Business is all about relationships, and particularly the business of design. As design professionals we often have unprecedented access to our clients private lives and idiosyncrasies (whether we want to or not!) The stronger the relationship you craft, the deeper the success you will experience leading to a lifetime of demand. Here are five easy, proven steps for jumping into making relationships of lasting value.
Farm Familiar Faces
Yes, this is the technique we’ve all been taught since the dawn of time when we start any new venture, few actually do this. Make a list of all the people you come into regular contact with, from your pharmacist to your dry cleaner, your gym trainer to the head of PTA (if you have kids), include family and friends. Once you have a clear concept of your design business and the audience you serve (it isn’t everyone!) then you can share that succinctly (two sentences maximum) with everyone repeatedly and ask for specific referrals (I work with healthcare professionals, or I work with attorneys and physicians, or I work with solopreneurs, or I work with busy Moms, whomever.)
Pick Points of Connection
Before you get started, write out, in bullet points, some things about yourself. Be sure to include all the cities and states you’ve lived in, schools you’ve attended, trips you have taken, church you go to (if relevant) and fun facts, your favorite food, hobbies, information about your family (kids and spouse too.) Keep this information top of your mind, as you meet prospects you want to discover your points of connection. In this age of high tech, the design business is all about high touch and you must form a connection that is unique in order to create a relationship that will breed success. Perhaps you’ve lived in the same city previous to where you are now, perhaps you went to the same school, perhaps you share a favorite vacation spot, whatever it is, find it and tap it.
Stop selling, and instead become a coach and a guide, educating your client into your vision for their home or office. When you approach this with knowledge and expertise and the idea that what you are creating is the best solution to their design challenge and clearly they deserve it, you will find far greater success. You are creating an experience of inestimable value; there is a return on their investment in terms of comfort, improved health, better relationships, and much more. This is not about a budget item with a life cycle, it is about the lifetime of benefit good design can bring.
Forever Follow Up
Stay in touch regularly with clients both active and inactive and with prospects. You can do this with a variety of methods including an ezine (e-newsletter), the occasional note (include a pertinent news clipping), holiday cards (be unique, skip Christmas and go for New Year’s, Halloween instead of Thanksgiving), and of course a phone call at least quarterly. You have no idea when the next project may come up and you want to remain front and center. There is far less loyalty now than ever before. People’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter with the bombardment of information on the internet and through other media channels. Keep it personal, relevant and regular!
Ask, ask, ask. If you don’t ask you aren’t likely to get! Often clients presume you are too busy to take anyone else on, or they just don’t think of sharing you. Tell them you have enjoyed working with them and would appreciate any referrals to similar colleagues or friends. Be specific, you aren’t looking for just anyone, but someone like them. That is flattering to them. Make it easy, for every project you wrap up, offer to throw a small room warming or large housewarming, provide catered appetizers and beverages and be prepared to mix and mingle, bring your portfolio either hard copies or on your laptop. There is no better time than when your client is still in the bloom of the project and hasn’t nitpicked anything yet! (It happens.)
Following the tips consistently will lead to infinitely greater success in the ever more competitive world of interior design.
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