It’s a choice to be a professional.
You don’t need a piece of paper or to be anointed by anyone to be professional in your communication, behavior or attitude. It is a choice you make to uphold professional standards and practice so as to advance your business as a strong competitor in the marketplace.
When the economy is strong, some of the best practices for professionalism are thrown out the window in the smug “business is booming” attitude. In a downturn, it’s nearly impossible to correct a misperception in the minds of others, whether they’re referring you, visiting your website, or walking into your shop or studio.
Primarily aimed at interior designers with or without a retail element, here’s how to fix some of the more glaring mindsets:
- It takes money to make money.
You don’t run an after-school lemonade stand. There are costs to running a business and it’s annoying to your colleagues when you complain about the cost of doing business. I don’t know who sold people the fairy tale, it was cheap business. It’s not. There are costs in money and time. If it was a cake walk, everyone would do it.
Karma will kick you in the ass if you complain about the cost of attending a seminar, the cost of getting to the market and seeing the vendors, or upgrading your education, then you turn around and ask customers to pay you $200 an hour and complain that they are “buying” you. OK?
- Know your ideal client.
Why are you still trying to sell steak to a vegetarian? Ask yourself, do we need this work so badly? Why do we keep trying to sell our “product” to those who are not in the market?
No one has the mental dexterity to jump through those kinds of hoops. Being a professional means knowing who your customer is and marketing to that person. Do not try to sell design to those looking for catalog decoration, or simply to a cabinet shop or personal shopper. You are not Tessie the Trunk Slammer.
- Understand the right marketing precepts.
If you’re selling “packages” or “blocks of time,” that’s a marketing failure. Packages are for the UPS man or Santa Claus. This is at odds with the fact that clients revere your talent and creative energies.
Why reduce your mojo to being associated with something NOT about design? It’s a fast track to mediocrity in my book. Don’t sniff or get angry for your cherished parcels. Listen and think about logic. It’s not the concept but how you position your design services. Do you want to sell a block of time or your creative vision?
- Stop selling “time” with “packages”. Your talents are best sold by results.
Sell your talent, not your hourly rate. Hourly rates are necessary in some types of projects, but any good designer should be able to price their “product” in the design phase. The idea that this is a risky practice is rubbish if you pay attention to number 2. If you have constant problems with clients who go beyond your fixed costs for the design phase, you’ve lost control of the process, you don’t set your price. skills and talent in the right way, or you’re not taking the time to fully “sell” the way you operate to the customer. Focus on the final production – the jaw-dropping theater – not the lineup required to make it to opening night.
- Write a clear, concise and convincing communication.
Do you project confidence? Do you look hesitant? Are there too many unnecessary words in your emails? Do you write long chapters when a sentence or two would suffice? Communicating with your customers, contractors, contractors and suppliers is part of our world and not being clear will cost you money. There are far too many websites with misspelled words and bad grammar and there is no excuse for this to happen.
You can’t buy a few how-to guides or design books and expect to become educated. It’s a multi-pronged endeavor, and it can be done without four years of school (but I strongly encourage it), but damn it, don’t make us look bad by getting in over your head or charging more than you should for the level of experience you offer. Designers have so many wonderful resources at their disposal. Many design forums offer mentorship and coaching, which is invaluable, and of course there are plenty of self-study options. But none of this is enough. We all need to devote time and energy to developing our creativity and dealing with the ins and outs of running a business. Intentionally commit to representing our industry as a professional and watch your stock grow.
Cheryl Kees Clendenon owns In Detail Interiors, a design-based full-service retail showroom in Pensacola, Florida. Clendenon consults with other small businesses and interior designers through the Damn Good Designer® program. You can reach her at [email protected]