Many lighting designers enjoy the security of being employed, but plenty of others will have the drive and desire to start their own practice. That is exactly what led Christina Nicolaides, owner of Truly Lighting, to set up her own business over a decade ago. Here she shares her expert advice on starting your own practice.
Experience is key
It is important to gain a lot of experience before going it alone. Make sure you work on a variety of projects, with different clients, partnering with different architects and/or interior designers. Understanding how to take a design and run a project from the initial meeting to the lighting scene setting at the end of the project. This will ensure you have the skills and knowledge to tackle any project confidently.
This experience will also ensure lighting designers know how the business side of a practice works. This is crucial as creating a lighting design is only part of having your own practice, you must also understand how to price a project, what time it is likely to take, and what costs will be involved.
Make sure you build up an extensive database of contacts. Attend plenty of lighting and interior design events, which will not only expand your network, it will ensure you keep on top of lighting trends and new products. It may be that you have to attend events in your own time; that may seem a lot to take on, but it will pay dividends in the future.
Before you get close to setting up your business, you need to have an honest assessment of what your overheads will be. Be realistic about what you can afford, taking on an impressive office in an expensive part of the city may feel good, but it is really practical? And once you know these overheads, how will you secure enough business to make sure you can pay your bills and make an income? Now is the time to plan how you will find clients initially, followed by increasing your client base, securing more projects to work on and increase your revenue.
Once you feel secure and ready to start your own business, think about others in your circle who can offer advice. Do you know a self-employed accountant, marketing specialist or other business owner? Buy them a coffee in exchange for asking them for their thoughts on running a business, what has gone well, what has been a challenge, and what they would do differently. While not all of their experience will be relevant to you, there is bound to be some synergy with your plans for starting out on your own.
Christina found that starting her own business was incredibly exciting, but also “a little daunting”. However, she definitely feels that knowing that all the decisions are made by her and what she feels is right, has made the design process so much easier for her. She sees the benefit that she can be much more creative and put her own stamp on designs, without the constraints of needing to seek approval from bosses, or focus on results for the board or shareholders. This means she can focus on delivering the best outcomes for her clients and their needs.