When developing your ideas towards launching your own interior design business, it can be tempting to simply dive in and start preparing a portfolio, while rushing around trying to obtain as many clients as possible. Our advice would be to pause, step back, and really give some thought to the type of interior design business that you understand, will hold your interest, provide an income, allow your business to become profitable, and, perhaps most importantly, attract the client base that you want. Define all these factors, and you will be able to provide clients with the best possible service, as well as an interior that fulfils all their requirements, is delivered on time, and at the best possible price. You will also understand how to attract such a client base, be able to focus your marketing budget, predict what your outgoings will be, and define your unique selling point (USP). In short, you need a business plan.
10 Key Areas
While there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach to preparing a business plan, it is generally acknowledged that there are ten key areas to cover. Of course, your business may have many more key areas, while some will have fewer, but it is recommended that you start with these ten before beginning to customise or adapt your plan. These key areas will help you understand where you are, where you want to be, and how you will get there. Keep it simple, be brutally honest, and always base your predictions on research, not assumptions. You may wish to use your plan to attract investment. It is useful to seek advice from a qualified third party, such as a bank, even if you are not directly seeking finance.
1. 📝 The Executive Summary
The executive summary is a one-page (or at most, two-page) description of your business. Its purpose is to explain your key ideas, introduce yourself, and the senior management and leadership team if applicable. It positions your business in the marketplace, and outlines how you will reach your customers, as well as why your business will succeed in your chosen market.
It should include your business name (and the reason for choosing it), a mission statement, a description of your service, your USP, and an outline of short-term (one year), medium-term (three years), and long-term (five years) goals. All this information should be connected to outlined financial goals supported by a very brief strategy for achieving them.
2. 🏢 The Elevator Pitch
This is an even briefer version of the executive summary and will serve as your response to questions in social or business situations, such as, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Tell me about your business.’ As a rule of thumb, your elevator pitch should take less than two minutes to deliver when spoken aloud. Try this exercise in front of a mirror—continuously change the words and repeat until you are comfortable delivering the information naturally. Include your name, your business name, your customer base, and your USP.
Whether you use the elevator pitch regularly isn’t the primary goal. The real objective is to enhance your understanding and confidence in your business. Aim to avoid using jargon, highly specialised terms, or excessive verbosity. For instance, telling someone that ‘My business extracts elements of early Deconstructivism and re-locates them into a revisionist-modern, hyper-retail, contextual framework’ is not particularly helpful when trying to explain your design for a shopping mall to a non-specialist business financier.
3. 🙋♂️The People
This section provides a description of the leadership team within your business. Even if it’s just you at this stage, it may be useful to include any potential key positions within your organisation and their respective job descriptions. However, the primary focus of this section is around you.
Describe your training, qualifications, and experience, directly relating these to your role within your business. Explain what motivated you to start the business and your plans for transforming it into a successful organisation. Highlight how your character traits will enhance your role and include any available testimonials.
The purpose of this section is to ensure that you and any potential partners possess the skills and qualifications necessary to effectively grow the business. It also helps in identifying any skill gaps that may be addressed through future recruitment or additional training.
4. 🤔 Business Offer
This is where you define your business offering, what it provides, what it intends to provide, and how you plan to manage its growth. Be very specific in this section; it’s not the time for broad-brush or vague statements. Similarly, try not to be overly ambitious. It’s simply not feasible to do everything at startup stage. This is also the section in which you define your market sector, such as retail, residential, commercial, or hospitality, among others. External investors may not be subject specialists, so it’s essential to be clear and realistic.
Even if the business plan is solely for your own use, it should provide an honest expression of what you will offer, as well as when and how you will provide it, and at what cost. Without accuracy, definition, and honesty, the document will be a meaningless waste of time. With these qualities, your business plan can guide you through all stages of development.
It’s also worthwhile to have a secondary plan that uses actual achievements and is reviewed against monthly predictions. This will enable you to verify if you are on target or if it’s becoming evident that your market is not precisely what you initially predicted, but rather another area closely related. For instance, shifting from hotels to restaurants and bars, both within the broader hospitality sector but with different focuses. This will allow you to refine and adjust the emphasis of your marketing to take advantage of this change, which may have otherwise gone unnoticed without the comparison provided by the business plan.
5. 🤝 Client Base
In addition to defining what your business is about, its leadership, and what it will offer to your customers, it is essential to understand your target client base. This section will provide a detailed and clear description of who will require your services and why they will choose your business over another. Take time to ‘get to know’ your customers; create a profile for your ideal client. What magazines and books do they read? Where do they live, and what type of home do they live in? Where do they buy clothes, and so on? There is a world of difference in the design requirements of a single, career-oriented city apartment dweller compared to those with a family home and a large garden in the countryside. You need to thoroughly comprehend these differences to relate to (and attract) a specific client base. Your marketing will also be geared towards attracting a particular type of client, so this stage is absolutely crucial when developing your business plan.
6. 📋 SWOT Analysis
Reflecting on your businesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) is the time to be brutally honest because without it, this section cannot be of any real use. As you gain more experience, and as your business becomes busier, this section will evolve. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you review your SWOT analysis every six months. A SWOT analysis will inform you about your position relative to the competition, the market, as well as your predictions and assumptions. Research and list any businesses that could potentially compete for the same customers as your business. List them. Examine their profiles in detail – what do they excel at, and where do you outperform them? Identify threats, some are unpredictable, like wars, but others can be assessed and mitigated. Opportunities, such as a surge in residential construction requiring show homes to promote the developer’s vision, can be a significant advantage if show homes align with your area of design. Be very specific in this section; don’t overlook anything.
7. 🎯 Marketing Strategy
You understand your customers, you know the competition, you are aware of your strengths, and you can see the opportunities. All these elements come together in alignment within the marketing strategy. How will you attract your customers? How much will you charge? What type of market research will you conduct, and how will you launch your campaign to your chosen client base? Will you attend trade events, or will your campaign only be digital? Finally, but perhaps most importantly, how much will all this cost? Marketing can be quite expensive. Construct a strategy that is appropriate for the scale of your business. There are many free resources available, especially within social media, or consider driving traffic to your website at minimal cost through paid ads.
8. 📣 Define your USP
Only you can define your Unique Selling Point (USP). This is what sets you apart from the competition. It is perhaps the single most important aspect of your business because without a USP, you will have nothing to offer the market, and you won’t have a foundation for your marketing strategy. Your USP is why your customers choose you over another. Try to summarise your USP in a single sentence (like your elevator pitch). A very clear and highly focused USP is much easier for you to deliver and for your customers to understand.
9. 📊 Finance
This is where hiring external expertise really makes sense. However, before spending any money, it’s essential that you understand, even at a basic level, how the business works financially. Many banks will provide a template that includes sections for income and expenditure. Print out each draft and see how you can minimise costs and maximise sales. Include total costs and regular outgoings for each month, as well as any upfront costs incurred by projects you are working on. Be clear-eyed and realistic; never put on your rose-tinted glasses when dealing with financials. Establish a good relationship with your bank, as they can provide a valuable sounding board.
10. 🧑💻 Flexibility
Markets change, employment laws change, tax laws change. Therefore, you need to build flexibility into your business plan. Work with freelancers, utilise hot-desking in a business centre, or work from home rather than in a dedicated office. Trade-focused centres, like Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, can be an inspiring place to meet clients for project discussions over coffee or lunch. Consider the structure of your business, and aim to reduce bureaucracy, especially in the early stages.
Finally, some parting advice; love what you do, and do what you love. Enjoy your business journey!