Interior design is no doubt a social profession. In many ways, interior designers are a walking advertisement for their services, and sometimes the line between personal image and professional brand can become a bit blurry. Also, as many small business owners do, interior designers often initially establish their businesses through the support and business of family, friends and local community. However, no one wants to spoil their personal relationships by forcing their business on others or being overly solicitous. Successful designers are those that perfectly blend their personal and professional lives to maximize career opportunities without compromising relationships. Find out how to target new clients, follow up on potential opportunities, and build a network of repeat clients and other referral generating relationships―all while making Emily Post proud with your good manners and social grace.
Respectfully Leveraging Your Personal Contacts
Establishing any new business is a challenge that requires more than talent and a strong work ethic. Launching a new business requires landing clients, which requires advertising your services to your nascent network. The first step, before any outreach, is to make sure your business and any personal websites look flawless. This includes social media pages such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter etc. Meticulously go through all past content in your personal social media feeds and internet presence to remove any content you would not want printed on the front page of The New York Times. Remember, your personal and professional images will be regarded as one in the same. You should still use your personal social media profiles to show off your personality, but also think of it as an opportunity to display your artfulness in a business savvy way. You should also use your personal social media to share meaningful news about your business to your personal network, being mindful of the type of content that appeals to a broader, non-designer audience.
A more active approach to advertising your business to family and friends, like an email blast or a mailer, is an acceptable way to announce your launch or participation in a big showcase, but should be limited so that they stand out. It just takes one click of a button to forever direct your mail to the junk folder, which can be incredibly damaging to your new business.
The most natural and highly recommended way to advertise to your personal network is to keep up with your social life. Attend dinners with friends, community events, fundraisers, and carry out daily errands looking and feeling your best. A positive attitude and friendly demeanor will attract people to you. Once engaged in a conversation, it is perfectly fine to talk about your business, allowing for any opportunities to naturally surface.
Branching Out to Build Your Network
In addition to finding new clients through people you already know, you should also pursue cold introductions to potential clients by participating in as many industry events as possible, as well as other events supporting causes that you care about. Networking is less about the amount of people you meet, and more about the number of people you genuinely connect with and how deep those connections go. You want to build your network around things you care about and pursue relationships with people you genuinely like.
After meeting a new person that you connected with, send a follow up email or call them within two days of meeting to keep the conversation warm and to greater cement the new relationship. Depending on reciprocation level, label that contact one of three categories: live opportunity, potential opportunity down the line/ interested party, and not active. Your level and frequency of follow-up with that contact should correspond to their category. Always listen to what the other person is trying to tell you―you have to read between the lines to ascertain true interest level and whether or not it will be a bother to hear from you going forward.
Preening and Pruning Your All-In-One Network
Maintaining your all-in-one personal/professional network is not just about attending events; it’s about hosting them, too. Use holidays and business milestones as a reason to have a party and include people across your network on the invitation list. This is a great opportunity to give back to the people who have supported you, and you should approach the effort as the consummate host who cares about nothing more than the happiness of her guests. If your guests have a wonderful time, they will share stories about it for months. Also, send out a personal holiday card in December or a New Years card in January and an annual greeting card from your business in May. Send both cards to personal contacts as well as professional clients that are in the most active category of follow up, and just the business card to the other two categories of contacts. Remember to update these three contact lists on a frequent basis to most efficiently target potential opportunities.
The most important step to solidifying your network and locking in future referrals comes after you land the client: build a strong relationship and make sure clients only have glowing things to say about you to others. Immediately establishing a friendly rapport with your client is essential. You want your client to feel comfortable communicating with you throughout the process so that you address problems early on, therefore managing their expectations and perceptions about your work. Of course, do an outstanding job and execute flawlessly, and keep in touch after a project finishes to make sure your work is holding up as it should. Every past client is not only a possible referral source, but also a potential future client.
With the proper effort and consideration, you can perfectly blend your personal and professional lives to become the fabulous interior designer everyone wants to be friends with. The key is to have the confidence to let your personality shine and to not waste your time pursuing relationships with people you don’t like. If you genuinely care about the relationships you form, your all-in-one network will grow naturally and provide a sustainable foundation for your new business to flourish.
And speaking of networking and parties, there is no better place to start showing off your skills than our App Launch Party at High Point Market this Fall.