Many interior designers are convinced that to compete in the marketplace, they have to offer exceptional value and special discounts, along with a rate that’s similar to or just below what other designers in their market charge.
But unless your pricing is way off, attempts to compete this way are misguided.
Instead of worrying about pricing, you should position your business to dominate a different marketplace where there are few, if any, competitors, and where clients care more about the art than how much it costs.
In fact, when you’re targeting the perfect niche, lowering your ideal rates might actually hurt your prospects of landing new clients.
To find this kind of profitable niche, you’ll have to tune in closely to the mindset of a distinct type of buyer — the type of buyer who funds most of the work of independent designers like yourself.
Finding the Clients of the “New Economic Order”
I’ve mentioned before that I consider it a red flag when potential clients ask about discounts or markups right away.
If someone is looking for a bargain, it’s a sign that they view interior design as a commodity and not an exclusive luxury. These bargain shopper clients are likely to be higher maintenance and therefore less profitable. (Related posts: The Danger of Discounting Your Interior Design Service and The Importance of Positioning Your Interior Design Business as a Luxury)
However, bargain shopping is central to the purchasing mindset of many buyers — a little more than half of them, according to the book “One Hundred Thirteen Million Markets of One: How the New Economic Order Can Remake the American Economy.”
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The book’s description of the two distinct types of buyers in the marketplace today really resonated with me as it relates to the interior design industry.
The book labels the first type of buyer as “traditional.” A traditional buyer’s primary goal is to get the best deal on the products and services they need. In tight economic times, they’ll only buy if they’re enticed by big markdowns. Companies that want to compete for these buyers’ attention will need to deal with a never-ending downward pressure on pricing.
The other group of buyers is what the authors call the “new economic order,” or NEO.
NEO buyers are willing to spend on things that matter to them, even under some financial pressure, by cutting back on buying things that don’t matter. They want their purchases to reflect their lifestyles and their values, and they don’t mind paying more as long as a purchase meets certain criteria.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this type of values-driven client is the one you want to attract, and you can do that by paying attention to the following factors.
Is your product or service pleasant to use, intuitive, and even beautiful? What does your client feel and experience when they buy your product or service?
Value-driven buyers aren’t looking for the most affordable solution. They want to buy the things that add something special to their life. Creating a product like that requires a lot of attention to detail.
Apple is the famous example in this category, with a laser-focus on user-centered design that kept its products flying off the shelves even during the worst parts of the recession.
For interior designers, this means a few things.
Of course, the client should love the design you create for them. But perhaps even more importantly, the process of getting to that final design should be pleasant. From the first time a client visits your website to the day you celebrate the project’s completion, there should be ease and delight.
While your competitors are focused on packages and prices, you’ll be focused on designing the perfect customer experience.
NEO buyers pride themselves on finding things that are different, and they want to find new purchases themselves as opposed to having those purchases shouted at them in ads. NEO buyers are typically the first to try new things and new places, and this mindset extends to their purchases, too.
That’s why it’s so important that you choose a smaller group of clients who love your personal aesthetic instead of trying to design for a variety of clients. Trying to please everyone at once almost always results in mediocrity, and that’s as far from originality as you can get.
You’ll appeal to these buyers not just by being the independent alternative to bigger corporate designers, but by really homing in on what you do well and what makes you different.
Today’s value-driven buyers want to connect with real people, not faceless corporations. They’re willing to pay more if they see that their money is going directly toward a small business owner who they respect instead of filtering down through layers of a corporation.
They want to feel like they have a personal relationship with the people or at least with the brand that they’re buying from.
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Independent interior designers like yourself have an advantage in this department.
You’re not a faceless corporate catalogue or even a large group of employees trying to present a cohesive front. Your brand reflects your aesthetic personally — or at least it should (as we mentioned).
In addition to that unique style, make your website personal. Talk about who you are, where you live, what inspires you. Your blog and social media accounts need to mine a personal tone that aims to speak candidly to your ideal clients.
Frontloading Your Sales Work
Many designers fail to understand that a big majority of the sales process happens before a client ever contacts you for the first time.
It’s a lot of work to create a beautiful website and curate your favorite projects until you have a full body of work to display within a certain aesthetic. Developing a consistent, original voice on social media and your blog also takes time and effort.
But once you’ve positioned yourself as an original, independent designer who delivers a unique experience, you’ll start to find sales a lot easier and more natural.
Potential clients will come to you already expecting to get the kind of designs that you love to create. They’ll also be ready to pay for it because they’ve sought it out expressly for its unique and personal qualities.
Losing potential clients to competitors or hearing potential clients talking about shopping around can be frustrating. And you may indeed need to work on your closing technique or other sales tactics that come later in your interior design sales funnel.
But, in general, potential clients who choose to go elsewhere based on price or even based on personal style leave you both better off. Their absence will leave room for the next project that’s a better fit.
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When you’re ready to take your interior design business to the next level and get established in the perfect niche for your design business, I hope you contact me personally. I have a business and marketing background, but I’ve made it my mission to get interior designers to step into their CEO shoes and grab the reins of the business end of their design work.
For more on one-on-one coaching and mastermind groups, reach out to me through this form.