When I first began networking within interior design communities late last year, I immediately noticed a concerning, fatal flaw …
They were practicing marketing tactics that don’t work. And, as a result, everyone was demoralized and scared because they simply weren’t making enough money.
See, my first career was interior design, but I only got to see it from the employee’s side, and not the business owner’s side. When I was laid off for the second time from corporate design, I became a business owner – and that’s when I learned the most critical piece of marketing a business based around a personal brand:
You must have a unique selling proposition (USP).
You need to understand and communicate what makes you different and unique, as opposed to your peers.
But what I was seeing among perhaps thousands of interior designers online was well-intentioned, but not compelling enough to get potential clients to part with thousands of dollars for design fees when the basics of an education in decorating is pretty much available to anyone with access to HGTV and Pinterest.
Most designers and decorators will bristle at that thought; the idea of consumers taking design into their own hands after watching Fixer Upper or thumbing through Pinterest sounds like a recipe for disaster.
In many cases, they’d be right. But, as a business owner, I like to know about something we designers call “existing conditions.” And the public having access to enough knowledge to avoid the fee of a designer and get the outcome they’re after is an existing condition you must understand and accept.
Here’s the thing though: this doesn’t mean you, as a designer, cannot create a profitable business doing what you love. However, it does mean you will likely need to reassess what you offer and who you offer it to.
So let’s talk about creating a profitable business.
First, you must understand WHO you want to work with.
In online business, we call this an ideal client avatar (ICA). An ICA is not an age range of a person or the type of projects you want to work on – it’s an avatar. An avatar is a character sketch of a very specific person.
It’s not enough to bust onto the scene and proclaim, “I’m an interior designer! Here are some design tips! Oh, and look at my portfolio!”
Yawn. No one cares, bb. Why should they?
Something I’ve noticed when new designers get into my free Facebook group is that they insist their ideal client understands and appreciates the value an interior designer brings to a project and, therefore, has no problem paying their fee.
Oh really? Tell me more about this unicorn you speak of …
Certainly, among the 1% of the 1%, there are people who have no problem handing over a blank check to someone who has talent and expertise like yours. Do clients like this exist? Yes – but there’s not enough of them to sustain an entire industry of designers.
In my design career, I’ve worked with multimillionaire real estate developers, executives, and entrepreneurs, and not a single one of them had a laissez-faire attitude toward the design of their home. In fact, they all wanted to know where they could cut costs, both in fees and materials.
This is where your ICA comes in.
You must develop the profile of someone you want to work with. This profile must be so detailed that you understand all their hopes, dreams, and fears. You’re going to use this information to demonstrate the value you could bring to their project – THAT is how you get clients who are willing to pay your fee.
But they don’t come to you that way, you must create and cultivate clients.
Next, it’s time for you to build an audience.
But not just any audience – you need to fill that audience with people who match your ICA. And building that audience is NOT going to happen by sharing portfolio project after portfolio project, or trade show recap blog posts, or rants about the decline of the industry. Stop wasting your time with that nonsense, regardless of who told you to do it that way or who you might see doing it. It doesn’t work.
This is how marketing works – and it’s universal, across all industries:
Gather up people you can help, then help them.
Yeah, for free. It’s how you demonstrate value.
As a designer, here’s what you’re up against:
- Pinterest and the, literally, millions of blog posts and tutorials that can be found and easily duplicated
- HGTV and the motivation one gets after watching Joanna Gaines effortlessly complete remodel after remodel
- Apathy; pushing their design project to the back burner, spouses not being on the same page, etc.
At this point, you’re not even competing with other designers – you’re competing against DIY. And the way to get clients to trust you enough to whip out their credit card or checkbook is NOT to TELL them they should, but to SHOW them WHY they should.
I’ve found this works best in Facebook groups. Start one, fill it with your ICA, give them everything you know via Facebook live video.
That’s it! And sooo simple.
So, let’s talk about why you don’t want to do that, because I know you don’t …
“I don’t know if I have enough time to manage a Facebook group and create all that extra content.”
Question: do you currently have enough clients and/or income and/or profit?
No? Then you have time. Stop doing all the other things you think you “need” to be doing that aren’t bringing you clients right now (ahem, Instagram) and get your Facebook group up and running. Kick it off with a challenge that shows them your, unique design process to get them engaged.
“But, if I tell them how to design themselves, won’t they just take advantage of the free advice and not hire me?”
Let me ask you this: how many people do you think can actually duplicate what you do, even if you explained it to them, and still get a good result?
Maybe some, sure. But they weren’t ever going to hire you anyway.
More likely, they’re going to take your highly-valuable process and get stumped along the way because they don’t have the education, experience, and talent you have.
Besides, people rarely take meaningful action when they have no “skin in the game.” That free advice they got in your group? They see tons of value in it, but executing it themselves is another story. Life has a way of throwing obstacles onto the path – and that’s where you come in with an offer of either a product or service they can put their commitment into by paying for it.
Which brings me to …
Make offers your audience wants.
After you’ve built a Facebook group full of people who match your ICA, it’s time to create the opportunity for exchange. In this case, we’re talking about an exchange of money for outcomes or money for tools that can create outcomes.
One of the many amazing features about Facebook groups is that you can use polls to ask your audience questions about what it wants and how they want it.
DO NOT assume your audience wants full-service design. More and more consumers actually want to be involved in the design process. That doesn’t mean you cannot offer full-service design or edesign, but you also need to make sure you’re offering a solution they’ve said they want to buy.
So many designers make the mistake of thinking the only way to monetize is with full-service design, but full-service is actually the LEAST profitable way to run your design business. Why? Because it’s the most time-intensive for you.
By building an ideal audience, and then surveying them, you get to understand exactly how they want to be served and use that information to create profitable offers at different levels of profitability in your business.