If I had a nickel for every person that’s asked to buy me coffee and pick my brain about how to start a staging business, well… I should have been charging for it so I’d have all the nickels! I knew nothing about staging, real estate, or design when I started a few years ago and I definitely don’t claim to know everything now, but there were a few nuggets I wish I’d had in my arsenal before I threw myself into this career.
One quick thing before we get into the nitty gritty: There is no right or wrong way to start a business. It’s great to do your research and make some kind of plan, but the most important thing is to START. The fastest way to learn is to just do.
Here are answers to the questions you all asked. If this sparks any others, be sure to ask in the comments!
What’s step one?
Step one for me was deciding that life is too short for me to do something every day that doesn’t fill my cup. Step two is just doing it. (Waddup, Nike?) Seriously, though. I hadn’t even heard of home staging just weeks before I decided to start a home staging business. It was risky and bold and, frankly, I don’t know what I was thinking… but I put everything into it and I’m so glad I did.
Did you start as a side hustle? If so, at what point did you decide to make it full-time?
I went all in when I started, but only because I had no other choice. I was totally checked out of my advertising job – miserable, actually – and when I got laid off I knew it was the universe telling me to get my life together and do something meaningful. I had some savings and used my severance to float me while I hunted down my first staging job. This was a dark time for me, working every day at something with no paycheck in sight. But after two months we landed our first job and suddenly it was all worth it.
That said, side hustles are fantastic if you can manage it. But if your side hustle is your passion and you can take the brief financial risk of dropping your day job, I say go for it. I’m a firm believer that if you focus all of your attention and energy on your side hustle, it will become your main hustle. Looking back, it seems crazy to me that I spent 60+ hours a week doing a job that sucked the life out of me and didn’t start staging sooner.
How much money do I need to start?
This totally depends. I chose one of the more expensive business models (because I didn’t know there was another way) and decided to buy all the inventory for each job. By doing so that meant I had to pay to move it and store it as well, but that I can use it over and over again. If you go this route I recommend having a solid line of credit because cashflow issues are very real, especially when you’re fronting the money for all the inventory before getting paid.
There are plenty of ways to stage without the burden of massive overhead costs. You can start by doing occupied stagings (styling just the owner’s things) while you slowly collect furnishings. You can rent furniture and supply your own decor like plants, pillows, art, etc. You can also take on one small job at a time. Go at a pace that works for you! There’s no one way to make it work.
How did you learn to stage? Did you take any classes or have a mentor?
I leaned pretty heavily on my business partner, Michelle, at the time. She got a home staging certification and was able to lay out some of the basics – how to charge, what your contract should say, floor plans, etc. – and that was helpful. What we realized very quickly, though, was that there’s no amount of preparation you can do that equates to the learnings you’ll get by just doing it. We got SCHOOLED in our first few jobs and looking back, I still can’t believe we got paid for the work we did.
The best advice I can give is to just keep staging for anyone who will let you, ask for honest feedback every job (from realtors, photographers, other stagers, etc.), and know that it is a process.
How do you know if you’re good at staging or design?
I’ve always heard that you can teach design but you can’t teach taste. This terrified me. I had been told by friends that I had good taste but I had no idea if I could translate that into an actual space. I did an accelerated online interior design program through NYIAD just to get the basics and I think it gave me a bit more confidence. There are home staging classes like HSR and School of Home Staging that you could also explore.
That said, the fastest way to know is to ask those closest to you what they think of your home. I emailed 10 friends/family members and asked them questions like “what do you think I’m good at?” and “what services would you pay me to do?” Nine of them answered “interior design.” That sealed the deal for me.
Is there anything you wish you’d known then that you know now?
Oh, child. Yes! Everything! But what would be the fun in that? There’s something to be said for creating something from scratch and learning as you go. Even still, I wish I had known the schlepping to styling ratio. Unless you grow your team, I’ve found that 80% of a stager’s job is schlepping, hauling, moving, admin-ing, etc. and 20% is actual styling. It wouldn’t change my decision to do this, but I probably would have gone to the gym a lot more.
How has your business grown since you started?
It has stretched and grown in many unexpected ways. Staging quickly opened me up to various interior and commercial design projects, like this cabin I just finished in the gorge, and now the business is equal parts staging and interior design. Who knows where it will go from here, but I’m sure enjoying the ride.