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How To Take Your Interior Design Business To The Next Level

From the smart folks at Qpractice.com:

Whether your interior design business is just starting out or you have an established interior design firm, there’s likely room to grow. What’s next for your company? Is it hiring more staff so you can take on more projects? Perhaps it’s diversifying your project scope. Maybe it’s creating a more focused interior design brand.

Market yourself
Put your interior design business in the marketing spotlight! Update your business cards and signature line. Even in today’s digital world, don’t underestimate this little slip of paper. It’s still important. First, make sure your business card reflects any credentials you have earned, like NCIDQ, LEED, or PMP. List your professional memberships such as ASID or IIDA.

The best interior design business cards are unique – think outside the box! You aren’t doing yourself any favors by finishing up that box of outdated business cards. Replace them with something snappy, like Moo. Even if you’re an employee and your firm does not update your cards often, do it for yourself. Share a project photo, or sketches that show the work behind the scenes. Chatting about the process behind that newly finished project can be a great ice breaker. Just make sure you have permission to share when using photos of a client project.

A new business card doesn’t just help you with new acquaintances; it’s also a great excuse to catch up with existing contacts. Since you’ll be following up with everyone you hand your card to – make sure your email signature line is consistent with your card.

Refresh your social networks
It’s no longer enough to take advantage of social media; you have to constantly refresh and keep up to date. Make sure your presence reflects your most recently completed projects. Update your profiles, headers, and backgrounds on:
• Facebook
• LinkedIn
• Houzz
• Twitter
• Instagram
• Snapchat
• Pinterest

Don’t just concentrate on the social media options your clients use. Connect with colleagues and peers in the industry. Make sure your posts always link back to your website. You don’t have to be everywhere all the time, just pick a few that make the most sense for the people you want to connect with. Then be consistent. If you don’t use a network, don’t let it sit stale — consider retiring it so you can focus your energy where it counts.

Upgrade your digital portfolio and online presence
Make sure you or your company has an updated digital portfolio at the bare minimum. Interior designers need their own website to display their work. How many design websites have you visited and there were no portfolio images available to view? Or worse yet, out of date photos, or the last updated blog post was a few years ago. What kind of message does that send? It’s hard from a client’s view to decide if a designer’s aesthetic and personality aligns with their own. Potential clients will pass you by if there’s little to look at, or what you show looks stale.

Read the fine print when you update your portfolio on Houzz, and make sure their terms of use fit your business. While Houzz boasts of over 40 million unique monthly visitors that are actively building, remodeling and redecorating their homes, their business model may or may not suit your needs. Houzz offers a unique opportunity to reach an audience that is looking for your services. Think of it like that giant online cocktail party where you have an opportunity to mingle and meet new people. But, just like at a party, your goal should not be to try to sell someone before they get to know you; that’s icky. And be aware that Houzz also uses your photos to sell their products. Houzz is really about exposure. It can still be a great place to meet people, get known and have fun.

Give your website a facelift
Make sure your interior design marketing plan includes a regular website refresh. Companies that don’t redesign their websites every few years look outdated — the kiss of death for interior designers.

If your website is clunky and doesn’t work on mobile, redo it. If the navigation is confusing and visitors can’t find your contact information quickly, it’s definitely time for a change. Your website should enhance your business, not detract from it. Refreshing your website is an opportunity to reinvent its appearance and improve its function. Is your site as search engine and user-friendly as it could be? Team up with a talented web designer, and create a plan. Just like we use blueprints, they’ll wireframe your design and can help you optimize it to help lead new clients in, rather than have them bounce away.

Get out there and speak your mind
Get your voice out there! Volunteer for panel discussions at interior design events. You’ll build your authority and may even get some press coverage. Another option is to participate in semester portfolio reviews at a nearby college. It’s a great opportunity to meet other professionals. You may also be able to make some student connections to recruit fresh talent for your firm.

Press
If just the thought of public speaking makes you sweat or break out in hives, build your authority and show off your expertise in writing.

Start or update the blog on your company website or contribute to an already established design blog. You may find you develop a following and catch a new client or two. Showcase your knowledge by becoming known as an expert source for articles on sites like HARO. HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out, and is a source for news reporters and writers to quickly find sources for their stories. HARO brings reporters and influencers together, and gives brands and businesses a forum to tell stories, and promote their products and services.

Make it easy for writers to select you as an expert interior design source for their articles, either in media or traditional print. As a HARO source, you have the opportunity to request the reporter to include information about you and your blog, if you have one. HARO’s basic membership is free.

Stand out from the competition
Research and understand your competition and what they do and don’t offer. What do you do that’s both valuable and different? Residential designers are also competing with free design services offered by furniture retailers. Without devaluing your competitors, your goal is to prove how your skills and services better match the needs of your ideal clients.

Earning your NCIDQ Certificate already sets you apart as competent. You’ve proven your ability to design safely for code regulated environments, like commercial projects. But it’s still up to you to show how this can bring a better return on investment for business clients. Interior design regulations vary by state, and your NCIDQ certificate may allow you to submit drawings for permitting. Use this to expand your business opportunities. This makes it much more convenient and cost-effective for clients who don’t want the hassle with dealing with many people. Show them how you can save them time and money when you take the weight off their shoulders.

Play up your strengths and your unique offerings that save your clients time and money. Examples include quick turnaround on 3D rendering services or an exclusive team of subcontractors that can make even the most difficult projects come together on time and on budget.

Build your client base
Word of mouth is the best advertising. When happy clients share their delight with others, it bolsters your own marketing momentum.

• Join organizations or groups that attract the type clients you want to work with. These don’t have to be all business or professional groups. Include exercise classes, groups from your child’s school or sports team or religious organizations.
• Host an open house or happy hour at your office
• Attend local Chamber of Commerce meetings
• Include client testimonials or videos on your website

Show off in a show house
Designer show houses can be a fantastic opportunity for potential clients to experience your work first-hand. While participation is often by invitation only, you can volunteer to help run and guide a show house so you can meet the organizers. Help things run smoothly for the organizers and sponsors and you’ll be next up at the top of the list.

Keep learning
Take your CEU’s online to save time. On top of required CEU’s for NCIDQ certificate holders or your license, it can be a challenge to keep up with industry advancements, new products and technology. Continue to learn and stay current. Fortunately there are plenty of events to help you do just that. Schedule time in your calendar quarterly and annually to attend conferences or take an online class. Plan ahead so you can meet these goals well in advance instead of devoting your “leftover” time. Your best intentions to do something won’t keep your time from vanishing into an abyss unless you block it out on your schedule. Would learning (or sourcing) 3D rendering help some of your clients better visualize your ideas? Find a class in Revit, Photoshop or working with remote teams. Many interior design schools offer continuing education courses in a variety of subjects. Many top industry vendors offer CEU courses that count towards your continuing education fulfillment. Look for CEUs certified by the Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC).

Update your apps
Finding yourself short on time but still drowning in your inbox? Learn how to use tools like Slack, Messenger or WhatsApp with your clients and team. Share moodboards, parti, and concepts with clients and team using Pinterest private boards. Screenshare and walk through projects on live webinar or video. If you find you love live video, consider Facebook Live to grow your audience of potential clients. You can use these new tools to talk with your clients just like you’re both there together. Then tie it all together and dump your to do list into project management tools like Plutio. Finally, be sure to manage your notifications and set time to disconnect so you can actually get work done.

Attend interior design industry events
Travel, find new products, and get inspired at trade events. Trade shows are a great way to keep up on new products coming to market, forge vendor relationships, and attend seminars. Look at both large trade shows and those given by local metro areas like Metrocon or design organizations like ASID and IIDA for throughout the year.

 

 

Robert DiGioia
Robert DiGioia
Robert is a journalist, graphic designer and copywriter. After a 13-year stint in Manhattan, he's returned to his native New Haven, CT, as a creative director for Hearst, writing for Connecticut Magazine and supporting Hearst's ad sales and marketing teams.

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