If you’ve been wanting to start your own design business or have just taken the leap and are wondering what you need to do, this episode is for you! I’m unpacking first 6 steps that I believe are essential when you start your interior design business!

As someone who has “been there, done that, and here to tell the tale”, I’m sharing the key must-dos to tackle when you start out. I’m also go into some controversial things that I think are not priorities and even a little antiquated!

Learn from my experience as I share ways to focus your offerings, plan for financial security and avoid the “bad client loop”. Adding these front and back end tasks to your To Do list from the get-go will help you be set up for success and not flounder in the chaotic middle.



This episode is sponsored by Devix Kitchens

Read the Full Transcript ⬇️

Hey, hey, hey, you’re listening to Resilient by Design. And today I’m going to share in this shorty episode the top six things that I believe you need to do in 2024 to start an interior design business. These are the six things that I think are non-negotiable. There are by no means all of the things that are required when starting up a business, but I really, I really spent some time thinking about if somebody wanted to change careers, just go out on their own and start their own business, what are the things that are key that absolutely must happen?

[00:00:37] And so, in my experience, from what has been the most impactful in my business, I’m going to share with you two sides of the coin, the backend setup that I think are three of the simplest and first steps you need to take. And then the front end, which is three of the simplest and first steps you need to take.

[00:00:56] So before I dive into all the things, I just want you to know that there is no one size fits all to running a design business. That is why I say, You can develop your own business for your clients, for you, that runs your way. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You do not need to copy what I do, but you do need to set up your business for success.

[00:01:25] You need a process. And I’m going to talk a little bit about what I mean by that. As we dive into this episode, you don’t have to do what I do, but you do have to do something. Here we go. For those of you who are like, ah, I’m on the fence. I’m nervous. Maybe you’ve been wanting to start, or maybe you did start your business.

[00:01:42] And you’re like, did I do the right things? Like, is there something missing? Today’s episode is a shorty. So I’m just going to give you those key first steps when you go to set up a business. And maybe we can record subsequent episodes with a little bit more information of what can happen or what needs to happen for setting up your business.

[00:01:59] [00:02:00] So here we go. Okay, first I want to tell you I am not going to tell you to write a business plan. I am sorry. I do not see A place for business plans in the world of entrepreneurs that we live in today. It is something that I think is antiquated. I think it’s helpful for you maybe to scope out and plan out and see what you want to do.

[00:02:26] If you spend all your time focusing on a business plan, it’s going to be a procrastination, procrastination situation where. Using that as an excuse to get perfect before you can actually start. So you know my motto, it’s progress over perfection all day long. I literally have a piece of paper right there on the corkboard in my office that says it doesn’t have to be perfect.

[00:02:52] It just has to start. It is a piece of paper where I wrote that in Sharpie because sometimes our fear of getting it right holds us back from starting and actually getting there. Any traction and moving forward. So, okay. So here we go. So the top three things to start your interior design business on the back end.

[00:03:12] I’m going to start with the back end three things and then I’m going to dive into the front end three things. So the back end. Number one, name your business and register that name. It’s really important that you register your business. You will then get a tax number. In Ontario, where I live, it’s called an HST number that allows you legally, the government is giving you permission to buy and resell products.

[00:03:41] It is like a seller’s license. It’s a business license. So get yourself a business license and register your business. This is for serious people who are planning to treat their business like a business. One caveat, if you are a hobbyist and you just want to do this for fun, you probably don’t need to do this.

[00:03:59] [00:04:00] Right? But if you intend to make money with interior design, which is why you probably listened to this podcast and why you’re planning on starting a business, you need to register your business name. What you do not need to do is incorporate yet. I ran my business for the first two years with a business license.

[00:04:22] I did not have an incorporation. It was only after the guidance and advice of my trusted accountant that I decided to incorporate. So if you want more information on the difference between them you’re going to have to do some Googling, talk to your accountant, and talk to some professionals. I can definitely dive into that in a future episode if you guys are interested.

[00:04:41] But I am no mean, by no means the expert there. Please rely on your accountants to help you determine if you need to incorporate or if there are so many different things, different corps that you can create. But when you’re first starting, you just need to get a business license. Okay. Check. That’s the first thing.

[00:05:01] Number two. That’s not that. I just want to, I just want to add to that. People struggle with naming things, right? Like, coming up with a name, like, what am I going to name my business? And I know because I’ve struggled with this myself and all the different things that I’ve done. I want you to consider two things when you’re coming up with a name.

[00:05:20] One, do you want it to have your name in it? So you become the recognizable brand is something that eventually you could branch out and do other things because you are Rebecca Hay. People know who you are. Oh yeah, Rebecca Hay Designs. Oh, Rebecca Hay’s the coach, Rebecca Hay. Or do you want to come up with a name for your business that does not have your name, that is something that you could potentially scale and implement?

[00:05:43] Potentially, in theory, even sell. This is something I didn’t think about in the early years. I probably would have come up with a name for my business that was not me. And think about, and I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but when you’re coming up with a name, I want you to think about, how will that name sell.

[00:05:59] [00:06:00] Sound to your ideal client. There is somebody who I’m going to have on the podcast very soon who is a local designer who recently, after 10 years of running her design business under a name, made the decision to change her company name to reflect her name. Which is funny because sometimes I see it be the opposite.

[00:06:21] If you guys followed Shea McGee in the early years, I did when she had 5, 000 followers, I like to think of myself as an early adopter. Her business name was different. It wasn’t studio McGee. Cause I remember when she changed her name, she went from, I think it was Shea McGee Interiors, something along those lines to Studio McGee.

[00:06:39] And at the time, I think she had 10, 000 followers. And I thought, Ooh, that’s a bold move. Like, why would you want to change your name? Now, it’s clearly very understood why she did that, right? She was scaling and they could easily sell that business now if they wanted to. So just a couple of things to think about.

[00:06:56] Don’t stress it. Don’t stress about it too much. Whatever you register the business name as you can always operate it under another name down the road. But you do want to register that business. Number two, open a business bank account. I did not do this in the beginning, which is why this is of my top three things.

[00:07:14] So a lot of things I would do differently. One of them is for the longest time I ran my business through my personal checking account. It was messy and I had a really hard time separating out expenses. Tax time was a nightmare. I just had a bunch of receipts in a box. I would hand them to my accountant.

[00:07:32] I don’t know how he did it at the time. The moment I opened a business bank account. Holy heck. I was like, Oh, it felt like a weight was off my shoulders. Everything was so distinctive. And the great thing is a lot of the time now with online banking, they can be connected. If it’s just you running your business and no one else needs to get access to your bank account, then you can have them connected.

[00:07:56] And this is how I had it in the early, early years until rather recently [00:08:00] is I would have them so I could just transfer myself money. To my checking personal checking account from my business account. And that was just such a clear record of what was mine and what was the business. And it made tax time so much easier.

[00:08:14] So get yourself a business bank account. If you, for some reason, are having a hard time doing that, or you’re not quite committed, at least maybe get a second checking account and make sure that that checking account is only used for business. And then number three of the essentials to do when you start a new design business is to apply for a business credit card.

[00:08:39] This kind of goes along the same lines as opening a business bank account because same concept, things got muddled. When I had one credit card, which I had for a few years, it was getting a little bit messy. It’s sometimes even easier to get a business bank account. A credit card than it is a bank account.

[00:08:57] They hand those things out like candy, get yourself a business credit card that you can pay off using your business bank account. It’s going to be so much easier every month. When you go to reconcile your books, you can see what our business expenses are, and you’re going to start to have fun as a new business owner with, Oh, that’s a company expense.

[00:09:15] Oh, I don’t have to pay for that personally. Like. The parking or the gas for your car or a trip to high point market or purchasing power of process, right? Signing up for designer’s room. Those are all business expenses that you can put on your business credit card to make it super easy every month to reconcile and categorize.

[00:09:38] Get yourself a business card. Credit card. Other than those three things, there are so many other things that you can do, but I’m not going to recommend you do them at the beginning. For sure, you could do a financial plan. You could look for investors. You could I don’t know, you could probably get business insurance, but let’s get you some projects.

[00:09:59] No? [00:10:00] Right? Yeah. I think that’s what we need to talk about. So let’s move to the front end of your business. So now you’ve got those three sorted, which is registering your business name, opening yourself a business bank account, and applying for a business credit card. These things might be happening in the background while you start doing projects and that’s okay.

[00:10:19] It’s about progress over perfection. Don’t wait to take on a design project until you have the card and you have the bank account. But these are things that I would start the process of early, early. Okay, the front end. So in the front end of your business, this is kind of like the client-facing side, it’s what they’re going to see, it’s what the world sees.

[00:10:36] These are the three essentials that I see, and again, this is my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, that I have just seen from my own experience work. And so this is why I think they’re the top three starting points, to beginning a business. You need to know who your client is going to be. And I don’t mean your first client, but I mean in general, who do you want to help?

[00:11:05] Who are the people that you think you can serve the best? Is it other moms? Is it other young families? Maybe it’s retirees. Maybe you have no freaking clue. That’s okay. I want you to start thinking about this because this is something that I did not think about for a while. And then what happened is I got caught in the, what I used to call, and I guess I still call it because I’m saying it right now, the bad client loop.

[00:11:29] They weren’t bad people. They were wonderful humans, but they were not my people. They didn’t share my design aesthetic. They didn’t have the money to pour into projects that I knew I was capable of designing. And so I got stuck doing these projects. I did it for, one couple, and they were happy with me because I was very good at delivering a service.

[00:11:50] And then they would recommend me to their friends who were in the same socioeconomic situation and had the same value system when it came to investing in their home. And [00:12:00] so it continued the circle and the circle and the circle. I am. Only in my second or third year of business did I finally fly in, like, okay, let me get really super clear on who my ideal client is.

[00:12:12] And honestly, I feel like it’s such a powerful exercise. It is shockingly to me when we do a survey at the end of the power of process, like we’ve completed our six-week course and everyone’s, you know, graduating and they’re really excited. We sent, and asked them to fill out a survey. One of the questions on that survey is, you know, Which module or lesson did you find the most impactful in the course?

[00:12:35] Because I just really want to know what’s resonating. And so many people say, Figuring out my ideal client. And I’m thinking, Oh, like of all the processes I teach. Of all the checklists I walk you through. Of everything. The ideal client stuff, but then I think about it, and I think, oh my god, yeah, that was me.

[00:12:57] Like, it’s, think about who you want to serve. Is it your mother’s friend? Is it a parent that you see at school? They look like they have money, they’ve got great taste. Who is that person that you want to serve? Number one. And by the way, this is going to change over time, right? Like, this is going to constantly reiterate.

[00:13:16] Number two is to determine what type of service you want to offer. A lot of us overlook this. We’re like, Oh, I’ll just do anything and I’m just happy to do anything related to design. And that is yes, well and good at the very beginning. However, I think it’s helpful to have in the back of your mind the type of service you want to deliver because everything you do will lead back to that.

[00:13:41] Let me explain. I worked with a very high-end luxury interior designer here in Toronto for five years. And that was my experience in the interior design world. I’d gone to school and then I went to work for him as his assistant. And he did the [00:14:00] top-end homes in Toronto. Like we’re talking, we together built a 12 million home in a very fancy neighborhood here in Toronto in Rosedale.

[00:14:08] Like it was top of the line. The budget was no issue. Also, we worked from start to finish, contractors would constantly tell us that we were more involved than most design firms that they’d worked with. We oversaw every detail in the implementation phase, what I call the implementation, which is really the project management and just like showing up on site, placing all the orders, and making sure everything gets done up until the reveal.

[00:14:32] That’s all I knew. And so once I went out on my own, it was frustrating because I didn’t get those clients obviously at the beginning. But I always in the back of my mind knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Maybe it’s cause I just always done that. And that’s what I, that was my skillset. That’s what I had honed.

[00:14:48] That’s where I really learned to control a project and oversee the outcome. And so for me, I always wanted full-service design. For you, you might want to do full service. You might just want to do decorating. You might just want to specify hard materials and finishes. You might want to do commercial design like hospitality office spaces.

[00:15:09] Health and safety, like you might want to do that area. Maybe you want to do e-design and you don’t want to go into someone’s house. Like, whatever you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you need to determine what is the service offering. Inside Power of Process, I actually work or work, walk everyone through an exercise to help them determine what is their core service.

[00:15:30] So this is something that I preach a lot about. I firmly believe that everyone should, especially when you’re starting out, have one core service offering. It can get confusing. Once you’ve honed in, you’ve got a process set, you know you can deliver on that one type of service, that core service offering, sure, then you can branch out.

[00:15:52] Add more. an online store, add, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of anything, color consultations, right? But focus on [00:16:00] one, because when you focus on trying to be everything to everyone, it’s a nightmare. It’s chaotic. You’re going to feel stressed. You’re not going to make as much money. Focus on one core offering.

[00:16:09] And so I do walk everyone through that inside power of process, and I get a lot of pushback, but the people who, who listen and take my advice and do it are Always come back to me afterward and say, Wow, that was the best advice. I just feel like a breath of fresh air and relaxation in my business because I’m focused in on one thing.

[00:16:28] So figure out what is that core service? What is the type of service that you want to offer? Are you passionate about decorating? Are you more passionate about the construction? Like, what floats your boat? Because That is going to come into your process of how you run your business. It’s going to come into your marketing.

[00:16:45] It’s going to come into your conversations and you’re going to constantly look for ways to attract more of that type of work. And if you don’t know, don’t sweat it. Trial and error. You just got to get your feet wet. See what you like. Number three. Number three essential to setting up an interior design business in 2024 is you need to establish a process.

[00:17:11] What do I mean and why? So, a process are repeatable steps that you do within your business, within a project, and by repeatable I mean you do it the same way with every project. project. You run a project the same way with every client. When I first started out on my own, I can tell you, I did not, my experience, though it was in high-end residential and we did incredible work, we didn’t follow a process.

[00:17:43] And it felt rather chaotic. And so for me, I was really searching for something. I kept thinking like, Oh my God, this is so stressful. I feel like I’m constantly reinventing the wheel. There has got to be a better way. And that’s when I started to dive into this [00:18:00] idea of having repeatable ways of doing things.

[00:18:03] But at the beginning, I didn’t really believe that that was possible. I knew I needed to organize my business. Like I knew I needed order. I love organization. Like that is my jam. And, but I didn’t know what it was that I needed. And. When I first had a coach say to me, you need to come up with like one set system and you just use that with every project.

[00:18:21] I was like, And I don’t think that you can do the same, let’s say, five steps with a decorating project as you can with a kitchen renovation. Like obviously they’re totally different and obviously, those processes will be totally different. But the reality was I was wrong in thinking that. You can absolutely develop a 5-step, a 10-step, a 20-step process, whatever the heck your heart desires, and use that with every project, regardless of the type that you do.

[00:18:56] So, once you get a process in place, it’s going to help you sell your services, and it’s going to make things smoother running for you and your clients. And now, I’ll Take a course like Power of Process is going to help you build out a robust system that you will follow repeatable steps. You’ll understand the order of things.

[00:19:16] I get so many messages from designers saying like, Can you walk, break down, can you, can you walk me through what is the order of events in a home renovation? Like, that’s a big question for Instagram DM, obviously. And I’m like, okay, I’ll record a podcast about it. But at the same time, it’s like, this is what I’m talking about.

[00:19:36] This is what process is. You need to know, okay, what happens first? Then what happens? Then after that, what do we do? And write it down on a piece of paper so that every time a client comes to you they say, okay, what’s next? You know what to say. I can’t tell you how many times because this was my model and this is how we did it.

[00:19:53] Okay. Which worked for a different generation, but it didn’t work for me where I’d be on the [00:20:00] floor with samples and I don’t even know what floor plans printed on eight and a half by 11 or 11 by 17 when I finally invested a nicer printer and on my client’s coffee table and they were sitting on the couch and I’m on my knees on the ground and I’m showing them this fabric could go for that couch, but maybe we could also do that.

[00:20:17] What do you think about this tile? And besides the point that that was complete. I don’t even know how my clients stayed with me because they must have been thinking like, I hired her to tell me what to do and she’s asking us what we think. It was way too collaborative. Anyhow, that’s a story for another time.

[00:20:34] But they would always say, Okay, this all looks great. Like at the end of our meeting. So what happens next? And I would literally take a pause. And in my brain be like, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, what happens next? And I was, and like, I’m really good at ad-libbing. I’m excellent at making shit up on the spot.

[00:20:53] Like I just, I don’t know, I’ve just always been really good at that. Not very good at BSing people and lying, but I am very good at coming up with an idea and running with it. And so I would say, okay, well, I’m going to get back to the studio and, you know, our studio was my guest bedroom. This was before I had my second child in my house.

[00:21:11] I’m going to head back to the office and, you know, I’m going to, I’m going to rearrange his floor plans and I’m going to send out some quotes. And then once I have this updated, like I’ll connect with you and we will look at or we will look at We’ll, we’ll get the contractor in to get us a quote or whatever.

[00:21:27] I don’t even know what I said, but whatever I said was different every single time. And with every single client, I followed a different process. And my life was chaotic. I barely made any money. I was stressed. I was exhausted. I was overworked. And I was definitely underpaid. So, all that to say, the process is the third thing you need to begin to develop inside your business.

[00:21:50] Designers go for decades without a process. I know because they, they come into my community, they come into designer’s room, they take power of process and they’re like, oh [00:22:00] my gosh, I could have been doing this all along. Don’t make the same mistake they made. Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips and really give it some thought.

[00:22:09] And here’s the thing. It’s not going to be perfect. You’re not going to figure it out from the first get-go. The very first time I, I developed a process, I had 15 steps. Then I narrowed it down to 10 steps. Then another year or two later, I narrowed it down to seven steps and it constantly is evolving and it’s a living, breathing thing.

[00:22:28] But if you can start with something so that you look professional to those clients who are coming to you, you’re going to look like you’re running a legitimate business. And that’s what it’s all about. Because you want to bring in the money, honey. And you want to bring in those clients, like back to the first step I mentioned, you want to bring in those ideal clients that really value what you have to do.

[00:22:51] I talked to so many designers that You know, inside designer’s room that are really new at this. And they’ve just started out and they’re like, I’m doing all the things. And, but like the clients don’t want to pay the fee. They want to negotiate my fees and I’m trying to charge more money. Cause Rebecca, you say I need to raise my rates, but like nobody wants to pay it.

[00:23:10] To which I always say, well, how professional are you showing up? Because you need to show up. Professionally for them to take you as a professional and want to pay those professional fees. If they think that you’re just kind of winging it and you just graduated school or you’re just leaving your marketing career and starting off, they’re going to think they’re going to get a deal.

[00:23:31] So you need to show them that you are a business professional. Okay. Oh, there are so many other things I would love to share with you guys. We’ll save those for another time. Let me know how you liked this episode. So just to recap backend and front end, in order to kickstart your business in 2024, you need to register your business name.

[00:23:49] You need to open a business bank account and apply for a business credit card. It’s going to make your life easier. And then on the front end, you want to determine who is the client you want to serve. [00:24:00] What is that service offering that you want to be known for? Like, what is it that you do? And then lastly, get yourself a freaking process.

[00:24:09] Get something on paper. Have something that when you’re talking in your discovery call on the phone, you know exactly how you can walk, you can walk clients through what it looks like to work with you from A to Z. That is going to elevate and grow your business faster than anything else. If you guys want to join us inside the power of process, come on in.

[00:24:28] I would love to have you. We do it twice a year, this year, I believe. I’m just saying that because I’m, I’m debating just doing it once a year, but right now I think it’s twice a year. And if you’re listening to this in real time, when this podcast is airing, I would love to see you inside there. You guys can just go to rebeccahay.com and check out all the offerings that we have there. If you want to learn a little bit more about how I set up my business, I walk you through step by step inside power of process. Pop, as it’s affectionately known, I walk you through exactly how I run my business. Every single step that I follow from start to finish with every single design project, I give you the back end so that you don’t have to spend the time figuring it out and setting it up yourself.

[00:25:11] We have templates in there. You can take them, you can make them your own. You can copy what I do. You can just take what I do and I don’t know, recreate your own. The idea is that I want to give you a blueprint so you can set up your business for success, fast track, getting to those six, multiple six, and seven figures that I know you can do, but that might be getting ahead of you.

[00:25:33] So if you’re just kickstarting your business, start with these six steps. Let me know how it’s going. Did I miss something? Is there something that you think is more important? I don’t know. Let me know. And I’ll see you soon.