How to Establish an Interior Design Portfolio When You Don’t Have Any Clients
If clients are the heart of your business, then your portfolio is it’s soul. Your photos are the lifeblood of your business when you’re getting started because you will not have made a name for yourself and your reputation will not be developed. In time, these things will change but in the beginning your portfolio matters…a lot!
In the simplest terms, your portfolio is your body of work, and in today’s world of all things visual, having a portfolio is key.
There are no if, ands, or buts, about it. You absolutely must have one as a newby designer. Without it, your business will not grow and no one wants to wither away; especially when you have the chops to make it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, you can multiply it by 100 as a designer! You want your work to speak volumes to everyone who sees it. Every picture you present to a potential prospect should have a WOW-factor feel to it. As you grow there will be new clients, but there may also be editors of magazines, real estate developers, realtors, contractors, architects, the list goes on.
Your portfolio is so vital to your success because it’s your proof.
It’s your equivalent to Michael Phelps swimming the final leg of the relay for the come-from-behind win or Michael Jordan shooting the clutch 3-pointer as time runs out on the clock. They proved themselves and now people have come to not only want them but rely on them because they produced results.
Your portfolio is the same for you.
Your portfolio is about your results and your ability to get it done, and done well! The photos of the designs you create will not lie and they will most often be the FIRST impression of what draws new clients to you and keeps the old ones returning. Like moths to a flame baby!
So now that I’ve been beating the drum of the importance of a portfolio, I bet you’re asking, Um hello? Mc Fly?
How the heck do I build a portfolio when I haven’t had a design job yet?
My answer is simple. Start at home or with your family or friends! You’re living somewhere, right? You’ve got friends, family, or parents who believe in you, right? Start there. Start by designing your own home, or to get a tiny glimpse into working with a real client, start with your inner circle. Be very flexible on your avatar, work to create spaces even if your inner circle is not your ideal client, and use your experience working with your inner circle to add or change your avatar.
The first home I ever tackled was my own!
**I say tiny glimpse because the people who know you the best and love you the most are also comfortable with you and will not necessarily trust your design decisions right off the bat. They will also feel much more comfortable pushing back on your ideas. Even if they love you and support you in starting your own business, you must turn them into believers before they trust you as a designer. I am not just talking about friends, I am talking about siblings, parents, even spouses!
I’ve lived this experience with multiple family members over the years even after I’d done designing and remodeling in my own home. Part of me was like isn’t what I’m doing enough? Didn’t you see my house? Didn’t you say you loved it? Just know you’re earning your stripes and it will be worth it later.
I worked to turn them into believers and asked them to trust me before they were fully ready.
It added pressure on me to prove my ideas to them but the payoff was more than worth it!
The more you are prepared that this may happen, the better off you’ll be.
Speaking of being prepared, know in your heart that you’ll create a space that people will love. Take advantage of this! Create incentives. Early on in the design process ask people if they would be willing to write a review or recommend you to 3 family members or friends and get that information. This will help you increase your exposure in the early days.
Here’s a bedroom we did for a family member in the early days!
However, once you’ve proved yourself, you’ll probably end up with free reign, just know you’ll have earned it!
Now that you have your first group of potential clients, let’s talk about the money side of it. Don’t be afraid to work for ultra-cheap or even free in the beginning. It’s more important to get exposure in the early days. The money will come.
In the very beginning, once I branched out beyond my own home, Wendy and I worked for free, and then for deeply discounted fees. This certainly isn’t something you want to do forever, but when you’re just trying to get established, get your design process under your belt, and build your portfolio, it’s more than worth it! Your passion will carry you…in the beginning.
Your clients should have a budget for materials and labor but your design fees should be minimal in the beginning.
If your work is up to par, your business will grow because the friends and family of your friends and family will see your work and ask for your services. These will be real clients trusting you with their home and you can and should charge for the amazing services you’ll provide.
Rooms from the early days!
Now that we’ve established the gravity of what it means to have a portfolio, in the next post we’ll discuss the different types of photographers for interior designers, how and where to find a good one, and avoiding the one mistake that will completely cheapen all your hard work.
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