How Much Should You Invest in Marketing for Your Design Firm?

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Okay, real talk… is anyone else just a little bit exhausted right now? I honestly feel like we’re in a pre-holiday sprint, making sure client projects are done on time… trying to achieve any remaining goals for 2020… and then there’s planning for 2021… have you started yet??

I’m not afraid to admit that I haven’t. Sure, it would probably be better to have started at the beginning of December, but I don’t think there’s a single right or wrong time. It’s what feels right for you.

Personally, my mind is simply not in a place to plan for 2021 yet. I prefer to wait until the tail-end of the holiday break, after I’ve had time to relax and feel refreshed. Then, I’ll be able to look at our goals from a place of calm inspiration, not a place of pressure. I genuinely LOVE strategic planning and can’t wait to do it right. That’s going to be my gift to me!

Which brings us to today’s topic: strategic planning for YOU, whenever the moment is right. To help you plan, we have to answer the question everyone is asking…

How much should you invest in marketing?

This question is not so different from the question: how much should I invest in my renovation? First, it depends on your client’s personal goals. They might need some updates but not others. Second, varying quality levels can create drastic fluctuations in the associated costs.

The same is true for marketing. 

So, like your answer to clients who want a quote before you’ve discussed scope, my answer to this question is the same: I can’t give you a flat number or a suggested dollar range. I can only lead you in the right direction toward making those calculations for yourself. 

To help you create a smart marketing plan for 2021, this blog post will share:

  • Steps for calculating the right investment for your goals
  • Defining which marketing channels are right for you
  • An overview of what marketing costs, in general, for designers

Disclaimer: The following information will help you reach strategic and thoughtful conclusions about where and how much you should invest in marketing. HOWEVER, this guidance should not be a substitute for professional financial advice.

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Step 1: Identify your business goals

It is easy to look around at what everyone else is doing and say, Yes, I should be doing that, too. Take blogging, for example. I could sing the praises of blogging all day. I will keep blogging because it benefits my business, my community, and honestly, I enjoy it. BUT… I will never tell you that every designer should be blogging. It depends on your goals.

So, the first step is defining them. Go ahead and list what you really want to achieve next year. Ideas could be…

  • more revenue and profit
  • more clients with a certain type of project
  • the financial freedom to hire another designer and take more of a CEO role
  • launching and promoting an online product or shop
  • etc.

When I do this exercise, I usually break it down into time blocks. What do I want in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, and 3 years? This is the fun part, so pour yourself a glass of wine or a soothing tea (I am currently obsessed with rooibos), put on some music (my go-to is Celtic Christmas, haha), and let your mind get creative!

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Step 2: Define your marketing objectives in detail.

Your marketing objectives differ from your business goals. One is the pathway; the other is your intended destination. Naturally, different business goals require different strategies to reach them. Here are a few examples, and note that these are not mutually exclusive. Both could apply to you.

Example 1

If your goal is to make $X amount of profit next year (e.g. so you can hire another designer), what are the measurable goals that would help you get there? In other words, how many new clients would you need, how many packages would you have to sell, etc. 

Let’s say the answer for you is 12 full-service interior design clients. If 12 full-service design clients will get you to your goals, your marketing should focus solely on attracting those 12 people. Everything else is simply extra. 

Example 2

Let’s say you want to launch an online store that creates passive revenue for your design firm. This is a long-term strategy, since massive order numbers are unlikely to occur overnight. So in this case, you don’t need a few high-paying clients. You need numbers. 

Therefore, your marketing will be less about targeting 12 individuals and more about casting a broader (though still niched) net inside and outside of your local area.

Example 3

If your goal is to establish your design firm as a legacy business (with potential expansion in the future), your approach will, again, be different. You will likely want a consistent stream of high-paying clients, a large digital community, and an online shop. (Look at Studio McGee, for example, or Pulp Design Studios. These firms are killing it!)

This is a biggest end goal, and therefore will require a larger marketing investment to really nail every angle of your firm’s brand and presence. 

You can see that each of these 3 scenarios require different marketing strategies to achieve their goals. Once you know what your best strategy is, you can get even more specific about the channels (and investments) that will help you get there.

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Step 3: Diagnose your existing marketing.

Once you have a general idea of what your marketing needs to accomplish, you can start getting specific about which channels will do that for you. But before you can decide where to funnel your funds, you should probably look at what is and isn’t currently working in your marketing.

If one channel (such as blogging or Pinterest) is going really well, you can consider keeping it or even ramping it up. If another channel is not seeing success, you can make the decision to try harder or let it go.

(Pro Tip: One of the most impactful “improvements” to your marketing is updating your website copy to better attract your ideal clients.)

Last week, I wrote this monster of a blog post that helps you evaluate EACH area of your marketing, from a potential client’s initially discovering your firm to signing the contract with you. Read it. Analyze your current efforts. And bookmark it for future reference!

Step 4: Set your overall investment

When it comes to outsourcing, I fully believe in spending money to get your time back. However, I also believe that your marketing investment should pay for itself in the long-run. This is where the term “client acquisition cost” comes into play. I am going to get a little technical on you for a second, but I promise it will be worth it. 

Client acquisition cost (CAC) is exactly what it sounds like: the amount of money you spend to acquire a client. You can calculate this number for your business by taking the total you spent on marketing and dividing it by the number of new clients you landed in 2020. 

CAC = $ spent on marketing / new clients acquired

You can do this calculation for 2020 to get an idea for what you’re currently paying for new clients (yes, even if most of your clients are coming in on referrals). 

For 2021, you should ask yourself what you would be willing to pay to achieve your goals. That number is a great place for your marketing budget to start.


Let’s take the example of wanting just 12 full-service interior design clients to hit your goals. If you know that each client will earn you $5-10K in profit (after taxes, expenses, etc.), you can decide how much of that profit you are willing to invest. 

In case it’s helpful, I’ve read that allocating around 10% of revenue to marketing is a normal amount for a firm intent on growth. 

how to decide what to spend on marketing interior design firm

Step 5: Decide where to allocate your funds.

Now that you have a rough dollar amount in mind, you can decide how much to put where. I think most people actually START with this step — and that’s why it can feel so difficult to make a decision. But… if you’ve done the evaluating, goal-setting, and strategy-defining work in the previous 4 steps, knowing WHERE to allocate funds will be so much clearer. 

To help you get a picture for typical investments by marketing type, I have a quick overview for you below. 

Note: These ranges may vary widely depending on your area (e.g. NYC vs. rural Tennessee), by your service provider’s level of expertise, and by the frequency of the service. And remember, like design, you really do get what you pay for!

Cost of Typical Marketing Investments for Designers

typical marketing investment budget for interior designers chart

If I had to pick, I would say that great brand photography, a beautiful website with top-notch copy, and at least monthly newsletters are your marketing ESSENTIALS. The others, you can mix and match for your goals.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it. With this information, you should be able to set your marketing budget for 2021 with confidence that it will help you move closer to your ultimate goals!

And as always, if you need help with website copy, marketing materials, or monthly blog posts, we’ve got you covered. 😉

Until next time,


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