My friend Linda Merril, who is a local blogger, wrote this article hat appeared in the Williams Sonoma Designer Pages called, 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I First Started a Design Business.
I agree with some of what Linda says, but not all. Here's my top 10.
1) Do not work for free. Learn how to bill. If you don't respect your time, no one will.
2) Trust that you can succeed. I had a few careers before this and had all the background, but not all the necessary skills, so I read everything I could get my hands on and took classes.
3) Ask for help. I never worked for another designer. I am glad I never worked for another designer as this way I could build the kind of company I wanted. Sure the learning curve was steep at times, but I wouldn't have it anyother way, looking back. I started slowly and learned as I went along. When I needed help, I asked people for it. This doesn't have to come from people in the field, but that can be great, too.
4) Get a deposit and a retainer– That way you will get paid every time.
5) Meet with everyone you can and ask their advice about running a design business. Parallel businesses are often very similar and can offer good insight. If your friend is good friends with a business lawyer, talk to her. A florist? Arrange for a luncheon. Free advice from professional contacts is great and some of the best advice I got came from one of my first clients who is a freelance fundraiser ("Learn how to bill.") and a florist ("Only work for people who are kind" and "It will take 5 years until you really feel like you know what you are doing, and then you'll just keep learning.") That being said, ignore all dumb things that people tell you.
6) Don't pretend to know what you are doing if you don't. It's OK to say, I have to check into that and get back to you. Say it with confidence. Vendors know when you don't know what you are doing. So do clients, but no one is expected to know everything. I often say, I have to mull that over a bit or call some contacts to make sure it's the best way to proceed.
7) Plan for a rainy day. Or a sick day. Or a vacation day. You will need all of these.
8) Starting a business often means you get to pick the 70 hours a week you want to work.
9) The business of design is NOT mostly about design. It's a business. A creative business, but if you cannot handle the business side, or hire someone who can do the business side, you will not succeed.
10) What you do has very little to do with what you see on any of the design shows on HGTV.