People often use the titles “interior designer” and “interior decorator” interchangeably, without realizing the very important difference between the two. Should you be contemplating a career in either field, you will want to know that difference! Interior design is not about drawing pretty pictures and choosing attractive fabrics – it is about the ability to improve interior environments (commercially and residentially) not only by creating practical, personal and beautiful environments, but also by adhering to practices that protect the health, welfare and safety of their clients. In the mid 1990’s, if anyone had told me the scope of this profession, I probably would have chosen a different career path. Now that I am older and more experienced, of course, I also realize that the rewards of being an interior designer are equal to, or even greater than, the challenges and demands it brings.
Interior decorators are not required to have a college education, so their capabilities are more limited. And though many of those who hold this title are very good at what they do, others treat it more like a casual hobby, practicing out of their homes, getting random jobs by handing out business cards that they have downloaded for free off the Internet, working hours that suit their own needs and rather than the client’s needs, and charging low hourly fees that undermine the efforts of their more conscientious colleagues in the interior decorating field.
Interior designers, on the other hand, are required to have a formal education from an accredited institution, to be licensed (in many states), to keep abreast of the latest developments in their field through continuing education, and to have the ability to work in a collaborative team with architects, engineers and contractors. They also have to be familiar with country, city, state and national building codes, to display superior availability, and to do anything it takes to get the job done correctly and on time. And if they meet all of these requirements, they are able to charge the same professional fees that are on the same level as those in the fields of medicine or law, because the work they do is equally important and valuable.
In order to become a successful interior designer (in this case, the term “successful” is defined as being able to support yourself and/or your family through your profession), it is crucial to possess certain characteristics.
1. Innate ability – If you possess the ability to understand space, balance, harmony and scale without ever being taught, you may have the necessary artistic talent to make it in interior design. If you have a critical eye for detecting flaws in the construction of building materials and the skill to notice incorrect details and figure out how to fix them, this is a sign that you may have a natural gift for the practical side of the business .
2. Business mindset – Design is only a fraction of what will keep you working 15-18 hours a day. The most important tasks that keep the doors of your business open will include daily itemized billing, monthly invoicing, paying bills, tracking profits and losses, preparing for and paying taxes, attaining future clients, performing pro-bono work, writing and negotiating contracts, hiring employees and attending business meetings, as well as retaining and paying for necessary legal teams, public relations firms and marketing groups to keep you in the public eye, all while shaking hands and kissing babies!
3. Corporate identity/Branding – Sure, growing your business out of your home will keep overhead down, but you will need initial capital to introduce your company to the buying market. Your logo, slogan, business cards, stationary, letterhead, contact cards and envelopes can cost you $5,000-$10,000 if you are interested in starting out of the gate as a professional. Should you lack the comprehension skills necessary to see the importance of these elements, you would be better off in a different field. Any entrepreneur understands that you have to invest money to make money!
4. Selling yourself and your designs – You may be the future Bunny Williams, but if you don’t know how to sell your designs to prospective clients, you need to either take some classes or get a mentor. Expert presentation skills, combined with daring creativity and panache, will allow others to feel your excitement and want to be involved with anything that you are involved in. Shyness, lack of self-confidence, poor posture, inappropriate attire, and the general inability to explain why your work ethic, drive and passion will lead their project to success will doom you to failure.
5. Customer service – If you are not an obedient civil servant willing to do whatever it takes to please your clientele - working weekdays, weekends and holidays, returning phone calls and emails immediately, acting with a sense of urgency for even the most minor details, being proactive and “Johnny on the spot” for absolutely everything, then you are not giving the customer service that will place you at the top of your game. The ability to put your client’s needs even before your own will insure the golden referral – which is what you will want if you plan to stay in business.
Yes, the demands of this profession are great, but knowing that you are shaping and motivating individual lives and families for generations to come brings incredible job satisfaction. Should the prospect of sleepless nights and incredibly hard work excite you, then congratulations – you and your talent may be ready for a life of interior design!
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