You face more challenges than ever before as an interior designer. You’re probably feeling the impact of external pressures like never before.
What are the ten biggest threats to your interior design salary today?
The recession is obvious to all of us. Many interior designers provide services to the affluent, and yet the affluent are feeling less wealthy these days and they are questioning everything…especially your fees.
Consumers are more savvy today than every before. They are shopping on the Internet for the products that were traditionally available only through you.
Some social networking sites are selling services that are commoditized and limited in scope, but are designed to make our services more affordable to the masses. Even interior designers that understand how the consumer attitudes have changed are offering packages of services.
These same social networking sites are also offering purchasing services to the consumers and this is resulting in designers being bypassed for purchasing and/or design services.
Technology is changing so rapidly that few people can manage the overwhelming amount of data and emails, much less understand which software products to use to manage your businesses efficiently.
Social media is the latest buzz phrase, but what does that mean? Most designers don’t even have websites, much less a blog. What sites should you use? How do you figure out a strategy?
HGTV has created interest in interior design, and many consumers now want to do their own projects. Frankly, they want the thrill of getting the kudos from their friends and family, and they are also interested in saving money.
Consumers can rate you online, and they can talk about you even if you don’t have a website. If you have a challenging relationship with a client, it may be published online. Do you know what they are saying about you?
Consumers are losing patience with time billing, and quite frankly, it makes your services seem like a commodity instead of a service that provides real value at a reasonable price.
Magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive. Many designers were used to getting feature articles and now, the opportunity for the third-party endorsement is diminishing in offline publications.
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 each challenge and what your choices are:
We’ve been able to do business our way for years by charging an hourly fee and a mark-up or discount from retail. Ironically, a few years ago, ASID did a study and approximately 70% of those surveyed wanted a flat fee for design services. What percentage of designers price their services in this way? 5.6% of the designers we surveyed offer flat or Value Based Fees. What’s wrong with this? If the consumer wants their services one way and we make them fit into our mold, we’ve already created friction and potentially difficult times getting paid for our work. It is vital that we start adapting to what the consumer wants.
Many manufacturers and retailers are selling directly to consumers, and with the financial challenges, even the most affluent don’t mind 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?
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 at one time 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.
Also, a few social networking sites are selling 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.
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, 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 tolerate paying for services from 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 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 phone or laptop and do business anywhere in the world. It’s actually quite exciting.
Social media is here to stay. In fact, it is hard to anticipate what sites will stay and which will go. Here are the major sites you should include in your marketing strategy: your blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. This may be heresy to some, but you don’t need a website any more. The central hub of your online efforts should revolve around your blog. Also, be sure you check out Ava Living and Decorati. It’s important that you understand what is happening in the broader market that is affecting you even if you are in a small town. Another huge trend is mobile technology. You haven’t begun to see what is going to happen with that. Hold on to your cell phone…it’s going to be a wild ride!
HGTV has been good and frustrating at the same time for most of us that are professionals. It’s not reality TV at all, but the 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.
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 reading and customer service skills. Consumers won’t settle for average services any more. They want an exceptional and personal experience.
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.
Some magazines are now online, but they are also suffering from low advertising revenue. It is a challenge, and if you are wanting to get coverage, you’ll probably have to provide your own photography. Reporters and editors are stretched thin because of the 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.