Want to make it big as interior design professional? Then start small.

Start out by promoting yourself as an "interior consultant," rather than "interior designer." Why? For one thing, it's an outstanding way to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. Chances are, there are far more designers in your area than consultants.

Then, too, consulting can be a shortcut to bigger and better things. Those who land larger design projects often begin by simply advising clients about them.

They begin the relationship merely by making themselves available as consultants. They get their foot in the door — and position themselves to take on the full project — by offering consultation services first.

Savvy designers know that consulting sessions are paid marketing opportunities. The sessions provide you with a chance to showcase your know how and problem-solving abilities, and position yourself for future projects.

Many design professionals discover that consultation by the hour — or, as one firm puts it, "buy the hour" is a smart way to fill their calendars and line up business. There are consulting opportunities in every aspect of interior design, from color to kitchens, from space planning to staging.

But perhaps you think that consulting is no way to generate big profits. Think again.

Think about charging a consultation fee that's 3-5 times your normal design fee. Think about requiring a three-hour minimum. Think about how much easier it is to sign a major contract with new clients after you've consulted with them first.

Many design professionals report a substantial success rate in converting consulting clients into full-time design clients.

Want to delve deeper into this idea of hourly consultation?

Step one: Compile a list of the most common design challenges your prospects confront challenges such as a lack of time and/or financial resources. Could be they're clueless about color and fabric options, or how to begin their office remodel or new home design. Maybe their homes or work space are outdated, and no longer work now that their lifestyles or business focus have changed.

Chances are they don't have design resources and don't know where to go and to whom to turn to furnish their space.

It's up to you as the interior consultant to address those challenges, not just when you interact with clients, but also when you talk, tweet, text, post or promote yourself in other ways. Use you marketing materials to list the topics on which you advise clients.

Those topics can include everything from space planning and kitchen and bath design to window treatments and accessories. Or they might address more specialized issues, such as staging properties for resale, universal design, healthy office space and feng shui.

Devote a page on your website to your new customized consultation service, promote the service in a letter to clients, and get out the word in news releases to online and print media.

There's a lot to be said for promoting your interior consultation services in these competitive times. Not only does it distinguish you from competitors, but it also builds your image as an expert.

And that, in turn, should build your business.