26 Jul Find Your Value As A Design Firm With Nick May

Nick May is the host of the #1 interior design business podcast, The Chaise Lounge, where he talks weekly to top designers from across the country. As an expert on growing your business, managing employees and sales, Nick is able to clarify where to focus your time and effort when it comes to your design business. We wanted to share with you Nick’s insight below.

Finding Your Value As A New Design Firm with Nick May

So, you started an interior design firm and you didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find clients. It is one thing to know how to design a great space, but getting the phone to ring is a totally different subject all together. You go to networking meetings, you joined the chamber of commerce, and you even put your business cards out at the local coffee shop, and yet the phone just doesn’t ring. You love design, you love working with clients…you just need clients to work with.

Many new business owners struggle with how to effectively market their business. Lots of sales people make outrageous claims to bring you business, but their fees are out of this world. If you are new to owning an interior design firm and need to market your business, I want to give you an overview of what marketing is, and some simple marketing activities to help you get started.

Interior design business

In order to make a sale, people need to know you exist. To do that, you need to market yourself. But most people don’t know what marketing is. Even some of the designers I interview on my podcast have a skewed perception of what marketing is. So what is marketing? Is it advertising? Is it sales? Is it social media? YES. Marketing is everything that communicates your value proposition. From your logo, your website, advertising in a magazine, your sales pitch, taking project pictures, to sharing your testimonials; it’s the whole customer experience. There are so many ways to communicate your value and not everything costs thousands of dollars to get that message to your clients.

What is your value proposition? Maybe a better initial question is: what is a value proposition? Everything that gets sold has value. Your services have value, but what is that value? It can be high, or it could be low. How is it determined? Think back to high school economics class. It is all about supply and demand. The more experience you have, the fewer your competition, the more value you have. If everyone had the same level of experience and same level of availability, everyone would have the same value. In the beginning, when you don’t have a lot of experience and happy customer references, but you have lots of availability…your value is fairly low. I hear a lot of people talk about charging what you are worth; that you need to value your service first and then your customer will also see that value. I DO NOT agree with that. If you are new to the industry, you need to price yourself appropriately. You need experience. You may need to do a project or two for free. Yes, I said for free. I have interviewed several designers on my show, The Chaise Lounge, who first started out by doing projects without getting compensated. No one in their right mind is going to pay a designer, even one with all the credentials in the world, a design fee of several thousand dollars that has no experience.

Suppy and demand

There are a few ways to get experience though. You can go work for a firm, you can volunteer, or you can do projects for free. If you have worked at a firm for a while, and managed your own projects, you have built some of that experience. When you have proven that you can design and manage full projects on your own, then you bring value to the customer. I have interviewed lots of designers that got their start this way.  Chad James (below photo credit: ©Alyssa Rosenheck 2015) Gil Walsh, and Kristen Terjesen to name a few.

No one likes to work for free, but if you have no portfolio, then you have very little value. Lots of designers I interview advise new designers to intern or work for a larger design firm. You will get exposed to lots of different types of projects, you will get to learn business systems and processes, and you will start to build your portfolio. You may not be able to take full credit for the projects, but you will be able to point to elements of those projects as examples of your work.

If you do work for free, you need to be smart about it. Can you get involved in a high-profile project with good public exposure? How can you leverage the experience to get future work? Can the project lead to a later project that does pay?  You need to develop a portfolio, and doing a project or two for free can provide that opportunity begin building the foundation of your experience. At least it’s better than not working, and you never know what doors it could open.

One of the designers I interviewed, Ivan Meade, of Meade Design Group in Victoria, BC moved to Canada, and could not earn money for a year (it would have been against the law). Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he went out and worked for free for a local coffee shop. When the coffee shop opened, Ivan was there. When a gentleman came into the coffee shop and asked who had designed to space and colors, the owner of the coffee shop pointed to Ivan. The man was soon to open a school, and needed help picking colors. Ivan picked those colors, and then helped him design all the spaces. This one thing lead to multiple jobs, and now Ivan runs a thriving design firm. Some people might think Ivan was lucky, but I believe Ivan created his own luck.

Another design team I interviewed, John and Theresa Dorlini from Circle Design Studio needed to build a portfolio, so they worked for themselves. They bought properties and fixed them up for sale. Those where the first projects that filled their portfolio, which opened doors to paying clients.

Doing projects, and I would say just about any project, builds your value proposition. Once you have a book of work to reference, people can see your skills and abilities, and then they can place value on the services you can provide.

I’m Nick May, reminding you to keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business.

For more info on The Chaise Lounge, please visit their website here. 

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