Know Your Business Inside Out
You’re in a competitive industry filled with talented interior designers. How do you differentiate yourself from others and position yourself as the go-to choice in your market? The answer: consistent and targeted marketing. This guide will help you chart a path toward interior design business success.
Marketing is any activity or point of contact with your potential customer that communicates your value proposition. Whenever a customer comes in contact with you or your brand, they leave with a positive or negative impression. That can be how your phone is answered (or not answered), visiting your showroom, or browsing your website. So, the first step is to understand your business and brand by defining your unique selling proposition (USP) and value proposition.
Every touchpoint or interaction can potentially increase or decrease your value in your clients’ minds. For instance, if customers could go to your website while working with you, log in, and get instant updates on the project and delivery dates, you would raise your value proposition. Those designers who think this through carefully can charge top dollar for their services.
Establishing Contact With Potential Clients
Armed with the knowledge of your business’s value proposition, how do you approach a potential client? Start by knowing your relationship with the potential client. Ask yourself these four key questions before you start the conversation:
- Do they know who you are?
- Do they know about your services?
- Do they know about the problem they’re currently experiencing that you can solve for them?
- Are they aware of solutions that are available to help solve their problems?
Knowing these answers is important because it parallels the question, “how do you start a sales conversation with your prospects?” How do you start the dialogue that will allow you to connect with the prospect to maximize the effectiveness of your sales and marketing? Pitch your USP and help them see why your business is unique. When you can create a sales conversation correctly, you maximize the number of prospects drawn into your message, your sales letter, or your sales video.
Standing Out From the Rest
With everyone resorting to digital marketing, how can a designer stand out against the competition? That’s the question I asked my colleague Ken Lewis, managing partner with Client Expander, a digital marketing agency that works exclusively with companies in the design industry. He graciously shared his insights from more than twenty years of helping his clients grow their businesses.
The first thing, Ken said, was to overcome your fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Marketing doesn’t guarantee results, but there are things you can do to market more effectively and get a better return for your marketing dollar. The most important thing is to be consistent. Create a marketing plan and then execute it faithfully and continuously. Over time, you will reap the rewards.
Key Elements to Successful Digital Marketing
- Presentation: provide a quality experience by presenting yourself well with quality images, a current, engaging, professional-looking website, and providing fresh content regularly.
- Optimization: be discoverable with targeted optimization strategies, including Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Houzz/directory optimization.
- Promotion: be seen by your potential clients by creating and disseminating content through social media, email marketing, and blogs.
- Advertising: amplify your marketing efforts through highly targeted paid search and social media ads.
But there’s more to marketing than meets the eye. Marketing is a numbers game, and there is no guarantee how the numbers will turn out. You could send out a thousand direct mail pieces and not get any responses. Or you could select a small group of highly qualified prospects to contact personally and possibly gain several new clients. It is that uncertainty that makes marketing so challenging. Even if you are diligent about doing your research and crafting your pitch, you can never be sure if you are reaching the right person at the right time.
Therefore, you need a solid marketing plan that covers multiple strategies, so you aren’t putting all your eggs into one basket.
Create a Foolproof Marketing Plan
Assess Your Current Status
The most common reasons why designers do not get a satisfactory result from their marketing efforts, aside from a lack of consistency and persistence, are the following:
- Inadequate budget – Low-cost efforts often result in a low rate of return. You have to spend money to make money. Marketing is an investment in gaining future business.
- Lack of strategy – Create an initial marketing plan for your first 90 days based on the answers to these questions: Who is your ideal client? When are they most likely to engage the services of a designer? How are you most likely to reach them? What message will motivate them to contact you?
- Not measuring results – As with all plans, you need to adjust your marketing strategy and efforts based on your results. Record the data and compare what methods or messages are the most effective. Redirect your resources and time to those efforts, and stop doing what’s not working.
Are You Marketing at Least 10 Hours a Week?
If you want a healthy, growing business, you need to be marketing. Year after year, our surveys showed that around 8 out of 10 designers did no marketing at all, other than rely on word-of-mouth referrals, or spent less than 4 hours a week on marketing. In addition, most had no marketing budget or plans. The Pearl Collective recommends that you devote at least 10 hours weekly to marketing efforts. Schedule them into your calendar and treat them as you would any other obligation. Marketing is not an option that you can just “get around to” once in a while. You have to be consistent and persistent to achieve your marketing goals.
An alternative to making the 10-hour weekly investment is to hire a professional marketing agency to tend to your marketing needs. They can substantially lift your marketing burden off of your shoulders. However, there will still be some basics that you or your team will need to tend to, including getting the agency your new project images and optionally contributing to the content direction for social media, blogs, and/or newsletters.
Are You Getting Marketing ROI?
One of the first steps in tracking return-on-investment or ROI is understanding the amount of money you spend on marketing. At the most basic level, ROI compares your spending with the increase in revenue that you can attribute to it. Yet, marketing attribution is inherently elusive for service providers. Did you get the sale just because of a referral, or was it because the referred client already knew of you as they had been seeing your brand online for years? And, did that architect refer you just because of past experiences, or was it triggered by your regular LinkedIn posts that keep your brand top of mind?
Three basic areas for measuring ROI:
- Who knows about you? This is about how much attention you are getting on social media, how many ‘Likes’ you get, and how many followers you have.
- Who is talking about you? Here you look at shared posts, recommendations, and comments on posts. Social analytics tools help track your growth.
- Who is buying from you? This means asking the fundamental questions, “How did you hear about us?” “Why did you choose our company?” You can even be more specific and ask them if they looked at your website, social media, or blog (if you have one). Once you know how they found out about you, keep track of it. Put it into a spreadsheet to see what marketing strategy delivers the most business.
The basic formula for ROI is as follows: ROI = Net Profit / Total Investment x 100. So, if you have a net loss, your ROI will be negative. Once you understand which marketing campaigns garner the most profit, you can focus on those, saving you time and money.
Review Your Current Marketing Strategies
In an article from Entrepreneur, there was a great comment that stated, “If you don’t understand your customers (clients), you might as well donate most of your marketing budget to charity.” Examine how last year’s marketing plan worked out for you. Did you meet your new business goals? Were the revenues you earned worth the time and money you put into your marketing efforts?
Use Google Analytics to get feedback on the success of your marketing strategy. In Analytics, you can create conversion goals and establish a valuable set of data to track the progress of your campaign.
One way to assess whether your marketing plan was successful is by using SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. SMART marketing goals should align with your firm’s mission statement and culture. When you have a plan with measurable goals, you can evaluate the ROI for your marketing, which should help rein you in.
Once you have assessed your current status and evaluated your marketing plan, it is time for the big step: creating a foolproof marketing strategy.
Create a 3 Stage Iron-clad Marketing Strategy
Before we get into it, a word of caution on DIY marketing. Client Expander’s Ken Lewis remarks, “marketing is not rocket science.” However, he cautions, “it can be complicated.” This is true, especially in digital marketing, where there are many pitfalls if you do it yourself with an in-house effort. It is a good idea to hire an agency you can outsource to, or that can support your in-house marketing efforts. Find someone who knows the interior design business and understands your vision. Then let them guide you on how best to use marketing to achieve that. “It is more efficient,” explains Ken, “demands less time and responsibility from you and is more profitable in the long run.”
Stage 1: Planning Your Position
According to The Chaise Lounge podcast host Nick May, the first step is to ask yourself, what is it about your business that makes people willing to give you a shot and trust that you’ll provide a killer service instead of the competition? Why should they choose you? Is there a service you provide that says, ‘We’re better than the competition, and that’s in our DNA’? That is your Unique Selling Proposition or USP. Celebrate what already makes your business different from your competitors, and make sure your clients know all about it.
The next step is to understand your ideal client. Have you identified your ideal client/target market and those individuals and businesses that could be valuable referral sources? Once you have identified this group, be sure you have created a database, which should include past and present clients; those with whom you have connected but have yet to do business; business resources; suppliers; and anyone else with whom you have a business and/or personal relationship.
Finally, master your medium. You need to understand the medium and the audience to know how to position yourself, what type of content to create, and how to communicate effectively with your intended prospects. Take time to learn about your market’s interests and social media habits. Also, get familiar with the platform(s) you plan on using, even if you intend to outsource the heavy lifting to a tech-savvy freelancer or digital marketing firm.
Stage 2: Implement Your Marketing Strategy
In the implementation stage, first, plan your marketing calendar and budget. It may be overwhelming to plan the entire year, so an easy strategy would be to break down your marketing goals into small “bites.” Lay out a calendar for the next three months – just a large piece of paper divided into three months – starting with January. You can use a calendar on your computer, but for this type of brainstorming, creative energies often flow better using paper and pencil – and those wonderful sticky notes!
Next, choose the right marketing tasks and implement them diligently. Here is a detailed list of marketing ideas:
- Photography – how many projects do you intend to photograph? Do you have a good architectural/interior photographer? If not, ask your peers for recommendations. Better yet, if you have aspirations to be published in a particular shelter magazine, find a photographer in your area that has already been published in that magazine. Your photographer can help you get published if your work fits the magazine’s style. When getting shots of your project, include yourself in some of them, such as you putting the final touches on the installation. And, if you aren’t experienced with styling your own shoots, ask the photographer if they can recommend a stylist.
- Show Homes – larger firms tend to participate in show homes because they have the team and budget to afford the expense. Doing a show home takes as much time as any other project, and sometimes even more because you have to find resources willing to loan materials and furnishings and coordinate the team. Also, you need to plan to make the most of this exposure if you invest your time and money in this venture. You want to have marketing materials at the show home and, ideally, staff the show home to interact with the visitors. If the show home is featured in a magazine, you can order extra magazines and send them (with your stickers) to local Realtors, architects, builders, general contractors, and past and current clients.
- Continuous contact – you want to stay in touch with your current and past clients, so plan those activities and add a line item to your budget for gifts and cards.
- Website update – if it has been more than three years since you’ve updated your website, then you want to budget for this update. Be sure to allocate the time required to prepare and review the materials for your website update. If you want to publish a new project in a magazine, don’t put the photos on your website or online until the project has been published, and be sure you know how long after the project is published before you can post the photos on your site.
- Advertising – The Pearl Collective team is not a fan of expenditures for glossy ads in magazines because the readers may not be your ideal clients. We would rather see you invest your time in developing relationships with the writers and editors of your local or regional newspapers and magazines.
- Online sites – Because Houzz is often the top search result for town-specific interior designer searches, it is important to be at the top of their directory listings. Houzz doesn’t just attract middle America; it attracts C-suite execs and high-net-worth individuals. Make sure to manage your Houzz profile regularly. Hire a marketing pro for “Houzz optimization” services if you want a competitive edge.
- Writing a book – how well do you know your product? Do you know enough to fill a small book? Great! Write one. Sometimes this is the best way to get people interested in your business. And there are many easy-to-apply strategies to make it an Amazon bestseller.
- Charity – donate to a local charity. A little good karma never hurt anyone, but also your generosity can attract people from your community.
- Social media – be consistent with posting on social media. Just remember to moderate your social media accounts and anywhere clients leave reviews, including Yelp and Google Business Profile. Good or bad, reviews can help you assess what customers like and don’t like and can help you know when you need to mend bridges with upset clients. You can also promote some of your clients’ success stories. Having someone to compare themselves to helps people decide whether or not they want to do business with you.
Apart from marketing, ensure you make time for PR too. Some PR platforms include:
- Printed media – if your work has not been previously published, a good place to start is with a local or regional publication. This could be a home decor or lifestyle magazine, Sunday magazine supplement, or the Home section of a newspaper. For more experienced designers with a solid portfolio, a few noteworthy clients, and possibly some design awards, consider submitting your work to a national publication.
- TV shows – ask yourself these questions to assess whether it is a good task in your marketing mix: Does the show have meaning to you? Will the exposure showcase your brand positively? Can you execute your brand identity in the show? Are you comfortable with the format? Can the TV show lead to other opportunities? Will the experience be fun, challenging, and fulfilling?
- Podcasting – in the digital age we live in, PR no longer solely consists of mentions on the radio or television, a spot in a newspaper or magazine, press releases, or events. According to Statista, podcasting is now a primary form of media, with about 164 million monthly podcast listeners in the US alone. Podcasting gives life to you and your firm through voice and music, not just still images and the written word. It is an ideal way to connect with your target audience in a personal way.
Stage 3: Monitoring and Maintaining
After you have implemented your marketing tasks, the next step is to monitor the results.
- Keep an eye on the analytics and set conversion goals to know what works best and what looks like a waste of time. For example, conversion goals can be that someone calls, submits the contact form, visits the contact page, or visits over three website pages. That way, you can monitor what traffic drives genuine.
- Build partnerships with similar businesses to share customers. Depending on what service or product you offer, you may be able to find other companies with which to partner. Try to find ways to work together to share access to customers.
- Get feedback from a few ideal clients by inviting them to lunch, wine, coffee, etc. Tell them you value their opinion and want to be sure you are marketing to clients like them – and would they be willing to help you brainstorm ways to do that. Have some possible ideas already on your list to start the conversation and brainstorm ideas to reach similar clients. Don’t forget to add asking for referrals!
- When creating your marketing plan, understand that it is about relationship marketing, not a “one-size-fits-all” process. It’s about developing long-term relationships, which means repeated contact throughout the year. Design unique ways to reach past, present, and prospective clients. Don’t forget to include possible referral sources in your marketing plan – vendors, builders, real estate agents, architects, financial planners, real estate attorneys, etc.
- Always be marketing – even if you’re too busy with projects. Many designers think that marketing is what you do when you “have time.” So often, we focus on completing projects, and when we are not busy, we focus on searching for business and trying to market for instant results. You do not do marketing when you “have time” and are looking for more projects. It is something for which you create a plan (with a budget!) that includes marketing activities all year long – during slow times and crazy times. An agency can keep your marketing on track while you are consumed by your projects.
- Mid-year marketing evaluation – Every six months, ask yourself these questions: 1. Have you identified your ideal client/target market/ referral sources/created a database? 2. How will you reach out and use this database in your marketing plan? 3. Have you been consistent? 4. Do you provide valuable content when you connect? 5. Do you measure your results?
Tips to Make Your Website Work for You
When people find your website, first impressions are important to consider – that’s often the first opportunity to communicate your brand. People will leave your site in a matter of seconds if they don’t love what they see (it is called a “bounce”). Here are some tips to ensure your visitors are glued to your site.
Create a Video
Create a video that shares your personality. This will make you stick out in people’s minds more. Keep it short – from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. When you upload it to YouTube, be sure to list the URL of your site in the description, as well as the major keyword phrase you want people to use to find you in your city. Make sure the video is professionally produced and get it embedded on your homepage.
List Your Business
Research local sites, such as any local Facebook groups, and add your business listing with them. LinkedIn is another great place to list your business and connect with local businesses and influencers. Digital marketing agencies appease the demands of Google by doing a process called ‘NAP’ where they ensure that your business is listed across dozens of directories with the same Name, Address, and Phone.
Focus on Content
Make sure your content is fresh and relevant. You can post about an exciting project you are working on or one that you’ve already completed. Use plenty of photos and write with short paragraphs to hold your reader’s attention. It is important to be consistent.
Social media is the new town square. Each social platform has its character, strengths, and culture. Identify where your audience is at, and then create content around that platform.
- Instagram is great for the visually inclined – show off your best work and lifestyle.
- Facebook is perfect for reaching those born before 1985 – share and link to great content.
- Tiktok allows access to a diverse audience – tell your story through short videos.
- LinkedIn is a doorway to professionals – become a thought leader.
- Twitter is great for reaching C-suite executives and tech bros – share interesting ideas and post industry news.
- Youtube is great for reaching everyone as it is owned by Google and thus shows in their search engine results – share longer videos including interviews, walk-throughs, and professionally shot promotional videos.
All social media can be amplified with targeted advertising, which is an excellent way of reaching the audience that matters to your brand.
Create an account with MailChimp, Active Campaign, or another email service. Offer a free report or checklist to collect email addresses. Stay in touch with your new database. You can send newsletters at least monthly.
Keywords and SEO
Don’t assume that people will just stumble upon your site. With so many websites online, people rely on search engines to help them find what they seek. You can maximize your chances of being included in search results by using clear and consistent keywords and finding every way possible to increase your SEO. Fresh content is important in getting the highest search rankings. The site needs to have a strong user experience, responsive (mobile-friendly) design, all the necessary optimizations, and adequate speed performance. Google’s PageSpeed tool informs you if your site passes Google’s minimum expectations of a 50/100 mobile score, so test your site for free. If your site falls short, it could be that you used a do-it-yourself editor like Squarespace, which consistently performs poorly, or your code or images are too heavy and need to be optimized. Consult an optimization pro, not a web designer, to get your site optimized.
You didn’t get into interior design to become a master of marketing. Focus on what you do best and hire people who can do what they do best. Just like you depend on doctors, lawyers, and accountants for their knowledge and experience, turn to a seasoned marketing agency for a high level of expertise and execution. Agencies specializing in the design industry are uniquely suited to providing high ROIs. Freelancers can be hit or miss as they don’t have the feedback loops and team support that is built into the agency model.
Use testimonials from your clients. People trust other people and will appreciate what your previous clients have had to say. Always ask permission first but add testimonials to your website if possible. It is best to use the full names of your clients when they consent.
Write Keyword-rich Image Descriptions
Help people picture their lives and inspire them to see how you can help them achieve the right look by writing a beautiful description for each project in your portfolio. Bring them into the copy by using visual, verbal, and textural words. Knowing your ideal client profile makes it much easier to write directly to one person. Do not write in the first or third person. You want them to imagine themselves in the world you are creating. Not only will this be helpful for the website visitor, but it will benefit your SEO too.
Know Your Analytics
Understand your website analytics. Your analytics will show you what content your website visitors like by the amount of traffic you receive on each page, how long they stay there, and where they click next. The more time your visitors spend on the site, the better. Marketing pros track analytics and use it to come to suggestions for website improvements.
It takes constant work to ensure you are found online. It takes regular effort to stay relevant and ranked online, which is a substantial part of keeping your interior design business growing.
Harness the Power of Social Media
There’s no question that social media have become a major channel for marketing, public relations, and customer service. For most businesses, large and small, having a social media presence and a website is a must. However, if you rely primarily on referrals and personal contacts for client development, are not interested in taking on projects outside your immediate area, are satisfied with your current level of business, believe that marketing is a waste of time and money, are intimidated by technology or the idea of having an online presence, or are worried about competitors or DIYers stealing your designs, then social media is not for you.
When correctly implemented, social media marketing can add a ton of value to your business by building buzz and driving traffic to your website. Like any kind of marketing, you need to start with a plan. You want to be clear on what you hope to accomplish, your goals, and how much time and resources you are willing to commit to achieving the desired result.
Social media is a great place to showcase your brand–your USP. Consider how you want to be perceived and create content that contributes to that idea! Be conscious when creating content for each platform. When you make a post, you want your audience to know it’s coming from you, even before seeing your name or logo. Give your brand a personality people will recognize!
Best Social Media Platforms for Interior Designers
New social media platforms are always coming online; some are better suited for specific purposes than others. So, where should you be putting your efforts and marketing dollars? Some marketing experts will tell you to play it safe and list yourself with all the major players – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. The more eyes, the better. That’s strong branding, but it probably isn’t practical unless you have a social media specialist keeping all those sites fresh.
For most designers, Instagram might be the first platform choice, but remember that your audience might be on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, or Tiktok.
The Importance of Houzz
When we put the question to designers about where they get their most business in our Interior Design Fee & Salary Survey, the clear favorite was Houzz. Half the designers in our survey generated leads via Houzz, compared to only a third via Instagram and Facebook. Close behind, in third place, was having a blog on your firm’s website. The other social media platforms don’t even come close, with about one in five designers saying they received leads through LinkedIn and Pinterest. Few had much success with Twitter or YouTube. These results may tell the story of the effectiveness of the different platforms but also tell the story of where designers put their limited marketing efforts.
If you are currently using Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter, and they are working for you, by all means, stick with them. If you’re one of the many interior designers who still hasn’t made up their mind about social media marketing, then we recommend starting with Houzz – unless you are doing only commercial work. Houzz isn’t a typical social networking site as it is networking around a single topic – home improvement. It is social networking, search engine marketing, and content marketing (your portfolio) all wrapped up into one. How perfect!
Social Media Tips and Tricks for Effective Communication
- Be intentional about your brand. Craft your brand image to make a first impression representing your firm and appealing to your ideal clients. Then be sure that the same branding is easily identifiable in your social media connections.
- Identify who you want to attract. Who are your ideal clients? Where do they hang out – both physically but also online? Which of these social media sites do your ideal clients use regularly? What would capture their interest on these platforms? Which platforms have your competitors not yet discovered?
- Be sure your profile on these sites is completely filled out and is as effective as possible. Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest just have a short bio piece, so what you say needs to be very clear and to the point. On the other hand, Houzz and Facebook include multiple about sections. Be sure to link your blog to your profiles and vice versa.
- Once you select the platforms that will connect with your ideal clients, set a schedule to post, comment, etc. Be helpful and add original thoughts or perspectives. Add value because social media is a conversation, not a broadcast. And importantly, be consistent! If you are inconsistent with your activity, you can’t expect the social media platforms to push your content.
- Advertising may be your answer if you feel like you have a distribution problem. It is hard work to get thousands of views, but a small paid investment. It is often more cost-effective to use paid post promotion than to invest in creating extra posts. And advertising is highly targeted, which makes it amazingly impactful.
Towards a Successful Business Future
The main question to ask yourself consistently is “what do you do to get the phone to ring?” Marketing should always be on your mind, and soon, you will train yourself to identify opportunities to let your business shine. Stay true to your marketing calendar and remain consistent no matter how hard or slow the going gets. Stay true to providing the best quality. Stay true to your business’s USP. Marketing is about communicating what you are good at, and if you don’t understand who you are or who your customer is, you won’t be able to attract customers consistently. If you don’t think you’re up for the challenge, then, without any hesitation, outsource it to someone who is. A digital marketing agency works hard and constantly monitors your metrics to promote your business and attract new followers. They iterate on what they learn and consistently improve your messaging. It’s what they do, just as great design is what you do. Even if you have an in-house marketing assistant, no individual can replace the capacities of a team. So, find your marketing agency to support your team’s internal marketing efforts.
A good business thrives on good relationships. So ensure your marketing activities focus on relationship-building with clients and industry partners through word of mouth, digital marketing, and face-to-face interactions. Invest in making your brand the friendly neighbor that clients approach for practical solutions. Always keep your eyes and ears open for marketing opportunities; before you know it, your business will soar to greater heights of success!