Category Archives: Marketing Interior Design Services

Say Goodbye to the Year That Was

How did your business do this year? I hope it was a good one, as it was for quite a number of designers. If not, well, there’s always next year. In fact, there is only next year. Regardless of whether things went well or not so well, it’s time to put this year behind you and focus on the year to come.

Do take time to examine your business’s performance and assess what worked best and in particular which were your strongest sources of revenue. Unless those were due to some temporary change in your market, you’ll want to keep doing more of them in the coming year. Also make a list of the things that didn’t work, did not provide a worthwhile return on the time or resources you invested in them, or just proved to be a waste of time. Don’t fret about them; just stop doing them now. Trial and error is all part of running a business.

Now that you have your list of dos and don’ts, close the book on this year and don’t look back. Start exploring what are the opportunities that lie ahead for the coming year. Conditions look very favorable for designers. The economy is growing. The stock market continues to break new records. Tax reform will probably leave prospective clients with more disposable income. Home values will keep going up in most parts of the country. How might these trends affect your business?

The interior design industry is changing. The interior design client is changing. As you prepare your business and marketing plans for next year, bear in mind how things may be different and modify your strategy accordingly. Build on your success and embrace change. That’s a winning combination for future growth.

What’s Your Investment Strategy?

Benefitting from rising home values, many homeowners are taking advantage of the additional equity in their homes to undertake long-delayed repair and remodeling projects. That presents interior designers with new opportunities. You may need to revise your strategy when reaching out to these potential clients, however.

Many consumers, especially those who have never worked with a designer before, regard paying for interior design services as a luxury. They believe they can get the result they want without the added expense of using a professional. To win these skeptics over, help them to see that hiring you is not an extravagant expense. On the contrary, they should view it as an investment in their home, both for today and for tomorrow, and in their quality of life.

A good place to start is by sharing with them the industry information that shows how much certain improvements add to the value of a home at resale. While not all projects will pay for themselves, many still add to the overall value of the house by making it more attractive to buyers by improving its aesthetic, functionality, comfort and convenience. Such homes generally sell for more and sell faster than comparable ones in similar locations.

In addition, create a vision of how their redesigned and updated home will add value to their quality of life. What is it worth to them to spend less time on maintenance and cleaning, to have a healthier environment, to have a home they are proud to showoff to their friends and family, to have a refuge from the stresses of daily life, to wake every morning and feel renewed and rejuvenated by their beautiful, supportive surroundings?

These consumers worry that they will end up spending more for the same result. Demonstrate the ways you can improve upon their own vision for themselves and deliver a design that exceeds their imaginations and expectations. They may be reluctant to expend much on their home, but chances are they are willing to invest in their own well being.

What Does Luxury Mean to You?

Luxury is not what it used to be. Before the days of mass commercialization, luxury was, well, a luxury. Few people could afford luxury items. They were a symbol of wealth and prestige. Today, even people with modest means can own a designer handbag, watch or gown (or a fine imitation). Gourmet items are sold in neighborhood supermarkets. Well-designed, stylish furniture and handcrafted accessories can be purchased at reasonable prices through the Internet.

The economic hardships that followed from the last recession put a damper on luxury purchases, and those with wealth chose less conspicuous forms of consumption, such as luxury vacations and getting fit and pampered at a spa resort. Today, luxury is not about the kinds of possessions one owns but about the quality of one’s life—health, wellness, relationships, fulfillment. Nonetheless, when clients hire designers they often envision a “luxurious” result. How can you deliver on that promise?

In a world in which the meaning of luxury is in flux, where celebrities and CEOs are just as happy to shop Pottery Barn as Schumacher, it’s up to you to define luxury for your clients. Ultimately, luxury is a state of mind. Helping your clients achieve the dream of their ideal home is in itself a luxury. Provide them with spaces that are both aesthetically engaging and highly functional, make their lives a little less complicated by minimizing maintenance and cleaning, create an environment where they can relax with family and friends or escape from the demands of their daily lives, and they will luxuriate in a home custom-designed to fit their needs and a make their wishes come true.

Yes, you may have less opportunity to specify high-end furniture and furnishings. Keep in mind, though, that these clients are willing to pay for high-end experiences. Transform their project into a journey and you can compensate with fees what you no longer make with mark-up.

What Does “Getting Published” Mean Today?

You can have a successful design business without getting your projects published or winning awards. Still, without question, getting published helps to solidify your reputation as a talented, experienced and in-demand professional. It can introduce you to a whole new pool of clients while serving at the same time as a kind of tacit endorsement of your work.

For designers today, the question is where should they get published. With the Internet and social media, there is a lot of self-publishing that goes on today. Sites like Houzz, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as Facebook and Twitter, make it easy for designers to “publish” their own work in many places in addition to their own websites and blogs. This is great marketing and can help get you noticed, but it doesn’t carry the same “stamp of approval” as being published by a third party.

Print magazines, both national and regional or local, still carry some weight as arbiters of taste. Most have standard policies about whether they accept unsolicited projects for publication and in what form. You should consult the editorial staff or website, if there is one, for information about submitting a project for consideration.

Fewer people are purchasing magazines these days, and there are fewer print magazines to choose from. Many magazines have gone electronic and can be found only online. The added bonus of being published online is that you can then link to the article through your website and social media platforms, increasing the number of viewers who will see it. Similarly, there are third-party blogs that cover interior design and decoration, and they, too, published projects from time to time.

Where you published depends a lot on who you want to see your project. Print magazines will reach a more traditional audience, online publishing a more contemporary one. Also, keep in mind that magazines, even online ones, had a limited publishing schedule and can only cover so many projects a year. It helps to get in early on their editorial planning process before they fill up for the year.

Avoiding Client Conflicts

Every client is different. Yet, you know from experience that many clients voice similar complaints. Use that knowledge to your advantage. While you can’t always anticipate reasons for a client’s dissatisfaction, or control them, there are ways to apply past lessons to avoid repeating conflicts with clients. Why wait for them to complain?  Anticipate where friction might arise and dispel it before it becomes a problem.

One of the most effective ways to avoid conflicts is full disclosure. Clients frequently complain that they were not well informed about costs, billing procedures and rates (including expenses), purchases and purchasing decisions (including returns), scheduling and delays, and shops charges and contract labor. All of this should be clearly laid out in your contract or letter of agreement and gone over thoroughly with the client before the start of the project and any money changes hands. Maintain frequent communication with the client throughout the project and get written approval for any purchases, additional expenses or schedule changes. Complaints often arise because the client begins to mistrust you or lose confidence in your abilities. Be as transparent, communicative, flexible and responsive as you possibly can without compromising your professional judgment or integrity.

Another area where conflicts commonly arise is design choices. Clients may dislike your recommendations or agree to a color, pattern, material, accessory or what have you and later change their mind once they see it in their home. This is not always avoidable, especially if the client does not have a clear sense of the aesthetic they want or whether it suits their home and lifestyle. They think they will know it when they see it, but that is not always the case.  In such a situation, giving the client as much visual information as possible—samples, swatches, pictures, renderings, etc. Shopping with them and involving them in the decision-making may help to avoid bad feelings later on. Also be very clear up front which decisions can be altered (e.g., paint color) and which cannot (e.g., custom furniture or window coverings).

If there are other types of complaints you encounter frequently, write them down and then think through what you could do to avoid them. Apply the same thinking to your prospects. Are there telltale signs that let you know a potential client may be difficult or never be satisfied? If so, avoid taking on those clients and the resulting nightmares that go with them. There are plenty of other potential clients out there who will value your services and be delighted with the improvements you made in their home and their lives.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Amid all the ups and downs, hassles and frustrations that come with running a business it’s easy to lose sight of what led you down this road in the first place. I don’t know of any designers who went to design school because they wanted to spend hours on the phone placating clients or cajoling suppliers into delivering merchandise on schedule. At the end of the day, though, that’s what pays the bills. But unless you’re solely in business to make money, it’s not what feeds your soul.

The day-to-day grind of running a business can wear you down over time. You can reach a point where you begin to wonder if it’s all worth it. Believe me, I’ve been there. That’s why it’s so important to take some time once in a while to get back in touch with your original passion and vision, and assess what’s going on in your business.

What could you be doing differently that would free up more of your time to do the things that really matter to you, that give you joy and satisfaction? Are there routine tasks you could delegate or outsource? Do you need to schedule time on your calendar for the activities you enjoy and look forward to? Have you been wanting to try your hand at something new, to give yourself an interesting challenge, or develop a different skill? Or do you just need some time away to refresh and soak up some inspiration?

Any and all of the above are possible, even if you’re a sole practitioner. Many options are available. It just takes a shift in perspective and some planning. I can help. Contact me, and together we can create a plan to get your excited about your design business again.

The Mark of Distinction

Home values are the highest they have been in years. Many homeowners are taking advantage of that additional home equity and low interest rates to take out loans to finance home remodeling projects. With the holidays and winter just months away, and fall design season in full swing, remodelers of all kinds can expect clients to come calling. Will they call on you?

Interior design activity picked up in the second quarter, but designers still lag behind contractors, remodelers, and kitchen and bath specialists in the amount of business they are attracting. Cost can be a factor, certainly, as can be the size or type of project. Still, all things being more or less equal, many homeowners are opting to work directly with tradespeople rather than through a designer. This suggests to me that they do not perceive a sufficient added value that the designer would bring to the project to warrant the additional cost. After all, there’s lot of free or low-cost interior design help out there. That puts the onus on you, the designer, to demonstrate that value.

If you haven’t done so lately, I urge you to take some time to review your website, social media pages, and promotional materials through the cold, hard, skeptical eye of the consumer. How are you distinguishing yourself and your services from the competition, both those outside the profession and other designers targeting the same market as your ideal client? What makes your offering unique? Do the images you are using demonstrate what sets you apart, or are they similar to those of lots of other designers (to the uneducated eye of the consumer)?

Think of the perfume counter in a large department store. There are literally hundreds of brands for the consumer to choose from, each promising to make the purchaser more alluring. Yet, each strives in its way to appear in some way unique, touting its mark of distinction, be it a celebrity endorsement, appeal to a certain lifestyle or fashion sense or lifestage, distinctive bottle or branding, or guaranteed results to attract the object of one’s affections. In the end, they are all selling the same thing, but not in the same way.

So what is your firm’s mark of distinction? It should be obvious and front and center in all your business communications. Otherwise, yours is little more than a generic brand.

If you are having trouble identifying or articulating your mark of distinction, then please contact me. I will work with you to review your marketing materials and create a unique, distinct brand presence to set you apart from the competition.

Build a Better Mousetrap

A keystone of American business for over two centuries has been the counsel of the eminent New England philosopher and scholar Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is credited as the author of the saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” It has inspired inventors and would-be inventors ever since. But you don’t have to be an inventor to profit from Emerson’s advice.

What holds true for an invention holds true for your firm as well. Are you unhappy with how your business is performing? Do other designers seem to be busy while you’re scrounging for clients? Build a better mousetrap. What can you do better than your competition? Are you a better designer? Are you a better salesperson? Do you run a tighter ship and always deliver your projects on time and within budget? Are you easier to work with and get great reviews from your clients? Do you have a knack for finding that perfect, one-of-a-kind product, artwork or accessory? Do you make sure you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s before closing out a project and take the time to carefully explain everything to the client and walk them through all the improvements you’ve provided for them, leaving them with all the appropriate manuals and care instructions?

Whatever it is, or they are, you are sure to do some things better than your competitors. So compete with them on those things, not on what they’re selling. There are clients out there who will value you for the gifts, talents and experience you have. If there’s room in the world for a Picasso, a Warhol and a Jackson Pollock, there’s room for you, too.

Need some help figuring out how to position your talents in your market? Contact me and let’s talk it through. I have helped dozens of designers to find their better mousetrap and enjoy a more profitable and satisfying business.

 

Reactivate Your Network

According to recent reports, interior designers are feeling optimistic about their business opportunities for the rest of the year, having seen their activity rebound in the past several months. As peak vacation season winds down and we head into the fall décor and design season, now is the time to renew contacts with those in your network who can serve as sources for leads and referrals.

In my previous blog I spoke about the importance of maintaining contact with ideal client prospects and former clients. The same holds for suppliers, vendors, industry reps, real estate agents, builders, contractors, specialists, consultants, and others who are likely to come in contact with current or new homeowners wanting assistance with design and remodeling projects. They, too, likely have had some time away from their businesses or had their minds on other matters during the seasonal lull. Get back in touch, remind them that you’re still around and looking for clients, and, in turn, would be able to send some business their way, too.

Depending on the depth of your relationship, you may just want to send a friendly email or make a quick phone call. For more important sources, invite them for coffee or a meal. Pass along a few of your business cards, and confirm you have their most current contact information and preferences. Make sure you have something to offer in return, even if it’s just to be available when they need a favor or some information. Reciprocity fuels relationships.

Also check out the calendar for upcoming business community and civic events, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings or fall fairs and festivities, and make an effort to attend. Take part in local design activities, like showhouses, tours, or free consultations. It helps to be visible and recognized as a leading local professional.

And don’t forget to update your website, social media channels and marketing materials. If you’re not satisfied with the amount of business your firm is getting, contact me. I can help you devise a marketing strategy to get your business back on track at this critical time.

Marketing One on One

Don’t think I’m being wishy-washy. Several years ago I advised designers not to put too much time and effort into social media. Lots of companies were jumping on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon as a way to promote their products, but professional services, not so much. Then a couple of years ago suddenly everything changed. With the growing popularity of sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz, you had to have a social media presence, because that’s where clients were looking. Now the social media space has become saturated, and most designers are not getting the kind of attention they hoped for. Such is the nature of trends.

In my more than 20 years’ experience in this industry I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. One thing I’ve learned is that when times are uncertain get back to basics. When it comes to marketing your interior design or architecture firm the most tried and true method is personal contact. Surveys confirm it time and again. A loyal client or a good referral is more likely to result in a sale than any other type of marketing.

There are a number of ways you can market one on one. Increase your networking and social activity. Invite a past client or promising prospect to lunch. Call or send a handwritten note to past clients to see if their living needs have changed lately. Send a small thank you, birthday or anniversary gift. Check in with your business contacts, such as vendors, real estate agents and contractors, and suggest meeting for coffee or a meal.

Of course, you don’t want to put all your marketing eggs in one basket. Keep up a social media and web presence, work at getting your projects published, take part in showcases, or whatever else has worked for you in the past. Marketing is all about being in the right place at the right time, so it helps to be active on multiple fronts. The more energy you put out, the more likely you are to get a return for your efforts.