Many Interior Designers who sell to the general public see Facebook as just one way of lead generation – to some it is more important than others.
Ok here goes. This is a real life example where KOTHEA’s MD set up her personal username on Facebook incorrectly, there was already a Fan Page for KOTHEA. This article takes you through the steps we had to take to get the ‘vanity’ url correct both for the individual and for the company. Our MD inadvertently set her personal username (vanity URL) as ‘KOTHEA‘. So if anyone typed www.facebook.com/kothea it took them to her personal page rather than to the ‘proper’ company page. This situation got progressively messy as she started to use Facebook more for personal matters with business messages appearing in the same place as her personal ones. The result was that many of her friends kept seeing fabric related articles when they were not interior designers. Hopefully you get the picture!
as the original name for the company as it was assigned by Facebook. Note for this all to work you must already have created a business page or FAN PAGE for your business.
What we want to do is threefold:
Release the facebook.com/kothea name so that it can be re-assigned to the business page
Change her vanity url/username name to something more like what it really is
Assign the proper company name to be KOTHEA.
Before we get started in earnest there are five critically important points: firstly, the person making these changes must be an administer of the business page and logged in to that page via THEIR PERSONAL ACCOUNT; secondly, you can only make changes to names once so be very, very careful; thirdly you must have at least 25 fans of your business page; fourthly, your business page must have been created as a Facebook PAGE not a group or anything else, it must be a page!; and finally Facebook sometimes requires that your personal account has been verified by mobile phone before any of these changes are allowed to be made.
If you are creating a page for the first time BE VERY CAREFUL some Facebook Fan Page setting CANNOT BE CHANGED (Jan 2010).
Here are the steps to go through:
Check to make sure what settings have already been made
Type in this exactly: www.facebook.com/username ie do not put in your username put in the word ‘username’. You will get a message like the one below.
This confirms that KOTHEA is my MD’s username.
2. From the facebook menu go to SETTINGS and then to “ACCOUNT SETTINGS”. You will see something like the following where we now want to change the Username NOT the name.
3. Click on the word “change” the one next to USERNAME. ie the one above the word KOTHEA in my example. You are then prompted for a new username. It must be unique and there are various limitations to what you can have (sorry I don’t know all the restrictions but Facebook seems to disallow certain names even though they might be unique – for example i think only one ‘full stop’ is allowed). Be very sure what new username you want. Continue reading “Facebook Fan Page & Vanity URL For Your Interior Design Business”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
LONDON, England. 05-OCTOBER-2009 11.30 AM: KOTHEA today announced it has expanded its panelling collections with the addition of KORAFT. Like KOTHEA, KORAFT is, well, just a little bit different and in the nicest possible way. KORAFT is just one of those products where you desire what you see – the very highest quality, beautifully textured raffia-like wall panelling also suitable for domestic upholstery.
Colour Shown: Natural
Other colourways: 1
Composition: 73% Cotton, 27% Viscose
Primary Usage: Panelling and upholstery, contract & domestic.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.