Staci Nugent went to college for interior design and earned her degree. She describes herself as “artsy” growing up, always drawing and sketching; a career in design made perfect sense. After working in several design showrooms – flooring, kitchen and bath, and a local design center – and gaining experience in the field, she and her husband decided to start a family.
At this point, a lot of designers look to make more time for their growing family and build more flexibility in their career by going into business for themselves. But starting and building an interior design practice takes a lot of work: networking, establishing a reputation, building a portfolio, marketing and promoting. It can be intense, and difficult to juggle with a young family.
With a young son and another child on the way, Staci reconsidered her priorities, and her professional skills and experience. She realized that an interior design practice wasn’t going to fit into the life she wanted as a young mother. So, her passion for design and her drive to help people achieve their vision led her to a relatively new career in the interiors field: Staci started her own business as a virtual interior design assistant.
Vintage inspired mood board by Staci Nugent
What Does a Virtual Interior Design Assistant Do?
“When I was trying to decide which way to take my career, I saw someone post in a Facebook group to say, ‘I’m not very busy right now. Does anyone need me to do some mood boards or renderings?’ That post had a lot of comments, and I thought, ‘She’s onto something.’”
Solo design practitioners or small firms that are trying to scale up often get stuck spending too much time on renderings, presentation materials, and other tasks that could be easily outsourced.
Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) is hugely popular in a lot of other industries, but it hasn’t really hit the interior design space yet. Staci realized that her idea could be a huge help for designers, and was basically an untapped niche market.
What can designers hire a VA to do?
Staci’s primary services include tasks like:
- 3D renderings
- Concept renderings
- Concept and mood board
- 2D boards
- Presentations and tear sheets
- Product sourcing
- Photo editing
- Floor plans and elevations
- Vignette marketing videos
Her education and experience make her an ideal fit for understanding what her design clients need and delivering a professional product using Chief Architect (an architectural home design software), as well as SketchUp and Photoshop.
For potential new clients, Staci shares a standard service agreement that outlines her services, fees, and the programs she uses, and then schedules a get-to-know-you phone call. Once they agree to work together, she says, “I basically just tell them to send me everything about the project. It gives me a chance to look at everything, try to make sense of it.”
Dining room mood board by Staci Nugent
How to Become a Virtual Interior Design Assistant
When Staci looks back at how she became a virtual interior design assistant, it was a path that was forged when she became a parent and her work priorities changed. “I had my oldest in 2015. Once I had him, working was a little different. I didn’t want to leave him.”
She tried to find part-time interior design work, but never found the right fit for her skills and interests. Staci continued to work full-time for a while, preparing financially to make the transition from two incomes to one, when one of her clients asked her to take on a side-job designing her bathroom. That project led to starting her own interior design business.
“When I had my second child, my business suffered. I just couldn’t devote as much time to marketing myself, and it was a struggle to line up babysitters and make phone calls. It just wasn’t working.”
That’s when she saw the Facebook post, and the idea for virtual design services popped into her mind. “I thought, ‘I could do boards, renderings, floor plans, whatever a designer would need.’ So I started putting it out there and I got a lot of feedback. A lot of people were interested. One designer replied and said, ‘I’ll be the first person you do this with.’”
Before jumping in with both feet, Staci scheduled a call to talk through her idea with a career coach. She did some research, listened to podcasts, and did exercises to assess her strengths and interests. All of those steps helped clarify that the most fun of her job has always been doing the renderings, the boards, and presentation materials — those are the tasks she looked forward to after meeting with a client.
Since starting her virtual interior design assistant business almost a year ago, Staci has had consistent work. Her advice to others who think that a VA business could be a good fit for them:
“Lay the groundwork, work in the field, get some experience, and work under a designer. That will show you what a designer will need from you, and how to collaborate with interior designers. It will also give you the opportunity to make mistakes, and learn from them. It’s better to do that when you’re just starting out, rather than starting your own business and then having to figure it all out. Then go to as many networking events as you can, read about your field, and listen to podcasts. Just keep learning.”
Living room rendering by Staci Nugent
Virtual assistant jobs have been around a long time, and are now just finding their way into the interior design field. Way back in 2004, Entrepreneur magazine published a great article about Starting a Virtual Assistant Business. Their advice included:
- Decide just what type of services you want to offer
- Make sure you have adequate experience
- Determine your business niche
- Determine whether you want to work part- or full-time
- Conduct industry research to determine a need for your services
- Define who your ideal clients are, where they are, and how to reach them
- Examine your equipment, software and work space to ensure they meet client needs
- Market your services.
Staci hasn’t done much paid marketing. She posts to Instagram consistently and follows groups on Facebook where she responds to designers’ requests for help. So far, that’s been enough to keep her busy, and many of the designers she works with come back to her again with more work.
“In the future, I can see it evolving into different offerings. I might offer art prints for sale on my website, or maybe presentation templates to help designers present themselves better.”
For now, though, she has been able to build a thriving business that celebrates her passion and talent for design and gives her the flexibility she wants to be there for her young family. She created her own niche, and Staci is designing her own success. One rendering at a time.
To learn more about Staci and the services she offers, visit her at https://www.stacinugentdesign.com/.
- E-Design and Creating a Career That Fits Your Life
- How to Grow a Design Business That Truly Reflects YOU
- Should You Offer Online Interior Design Services?
Gather helps streamline your business and create growth opportunities. Use its elegant and easy-to-use interface to organize your design projects and collect, manage, and track product specifications.