The business of interior design is built on relationships. A designer’s personal and professional lives are inextricably linked and managing the mingling of the two is a key ingredient to success. If you are in the early phase of building your business, we recommend you start with our previous article on how to blend your network and tactfully leverage social opportunities to find new clients. Here, we will focus on how to maintain a loyal base of repeat clients who not only consider you their go-to designer but who also sing your praises to anyone who will listen.
Choosing the Right Clients
The first step to finding clients with long-term potential is to target specific audiences that make sense for your design aesthetic and current business scale. For example, if you currently have a small team but intend to grow over time, target clients who are also in the growth phase of life. Compare two potential clients: a young family with a modest budget planning to renovate their first house and a retired couple with a larger budget but shorter time frame to decorate what they hope will be their forever home. While the latter client has more short-term appeal, they may overwhelm a start-up firm’s limited resources and worse, will likely never have a need for your services in the future. The young family, however, will be more amenable to dividing the project into phases, fitting well into the scale of your business, and giving you the opportunity to work on separate projects simultaneously. The young family is also more likely to return to you in the future as their home grows along with their maturing lifestyle.
The next step to building a loyal base of repeat customers is to work with people you like. If perfectly blending your personal and professional lives is fundamental to becoming a successful interior designer, it only makes sense that you should work with clients with whom you have a friendly and easy rapport. If you cannot effectively communicate with your client, you are far more likely to have a compromised result, which can hurt your reputation and long-term earning potential far more than the project was worth financially. Once you have connected with the prospective clients you have targeted, thoroughly assess how aligned you are in terms of design vision, cost, timeline, and all other important considerations. Taking the time to understand each other’s project expectations serves a second purpose of uncovering any red flags in the way you communicate with one another.
Know When To Be A Boss, and When To Be A Friend
If after getting to know your potential client you decide to commit to their project, do everything in your power to ensure your designs come to life as you envisioned. This requires working closely with contractors to oversee the quality of the building and installation process. Building a network of trusted contractors and installers is just as important for an interior designer as building a network of clients because you want to control the design execution as much as possible. However, you may not always have a choice in the contractor, so it is your responsibility to forge a new relationship with the chosen one and oversee their work in a firm but friendly way. Make sure to communicate with clients throughout a project to manage expectations and address concerns before they escalate.
As you go through the process of completing a project for your new customer, you are going to get to know them very well. Interior designers often get a glimpse into the private lives of their clients by the very nature of working within clients’ intimate spaces. It is often said that interior designers must also operate as psychologists, assessing how to work around the emotional fallout of the building or renovation process. You may also be the person your clients open up to about private matters as they would a friend, which occurs naturally for them in the comfortable setting of their homes. How you handle the humanity of your clients is what will fundamentally decide your fate as a designer. Being emotionally open to listening to your clients, sensitive in your responses, and discreet in your bearing of secrets will build the deep trust that begets loyalty. Mishandling the situation can cause long-term damage to your business. That does not mean that clients who become friends are exempt from paying their bills on time; when the distinction must be made, you are a designer first and friend second.
Another important aspect of retaining repeat customers is to maintain visibility. Out of sight, out of mind, they say. Court press opportunities, participate in community events and charity galas, and keep in touch with past clients on a one-on-one basis. Just like any other kind of relationship, you need to maintain active, sincere communication with your network. A past client may have only good things to say about you, but another designer hungry for business can gain their attention if you don’t sustain the connection. Getting together for periodic lunches or dinners is a fun way to touch base with past clients and stay active in their lives. Also, sending holiday cards and gifts to celebrate life events such as birthdays, weddings, and new additions to a family will help develop deep, personal bonds with clients past and present.
Social media is a fun and easy way to interact with your network, and also a helpful tool to stay aware of what is going on in your clients’ lives. Be a cheerleader for your clients on social media and take the opportunity to congratulate a job promotion, dote on a baby picture, or send well wishes for a big trip. Small, but frequent interactions can go a long way to keep your connections thriving. Despite the casual nature of social media interactions, it is important to be considerate in your choice of words and to remain positive and polite at all times. Never forget that as an interior designer, you are a human billboard for your business, and your personal conduct is a direct reflection of your professionalism. It is also a good idea to use social media to monitor your closest competition and to stay abreast of how they engage with your shared potential client base.
Building and maintaining a strong base of repeat customers begins and ends with being authentic and finding clients that you would happily call your friend. Working with people you like will motivate you to always do your best work, which will keep clients returning to you for all of their design needs. As your loyal client base grows and your project pipeline multiplies, be sure to stay organized.
Design Manager is a project management and accounting software created specifically for interior designers, and the perfect tool to keep your business operations running like a well-oiled machine. Even better, Design Manager can produce professional, branded client documents with the push of a button, so no matter how friendly you are, your clients will always know you are a consummate professional. See what Design Manager can do for your interior business and sign up for a free trial to get the ball rolling!