This week I answer a question I’m regularly asked. ‘How do I turn my project into a profession?”.
During the course of the lock down period a few friends have contacted me as they know I’ve run my own international design and fit out practice and wanted to talk about a career change into house refurbishments, interior design and project management. Basically they wanted to turn their own renovation, their own project, into a new profession.
So here is a guide on making that change.
1. Decide which bit of the project you enjoyed the most.
If you loved sourcing, buying and negotiating - then perhaps Quantity Surveying and procurement is the route for you. This is a role which is in almost every level of the design, fit out and construction sectors from a small business where you might be in charge of buying all the materials for the whole business, through to huge developers and main contractors where you might be able to specialising in buying an element you are most interested in such as roofing or internal finishes.
If you enjoyed the process of planning the layout, the spacial orientation, then consider Architecture or Interior Design. Be aware that there are architects who become interior designers and there are architect practices with interior designers, but the only people who can call themselves interior architects are people with architect qualifications! See RIBA
for more information.
If the finishes were the most exciting then Interior Design is likely to be the perfect route for you, however if there was a particular room which you really loved to design you could consider specialising in this, such as kitchen or bathroom design. Amazing kitchen and bathroom designers develop a series of exceptional technical design skills as well as the aesthetic and a good designer is worth their weight in gold as these spaces are used so regularly that mistakes are unforgivable (to me anyway!)
If you really enjoyed upgrading your electrics or plumbing and liked the problem solving element, then there are the trades of electrician or plumber or MEP design which is the full systems design (including ventilation and public health too).
And don’t forget about the specialisms - there is acoustic, insulation, swimming pool design, AV/ Audio and the list goes on. If you found yourself fascinated by the area - then perhaps this is the world for you.
There are the ‘trades’, dry-liner / plasterer / decorator / joiner and various fitters of flooring and units.
If you were drawn to the garden over and over - Landscape Architecture might be for you, or something more niche such as green roofing specialist or even children's play area designer!
And finally, if you love pulling all of the detail together, on time and co-ordinating the various trades then perhaps Project Management is for you.
2. Would you like to do this new profession as an employee or self employed?
If you would like to be employed I would suggest you get training from a college or professional association which has links to placements / apprenticeships or at least links into industry as this is where you are likely to get your first job from.
If you would prefer to be self employed look for a course which covers business management as a module. You will need to learn how to market yourself, to quote, negotiate, deal with disputes, employ people, write and manage contracts and deal with HMRC!
I recommend KLC
for people interested in going into interior Design or landscape design as they have wonderful connections into the industry with world leading companies. You can find their website here
3. What do you want to be known for?
There are two schools of thought here.
1. Have a very strong and clear look / style and sell that - people know what they are getting and they either resonate with it or not. Your portfolio will show a common theme which will give customers reassurance of the look you are going to provide.
2. Be a consultant and listen to their needs first and offer them a solution which is unique to them. This is harder to showcase as their project will be individual and might look like nothing you have every done before, but you might have a wider customer base. If you develop your business through word of mouth, this is a really good model as you can work with a range of people and a range of tastes.
There is no right or wrong, but don’t switch between the two - it’s confusing for everyone!
4. Are you aware you won’t be the client?
On your own project you can take as much time and be as big a pain as you like - it’s your project after all, but would your methods work as the professional. And are you expecting everyone to act like you when they are going through their project, as confident to make decisions or as accepting of the disruption? You have to prepare yourself for some challenging customers as any work is a huge life undertaking.
5. Build a team of trusted contacts.
We all need experts to make us better, through chatting and sharing experiences, to referring work and collaborating. Choose your experts well, work with them and find out if they share the same value system and professionalism as you.
6. Don’t take on something you aren’t qualified to do.
Even with Professional Indemnity insurance you still can’t undertake work yourself for which you are not qualified. The risk of ‘trying’ something is too high to be worth it. If your client would like you to undertake something which isn’t in your field, then use those contacts to collaborate with. It might turn into a nice and regular partnership.
7. Get to know your industry as it is huge.
My career has taken me from interior design through to becoming a technical design expert, I’ve worked in residential fit out and new build through to heritage restoration. The process of Design it - Buy it - Build it / Refurb it applies to every structure you see - so you just have to find the ones you love.
- I have personally recommended KLC as a brilliant college for those interested in design.
Side Hustle is an amazing podcast about taking your side project and making it your main source of income.
RIBA has a website which is useful for everyone in the industry
- and for electrical expertise I always go to the NICEIC.
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