One of the best things about going to interior design events (markets, conferences, etc.)has been the people I have met. This has been way overdue, but Laurel Bern is one of the amazing people I have met in my travels. We met back in March at the Design Bloggers Conference, and I asked her to write a blog post for us. Yes, she did a fantastic job getting it to me, but it has taken me this long to get my act in gear on my blog. Take it away Laurel! -Nick
Six Ways To Kill Your Interior Design Business
Hi, I’m Laurel Bern and I’ve had an interior design business in Westchester County, New York for 20 years. Like most of us in this line of work, I’ve had my ups and downs–especially in the last several years. Between the great recession and the advent of the internet, we’ve all had to reinvent ourselves; it seems to be an ongoing thing. And yet… I still often hear from my colleagues that things aren’t going so well. Some are just starting out and some have been in the biz for a while. It’s just that for many, the phone isn’t ringing and that’s a scary thing when you have a family who’s relying on you.
Six Reasons Why Your Interior Design Business Is Deader Than A Vermont Maple Leaf In December.
1. You have one of these things up instead of a website.
Please don’t do this to yourself.
The potential client doesn’t need you later; they need you NOW!
There is no later. They are not going to ever come back. They are going to jump off and find someone who’s in business–not “under construction.”
Putting one of these things up sounds like you aren’t ready to do business—like you don’t have your act together.
An interior design business website can be built in one weekend.
Yes, you! Believe me; even your dumbest relative can create a website.
Look. I have a confession to make.
I’m a former Luddite. That’s right, a technical idiot. Even so, I created my website four years ago and it was ready to go, in a few days. That’s how easy it is! After you have it up and running, you will need to learn some new things and you’ll need the help of a developer, but with all of the WordPress templates (themes) available, it is easy to put up a beautiful and functional website with a blog page included.
2. You have a website but the last time anyone changed anything on it was when G W Bush started his second term. And you were never very happy with it. The website, that is. :]
It’s just sitting there, gathering dust, all cobwebby and sorely dated. Of course, your work is much better than that. They’ll find out when you bring your real portfolio over.
But, they are not going to have you come over because they are going to click off and look at the next candidate on the list.
And, it’s even worse than that.
The almighty Google thinks you’ve gone on permanent vacation or maybe even died because no action on your website = a big problem. Googs is a busy cyber-dude with a billion other websites to crawl. No activity? buh bye… Goog’s crawler is only interested in fresh content. OR content that’s getting a lot of action. Yours apparently is not.
That’s why your phone isn’t ringing. No one can find you because your Google listing is on page 20!
3. Not Having a Blog
An interior design blog is the most powerful marketing tool out there.
I will repeat that.
An interior design blog is the most powerful marketing tool out there and it is relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of advertising.
Why don’t you have one?
Oh, stop kvetching! Stop saying you don’t have time.
Blogging is fun and you DO have time. If your phone isn’t ringing, you have plenty of time. :] You need a blog to convey your personality, expertise, helpfulness.
The power of the blog is that it gives you a tremendous head-start. I’ve had many people who want to hire me purely from reading the blog. And if I can do that, so can you!
There’s something even worse than not having a blog.
You do have a blog, however, the last entry was in December 2013 when you apologized for not having written in six months; then you just disappeared–completely.
Oh dear. That is the first cousin of “under construction.”
First of all, no one (except maybe your mother) cares that you haven’t written in six months. It comes across as sounding self-important. Don’t do that. You’re not that important. Well, you are, but not in this context. Don’t apologize for not having posted.
Frankly, if you can’t keep to a regular blogging schedule, you would be better off not having a blog at all. Why? You’re marketing yourself as a flake. Start a blog and commit to regular blog postings. Yes, stuff happens. Really bad stuff. But try not to go more than one month without posting. It’s a wonderful escape from the bad stuff.
You want to keep your website fresh and regular posting will do that. It will also make Googs really happy and he’ll see that you have fabulous fresh content and will send you more folks over who might call you up for a job.
3. Your branding is fuzzy.
Your branding is your image. It tells people in an instant who you are what you’re about and if it’s something they might be interested in. Here’s what I mean.
You have a website up and running and a blog; it’s up-to-date
but, it’s all over the lot.
One section looks very corporate/transitional/staid—Lots of gray and brown. Then, the blog pages look like that of a 16-yr-old girl–all bright, neon colors.
The potential client is more than a tad confused or else thinks you must be a nut-job.
4. You Have A (Really Bad) Portfolio
(and You Don’t Even Realize it.)
Or, maybe you do.
The work is lovely but the photos don’t convey that. They are dark, out-of-focus, crooked, too small and some look like the camera was across the street.
Or, there’s a lot of distortion.
You do not want any distortion whatsoever in your portfolio shots. You are not trying to sell a home.You are showing your interior design ability.
Here’s the thing. Just because a photographer is a professional photographer, doesn’t mean he knows how to photograph for an interior for your portfolio. You do NOT want to ever use a wide angle lens. You do not have to have the entire room in the shot. In fact, the best shots are often close up vignettes.
This is also another post. But photos need to be sharp, clear and bright– And in natural light, unless maybe a kitchen but then only very low lights. No lamps on! Look in all of the shelter mags. Do you see the lights on? No, you usually don’t. It distorts the colors and gives a “brochure look” that you don’t want. You want your rooms to look natural, bright, fresh and deliciously inviting.
You want your potential client to think… “I could see myself living here…”
5. You aren’t charging for the initial visit
OMG! You get a call and you shoot right over like a Tsunami is about to land in your living room.
Desperate, much? You might be. I’ve been there too, but try not to act that way.
You think that you’re being “nice” and helpful by not charging. Surely, you will earn their trust. They will realize that by your not charging, that you’re a nice, honest, decent person and will want to hire you.
Well, they might hire you, but if they don’t, how are you going to feel after you just spent three hours impressing them with your immense knowledge?
Sucks, doesn’t it?
You need to get paid for that expertise.
Furthermore, you will not earn your potential client’s respect. Not really. This is a business and professional people charge for their services. Going to someone’s home to see if you’re a good fit is still a service. When you see a doctor for a consult doesn’t he charge you? Yes, he does. He charges you double.
And he charges for every visit, thereafter— even if he kills you.
Charge a minimum of $250. Tell them, you’re coming to work! (you are.) If they don’t want you because they think that they shouldn’t have to pay, well that is just fine. You don’t want them either. They were not going to hire you anyway, most likely. People who are thirsting for help will be all-too-grateful that you have time in your schedule for them.
By the way. If you’ve been doing freebies like this for a while, don’t beat yourself up. It took me 17 years to realize that I was being a fool for not charging.
6. Being a miserly, snobby cow on social media and/or your blog.
It’s one complaint I hear over and over and over; especially from designers who are active on Houzz. (I’m not, but that’s another story)
This is what they say:
I cannot give out the source. It’s not fair to my client who paid for that source!
I disagree. The client did not pay for the source. The client paid for the furniture, just like they would if they purchased it from a store. Does the clerk hide the vendor from everyone else coming into the store? Of course not. If all you did was specify, that’s a different matter. But if they are only asking about one piece of furniture, and you’re all indignant or snotty, it comes across sounding not-very-helpful. Who wants to work with someone who’s not-very-helpful?
You don’t need to say where everything down to the napkin rings came from or every paint color, but you need to be supremely generous and gracious online! You can’t give too much away.
But, Laurel, if I give them everything they need to know, then they won’t want to hire me.
Yes, I can see your train of thought but please hear me out.
Let’s say that I’m a brain surgeon. Over drinks and a couple rolls of sushi, I explain to you every detail of how I perform brain surgery. I’ll tell you the exact instruments, where I buy them, how much they cost. I will explain where I cut. How deeply. Everything.
Tell me. Are you going to go out and operate on someone’s head?
You can tell them where to get everything and they’ll still need you because that is only a small part of what they need to know. They are still going to want help. Only, now, they’ll want your help.
To sum up. Here are several things you need to have a thriving interior design business.
- You need a rockin’ website that includes a blog (with great content) that’s updated at least 3 times a month.
- You need to know who your ideal client is and everything on your site needs to convey to that potential client that this is the place they want to be. They will already love you, simply because you are speaking the same language.
- Your portfolio needs to sing with bright, clear, large-ish photos.***
- When you do get a call, you need to first qualify on the phone. (that is your freebie). Then, set up an appointment and state up front what the fee is.
- And finally, you need to be super helpful. To potential clients, to your colleagues. To everyone.
I promise that if you do all of that consistently, not today, and not tomorrow either, but within a couple of years, (maybe less) you will have more business than you know what to do with.
***Some geeks will tell you to use small photos but there are plugins which will reduce the file size with no loss of image quality. It helps to keep your site running faster and you can use larger images. I use and recommend the Kraken Image Optimizer.
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If you want to connect with Nick May and The Chaise Lounge, please do so on our website at TheChaiseLounge.com where we talk the business of interior design.