So you want to be an interior home stager? You LOVE watching Joanna Gains stage her fixer uppers, you buy every design magazine and sit for hours flipping through the pages, and you follow The Real Houses Of IG and every other amazing design feed on Instagram. Home staging is such a hot industry these days. The real estate market is on the upswing and certain markets like the Washington DC area are booming with thousands of people moving in every month. It goes without saying that there are many homes on the market for sale and more and more homeowners are becoming aware of the fact that staging sells homes faster.
Freelancing is an excellent way to break into this industry. You may not start out with a large warehouse full of inventory in order to successfully run a full scale staging business. Freelancing with other large companies is the best way to do the work without the expensive overhead. In my experience as a freelance stager, I've come across some situations that I wish I had been privy to prior to signing contracts with large staging companies. These will certainly help you to earn your worth and help you become a better business person.
PRO TIP #1: Credentials Help, But Talent Gets You Hired
Stop obsessing over being a certified home stager. Yes, there are certain skills that you will learn going through a credible home staging certification course, however, the main skill you need is talent. Having an eye for what works well in a space in order to highlight it in its best light is what will get you hired. At the end of the day, staging companies, real estate agents and homeowners only want you to prepare their home for market so it can sell as quickly as possible for top dollar. They could not care less about your certification if you are moving houses like the wind for them.
Often times we get paralyzed in the preparation and use obtaining certain credentials as a crutch and procrastination for putting ourselves out there. Don't get stuck in that mentality. You will waste precious time. Spend time building your portfolio. Do some pro-bono work if you can't find anything paid, but get some experience so you can start shopping your services around to the large staging firms you'd like to work with.
PRO TIP #2: Stop Trading House For Dollars
Instead of an hourly rate, I recommend negotiating a per project set fee. You can base these fees on the square footage of each home if you'd like, but this option tends to avoid the nickel and diming that can happen with hourly rates. Be sure to consider each phase of the stage: consultation, design time, warehouse pulling, packing, installation and even destage in some cases.
In addition, be sure to negotiate the little things that you may not automatically think of when accepting a job like gas/mileage, parking fees and tolls. Likewise, you should be reimbursed for small items you have to buy to complete a job if they are not provided like light bulbs, extension cords, cleansers etc. If these are job related expenses, you need to factor them into your pricing or line item them into your invoice. Just make sure these expenses do not affect your bottom line.
PRO TIP #3: Determine Your Work Radius
You must decide ahead of time the territories you will cover. Will you specialize in one specific area or will you go wherever the job takes you? Once you determine a mileage maximum, if you are assigned to cover a job outside of that distance, be sure you have in your contract a pre-set mileage reimbursement fee. Staging requires a lot of travel and wear and tear on your personal vehicle. If you don't properly cover your costs, you will end up losing money rather than making money.
PRO TIP #4: Be Sure You Have A Fair Non-Compete
As a freelancer, your ability to work with different people and companies is your bread and butter. Ensure that your livelihood is well protected and not just the business interests of the company you are freelancing with. Make sure the language in your contract allows for you to work with their competitors, as often times working with several companies is how you will be able to pay your bills. If a company wants you to work exclusively with them, be sure you negotiate the contract so you can ensure a minimum amount of work to cover your business and personal expenses. I'd also recommend contacting an attorney to review your contracts if you need help creating one or interpreting one.
PRO TIP #5: Fight For Your Creative Style
Although the companies you will be working for might have their own signature brand and style, be sure that you will still be able to utilize your own design aesthetic. If not, you will be in for an unhappy work environment. As creatives, if we feel stifled or stuck, our best work never materializes. That will not prove to be beneficial for any party involved. Not you, not the staging company and not the listing agent or homeowner. If you are working with a company whose design aesthetic does not match yours, talk with the owners to find out how much leeway you have on each project. Also, find little ways of incorporating your signature style with their brand. You will feel better about your final presentation.
PRO BONUS TIPS:
Consult a CPA about self employment taxes and what you should be tracking as business expenses to write off at the end of the year. Also, make sure you look into health insurance if you are not covered by a spouse or a parent.
Staging is a wonderful industry to build a career in. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. Be smart about it and make sure you are protecting your interests. There are many moving parts and things to keep track of. You are essentially a small business. Many people opt to go the employee route for obvious reasons. However, if you crave flexibility, autonomy and not having to request permission to take a day off, then a career in freelance staging just might be for you.