10 Ways to Pitch, Win and Manage Interior Design Projects

Project 365: January Mosaic
Project 365: January Mosaic (Photo credit: Greg McMullin)

I have worked on, sold and managed many projects in the corporate world as well as in the interiors world. It strikes me that the nature of ‘projects’ is very similar across all industries.Often how you propose to engage with the client to tackle the project will win you the business. Price and competence are obviously important. New clients might not trust you enough to feel they can commit to your services for the full duration of the project; so bear that in mind. Sometimes elements of risk in the project are high or unknown – you must deal with these in you proposal/pitch

(Nugget 1: By highlighting riskswhere others haven’t could win you the project on the risk issues alone).

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

Anyway, the point of this article is to summarise different approaches to charging for projects. You’ve probably heard of most of them but maybe not all:

1. The design fee

“I’m an interior designer and I provide a fantastic service. I charge you for my skills and you benefit from me being able to buy things for you at trade price, I don’t make a profit on the things I buy for you”.

This is a fair and honest pitch. Well done, I’d think about buying from you. It probably won’t differentiate you from anyone else though.

2. The markup

“I’m an interior designer and I provide a fantastic service, I’m going to do it for free for you though. I have to make a profit so I’ll make that on the difference between trade and retail prices for the things that I buy for you.”

I really don’t like this and yes I know it is widely used in the industry. Firstly your service is so good that you are giving it to me free? Really? Things that are given away free are generally valued very lowly in business. This approach might appeal to a cash strapped buyer though, so don’t dismiss out of hand. Secondly can I trust you to charge the fair and correct margin? Probably not (I don’t know you, how can I trust you?), you probably won’t have any degree of transparency on your purchases and their true retail and trade prices. Besides a savvy client can get many things at trade price anyway, buying is easy (ish) – selecting and creating is more the art, that is where the value lies.

3. Fixed Price

This is the best way to make money. Read on, I know you don’t believe me!

Many of the top consultancy companies in the world manage their fixed price projects very, very carefully and in great detail. They win the projects essentially because of their low price BUT that price is conditional upon lots of conditions. Once those conditions cannot be met by the client then the price goes up (a lot). After committing to a company the client finds it very hard to pull out later and change suppliers. In any case they share the blame for not properly specifying the project at the outset, so in itself that really is not a reason to think of ditching the new supplier.

(Nugget 2:) For this to make money, lots of money, you have to really understand what you have to deliver, in detail. You have to know all the risks and where things can go wrong and how you will handle those eventualities. You have to be clear about what is and what is not included. (Of course add-ons for what was not originally included will cost a LOT, later on when the client changes their mind!)

This relies on you being organised and the client less so. In the corporate world many buyers are themselves now very organised and so this approach to projects is consequently becoming less profitable. These projects often become acrimonious unless one side gives in over points of contention that arise “I thought XXX was included” – you’ve been there.

Remember that when you are extracting every ounce of $/£ out of your client, at least be nice and polite and friendly about it. Seriously.

Of course if you’re new to the industry you might just go for this approach to win the business and you MIGHT just strike it lucky based on little or no detailed preparation. Or you might not.

4. Phased Approach

This works best where there are unknowns that the client appreciates exist, it’s a good and fair way of making money.

You identify the phases of the project: scope, functional design, technical design, aesthetic design, etc – whatever you choose to call them are unimportant.You come to a financial arrangement for each phase before it happens. When the first phase finishes you definitively quote for the subsequent one. You might have earlier given an indication on the cost of all phases but you make it clear up front that you have a chance to revise prices as some of the risks become more clear.

The great things about this approach are inertia, deliverables and risk.

‘Inertia’ because clients are unwilling to change suppliers unless really annoyed – in which case it’s probably a good time to move on as you’ve messed up and lost their trust.

‘Risk’ because you MUST plan for all risks in this approach. Your prices include the risks, you say you are charging a lot for phase H because of risks X, Y and Z.

‘Deliverables’ because when you revise (typically up) the cost of a subsequent phase it’s because the deliverables have been changed by the client (no matter how small the change).

Oh and of course its easier for the client to commit to small sums of money rather than the whole thing.

5. Mentoring

Here’s one you probably haven’t considered.

Sometimes you just know that a client is fishing for ideas for their project. You just know they are going to do it themselves. (Nugget 3:) Well if you know that then why not tailor your proposition around that fact? “Look Mr X, here are the 8 phases of an interior design project, you can probably do much of them yourself but you are not experienced. I am. Let me work with you on a half-daily basis to help you along in the various stages. If there’s one bit you are not happy with like instructing builders or architects I can do that bit for you”

“I really like this approach,” says client A. “I’m not a designer but one day might like to be, it can’t be that hard and yes I know I don’t yet have all the skills, so having someone to help me along would help.”

Of course many clients will find their project too time consuming or their skills lacking. That’s fine though because they have already committed to you when they realise that and so you will be there to take over and finish it. At a price of course!

The secret of this one is to snare the project that others have no chance of winning because of their approach.

6. Selective Phase Bidding

I don’t like this one.

You essentially bid for just the phases that you are expert at. Essentially if you do this you will rarely win.

Many clients do not want to deal with many suppliers, they want one monthly invoice.

Yet you might not feel comfortable to handle all aspects. The solution is partnership with another supplier. Partnerships are fraught with danger but can sometimes work out well. (Nugget 4:) Make sure you work with someone you trust and make sure they know that partnership involves reciprocation ie they have to get you involved in their next project.

[polldaddy poll=2242449]

7. Capped Price

“I will charge you based on my time and the cost of the materials. However you have a budget so I promise I will not exceed it.” Crazy, don’t get involved in this type of project unless you are desperate. How do you benefit when you are taking on all the risk, this could lose you thousands.

8. Floor Price

This sounds more like it! A minimum price! However you have to sweeten this with discounted rates above the floor price so the client understands that if the floor is exceeded then you are making much less than you normally do and that you will strive to avoid that situation happening as you want to only do profitable work.

This one can work well, get your numbers worked out before you start.

9. Time Boxing

Continue reading “10 Ways to Pitch, Win and Manage Interior Design Projects”

7 Marketing Strategies for Interior Designers

Photo Credit: McVitty

Interior Designers need to understand their whole marketing strategy and how each of its 7 constituent tactics work together to grow the business.

This article is a checklist. Go through each of the points I’ve listed and apply it to your sales and marketing in your business. My opinion on what are particularly important marketing communications for interior designers are highlighted in bold and might differ if you target business rather than the public. Let me know your thoughts: The checklist contains links to other resources and there are further articles referred to at the end of this article.

1. Search Marketing – Get your prospect at the time of their decision-making.

2. Online PR – Create Awareness of your brand by getting it mentioned.

  • Industry Portal Representation (eg Thehousedirectory.com)
  • Social Media (blogs, feeds, communities)
  • Media Alerting Services
  • Brand Protection
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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

3. Online Partnerships – Link your brand WITH OTHERS IN YOUR INDUSTRY

4. Offline Communications – You should know these.

  • Advertising
  • Personal selling
  • Sales promotion
  • PR
  • Sponsorship
  • Direct Mail
  • Exhibitions
  • Merchandising
  • Packaging
  • Word-of-mouth (your old clients are your best and cheapest salespeople)

5. Interactive Ads

6. Opt-in Email

  • House list emails (your clients and prospects) – look at mailchimp.com
  • Cold (rented lists) – not normally a good idea
  • Co-branded (share the marketing load wisely and boost your brand image)
  • Ads in 3rd party newsletters

7. Viral Marketing – Electronic variants of traditional ‘word of mouth’

What do you think?

And as a PS I will follow this up with 2 more articles; one about different ways of engaging (financially) with clients; and a second about using facebook for an interior design business. The first comment, below, reflects a theme running through many questions posed to me: website designers (techies) and ad agencies (space sellers) are trying to get you to part with  your hard earned design fees; I would read a book on digital marketing that comes more from the marketing end rather than the technology end eg “Mastering Web 2.0 bu Susan Rice Lincoln”, that’s a good way to start. DON’T SPEND £10k/$15k on a new web site think about your customers and how they behave, your marketing communications need to latch into their behavioural characteristics.

Photo Credit: McVitty (Designer)

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Interior Designers: 5.5 BAD Ways To Twitter And NOT Make Money

Twitter Meta Moo! too far?
Twitter Meta Moo! too far? (Photo credit: Josh Russell)

Love it or loathe it Twitter is here to stay.

Many interior designers just can’t take Twitter seriously as a business tool. Until recently I was a dissenter too; I’ll tell you about my epiphany in a moment, but it just seemed plain wrong that the self-obsessed media could be right about something they love, for once. And it just made matters worse when Oscar Wilde’s famous phrase “The Witterings Of A Wit” could oh so easily be changed to “The Twitterings Of A Twit”. And then I was further annoyed because everyone says that that was an Oscar Wilde quote and yet Wikipedia said it wasn’t  (so it can’t be one of his). And then, really anyway, it should be the “Tweets Of A Twit” and that’s just silly.

And then I calmed down a bit and thought rationally.

Twitter is just a bit of technology with a silly name, we must all agree on that as a starting point. But if, for little or no cost and effort, I can get more potential clients to visit my blog or my web site by using Twitter occasionally then who is the Twit…my competitor who uses it? or me, who doesn’t?

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Then Ceil Petrucelli commented on one of my blog posts saying that one of her friends had tweeted my post and here she was reading it and, in the post-modern vernacular, loving it. She’d never heard of KOTHEA fabrics before. So some other kind person had been doing my marketing for me, which is great, but I felt that maybe I should be making more of an effort myself. And then I realised that I was writing yet another blog post and I was anti-blogs a year ago! Did that make me a Twitter-blog tweeting, blogging hypocrite? (My surname is Seuss, by the way).

But is it easy? Well, from a technical viewpoint I’m sure you can automatically generate a tweet from most blog posts or from within Facebook. So we can probably all produce Twitter output SOMEWHERE in our digital marketing without any ongoing additional effort. (In fact this post has been automatically tweeted, apparently).

So  I’m going to make an effort and start to use the KOTHEA Twitter Feed/Page thing that I had already set up some months ago; just in case I  might need it. In fact I’m already doing it because, as I said, I made it automatic.

Having done my extensive research on how to Twitter and how not to, I thought I would share it with you and also tell you what the “Lazy Marketer” would do to get the most ‘bangs for the least bucks/time’. So now you too can avoid the “5 & A Half Ways That Interior Designers Twitter Badly”. Without further ado they are: Continue reading “Interior Designers: 5.5 BAD Ways To Twitter And NOT Make Money”

6 Things That Interior Designers Do Wrong On Their Web Sites

website is down
website is down (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Great Web Sites are important for Interior Designers. Often they are just too great-looking and neglect to do a proper all-round job.

As an Interior Designer you have a web site for numerous reasons, those reasons will almost exclusively be related to sales & marketing.

Your web site must personify your brand at its highest level, it should probably showcase your work and maybe it should showcase some of the talents of your most trusted and valued staff. It must look wonderful.

So far so good?

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

I can show you many sites where Interior Designers have done just that. They have produced the most amazing works of art almost.

But why? I’m not saying it is wrong to do that I ‘m just asking why have you focused all your efforts on creating a work of art? Who exactly is going to see it? Where is the audience to your work of art? Who is the audience? What is the purpose?

Often the web design agency have made matters worse. Their creative staff have wanted to do just that; be creative. There is much merit in creativity but only as part of what your customers are looking for.

Maybe the web site has to look good to make your staff or management proud of working in your organisation. That’s a valid reasons too, in part.

Has anyone considered your potential customers? Your existing customers? Has anyone considered at what moments in the customer’s decision making process they are likely to look at any given part of  your web site? Definitely not in many cases.

Ask: “How have your (potential-) customers got your web site address?” If it is from your business cards then the role your web site should play at that time is to support the image, the brand journey you have already started to create with them. If the customer is a longstanding one then they may visit your web site as a sort of post-purchase gratification – maybe they want the project you did for them showcased to the world? If it is a potential customer, that you have not yet even contacted, then they have probably got your web address from a search engine. They will need some degree of showcasing BUT these potential new clients are looking for information, something to make them more interested in your company and they need something to make them be reassured of, and desirous for, your services.

So you’ve probably done a lot right in creating a tool to help the sales process along but you have probably not also created a marketing tool that plays a significant enough role in new lead generation.

What, in detail, have you done wrong then? (not you, sorry, those other interior designers!). Most of these are really very important points and not just designed to make up a list:

1. Publically invisible – there are a lack of quality inbound links to your website;

2. Picture rich, Word poor – insufficient content/information on your web site, instead you have too many nice images;

3. Gorgeously bland – if you changed the name of your company on your web site to that of your biggest competitor would anyone really notice? Do you share their language? When you write in media-speak you do not differentiate your company from anybody else. You are marketing yourself in the same way as everyone else, if that is true then you are trying hard to be average!;

4. Lost in space – your site should be easily navigable, leading visitors from one thoughtful insight to the next breathtaking interior  (or at least to the contact page). On several interior designer sites I have visited the first page presented has no obvious form of navigation to suggest where to go next;

5. Even the IT guy got confused – lack of meta-tag and headings, too much flash-content that search engines cannot see at all; and

6. Hide and seek – lack of search functionality. Without search on your site you are making it as hard as possible for your potential customers to find what they want. They will be used to using a search engine for finding information – just like you are.

There are more things interior designers do wrong with their web sites but those are ones that should be rectified ASAP.

So what exactly should you do? I’ll answer that by answering the ‘mistakes’ listed above:

1. Get quality inbound links. This is a traditional PR exercise but applied to digital media rather than print media. You want links from sites with a higher page rank than your site’s page rank NOT reciprocal links. Find out what pagerank is and put some time into creating inbound links, at first play catch up by seeing what some of your best competitors do (not KOTHEA, we are not a competitor)

2. More content: describe what you do and how you do it and why you do it. Google rates your site based on this type of content rather than pretty picture content.

3. Speak in plain, conversational English. You are not a management consultant, although your client might be.

4. Get your friends or kids (even better clients) to work through your site and watch them do it without helping. Getting around should be intuitive. Also think about the term “call to action”, wherever your potential client is on your site there should be an obvious call to action, an obvious thing for them to do next such as sending you an email or telephoning you for a brochure or appointment.

5. Keep the nice flash bits if you have them but get your IT guys to talk to you about meta tags/keywords, titles, sitemaps,  and h1/h2 tags. (Actually get them to JUST talk to you about those first of all and as soon as they mention web 2.0 just glaze your eyes over and pretend you don’t want to understand! That’s next month’s marketing job for you, don’t let them distract you!). Look puzzled and concerned when they tell you why some of these technical bits are just not possible on your site (they are not being fully truthful) and then ask them why the site was designed and implemented like it was as surely that is the cause of the problem. with the exception of inbound links, all of the things on this list really should have been done when  your site was designed and built, I would almost say that if they were not done then they should be corrected for free if they were done by a paid ‘expert’.

6. Introduce site search. This can cost thousands or it can be free. It depends who you talk to!

I hope that helps. These really are genuine, important problems with many sites and not just an excuse for me to write another list. You can read more of my articles on the business of interior design <here> the articles tend to be about sales and marketing issues rather than technology though I answer questions on either!

PS: This following link is written by Google, it covers related areas of interaction between you and your potential online customer. It is more geared towards selling over the web but you will get the idea of what you should be doing by inference: http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/landing/conversion/ebook.html

Interior Designers – Boosting Your Position In Google Search Results

English: Save Energy with the Black Google at ...Think about it. When YOU are looking for something on the internet what do you do?

You probably use Google (if you are in the UK as Bing or Yahoo are seldom used) and you probably normally click on results that appear on the left hand side and you probably do not click on one of the adverts on the right hand side. You probably also usually only click on things from the first page and perhaps only occasionally from the second or third page if there is something really hard to find. Well most people are like you in how they search!. That’s the good news.

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

So you want to get your company website listed as high as possible on the left hand side part of the main results, right?

Well here is the bad news; so does everybody else.

Even worse news, it’s not easy.

But the good news is that it is not rocket science. You CAN get better results with a little bit of effort and time.

You can pay people to do this for you. Be careful though many of them are not reputable organisations who can deliver.

So what do you need to do?

1. Have great relevent content on your web site. If there is lots and lots of good and up-to-date info about your services as an interior designer then google will rank you highly. Having bland media-speak sentences that could apply to any of your competitors WILL NOT WORK. The relavent content will include repeated uses of the keywords that people will be using to find interior designers eg “Interior Designer“, your ‘location’, your style “contemporary/traditional”, your projects “villa, hotel, private residence” and so on.

2. Have a properly constructed web site. All the techy bits need to be right. For example, each page needs to have the ‘correct’ title and the right ‘meta’ keywords in the page (meta bits cannot be seen by users but are seen and used by Google). There are several other technical bits that need to be working properly too.

3. Get your site listed in lots of places. Some of these you will  have to pay for but choose wisely – most of the paid for site listings are a waste of money. However, thehousedirectory.com, bida.org and touchlocal.com are good places to start.

I won’t want to go into too much detail in this article about what to do in points 1. and 2. from above. I’ll let you know if you contact me directly from your work email address as I do not want to share this information with MY competitors! They will eventually figure it out but I want them to take as long as possible!

For point 3. ,  you will probably hear about reciprocal links. This is where some company says “if you put me on your site I will put you on mine”. This used to work but now Google will PENALISE you for doing this. So, don’t do it. Don’t worry about it if you’ve done it once or twice but do not use this as a strategy, it will not work.

What you need is links TO your site FROM good, reputable sites. So if you get links from the bbc or timesonline then that will boost the reputation of your site (from Google’s point of view) a lot. But of course that is hard to do.

Q. How do you know what a good site to be linked from is?

A. Download the ‘google toolbar’ into your web browser, it tells you the PAGERANK of the site you are currently on. Pagerank is a mark out of 10, for example the bbc.co.uk is 9/10. your web site is probably 2 0r 3 out of 10. Which is not as bad as it sounds! The most a smallish company is likely to score is 5/10. If you get listed on a site whose pagerank is higher than your then that boosts your page rank.

Pagerank information is only updated every few months so you will  have to wait to see if you are being successful.

As a tip: most of the reputable fabric houses have a stockists page.  That would be a good place to be listed, of course you actually have to be a stockist!

Briefly how pagerank works: when a user types “Interior Designer London” into Google then the Google search engine will find all occurances of those terms over the whole internet. It will order them based on what it thinks most appropriate. Sites with a higher pagerank get a higher position, pages with a high occurance of the searched for words get a higher position, and so on through several other factors.

Hope that helped.

Interior Designers – Get more Customers On Your Website

English: Nina Petronzio, head interior & furni...
English: Nina Petronzio, head interior & furniture designer of Plush Home, Inc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article is targeted at the smaller interior designers in the UK and consider how to get potential new customers on your web site.

We assume you already have a web site up and running. We will just now look at how to let the world know about what you already have.

There are two things you can do. Firstly you can advertise, that costs money. Secondly you can publicise your web site, that mostly takes time. Today we’ll look at advertising. “Internet advertising 101” for interior designers!

In the UK, as things stand in October 2009, Google are the only advertising search engine to use that is worth your while using. Use Google AdWords. There are other interior design sites where you can advertise, we’ll look at those another time, we’ll just look at advertising through the google search engine this time.

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

If you type in Google “Interior Designer London” I’m sure you are familiar with the results. The bit on the right hand side is paid-for advertising. It’s simple to use and I think reasonably effective – just one tool in your marketing arsenal.

How do I get my company name on the advertising on the right hand side? I’m nervous and don’t want to spend too much money.

It’s not too difficult. Open a Google AdWords account. Write a mini advert that points to  your site. Create an “online advertising campaign” in AdWords; IMPORTANTLY set a budget for the campaign, say £1 per day, then you will not expose yourself to costly mistakes.

Now here is the tricky bit. You have to ‘know’ what words your customers will type into the Google search engine when looking for an interior designer. Hmmm. If anyone KNOWS the answer to this of course they would be rich. You will get many companies calling you up claiming to know the answer – trust me NONE of them do. Use your common sense or even better ask a client or friends. What the potential client types in are called keywords or key-phrases; you pick individual words or phrases, probably the latter is best; such as “Interior Designer London”.

You can fine tune your campaign for days of the week, time of the day, location, etc. etc.. But do that when you are more familiar with what is going on.

Once you have created your ad campaign then the ad appears for FREE (good for your brand awareness even if there is no click!). You are only charged when someone clicks on your advert. The click takes them to your site (you told the ad how to do that when you created it in the campaign). That click might cost you 5p or it might cost you £5. So you now need to give some consideration to how much you want to bid for various keywords.

Let’s go back to the Google user who typed in “Interior Designer London”. Everyone else interested in that 3 word phrase, including you, will already have had to bid what they wanted to pay for a click after the ad has appeared. Generally, whoever bids the most comes up first in the list (Google will fine tune it so if people click you more often they will put you higher as they will get more total revenue ). Simple enough. It might cost you 50p per click for that phrase but if you want to be less specific and bid for “Interior Designer” it might cost you £3. So you have to be specific – would you really want someone contacting you from Aberdeen ie if they had types “Interior Designer Aberdeen”? And that is important. You have to be really specific and really target people who realistically will be your customer, you have to get in their minds and figure out how they will look for an interior designer to commission their next project with.

I gave you the example of being specific by the area where you operate. That will work in many cases but not always in larger towns or cities. In fact it probably won’t work too well in London. Why? Because there are a lot of interior designers in London, literally thousands, all trying to do exactly the same thing as you which means that to appear on the top of the list for “Interior Designer London”  you might have to pay £1 per click. You will need to weigh up the many numbers of people who will type that who will never be a client against the profit from winning one such client. So try instead to choose keywords/phrases that match the kind of projects you do eg “traditional country homes interior designer” or “contemporary docklands interior designer” or “minimalist interior designer”. If you are in London then try, something like: “Interior Design Bayswater Traditional”, that would be specific enough. Then you need lots of other combinations too.

You will need to review what  you do at least monthly. Remember also that even if by doing using AdWords you put yourself ahead of your competitors they WILL catch up sooner or later. You have to innovate and stay one step ahead.

That’s about it really. Give it a try, a couple of hours should be enough to get things running.

As a closing thought; think how much time and money it would have taken historically to produce an advert for your local glossy magazine or for a 1/8 page in the back of one of the national interior design magazines. With those you operated on ‘faith’, you would never really know if anyone even saw your ad. It would take days and the artwork would cost you AT LEAST hundreds of pounds. AdWords is different it IS fair and honest and open, you only pay for what your business needs ie you only pay for someone to look at your ultimate advert which is your web site.

Please ask questions through the comments section below, if you are one of our clients we will gladly discuss (in private if you wish) any details of promoting your interior design business on the web.

The Proactive Interior Designer 1.0

Thinking (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_on_10th_OCT)

Still waiting?

You might have to wait a long time for your next piece of work to fall into your lap. Here are a couple of thoughts for the weekend about being more creative and proactive in your search for new client projects.

1. Your existing clients. They know you. You know they already spend money on interior projects. You know they already spend money with you and probably trust you. That sounds promising. You might even know some issues that exist with other rooms or other properties owned by the client.

My suggestion here would be to put together some conceptual proposals (at your own expense) on how to solve these problems. The chances are your client is already aware of the broad issues but not the solutions. Move the thought process on.

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

2. Plan with your clients. Talk to your clients about their plans for the coming year. It will be good to make them think about uplifting additions to their life or business and it might even get them to start planning next year’s projects and expenditure with you. Remember that although you may well think about Interior Design 100% of the time, your clients do not. Sometimes their thoughts need putting on the right path! As you talk about their plans you will have more information to come back with proposals over the coming months and in the worst case you may even have reminded the client about you rather than that other pesky interior designer who keeps calling here all the time.

Still waiting?

9.5 ways interior designers make more money (profit)

I Am Fluent In Three Languages ...item 1.. For...

Following on from my last article I’m continuing the trend of unusually numbered lists. So, today’s list is: “Nine and a half ways for interior designers to make more money.” The list is at the end of the article so you can skip the next few paragraphs if you want but the list is not a summary of what I am writing about so you will miss some pearls of wisdom by so doing!!

Isn’t profit a terrible word for some people? They’re almost ashamed to use it. In some design companies staff are angered about large profits. Well its profits that pay your wages, even if you work in the voluntary sector your funding comes from someone else’s profits and even if you work for government your salary comes from taxes which in turn come from profits. So now we’ve got the socialist utopianism off our chests let’s talk money.

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Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

Here it is in simple terms: “You have to sell more and spend less” and you might want to make your profits more certain by “reducing risk”. However you dress it up that, pretty much, is business. Customer service is important but it is just a way of cross-selling more products and increasing customer retention. Fun is nice, but you rarely get paid for having fun.

So moving into a little more detail but still keeping it at quite a high level.

For starters, you know your business better than I do. But I’ll bet it follows the Pareto Rule – that’s the one that very many businesses follow regardless of the industry they are in. It’s not really a ‘rule’ but it essentially says that 80% of your ‘stuff’ or outputs usually comes from 20% of inputs. So 80% of your sales will probably come from 20% of your customers, 80% of your overall costs will probably come from 20% of your cost items and 80% of your business risk from 20% of your activities and so on. Use this ‘rule’ to focus your activities when you try to improve your design business.

So, with that at the front of our minds, we go on for some ‘quick wins’. Focus on the big ones, the easy ones, if you like.

A. Sales: Cherish, nurture and retain your biggest customers, they need great levels of service and must not be taken for granted. BUT event the richest client will run out of houses for you to work on after a while…you have to have an additional strategy in place for bringing on the new large customers of the future. These will be the ones that drive the profitability of your business tomorrow. You should be able to analyse your customers/prospects by their size in terms of profitability to you and their growth potential as a client. Ideally, you need a nice balanced mix o present day ‘cash cows’ and future ‘rising stars’ for you to class your business as healthy. Next make sure you organise your sales resources to squeeze all revenues from and make profit on those mature accounts; allocate proportionately more sales and service on the growth accounts and maybe on those small, futureless accounts you just say thank-you, goodbye and re-direct the time you have freed up. If your mix of customers is not well-balanced then you have highlighted a risk to your business. Make a plan to change and innovate.

B. Costs. Your building and staff are probably your biggest costs. Maybe also transport, utilities and some marketing expenses like exhibitions. Reducing costs is tricky, made more tricky if you are a nice person who doesn’t put the business first. Your building lease has a fixed term so you probably can’t renege on that too easily and save money and even if you could there would be the costs and disruption associated with moving, your business landlord will also know that and will of course try to make rents higher at renewal. That’s your first dilemma.

More tricky still are your staff costs. It’s always best to lead by example and set expectations of high levels of delivery from everyone in your organisation. People need to be more productive whilst being creative. If your business is growing set the expectation of harder work rather than hiring new recruits. New recruits: increase overheads; require management, require training-u; and are a risk of being an unknown quantity. If your business is stable or declining take a realistic look at where you are at today and then you might try outsourcing and sub contracting as a means of reducing headcount and overheads, it could make your business more straightforward to run and more agile in its response to opportunity. Sometimes you have to let people go, yes even the people you like who don’t contribute as much as those you like less. It can be a hard world sometimes but harder for you if your business goes under.

C. Risks. Few people in the design industry systematically review risks. Take a ‘risk register’ of what you think the major risks to your business are. Clients or suppliers going bankrupt? Key sales people leaving? Web site being hacked? Losing your prospect database? Specific fixed price projects? and so on. Most risks have two general elements 1. the likelihood of them happening and 2. the impact of them if they do happen. So an asteroid falling on your office is catastrophic…but unlikely. I would focus firstly on the most likely ones and work out what you might do if that risk materializes. Review your risk register, say on a quarterly basis. ,You will probably not catch-all the risks but you will at least have the right mindset for methodically thinking of risks and you will probably also identify a few of the big ones that you knew existed but didn’t really want to deal with yet.

OK here’s the list, I could go on but I knew you were getting impatient:

1. Outsource: Outsource anything that is not core to your design business: accounting, IT, admin, some marketing but probably not sales.

2. Automate: Automate everything that you don’t outsource from voicemail, to invoice production, to invoice chasing, to order fulfillment, to customer service, to sales, to marketing campaigns.

3. Subcontract: subcontract key design resources where you have to: make a key resource freelance if mutually beneficial. You could try partnering as a means of getting access to certain resources but partnerships, in my experience, confusingly, always seem to end up being a one way road.

4. Negotiate realistically with suppliers. Your biggest and least risky savings will come from your biggest, longterm suppliers rather than by trying to eek out every last cent/penny from new, small suppliers (who will dump you as soon as a better customer comes along). But you will only benefit is there is a win-win. We are fabric suppliers. If you ask us for a discount on your first purchase from us you won’t get one! The best way, in general, for suppliers and purchasers to both win is if you negotiate an annual rebate deal based on certain levels of business. I will then know that, as your supplier, you are bonded in some way to me for 12 months. I know I’m going to get repeat business so what will I do? Probably give you even better service. The deal you negotiated will save you money but make me money overall as well because I get more sales from you than I otherwise would have done. Win-win. This is much better than individual deal-based discounts and many companies in our industry to not discount on a piecemeal basis in any case.

5. Increase productivity. Expect everyone in your organisation to increase their productivity by 50%. Yes really, do that. It would be nice to be disappointed if they only deliver 40% wouldn’t it? Your part of the deal is to give them the resources they need without the stress they do not need.

6. Add-on sales. What extra services can you provide around your core offering? If you just do design, offer a product selection or procurement service as well, or at least get an introduction fee from a partner who you recommend to do the bits you cannot.

7. Great employees. Keep the best, lose the rest. You know it makes sense. It’s a hirer’s market at the moment but never go too far.

8. Continually or quarterly re-visit how you deliver. Re-design how each of your internal processes work (ie how you work on a job) to minimise variable costs or maximise customer service – whichever is best for each process. In general the parts of your activity that the client sees should be structured to provide good customer service, for the bits they do not see, it is not so important: so cut the costs there if possible.

9. Innovate. Try something new and don’t be afraid to fail once in a while. Most top athletes in most competitive sports lose A LOT but they don’t shy away from the opportunity of trying again to win and neither should you. I’ll bet Usain Bolt lost a lot when he was younger.

9.5 Relax; have coffee, a spa day, a late start once in a while.

Similar articles are linked <here>.

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9 Common Interior Design Mistakes (Marketing)

Mr Stanley Rao CEO of Champions group named one of the “100 Most Influential Global Sales & Marketing Technology Leader” by Marketing Times, Sales & Marketing magazine called him “The Man Who pioneered Marketing Outsourcing industry using Technology”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most lists have 10 points or multiples thereof. So, for a refreshing change, here are nine common mistakes made by Interior Designers in their business generation and, perhaps more importantly, how to avoid them. The article offers some sensible advice for designers who have some degree of responsibility for selling and marketing of their organisation’s design service and, whilst not a comprehensive solution to all your sales and marketing woes, it might just help a little!

  1. Not engaging the client: It is always great to understand what the client wants and deliver that rather than a variation of the last scheme you completed. You already knew that of course! However have you thought about the client decision making process? Try to understand that: your buyer; your consumer; and your decision makers could all be different people. Taking the example of a residential project (the principle also equally applies to a business to business project) your ‘client’ may be one partner but the decision maker could be the other partner and key influencers/users could be the kids. You need to engage with all parties to get “buy-in”.
  2. Click To Read More Interior Design Articles
    Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

    Not listening hard enough: It’s easy to listen but often easy to not listen hard enough. In the sales process you may be inclined to talk too much. Ask questions, lots of them and make sure they are relevant. Try to ask open questions like “tell me about the sort of style you want to achieve” rather than closed questions which often do not get you correct information eg if you ask “Do you want red chairs?” your client may very well answer “No” but this has not told you that they want animal skin covered chairs!

  3. Attempting to ‘create’ demand: You might have been asked to do a specific job, say on one room. In uncertain times you may be glad about that. Nevertheless it is still a mistake to miss the opportunity of trying to broaden the opportunity.
  4. Don’t make too many assumptions: Well don’t make ANY costly assumptions. You might assume your client only has a certain budget. ASK those embarrassing questions about money and don’t forget that most clients have reasonable contingency factored in to their plans .
  5. Risk: All projects entail risk. Always have a ‘risk register’ (list of things that can go wrong). In advance, plan what you will do in the eventuality of any of those risks happening. Also for those truly monumental risks that may well be out of your control (and fault) then agree up front with the client what will happen in those circumstances. Otherwise the client will expect you to sort the problem out when it happens at your cost as it is ‘not their fault’. A simplistic example would be the removal of an interior wall which you and your client assumed to be none load bearing. The removal of a non-load bearing wall is straightforward but removal of a structural wall is not and is much more costly.
  6. Qualify new prospects: Your marketing campaigns, if well designed, should generate lots of leads especially if you have decided to invest heavily in those campaigns. After such a successful investment you will be energised to thoroughly follow-up all your leads. Great! Nothing wrong with that. Well nothing except that you only have limited resources to follow up the lead so make sure you focus those resources on qualifying the prospects and further refine your focus on the best prospects. Do not allocate equal resources. A simple rule for qualification is to follow ” BANT”: B – Existing Budget, or access to funds; A – Authority to approve and progress; N – A  Need exists to necessitate action; T – Timeframes are sufficiently clear.
  7. Failing to follow-up: Once you have qualified your leads properly it should then be a crime to forget to follow them up! Yet we’ve probably all done it at some point. The price of disorganisation is missed opportunity. Get some sort of system that reminds you to follow up people at the right time; be it a diary, your email package or a contact management system. If you work for a large organisation then what if the lead generator/owner is ill? How will their follow up actions be acted upon if no-one knows about them? What if you lose your diary or your PC crashes? Such errors can cost you tens of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros – a lot regardless of the currency.
  8. Not understanding your own product or service: New products and materials and methods are developed every day. (At KOTHEA, www.kothea.com, we introduce a new fabric design on average every month rather than having spring/fall collections). Keep up to date with innovations in your market. The best sales and marketing campaigns are a mix of customer need and product understanding. Take time to read trade journals, visit showrooms and talk to customers. Always ask questions.
  9. Measuring activity rather than outcomes: If your design practice is large enough to employ people at least part time in marketing or sales then you need to measure the impact of their activity.  Digital marketing is changing how business works. Is it best to have unquantifiable paper PR in World Of Interiors? Or is it best to send out 200 glossy brochures to past clients? Or is it best to have 300 clicks costing 50p/50cents each on Google Adwords? I’m not saying there is a right or wrong answer on this one but really, really consider the effectiveness of what you are spending and how you can measure it. Rest assured that your competitors are already doing that.

Business Tips For Interior Designers

English: Maurizio_Duranti Italiano: Maurizio_Duranti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Click To Read More Interior Design Articles
Click To Read More Interior Design Articles

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?

8. Networking…again

This time with complimentary suppliers. Perhaps you could periodically meet up with sales reps from companies you work with to exchange ideas and leads?

9. Gifting

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.

15. Makeovers

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.