The fastest path to growing your business and your revenue is to build better client relationships. 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 creating relationships of lasting value.
To Build Better Client Relationships: Farm Familiar Faces
This is the technique we’ve all been taught since the dawn of time when we start any new venture, though few designers actually do this. And it doesn’t matter if you are new to your practice or if you are established, it is always wise to review and update your routine contact list. Start by making 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 the PTA (if you have kids), your hair stylist to your housekeeper, include family and friends.
Create a short, one sentence, summary of what you do and who you serve and share it widely. You’d be surprised to know that often the people closest to you don’t think to refer business because they either aren’t clear about what you do or presume that you have so much business you aren’t interested in referrals. Take the guesswork out and let them know who a great client for you is (hint, it’s not everyone!)
Quick taglines you can use include:
- I create beautiful homes for busy moms and their families.
- I work with executives to design home interiors as a sanctuary from long hours and a challenging workload.
- I’m a redesign specialist and transform your home with your existing furnishings.
- I am an upscale residential designer working with clients who are building new homes for $3M and up.
- I work with baby boomers ready to right size their lifestyle and downsize their home interiors.
To Build Better Client Relationships: 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 mind. As you meet prospects you want to discover your points of connection. You are a fascinating individual, and your points of connection will help you form indelible bonds with clients.
In this age of high tech, the design business is all about high touch and you want to form a unique connection in order to create a relationship that will breed success. Perhaps you’ve lived in the same city as they did, previous to where you are now, perhaps you went to the same school, perhaps you share a favorite vacation spot or you are on a charity board together, whatever it is, find it and tap it.
To Build Better Client Relationships: Educate Your Clients
Stop selling, and instead educate your client into your vision for their home or office. When you approach this with knowledge, 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. It’s an investment in their comfort and style.
To Build Better Client Relationships: Forever Follow Up
Stay in touch regularly with clients both active and inactive and nurture potential clients. 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 monthly.
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!
To Build Better Client Relationships: Request Referrals
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 these tips consistently will lead to infinitely greater success in the ever more competitive world of interior design. Prosper by design.