Interior design referrals are the life blood of your business. While they will happen organically, you can do a lot to ensure they happen on a regular, predictable basis.
A cautionary tale about how NOT to lose interior design referrals…
I’d just completed a couple of rooms for a client and his wife, both attorneys with a young daughter, in a lovely home.
Their firm was hosting a Christmas party and they’d volunteered their home.
They asked if I could do the layout and tabletop decorations and I agreed enthusiastically.
This job was a little unusual because the husband was the lead. I really only met his wife once. Both of them were busy in their careers but hers was given priority. (This matters, keep reading.)
We stored their entire living room furnishings in a truck for the weekend of the event.
The tables were spectacular, sporting three feet tall martini glasses with floating candles.
They sent me a lovely email following the event saying how successful it was and how everyone had a great time.
Then they gave me the not so good news…
Many of the guests (attorneys, one of my favorite markets) had requested my card. But, (drum roll here) they asked the wife, NOT the husband.
She didn’t have any of my cards, he did. I knew that with the crush of the season, no one would remember to follow up and so no interior design referrals came through.
(Yes, I was well compensated for the party design and decoration. It just would have been awesome to have a couple of new clients come from it.)
Future events, I leave a tasteful tent card with contact on the table for interior design referrals (not a business card, that’s tacky.)
Clients are fine with it because it makes the referral elegant and easy. They are thrilled to refer because it’s a compliment to the success of the party and décor.
Get interior design referrals with ease.
First, as you are working with a client and they are appreciating the results of your talent, ask. Let them know how much you enjoy working with them and ask if they have friends, colleagues, or family that would appreciate your services also.
The key in asking for an interior design referral is to make it about the client, not about you. Make it about how great they are to work with and you’d love a couple more clients just like them. (If you say 10 more, it sounds like you are desperate.)
Second, create a reward system for interior design referrals. Most clients don’t need or want a reward, but it’s great to say thank you with a bottle of wine, a gift card for dinner to their favorite restaurant, or a pair of tickets to a hot event.
You can also provide gift certificates for your services to clients as a thank you, and that’s a nudge to keep them coming back. If you make the certificate transferable, they can leverage that as an easy referral device.
Third, make sure that you are asking for referrals on a regular basis and not just of your clients. Research real estate agents, builders, contractors, and other suppliers who share your market and form a referral network. I’ve gotten business from all of those folks and often it was unexpected and unplanned. Imagine what happens if you plan it!
Let’s be honest, every time you think of the best client gifts, you are also thinking about what will make you memorable, irresistible, and referable. I’m just stating what you’re thinking!
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes great business sense to invest in the best client gifts that will absolutely deliver that kind of impact. You may be thinking “how little can I spend” for the best client gifts. Really you want to think about how can I create a BIG WOW and generate lasting positive impact.
As an interior design professional you have an enormous advantage when it comes to the best client gifts. You not only know your clients home and lifestyle inside and out, you also know what matters most to them, their food and flower preferences, and their not-so-secret indulgences. (And if you don’t, then you haven’t done your homework!)
The best client gifts always meet three essential criteria. They are personal, shareable, and create a positive experience. The good news is that they cost from $20/month to the skies the limit. I say per month because when you can make these gifts ongoing, as in monthly or bimonthly, they have a much longer impact. Let’s take a look at what’s possible.
Best Client Gifts ~ The Caffeinator
If you are doing small jobs, what you might consider one and done projects, this will be a fit. On the super simple end of the scale is a monthly mailing of a Starbucks card or other favorite local coffee hangout if your client is a coffee or tea fiend. If you aren’t sure, find out! And be sure the card is at least $20 so they can share it with a friend or family member if they want to.
In my first 5 years in design, I said yes to everyone and at one time juggled 40 clients. Had Starbucks been around then, this would’ve been a fit. Imagine their surprise and delight at getting a new card each month, you don’t have to tell them you are going to do this in advance, or you can tell them. And be sure to include a personal note, perhaps with a picture of the work you did for them or a design element you know they’d love.
Best Client Gifts ~Incredible Edibles & Aromatic Colorfuls
Stepping up to a larger investment consider a fruit, cookie/candy, or floral delivery per month or bimonthly. It’s a lovely reminder of your services while being entirely shareable and personal because you know their favorites. Select flowers based on the colors of the interior design work you did, and include a personal note with every gift.
Best Client Gifts ~ An Affair to Remember
If you’ve got just a handful of large projects, dive deeper. Select an experience your client would enjoy, movies, theatre, sporting events and look at providing a minimum of two tickets bimonthly for an unforgettable experience they can share with a friend or family member. If they have kids, consider kid friendly activities like amusement parks, museums, botanical gardens, pottery painting and such.
Best Client Gifts ~ Endless Appreciation
For lifetime clients mix it up and apply all of the suggestions here but in different months. You could start off with a pair of tickets to a cool event, then skip a month and provide a gift card to their favorite restaurant or a private chef for dinner at home.
Your work is visible daily, is your appreciation as evident?
Are you creating surprise and delight that will have them buzzing to friends and family, and ringing up a colleague to brag about how you’ve delighted them again?
If you prefer to only make your gifts a one and done, you’ll need to work a bit harder to stay in touch in a personal, meaningful, and relevant manner so that when they are ready for the next phase or want to move to a larger home, your name is the first one they consider.
When you’re taking time off for the holidays, you can boost your interior design social media. In fact, what social media thrives on isn’t just pretty interior images, they also want to see you. Leverage the hashtag #interiordesignerslife along with other selected tags to build your brand across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, even while you’re having fun with family and friends.
Every holiday experience you have, every place you visit, each trip you take is more original brand content for your interior design social media. The pics you take at the holidays can be used for the coming months as long as they aren’t strictly holiday in theme.
From as early as October through December, there are always lots of events to attend whether it’s showroom festivities, supplier celebrations, friends having a holiday get together, a charity bash, your own party or that of a client. Each opportunity brings with it a creative canvas of ideas for your interior design social media.
There are plenty of times when you’ll be knee deep in design work and spending more time behind your computer or on an unfinished job site; not always great photo opps. Pulling from your archives of great images both interior and personal will keep your social media engine humming and your brand visibility growing.
And social media can be a chore if you haven’t created a repository of images to draw from. You’ll find yourself in that uncomfortable place of wondering what to share today or what to post this week.
Avoid the creative social media dry spells by leveraging your holidays for extra photo moments including hot product, cool interiors, and pics of you in action. Design is about selling yourself as your brand, the holidays give a golden chance to get into the action and capture it for leverage.
I’d love to hear about the awesome pics you are going to take this holiday season, or if you are reading this another time, what opportunity have you got to archive pics for use going forward. Travel, events, theatre, music, markets and more are the stuff of #interiordesignerslife.
Do you always send holiday cards to clients? Stop it. You aren’t standing out from the crowd, in fact, you are just another bit of noise at a very busy time of year for everyone.
In addition, if your card isn’t written personally and addressed by hand, all it says is “I sent one of these to every client I have; you aren’t that special.” Not generally the message you want to deliver, now is it?
Holidays are especially tricky because you have know if your client celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa or another celebration and just because they are a religion doesn’t mean they practice it. See my point?
Instead of your generic send holiday cards to clients routine, pick a couple of other more interesting days to celebrate. My client, Susan, is a big coffee lover and so are her design clients. International Coffee Day is September 29 (I did not make that up!) She sent a fun card with a Starbuck’s card enclosed to all of her clients both current and former. Two recipients got in touch to say thanks and initiated new design projects.
Another designer I coached, Rochelle, is an ice cream lover so she chose to send gift cards for a complimentary ice cream from her local gourmet brand. National Ice Cream Day is July 15, so it landed when several clients were enjoying their summer vacations and made it that much sweeter. Not to mention no one else was celebrating such a unique occasion, nor did they provide a small token of appreciation.
When you send holiday cards to clients you are following the flock. You don’t separate yourself as a unique creative because you are doing the same thing that their dentist, their insurance agent, and their chiropractor does. You won’t end up on the card tree, the holiday mantel, or strung with care on the card garland at the stairs. Your gesture is generic.
I’d love to hear what you choose to do instead of sending a traditional (and generic) holiday card! Tell us in the comments below…
Being a successful interior designer requires you to maximize your revenues from every project. The most effective way to do this is to deliver more of what your client wants in less time. In that process, you’ll earn more in less time and avoid the challenge of creative loose ends and lost focus. Let me share a real life example from my practice.
When Stephanie called me about her interior design project, she said they planned to invest just $15K.
That wasn’t a number I usually even considered, my minimum was $50K.
We connected well by phone and she agreed to my Home Review (a paid consultation) so I scheduled the call.
To be a successful designer means you aren’t giving your time and expertise away on free consultations.
As she walked me through the house, the large outdoor living space, and the pool, I mentioned that the scope of the project had grown significantly since our phone conversation.
I went out on a total limb and said “have you considered a home equity line for your interior design.”
Stephanie came back with the greatest comment ever…
“Oh, we’ve got money!” (I had to try hard not to do my happy dance right in front of her.)
I had already learned that she was the primary breadwinner and decision maker, even if her husband wrote the checks.
To be a successful interior design, you’ve got to know who the decision maker is, and it isn’t always the one who is writing the checks.
In the next 45 days, we went from $15K to $150K in interior design investment.
(That is not a typo, the investment went up by 10x)
They approved every item, every change. They were aware every step of the way.
If I had taken her initial “budget” of $15K as gospel, she wouldn’t have gotten the design she wanted or deserved, and I’d have left $135K on the table.
Instead, as with all of my design clients over the years, I took that as a starting point and read between the lines into what she really wanted.
To be a successful interior designer is about becoming a master of listening and reading your client.
You never force, you educate.
You never push, you guide.
You never manipulate, you influence.
You’re never sneaky, you get approval at every step.
If this sounds like something you want to implement in your design practice, you can.
It isn’t an overnight shift, it takes time to adopt a new mindset, update your language and communication skills, and learn to educate instead of sell.
You can get it inside Profit Shots, aka Mentor-On-Call, DETAILS HERE.
I only take on 10 Profit Shot clients at a time because I want to ensure I am truly available for you.
Every action step you accomplish means you get more time for the next step with me.
This is as close as I can get to Melissa-In-Your-Pocket, something I’ve been asked about A LOT!
C’mon, be brave, CHECK OUT PROFIT SHOTS HERE. (I want to you to experience the success you dream of and deserve.)