If you owned a vintage Porsche, would you pop open the hood to tune it up yourself? No, you wouldn’t. Instead of grabbing the closest wrench and going at it, you’d be researching to find a mechanic specializing in classic cars. Someone with expertise. So, why should we approach our homes any differently? Just like any specialized skill, there is a value of expertise in interior design.
As designers building our businesses, it’s our responsibility not only to hone but to showcase our expertise to our clients. Due to the propagation of the DIY myth, people think designing a home is an easy weekend job. However, it’s not an inexpensive or quick endeavor. Interior design significantly impacts how a household lives, and a design project requires strategies, systems, and the know-how to get it right. It’s time we trust the professional and outsource the design work to someone with expertise!
Learning How to Build an Interior Design Business
In the Designing a Business series, Interior Designer Amity Worrel shares experiences and lessons learned on her path to running a successful interior design firm in Austin, Texas.
What is an Interior Designer’s Expertise?
To start, let’s define what an interior designer’s expertise is. My Austin interior design team would agree an interior designer must first and foremost be able to listen to a client’s needs and solve everyday problems. Accounting for client aesthetics, lifestyle, budget, and timeline, designers plan and execute a space to deliver a finished product. That said, interior design is still a broad field, with designers specializing in new construction, period homes, renovations, and specific styles.
Seeking Insight from the Experts
If you want to hone your expertise further or reposition your design niche, seek insight from the experts who have paved the way. As I’ve been growing into my next business phase, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and listening to a few advisors who guide creative-minded entrepreneurs. Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching, David C. Becker of ReCourses, and their joint 2Bobs podcast make up my current class schedule. These folks are “experts on being experts,” and their focus on creative industries makes me feel seen. Honestly, they’re almost mind readers! They tap into every question and concern as I read their blogs and listen to their podcast. They know my struggles, my latest worries, what I need to focus on next, and what I can put on the back burner — all thanks to their expertise in advising creative firms like mine. And trust me, it’s worth it to outsource these business growing pains to the experts who have seen it a thousand times over.
Remembering You are the Expert of Your Craft
Just as these folks are the experts in business growth, I am the expert of my own craft: Interior design. I have the same superpowers. I have the same wealth of knowledge. I have the same insights. However, mine are honed into all things residential interior design. As I said earlier, different interior designers have different niches. In my opinion, the more specific, the better. I have a narrow but deep expertise. My focus is on renovations, additions, and decorating character-forward, period homes in or just outside the city. Because I’ve done so many similar projects, I know my clients’ struggles and how to help them strategize, budget, and problem solve. Wouldn’t you rather have a mechanic that’s fixed thousands of classic Porches before yours? Find your niche, and grow your expertise.
Your Clients’ Design Problems aren’t Unique
While your design client might think their space struggle has never been encountered before, the truth is most design problems aren’t unique. The same design issues arise again and again. However, that’s the beauty of expertise! Experts exist because of this rinse-and-repeat problem solving. An expert’s deep knowledge and experience come from solving the same problems repeatedly. They have done it before, so they know what works and what doesn’t.
I can see the problems facing my clients even before they can. I know their motivations and their struggles. Better still, I know how to guide them to solutions and when to jump ship and take a different approach. I don’t find it dull to do the same type of work because there are always new personalities to learn, new nuances to appreciate, and new technologies to implement. It all keeps the work interesting.
Expertise is Repetition
Expertise is repetition. Expertise is repetition. Whether it’s workflows or design patterns, repetition and practice are key to building your expertise. This repetition is valuable. After all, isn’t it wiser to go with a mechanic who’s serviced Porches for decades and knows all the ins and outs? When you’re looking for a professional to help you with your home design, don’t you want someone who has solved all your same problems before? All the experts got to where they are in their fields because of repetition.
Making a Business Out of Your Expertise
In Baker’s book, The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth, he explains how to leverage creative expertise into a profitable business. In summary, you must first build your expertise and know-how by successfully executing similar projects repeatedly. (If you want to specialize in mid-century home renovations, you need to get a few under your belt to learn the ins and outs.) Once you’ve gained experience in your niche, you need to position yourself as the expert. (This means confidently declaring you’re the best at what you do and showcasing it through your portfolio.) As you build a reputation and become the go-to expert, your business grows.
Showcasing Your Expertise in Interior Design
One of the best ways to showcase your design expertise is to display your past work through a well-curated portfolio. However, you can go beyond to establish yourself as an expert and resource through blogs, podcasts, and even events. Growing into your expertise can be challenging, but remember that no one knows your work better than you.
Tell ‘em to leave it to the professionals!
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.