I read a featured post today called ’So You Want to Be a Real Estate Agent? Some Unsolicited Advice written by Liz and Bill Spear and it really resonated with me. Reason being is that every week we get anywhere from half a dozen emails or resumes or phone calls from people who want to become a stager and work for our company or they want to start their own staging business and would like to be mentored. I like to help people and appreciate the inquiries but it is a little overwhelming.
It’s really easy to become a home stager – easier than wanting to start in real estate – because unlike becoming a realtor, you don’t even have to take any courses. You can just wake up one morning and decide“hey, today is the day I start staging houses!” Bam! Now you’re a home stager! Do you know what you’re signing up for? Many don’t; they think it’s this glam job where TV cameras follow us around all the time and we get to tell people their stuff is ugly and they should throw it out and buy all new. Ummm .. it’s not quite the same thing and it takes a lot of time, perserverence and talent to make a staging business a success.
So here are the top things to consider if you want to become a home stager:
1) Realtors aren’t always your friends and most of them won’t want to work with you right away. Often home stagers when they first start out think that if they go to the different real estate offices and introduce themselves, bring some business cards, their portfolio and some treats that the realtors will flock to talk to them. Not so much. Because there are SO many home stagers, especially in larger cities, realtors often feel overwhelmed by all the home stagers who drop by their offices. Many are still figuring home staging out and will say ‘no’ without even considering what is being offered to them. It takes time, perseverance and creating a good reputation to change that. Even then, rejection is a normal occurrence even for seasoned professionals.
2) It costs money to start a home staging business – sometimes a lot of money especially if a stager is investing in building an inventory right from the start. From business registration, liability insurance, staging training & education, branding, marketing materials, gas, storage fees, website, cellphone, laptop, camera … and the list goes on. These are all essential business building items however if you didn’t budget for them they can have you wondering what you got yourself into.
3) Its hard prospecting for clients and if realtors aren’t interested in your services then its even more difficult to get actual staging jobs. If you live in an area where staging just isn’t taking off then it can be very hard to make a living staging homes. I know of many stagers who want to work but are frustrated because the people in their area ‘just don’t get it’.
4) While training programs have come a long way, its difficult to find one on one training (without paying a lot of $$ for it) so that an aspiring stager can benefit from the mentoring guidance of someone who is more experienced. Many of the stagers who approach us have taken a staging course but want more in-depth guidance and they would prefer to be hired and trained by a successful staging company as opposed to starting their own. As there are only a handful of actual staging companies across north america – the majority of stagers work alone or with an assistant or partner – so very few can afford to mentor or hire a stager as staging doesn’t really get lucrative until you have established yourself.
5) Home owners and realtors will get upset with you; you WILL offend some of them no matter what you do. Staging by its very nature is intrusive for most home owners and you touch on some very sensitive topics so its only natural that at some point you will offend some of them. Additionally because we tend to work on very tight timelines so that homes can get listed for sale, there is a high level of stress that is felt in both the sellers and realtors and can make for some tearful and angry blowups.
6) Other stagers in your area may not be your friends. As much as we want to all get along, the reality is that stagers are fiercely competitive and some may just not play nice at all. My motto is that I treat everyone the way I would like to be treated and even if I hear that someone else has not been as kind, I can’t let it affect me. Stagers should find other stagers that they can befriend however – whether it’s in the same area or here on AR – its important to have others in your profession that you can talk to as well as exchange advice and stories.
7) The road to becoming a successful home stager is time-consuming. From consults to staging jobs to social media to presentations … and more .. its easy for the job to take over your life. This is one of the areas I constantly struggle with which is creating boundaries between work and my family life. It’s very easy, especially when we are incredibly busy, to be working 10 – 12 hour days, 7 days a week.
8) Bad things can and will happen on the job. From scratching a seller’s brand new cherry floors to dropping their antique birdcage that their husband’s mother bought for them for their wedding, these things will happen. Ensuring you are insured, have contracts with your clients to cover you for when of surprises goes a long way in this business. You can’t protect against everything however and there will be jobs where because something unexpected happened, you make no money or you lose money. C’est la vie.
9) That you need to have a solid business plan - and stick to it – to make your staging dreams a reality. Some stagers never do this but the really successful stagers that I know of have business plans not only for the short-term, but also for over the next 5 – 10 years. They are extremely detail oriented, organized and focused.
10) You’ll need to become a social media expert to some degree to ensure that you are hitting all your target markets. From interactive websites to Facebook Fan Pages to Tweeting to Blogging .. all of these play vital roles in creating a viable staging business. Building brand and name recognition happens slowly however if you aren’t online then the odds are high your target clients will never find you.
11) I know, I said top 10, but I had to add one more! PORTFOLIO! Get one. Make it all your own work and even if its your house and your sister’s house – make it showcase your talent. You can do all the other things here but if you don’t have actual staging talent then nothing else really matters. If you do have talent but don’t have a portfolio then no one will know what you can do. So show them. And don’t pass off stock photos or other people’s work as your own. People find that stuff out and then your credibility is shot so don’t do that.
So I’m not advocating that you don’t give staging a shot, just understand that it’s not as easy or glamorous as its made out to be. It’s very easy to get into the business but very hard to stay in – for many of the above reasons.
Hopefully this list helps aspiring stagers and if there are more things other stagers want to share about starting up their own staging business I hope you will share!