want to work on opera houses and yachts or really big buildings, or do you want to do homes?

When you get into construction with interior design on the residential level, you have got to have a skill set, which I believe comes with time. Maybe anyone is just born with this or has it, but if you’re taking courses, I think you will still learn by doing.

For example, as a project manager, you are facilitating schedules, feelings, opinions, and elements that come from the contractor, the painter, and the client. You have four people that you are overseeing, managing, as well as facilitating the entire construction plan.

So, that’s something that I believe is learned from doing. You’re able to very slowly and calmly figure out a plan that works for everybody, and not overreact if something doesn’t arrive on time.

 

Do You Need Formal Education to Become an Interior Designer?

Whether or not you need formal education depends on what kind of interior designer you want to be. If you want to be a home stylist, organizer, or decorator, you don’t need any formal education to become one. If you want to work on commercial buildings, you need a degree and be licensed to work within that area.

I know people who have degrees and do interior design and people who do not have degrees and do interior design. If you build a large enough network of contractors, realtors, real estate investors, real estate developers and home builders, and other connections that can help you, you may or may not need a degree.

If you have the ability, time, money, and passion, and you want to invest all those years into a program, I would say, absolutely, do it. If you don’t, and you’ve decided to make it a second career or a career later in life and just focus on something more niche and smaller in the meantime, like styling homes, then do a certificate program.

If you decide to go down that route, there are so many programs online that you can explore. I studied at The Academy of Home Staging and Design, and that program changed my life. They have a mentorship program where you are able to get in contact with your teacher and bounce ideas off of them.

That has made all the difference. I learned a lot from them, on top of the main program which I was taking back then, which was the business of design.

If you look in this world, so many people start businesses and are so successful despite never going to college. However, I would never say you don’t have to if it’s what you want to pursue.

Just make sure that if you don’t want to, you have enough experience, so when you go out there, you’ll feel confident knowing you have worked with enough people, designed enough homes, and met enough contractors and other designers to really understand and be able to help design someone’s home.

 

Do You Need a License to Practice Interior Design?

For now, there are only a few states that require a license. As laws change with time, you would have to search what those are to know how to become a registered interior designer in the state you want to work in, according to the current regulations.

The states that I know of which currently require interior designers to hold a license are referred to as practice law states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Nevada. They have agencies enforcing licensing practice requirements for interior designers.

However, if you are supervised by a licensed interior designer or only work in the residential niche, you may not be required to hold a license when working in those states.

Anyway, check the up-to-date requirements in your state before making your decision.

 

How Much Does an Interior Designer Make?

It depends on who your market is and what you charge. A lot of interior designers, when they’re starting out, would do hourly, which is something like $75, $65, or $85 an hour. Over time it goes up to $100, $125, and can even go as high as $250 to $350 if you are in the luxury market.

I work within the middle-class market, so I charge under $350 an hour. If it’s your dream and passion to work in the luxury market, you can charge much higher numbers.

I also do e-design services, so I work with clients all over the world. There’s no cap or limit on what you can make when you have access to the world. I am able to offer master classes, organization classes, design classes, and webinars on weekends that we can charge for.

I can offer masterclass services or any other kind of courses, and charge for that on top of the design services I provide. I can also write an e-book and sell it on Amazon. In short, I can also sell a product.

So, if you tally all those up, you can absolutely make a nice living. You can make six figures without question.

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How to Start Your Own Interior Design Business

How to Make an Interior Design Portfolio

I finished my certificate program when I decided to start my business right away. At first, I wanted to start a website, but I didn’t have anything to put on the website yet. I had some pictures in my cell phone of things I’ve designed in rooms but not anything professional.

I figured I needed to have photos that are beautiful, which I could show as a representation of my talent, my style, and my work that would give people reason to hire me.

So, I did a couple of different things. The first thing I did was take photos of the apartment that my friend owned, which was really contemporary and had cool colors. I rearranged it a bit to reflect my style.

I remember switching pillows, candles, and moving a chair to a different wall. I had some fun rearranging what was already there. Then, I took tons of pictures and did a lot of close-ups as well.

I couldn’t do her whole apartment because it was super messy and it just wasn’t the right look. But, I zoned in a little bit just on the chair with the pillow, so it was more of a vignette and it came out really beautiful. You play with the colors and posts, and then you have a stunning photo at the end.

That was something representative of my style, my taste, and my work. I added things in the shot to create something of a world, and that is reflective of my work, so I felt confident putting my name on that and then putting that on my website.

Eventually I did that all around my own home with the stuff I have. It was a chance for me to be really creative. I created sets of different photos taken at various areas of my home.

I created a corner with the chair, and added a table and a lamp. I made my bed look so pretty by adding pillows from the guest room. I went to HomeGoods to buy a couple more pillows. Then, I took pictures and used them for my website.

So, that’s one way of doing it affordably, either spending no money or very little money. Just add some decor around and take pictures in your own home or a friend’s house. Those are so important. Please do those.

Another thing that I did was go to Peerspace and rent a loft. There was a very particular look that I wanted to show that I could do. So, I found a company that rented furniture, and I designed all the rooms ahead of time because I knew I needed four or five different rooms. I got all the furniture on a truck.

This was not cheap. This was several thousand dollars worth of investing in my career, but it was worth it because I know I got clients based off of these photos. It was my absolute creation. It was all stuff I picked out, I created, I designed. I was able to put that, along with the help of two movers, in the rooms, in this gorgeous downtown LA loft.

That’s another option you can do. You can rent a space, bring stuff in, and take photos. You can never go wrong, as long as it’s a representation of your style, your taste, what you believe you can achieve, and a reflection of the price point that you’re going to be charging.

Make sure that you are designing for who your audience is because that’s also important. You are not going to make it look like a $10-million room if your market is for the middle class, right? You want to keep it on point; keep it all the same.

Another thing to keep in mind when thinking of how to make a good portfolio for interior design is gathering great feedback. I got testimonials from everyone that I’ve designed for. I then started a website where all of my photos live and breathe, along with good reviews from clients that were satisfied with my work.

Those are the things that I did to create a portfolio. Remember, until you have your first client, you have nothing to show. So, you have to get excited and be creative. Give people a reason to hire you, and then they will.

In this article with real estate photography tips for realtors, you can read valuable advice from professional photographers about taking property pictures correctly.

 

How to Get Interior Design Clients

When I was figuring out how to start my own interior design business, I knew I had to reach out to people within my circle and get them signed on as clients. I did that by sending newsletters.

For the newsletter, I used MailChimp. I sent a newsletter to friends and family, and to many others I didn’t really know. I let everyone know what I was up to. I wrote something like, “Hey guys, I started a new business. Please support me.”

My first newsletter specifically stated that I was offering free services. I got a lot of responses, a lot of congratulations, and some replies from people that actually wanted to hire me. I took on those free jobs to get more photos that I can show on my website.

If you want someone to spend $150 on you per hour or more, or even a little under, times how many hours it takes to design the room, it’s a substantial amount of money. You want to give people the confidence to hire you, so you’ve got to have a lot of projects and photos.

That’s another reason to take on a free client. I took on everybody. I did it all for free, a lot of design clients for free, because I needed to show design photos. I did that, and then what ended up happening, as I mentioned before, was they referred me to people who paid me. Word of mouth is indeed huge.

Moreover, I emailed people that I knew had access to a large audience. The large audience was also the audience that would be in alignment with my brand and with people that would hire me. I didn’t reach out to people I knew had a great audience but didn’t need me and had a gorgeous home that’s already organized.

Instead, I reached out to some people off the top of my head who had access to the audience that I needed. I reached out to them, no matter if they had 50,000 or 5,000 followers on social media. I offered to organize their office for free, in exchange for photos and for them to plug me to their audience.

Through that, there will always be one person or two that will be interested in hiring you, and out of that you’ll get a job. That’s an excellent way to get clients, other than word of mouth and sending out newsletters.

Another way to put your business in front of your local audience is to create a profile at the Real Estate Bees directory. It’s used by your potential clients looking for interior designers nearby. Having yourself featured among other designers in your city, especially presenting your profile in the best possible way, will give you a chance to get more business.

Create a free profile by signing up on this page.

 

How to Promote Your Interior Design Business

As for how to market your interior design business, I would advise you to advertise on social media. Make a fun little ad on Facebook or Instagram. You want to do guest posts as well, as much as you can.

Guest-post or become a contributor on any of the main sites that are made for your audience and you want to be a part of. Countless people read magazines, so you’ll get more exposure from that. If you say something really great and someone finds it cool, they will look you up and see your website. This also helps you become a recognized expert in your field in the eyes of your audience.

One last thing that I think is also really cool which I, myself, have just started to do is partnering with companies that have the same audience as you.

I have a friend who does really great, boho-themed picnics at the beach or at the park, and we are starting to work together to cross-promote. She promotes my organization and design, and in return, I promote her picnics.

That is one example if you’re thinking about how to find interior design clients. There are countless other companies that you could be partnering with. That’s another way to get your name out there and get in front of another audience that you are currently not in front of.

Between all of that, plus word of mouth and the people you have designed for free that are now referring you all over the place, you’re going to be busy. You’re going to be very busy.

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How to Be a Successful Interior Designer

Tip 1: Never Give Up

If you love it, and you want to do this in your life every day, don’t stop. If you want to live and breathe design, never, ever stop.

I know people that have stuck with something for years, for decades, and they are so successful. They have a body of work. They have thousands of valuable contacts, and they are at the top of their game. They are so talented, but that did not happen right out of school or right out of a program.

Even in the first couple of years when they had no money and they were struggling, they were putting in the work. It perfectly captures the saying, “Enjoy the journey, not the destination.” If you want to be successful at anything, I would say to never give up, if you love it.

If you love it and you want to do it every day, if you live it and you breathe it, and want to do this job, then you will be successful. There is no other option other than if you were to stop. So, don’t stop.

 

Tip 2: Do Your Best for Your Clients

Continue to build your list. Get your name out there. Design. Give what you can to fulfill people’s dreams through the homes and lives they want to have. That pays off. People will refer you. Changing a home changes a life. You will see that it all comes back.

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had that literally were a little hesitant at first. We started only with one room, and then it turned into the whole house, and then it turned into their son’s entire house, and then their friend’s in another state for e-design.

It’s crazy how it just spirals once you do a good job, you have a good attitude, you show up on time or early, you are passionate, and you listen. You will not fail unless you have stopped, so never give up and always do your best.

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What Are the Pros and Cons of Being an Interior Designer?

I think that it’s really about being in business for yourself versus not being in business for yourself. Most interior designers that I know have their own brand, their own thing, their own business, their own company.

I don’t actually know anyone that’s working for a firm, but those exist as well. I think the question really should be “what are the pros and cons of working for yourself?” Because that’s really what this is.

One of the benefits of being an interior designer is that you’re working for yourself and you have a flexible schedule. This is the dream, especially if you have children and you have other things going on. It’s amazing to be able to do your schedule the way you want. That’s a dream which you cannot do if you work for someone else.

A con about being an interior designer is that sometimes I have to work with a client that doesn’t want to do my vision, or they want to do it but they are really insisting on a piece that I just would not approve of. It doesn’t match. It doesn’t work. It’s incorrect, but they really want it.

It kind of bothers me because when you step back and you see the whole thing, it could look amazing but still feels not right. You don’t have a choice, though, because they really wanted it. So, it’s the giving up of control.

Just because you’re an interior designer doesn’t mean that everything has to be your vision or your dream. It doesn’t mean the client has to sit there and watch you do everything. If that’s your interest, being a home stager is definitely more for you.

However, you have to remember that you are also in customer service and the customer is always right. If you want to have a business that lasts forever, you need to be easy to work with, you have to be kind and nice, and you need to really listen.

If someone wants a yellow couch and they are adamant, you give it to them and you find the best way to make that yellow couch work. That’s your job, which I find to be the most frustrating part. It is when I can’t just do my creation and have to involve the client’s opinion.

It’s not that I don’t value their opinion. I think as a designer, you sometimes get carried away with your own style and vision, which doesn’t jell with the client’s style. However, at the end of the day, the client is always right.

That’s something we cannot forget, as we are designers and we are designing for other people. To have that privilege to bring to fruition your client’s dream is no doubt one of the advantages of being an interior designer.

 

I hope that with the insights I’ve provided, you will be able to navigate the ins and outs of how to start up an interior design business in the best possible way. Being an interior designer is an exciting job that will always pay off if you continue practicing it with passion and innate love for design.

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