How to start a freelance interior design business

Interior designers have the creativity, skills, and knowledge to design a beautiful, functional space that perfectly suits a person or company’s taste and requirements. If you’re looking to start an interior design business, there are a few things you should know.

This guide will help you get started by explaining:

  • How to start a freelance interior design business
  • How to find freelance interior design clients
  • How to invoice clients for your work
  • How taxes work for freelance interior designers

How to start a freelance interior design business

It can be tricky figuring out exactly how to start a freelance business in interior design. Here are the key steps to cover when branching out on your own.

Make sure you’re qualified

Becoming an interiors designer calls for excellent spatial awareness and a good eye for design. You also need relevant design qualifications to start an interior design business. Most interior designers have a degree in interior design or at least similar qualifications like art and design or 3D design. 

Check with your local university to see what interior design courses they offer. Alternatively, the National Design Academy (NDA) offers flexible online interior design courses at diploma, undergraduate and Masters level. 

If you choose qualifications that are recognised by the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD), it may make you more attractive to clients.

In addition to an academic qualification, you must also be creative, imaginative and have a deep understanding of materials, manufacturing processes, and tools required. You must also be good at structuring and planning projects to make sure you finish them on time and within budget.

Finally, successful interior designers have excellent communication skills that allow them to pitch concepts clearly to clients, coordinate with architects, and explain their vision to carpenters, painters and builders. Being able to take clients’ unclear requests and translate them into actionable steps for bringing the vision to life is a crucial part of interior design.

Determine what services you will offer

As a new interior designer, it’s important to make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Therefore, you’d be wise to decide what type of services you want to offer. If you only want to colour-coordinate living rooms, or lead complete kitchen and bathroom renovations, be clear about it from the start.

If you want to only offer online services (known as e-design), you need to make a list of services you offer. Examples of e-design deliverables you might offer include:

  • Paint palettes
  • Mood boards
  • 3D renderings
  • Shopping lists
  • Floor plans
  • Fabric suggestions

E-design is an easier option than offering the complete interior design experience, where you also need to deal with contractors, manufacturers and suppliers.

Build your brand

Creating a personal brand is essential to attracting clients and building a reputation for yourself. You want your brand to reflect who you are and what services you offer.

Start with the visual elements like your logo, brand colours and graphics, and where you share your designs. Browse the internet to see how other interior designers brand themselves to get inspiration and find ways you can stand out from the competition. 

Clients pay for services for a number of reasons that go beyond a price tag or how extensive your portfolio is. Purchase decisions are often based on emotions and how well clients feel they connect with your brand. So be authentic and let your passion, creativity, and personality shine through when building your brand.

Start building your portfolio

Once you’re qualified and have your business set up and ready to go, it’s time to gain some experience. If you’re just starting out as an interior designer, look for any opportunity to put your skills and knowledge to good use.

You can practice your craft and build your portfolio in the following ways:

  • Redecorating your own home by going through the entire process as you would for a client.
  • Asking friends if you can help redesign their homes for free / a discounted cost.
  • Asking to shadow an experienced designer, even if it involves menial tasks. You’ll get to see how they work, which can give you inspiration for your own projects.
  • Applying for internships in interior design

Starting a freelance business often requires a lot of networking and job hunting before business picks up. The more you reach out and grab opportunities to practice your craft, the more experience you’ll get and contacts you’ll create. Keep reading for more tips on how to find clients.

How to find freelance interior design clients

As we’ve mentioned before, finding clients can be challenging, especially when you’re new to the playing field. Here are some tips to help you find your first clients:

Focus on a niche

Choosing a niche (an area you specialise in) helps you determine what clients you want to work for and the type of designs you want to create. Additionally, choosing a niche makes it easier for clients to see what you can offer.

Your niche is essentially your unique selling point. For example, instead of just being a graphic designer, maybe you’re a graphic designer that specialises in festival posters or branded packaging.

Use your existing network

As a new freelance interior designer, you’ll most likely already have a network of friends, family, old schoolmates, and so on. These people, in turn, will have their own networks of people they could recommend you to. 

If you’ve spent time in the business world already, you might also have a network of professional connections who could give you recommendations. Reach out and ask these people if they have or know of any opportunities.

Set up a website

Freelancers run their own business, meaning you’ll need to brand and market yourself as companies do. 

The best way to do this is to create and maintain a professional website where you showcase your work. You can use systems like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace to create your website for free or at a reasonable price. 

Gather photos and information about your interior design projects (even if it’s just decorating your own home) and add them to your website in a Portfolio section. You’ll also want to add a page where you share some information about yourself (focusing on your skills and experience).

Then, use the website to market yourself.

Understand the market

Interior design is an ever-changing environment, so it’s important to know how the market looks in your region and niche. 

Do some research to see what’s going on in your area to determine how your work can fit in with people’s needs. Interior design is also closely linked to the level of construction in terms of housing, hotels, retail, and restaurants. 

Having a good understanding of your industry’s stability and growth can help guide you into the most fruitful path.

Use social media

Social media is great for finding interior design clients, especially LinkedIn and Instagram. You can use these platforms to look for jobs, join groups, connect with potential clients, and share your own designs to promote your skills. 

We also recommend optimising your profiles using keywords that recruiters and companies will likely use to find freelancers in your field and niche. For example, interior designer’, ‘freelance creative’, or ‘floor & space plans’.

You can also use your platform to contribute to discussions and connect with other interior designers to find inspiration.

How to invoice clients for your work

Once you get your first interior design job, it’s time to start charging clients for your work. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to invoice a client:

Step 1: Establish the work and payment

Invoicing clients starts from the beginning when you determine your brief, timeline and requirements. Start by making sure the client can pay by your preferred method, or how else they can pay if not.

The most common methods on invoices are bank transfers and online card payments, but freelancers sometimes also accept payments via PayPal, Klarna or Venmo. Whatever payment method you use, establish payment terms before beginning a project.

Step 2: Making the invoice

According to UK Government guidelines, invoices across all industries must include key accounting and business information as standard. You must include:

  • Key dates about the work: your deadline, expected payment, and the invoice’s creation.
  • Information about your business: your trading name, address, contact details, website, and other vital information under the heading ‘supplier’.
  • Information about the client: name, address, contact details and so on under the heading ‘client’.
  • Itemised cost breakdown and description: services, tools and materials you’re invoicing your clients for.
  • A payment reference: assign your invoices a unique identification number that shows clients which invoice they’re paying (you can use a simple number or labelling system).
  • Payment information: specify which payment method you require, account details like a bank account or PayPay address, and the total amount due. 
  • A friendly note: not necessary, but it can be a nice way to build good business relationships. You can write something like “Thank you for working with me!”

The easiest way is to create and send your invoices digitally using accounting software

Step 3: Invoicing the client for the completed work 

Send your invoice as soon as you finish the plans for your client. The faster you send your invoices, the faster you can get paid. The Countingup app allows you to create and send invoices on the go so you don’t waste a minute.

If you use billing cycles (where you expect payments to be made within a certain time frame, like two weeks or a month), you need to give clients a reasonable amount of time to meet those requirements. 

Depending on the project size, clients may have to consider their cash flow (their balance of money coming in vs money going out) to meet the payment. As a result, they may need to wait for their own invoices to be paid before they can pay you. 

Being accommodating about these issues can improve your reputation and client relationship and help you bring in repeat business. 

Being polite also helps when following up with clients about invoices, especially unpaid ones. Learn more about the best way to chase late payments (known as credit notes) in this guide.

How taxes work for freelance interior designers

Registering as a freelancer (or sole trader) is easy. All you have to do is file for self-assessment with HMRC if you make more than £1000 in a tax year (6 April – 5 April). Check if you need to file a tax return here.

Once you’ve filed, you’ll need to provide HMRC with a self-assessment form detailing your taxes owed every year. 

If your turnover is over £85,000, you must also register for VAT. You can voluntarily register below this threshold if it suits your business needs, or to appear more reputable. 

Find out more about what a Self Assessment tax return is and how to file one in this guide.

How Countingup helps freelancers organise their finances

With the Countingup business current account, it’s easy to keep organised when it comes to your finances. The app comes with free built-in accounting software that automates the time-consuming aspects of bookkeeping and taxes. You’ll receive real-time insights into your business finances with profit and loss reports, tax estimates, and the ability to create professional invoices in seconds. 

You can also share your bookkeeping with your accountant instantly without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies. Seamless, simple, and straightforward.
Find out more here.