You face more challenges than ever before as an interior designer. You’re probably feeling the impact of increasing external pressures. What should you do? It’s hard enough running a successful business in good times. You have alternatives, but it will require changing how you think and run your business.
Let’s talk about the challenges and what your choices are:
1. Hourly vs. fixed fee. We’ve been able to do business our way for years by charging an hourly fee and a mark-up or discount from retail. When ASID surveyed consumers a few years ago, however, approximately 70 percent wanted a flat fee for design services. Our surveys show less than 6 percent of designers offer flat fees or Value-Based Fees. What’s wrong with this? If consumers want a flat fee and we insist on charging an hourly fee and mark-up, we’ve already created friction and potentially more difficultly getting paid for our work. It is vital that we start adapting to what the consumer wants.
2. Clients doing their own shopping. Many manufacturers and retailers are selling directly to consumers, and today even the most affluent clients are mindful of saving money. Can we as designers really mark-up our products any more? Yes and no. The conversation needs to change. If you have a client that really prefers to do their own purchasing, you have to decide if you’re willing to work with them. Also, not all products for every job should be purchased through designers. It makes sense for consumers to buy products for secondary areas like basements and guest rooms from retail stores. Why fight it? If you do, the client will think you’re only interested in the mark-up and not what is right for them. This is an inherent conflict. Why not offer purchasing services for things they don’t know how to do, such as draperies and complex customer furniture?
3. Inefficient business model. It’s time to start thinking about doing business in a new way. In some ways, we’ve struggled with an inefficient model for too long. If we only sell our time, it is a limited resource. Can you now offer services outside of your market, even globally, through social networking sites or even on your own website? Yes. In fact, should you be thinking of ways you can offer services to many instead of a few clients? Yes. That is a passive income strategy that you should be considering. Some of the top designers have been doing this for years with product licensing. That’s not for small design firms, so don’t expect to do that easily. Besides, that route has many challenges, too.
4. Online retailers of trade-only products. Some social networking sites are selling to-the-trade-only products now. Granted they’re selling at retail, but the consumer doesn’t have to buy through you. You can’t force the genie back into the bottle; the cork has been thrown away.
5. Rapidly changing technology. If technology is overwhelming to you, you are not alone. If you’re a seasoned designer, say over the age of 40, you may not love computers, social media, or mobile apps, but they are here to stay. The trick is figuring out what you absolutely must use to run your business effectively and efficiently. Clients will not do business with designers who resist the trends. It makes your firm look dated. You can outsource, or even hire young designers who have graduated in the last few years to help you adapt your firm’s technology. Many tools are free, so the biggest expense is your time to learn and implement the products. A great benefit is the ability to have a smart phone tablet or laptop and do business anywhere, anytime.
6. Social media marketing. Although it is hard to anticipate what sites will stay and which will go, social media is here to stay. Along with a blog on your firm’s website, major platforms you should include in your marketing strategy are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. This may be heresy to some, but you don’t really need a website any more, just a blog will do. A designer portfolio on Houzz is also a must for any residential designer these days.
7. Reality TV. HGTV has been both a boon and frustrating for most of us that are professionals. It’s not “real” design at all, but consumers really don’t understand that. What is interesting, though, is that more consumers are spending time watching videos on the Internet than TV, so that’s actually positive. However, the misconceptions about our industry are still there and won’t be going away any time soon. You need to be prepared to educate clients about what’s really involved in a project and how long it will take.
8. Consumer ratings. Sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Merchant Circle give consumers the opportunity to rate your services. If you’ve had challenging client relationships in the past, you really do want to work on selecting better clients even in a challenging economy. It isn’t worth the potential damage to your reputation to take on a client that is difficult just so you can pay the bills. Also, you do want to improve your people and customer service skills. Consumers won’t settle for average services any more. They want an exceptional and personal experience.
9. Flat fee design packages. The old methods of charging are rapidly becoming antiquated and will not work in the future. Since so many opportunities are available to purchase services online, many designers who were used to charging for every single minute cannot get away with that any more. Frankly, it’s never been a good way to work. It’s important to learn how to charge for your value, and that perception is different for every client. We can’t cover all of that in this article, but I can guarantee you that you’ll have to consider how you can work more effectively with your clients.
10. Tight publishing budgets. Some design and home magazines are now available only online, but even they are challenged by low advertising revenues. If you are hoping to get a project published in a magazine or e-zine, you’ll probably have to provide your own photography. Editors are stretched thin because of smaller staffs and declining budgets, so the more you can do the work for them, the better the chance you’ll have of getting published.
If you don’t mind change, these are exciting times. If you do mind change, you have some decisions to make. Our industry will never return to the days when we had clients anxious to work with us on our terms because of our reputations. Today, you have to provide a unique service with a unique pricing strategy. More importantly, you have to be found, so that means you have to have an online as well as an offline strategy.
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