Many interior designers are struggling at the moment in face of the economic onslaught. It is fair to say of course that many are doing fine. This article is aimed at small- to medium-sized interior designers who think they need to spice up their sales and marketing efforts to stay in business.
Firstly creative people often don’t ‘get’ business marketing. It IS a pseudo-science but not rocket science. To cut a two-year MBA short, you essentially have to: understand the needs of your target market; and sell and market appropriate products and services, with the correct price/quality/service offering, to that market. And you have to be passionate about it.
Some practical suggestions?
1. Cross Sell
You have just finished a job. Fantastic, well done! Move on to look for the next one? Well, right and wrong. The next job may well be closer than you think. It may be as close as one of the friends of the person whose job you have just finished.
Host a thank you party at the client’s house. Tea-party, ‘cheese & wine’ party it doesn’t matter that much and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You will use the job as a showcase for your work. As your client is agreeing to host the party he/she is implicitly recommending your work and hopefully what you have done visually recommends itself anyway. At the party DO NOT put business cards on a table and spend the whole time socialising with your client or the best looking/most funny person there. You are a professional, act that way or go the way of the dodo. Network. Speak to EVERYONE, briefly. Exchange business cards or email addresses or get any method of future contact. Work out what you will say in the brief exchange beforehand, work out a few variants of what you will say.
2. Go Fishing
Use your design library as a design consultancy. Offer an hourly service to prospective customers where you will help them design their dream home. This must be a charged-for service. If your clients pays nothing they place little or no value in what they have received (please remember that for all your dealings, very rarely offer freebies). For the fee they get a space, access to a computer and to your library and to your expertise. When they realise they are almost there they will realise the magnitude of the project they have to manage and control and that you are better placed to do that. Of course now the initial fee becomes refundable against your project fee. There are many benefits to this approach; your new client feels like they have contributed to the ownership of the project and also your client has paid you to tell you what he/she likes so you have a great starting point for understanding the route of the project.
3. Use the down-time
You’ve got some more time on your hands. Research a related business or geographic area. Look at new technology – would becoming one of the Twittering Wits (Wittering Twits) on Twitter help you get more business (probably not) but technology can help improve or increase your profile or maybe save you costs internally or maybe help you work more efficiently.
4. Auction your services
No of course I didn’t mean ebay, though you could try. Think about your target market, who and where are they? How do you get in front of them? Try putting your services up for auction at the local private school or at a charity auction; that kind of place is where your clients might ‘hang out’. You know your market better than me. If these are not the right places go and find them. You will end up giving some of your services away essentially for a good cause HOWEVER in return you will get wide exposure and as your auctioned service was paid for the winner places a value in it and as your auctioned service was limited in scope the winner will hopefully go on to expand the scope and pay money to you for a bigger project.
5. Run a business
It’s been really easy over the last few years for many people. All that cash rolling around, all those nice things to buy? If you think back then maybe you could have been more discerning? Anyway that’s water under the bridge. Each time you spend money work out how much profit from client time or sold products is required to buy it – you will probably amaze yourself and realise that your existing Blackberry is good enough for the job and that you don’t really need this year’s model that much of the incremental benefits to your business are limited.
Look at your suppliers, if they have a fancy Chelsea Harbour showroom then you are the one paying for it, albeit indirectly. Showrooms are VERY expensive and companies that have very high cost bases like this might be more exposed to the economic vagaries of the market more than others. The high cost bases also make the products more expensive to you – are there same-quality alternatives available more cost-effectively? Only one plug for KOTHEA’s fabrics: “We do not have a Chelsea Harbour Showroom.”
6. Plan for the future
Many companies are desperately trying to hold onto key staff so that they will be well placed for the recovery if, and when, it comes.
Take a view on when you think things will turn round and plan accordingly.
A summary of my view is that the UK economy has, in the last few decades, been driven by The City of London and Housing and Cheap Finance – they are related to a degree. Many City firms have already started paying good bonusses again. This filters through the London/SE House prices and then that has a knock on effect in other regions and in supporting industries…like yours. Green shoots may well be there.
7. New markets
Think beyond your historical clients and look at economic and demographic trends. The population is ageing, does that present any opportunities for example?
This time with complimentary suppliers. Perhaps you could periodically meet up with sales reps from companies you work with to exchange ideas and leads?
A simple thank you gift to a client can create enormous good will. Ask for a referral in exchange or schedule a 3 months meeting after you have handed over your project to the client. Ostensibly to check they are happy but another chance to ask them for leads.
10. Trend Presentations & Inside Track meetings
If you have a group of prospect clients or some wavering on making a decision. Organise and host a ‘trends evening’ several of your suppliers will presents trends in differing product areas to you and your clients. Whilst you might learn something new yourself you will find that as all the parties interact the big gainers will be your potential clients, who will hopefully become re-enthused about continuing their project and continuing it with you as the lead.
11. The client within
One of your biggest competitors will be the client themselves. Many more people are opting to do the project or part of it themselves. This will always be an issue but more so now than ever before. Work out how you will cope with that. You might want to choose suppliers like KOTHEA who will never deal with the general public only with the trade. This protects your business. You need to have a strategy on how you want to do this or you will unnecessarily lose business.
12. The competitor
You could partner with ‘trusted’ competitors to manage costs and work together on projects in the short term. Risky, but worth considering as work could be given back to you in your quieter periods.
13. Your products & services
Just read only then next sentence and then do what it asks you to before proceeding. “Write me an email telling me what your business does”.
You cheated! You read on. Anyway I would imagine that your email would have been paragraphs long. You are lucky that you are not accountants as, at a party, you have something that is perceived to be interesting to talk about. But some designers have been known to focus too introspectively at times.
However we are in a time of mass communications and limited attention spans – thank you SMS and Twitter and Facebook. Make sure you can be succint with your prospective clients when the need arises. Don’t confuse passion with effusive verbal dexterity.
14. Bit by bit
Think about selling one single million pound project. Then think about selling twenty 50,000 pound projects.
One approach to client penetration is to just focus first on getting in there and signing any deal. Do that tightly scoped piece of work well and then move on from there. eg just charge for the first phase of the design with the deliverbale being detailed plans for the client or just choose to work room-by-room. Or you could time-box developments for a trusting client who might want to trust you with GBP20,000 to do what you can within a month.
Different approaches with obvious individual drawbacks. Sometimes you may be required to think out-of-the-box. When you are required to so do it would be nice to have already given it some thought.
For a client’s forced house sale or for a sale that is tricky because of low levels of activity the appearance of the house is always key. Historically this area has made a difference in terms of the eventual sale price achieved nowadays it might make the difference between a sale or no sale. You could market a range of services here including renting items from your displays for a house open day. You also have the advantage that the seller is probably also soon going to be a buyer and potentially in need of your services for the new house.
If you found this useful there is more information <here> for those of you new to the industry.
Copyright KOTHEA Limited. This is a reworked article based on one produced in September 2007.