Time was, an interior designer could operate a successful business largely by relying on networking, referrals, repeat clients, and the occasional showhouse or project feature in a magazine or newspaper. Those days are gone. Designers today need to work much harder at attracting new clients and demonstrating their worth. Yet, many would rather lament the passing of the good old days than make the effort to market themselves properly. I can’t but wonder why.
In a recent article in Luxury Daily that should be required reading for every interior designer, Chris Ramey, former president of International Design Guild, talking about the decline in sales of to-the-trade and luxury goods, observes, “Amazingly, there remains a strange and misguided sense of entitlement among design professionals and design resources that they needn’t do what the rest of luxury industry understands is necessary to find new clients and drive business.” Not only are designers and manufacturers losing out to more consumer-driven home furnishings brands, they are giving up market share to non-design providers competing for the same customers’ wallets, notes Ramey. The old model just doesn’t work anymore.
Ramsey concludes, “Word of mouth may be favored, but designers need a solid foundation in branding and marketing to be truly successful. . . . The goal of marketing, both for to-the-trade companies and interior designers, is to expand their range of influence and communicate their value propositions directly to the people that most matter. In this industry, it is the affluent and high-net-worth individuals.” Surprisingly, surveys show a majority of interior designers have little or no budget targeted toward marketing (other than, perhaps, maintaining a website) and spend fewer than 10 hours a month on marketing and networking. How can they hope to compete with companies that are spending millions of dollars to influence the same client pool?
Longing for the good old days won’t bring them back. To maintain a successful business you need to adapt to today’s market. If you don’t know how to target or market to your ideal client, contact me, and together we can create a marketing plan and strategy to get your business back in the game.
Fundamentally, interior design today is practiced much the same as it has been for the past 20 or 30 years. Once designers master the basics, they tend to add to their knowledge base on the job, resolving each new challenge as it occurs. With the demands of managing projects and running and marketing a business, they have little time or inclination to learn new skills or pursue additional certifications—unless a business need arises—with the result that over time they may fail to keep up with changes in the industry.
Surveys show that most designers do not belong to a professional association, attend conferences other than product expos, or participate in seminars, workshops or other types of professional development, whether in person or online. When times are good, that does not present a problem. When times are not so good, however, these designers may find they are having a hard time competing with those who have made an effort to keep themselves up to date not only on the latest trends, but also on recent developments and changes in processes, methods, purchasing and technology.
I am seeing this issue crop up now with some designers whose businesses are struggling and who are considering closing shop and going to work for another firm. Even though they have years of experience and a number of satisfied clients, they do not possess all the skills that employers are looking for today and thus are losing out to less experienced but, in some ways, more qualified designers. My advice is to take some time to brush up on and update your skills before seeking a position with a firm. It will make you a more competitive candidate and, in the long run, a better professional.
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But are a thousand pictures better than one? It seems there is no limit to the amount of eye candy consumers today can digest. The Internet is a veritable ocean of images, with more and more added every minute. While scanning all those photos may be a pleasant way to pass the time, I wonder whether uploading hundreds of images is an effective marketing strategy.
Thanks to sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Houzz, Facebook, and others, if you have great images, people will go out of their way to find you and let others in their network know about you, too. Of course, that’s also true not only for interior design but for all kinds of consumer products, fashion design, restaurants, and much more. With so many companies and individuals vying for attention, it is hard to hold anyone’s gaze for long. Abundance has bred opportunity, but it has made notoriety more fleeting, too.
Some designers I’ve spoken with welcome the exposure. It has helped bring them new clients. Others worry designers are giving their designs away for others to copy and lowering the value of their services. They may have a point. If designers are marketing themselves primarily through images, are they not reinforcing the view that design is only about aesthetics? Does that in part account for why consumers are buying more product but not spending money on design services? I don’t have the answer, but I know this much: It takes more than a beautiful image to turn a viewer into a client.
People shopping for products and services these days want more than some information and a few glossy photos. They want to know what’s your story. Who are you? What do you do? How do you it? Why do you do it? They’re not just interested in what you have to sell. They want to know are you a person or company with integrity, someone who shares their values and is in business for more than just making money. If you sell a product, they want to know what it’s made of, how it’s made, under what conditions, and what your sources are. In short, consumers today want the full story.
Lots of folks are vying for consumers’ attention, so your story has to be compelling and it has to be packaged well. We are living in a visual, and increasingly video, culture. People would rather watch than read, especially if they are checking you out on their smart phone or tablet. Invest in a good quality, eye-catching video presentation and some digital marketing materials. Attract rather than promote. Tell viewers about your or you company’s values, what you do to help your customers or clients, and why you feel what you do is important. Show how you improve your clients or customers lives. Let them know what you can do for them. The focus should be on people not product or design.
The customer wants to get to know you first before doing business. They want reassurance you are someone they can trust. Tell your story and show how your product or service aligns with your story. If you do it well, you’ll have an opportunity to pitch your product or service afterwards.
Fashion, décor and TV programming all change with the season. So should your marketing. I’m not suggesting that you should cater to every trend promoted in every home and lifestyle magazine or website (although it’s always good to know who’s influencing your clients’ ideas about design). It’s not your design that needs adjusting. It’s how you promote your services that could use a refresh.
Summer is winding down. We are heading into the fall home buying and redecorating season. Now is the time to start reminding clients that the holidays will be here quicker than they think and to lock in their design project before schedules fill up. They also may not realize how long it will take for that new gourmet appliance or item of custom furniture to arrive. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them that fall is a busy time for many people with back to work, back to school, events and festivals, and preparations for winter and the holidays. It might be hard for them to squeeze in that DIY project they had planned to get done before Thanksgiving. You can get that done.
Take some time, too, to assess how your business has performed during the first half of the year. If you haven’t been as busy as you’d like, it may be time to rethink your approach or strategy. Demand is high, but many of today’s clients are less interested in paying for design services. They are looking for someone to counsel them in their design choices and to provide knowledgeable guidance about which products and materials to purchase. Retooling your marketing message, your menu of services, and your social media presence may be just the thing to attract new business and end the year on a high note.
One piece of advice I always give to designers who want help with marketing and growing their business is to identify their “ideal client” and focus their efforts there. No matter how good a designer you are, you can’t be all things to all people. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our preferences and our passions. Decide what you like to do and are really good at, and go after that customer.
Let me make a further distinction. When I say “ideal” client I don’t mean “imaginary” client. Some designers take “ideal” to mean their dream client, the one with lots of money who will let them do whatever they want and shower them with praises in the end. By “ideal” client I mean the one who is most likely to pay for your services. That may not be the wealthiest client or the most extravagant client. It is, however, the client that will keep you in business year after year.
Take some time to reflect on your best and favorite projects. Why did those clients want to hire you? What were you able to provide them with that made them so happy with the result? Are there traits they shared in common, such as age, location, income or project budget, taste or style preference, occupation, lifestyle? Create a composite portrait of your best clients and that will guide you in defining your ideal client. Once you have that, you can tailor your marketing, networking, referrals and other outreach there.
But, you say, I want to attract a “better” client. Go for it, but be prepared to make some changes to “up your game” in order to do so. Take a look at who currently has that business and try to figure out what makes them successful. To land your ideal client, you need to be realistic.
As any budding author knows, showing is more powerful than telling. In relating a story, when you tell the reader what has happened you give them information. When you show them something happening, you engage their imagination and create an experience. The same holds true for selling. It’s all about the presentation. To capture the customer’s interest, show them; don’t just tell them.
Even though they have an idea of what they want or need, customers need a reason to buy. They want to feel confident that the product or service they are purchasing is the best, or one of the best, solutions available to them. Show them. Don’t just provide them with a description of the item or a list of features. Demonstrate the features so they can experience them for themselves. Engage their senses and their imaginations. Use whatever sales or visual aids you can to make the experience as real and tangible for them as possible.
For each feature you demonstrate, present two benefits. Create a story as you go along. Help them envision how the product or service will make their lives better. Be as specific and detailed as you can. Give examples. Your knowledge and ability to apply it to their situation will increase their confidence.
When you have covered all the features and benefits, sum up by reaffirming with the customer the needs and wishes they expressed to you, and then review every product feature and its benefits, aligning their needs and wishes with those features and benefits. With a clear picture in their mind of what they are purchasing and why, they will have the surety they need to complete the sale.
Ask any top salesperson the secret of their success and they are bound to mention that they believe a hundred percent in what they are selling. They have confidence in what they are providing and certainty that they are truly giving the customer something they want or need. Customers sense that conviction and feel reassured by it.
You can’t fake that kind of conviction. It comes from knowing the competition, from understanding your customers and what their needs are, and from experience delivering a quality and reliable product or service time and again. You know when you enter into a conversation with a customer you have the solution they are looking for.
To achieve that level of confidence, you have to do your homework. You must study the products you are offering and get to know them well. Talk with sales reps. Ask them questions about their products and how they compare to their competitors. Contact manufacturers and have them explain the kinds of materials that go into the product and how it is made. Gather together all the information you can about delivery schedules and methods, availability, pricing, discounts, returns and claims for damage. Look through home and design magazines to see how the product is advertised. Check periodically to see if the manufacturer is running a promotion and whether competitors have altered their pricing or offer discount programs. And don’t forget to check Internet pricing and availability as well.
When you are sure of your knowledge of the products you are recommending and of your abilities you don’t need to worry about justifying your fees or services. You can sell with confidence, certain that clients will find value in what you have to offer and satisfaction in the result.
“I just love it!” is a common expression that reveals a lot about the psychology of selling. Something about a product or offering sparks an emotional reaction in us that influences our buying decision. By connecting with that emotion you can tell which products or services a client is likely to buy and provide them with the information they need to feel assured they are making the right purchase.
We like to think we are conscientious when making a purchase, weighing the pros and cons to arrive at a sound decision. Once we settle on our choice, we feel a sense of satisfaction. In fact, the process is just the reverse. Our initial reaction is an emotional, even unconscious, one. Having felt an emotional connection with the product or offering, we then find reasons to justify our decision.
When proposing products or services to a client do not overwhelm them at first with a lot of features or details. Watch first for that emotional connection. It may be a simple remark, such as “I like that” or “Can you show me that one again?” If they appear to be leaning toward a particular choice, ask them what they like about it to get a sense of how they are connecting to it emotionally. It could be a link to a previous positive association, something that affirms their image of themselves, or something that speaks to how they would like themselves or their life to be.
Armed with that insight, you can then point out to them the features and benefits that relate to their emotional connection with the product or service, reinforcing the reasons why their choice is good one. The more features and benefits you can supply, the stronger will be the emotional attraction. At the same time, you are providing the logical support for their emotional decision.
Only when the value of the features and benefits exceeds the price of the product or service is the sale possible. At that point, however, the product or service will sell itself.
We live in the age of the freelance economy. Some 53 million Americans currently freelance, reports Forbes magazine, and by 2020 half of all workers will be engaged in some kind of freelance work, full- or part-time. In addition, more than a third of U.S. workers currently telecommute or otherwise work elsewhere than their firm’s offices. Whether you are looking to add services or expand into a new market, hiring a professional who will work offsite has its advantages.
With today’s mobile technology, engaging with and managing a remote worker is much easier than it would have been just a few years ago. This means you are not limited to the pool of candidates who live within commuting distance or are willing to relocate. Having someone in a different time zone can in some instances also be an advantage. You may also be able to obtain services for a lower fee or hourly rate, depending on location. If you are looking to enter a new market, you can find someone who already knows the area and has a local network.
Just as with any other employee, you want to be sure the remote worker, whether an employee or freelancer, meshes with your firm’s culture and ways of doing business. Especially if the remote worker is an employee, they should develop a working relationship other employees so as to become more integrated into the day-to-day workings of the firm.
When hiring a remote worker, it is crucial that you verify skills and abilities, as well as thoroughly check their background and references. At DMC, we have the tools and experience to manage this process efficiently and reliably, so you can be confident you’ve made the right hire. Contact us, and let’s discuss your hiring needs and the best way to meet them.