How to Mitigate the Financial Risk of Spending Hours Trying to Land a Client
Wouldn’t it be nice if each design proposal you ever sent a client was met with unbridled enthusiasm and swift approval?
Sadly, that scenario is more of a fantasy. Every designer, no matter how well-sought after, must occasionally deal with potential clients who didn’t like what was presented and / or who never actually commit to going forward with a project. You pour your heart and soul into building the relationship, and seeing it go sideways can cause concern.
There are ways that interior designers can minimize this kind of huge and risky upfront investment of effort and time. Here’s a few ways we suggest to our own interior designer clients.
Don’t Start From Scratch
When you’re trying to land a new client you’ll concentrate on two things, first is the relationship. You need to build a sense of trust for the relationship. It’s important your prospective client understand they’re getting into a relationship with you and trust is imperative in building that relationship foundation.
Second, is the proposal (which details exactly what you’ll do for the client, when you’ll be finished, how much it’s expected to cost, how they’ll be expected to pay for it, what’s expected of them, and other similar project details). With the proposal, you should definitely be starting with a template or a copy of a proposal you put together for a similar project. If your design business is just getting started, take heart: The first proposals will take the longest, and you can generally use them as templates later.
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If you’re finding that starting with a template isn’t saving you much time, you’re probably customizing your process too much for each client. Work to standardize your process. All projects should be organized pretty much the same way, with the same scheduling formulas, pricing formulas, working agreements and branding elements.
Plan for Rejections
When you run an interior design business, you have to play many roles: designer, CEO, and in this case, salesperson. Take a note from the pros: Salespeople pay close attention to their sales funnels and their close rates. They know what percentage of prospects, in any given stage of the buying process, is likely to move on to the next stage. (For more information on sales funnels, check out the full post I wrote on the topic.)
Once you start to expect that, say, only four out of every five proposals you create will result in a new engagement, you can start to budget accordingly with your effort, timeline and cash flow. Plus, the rejections won’t be as demoralizing because you’ll have planned for them.
Of course, you should be working to reduce this rejection rate, too, as we’ll discuss next. But the best entrepreneurs learn to accept and bounce back from rejections as much as they try to avoid them.
As we mentioned before in our post on standing boldly in your designs, you want your work to evoke strong reactions. Accept now that some of those reactions will be negative. Consider that if you don’t get some negative feedback occasionally, you might be keeping things a little too pedestrian.
Integrate Sales Tools
So, you should streamline your proposal generation process and use metrics from your sales funnel to keep your cash flow on track. Although you can’t ensure that every new prospect will be ready to move forward after the proposal, you can ensure that you’ve done your best at really compelling them on what to expect if they moved forward.
A few sales tactics to consider.
- Connect with the client on a personal level as much as you can. (I plan to write more on this topic later, because it’s really important.)
- Get a deep understanding of how they want to use their space, then leverage the power of emotion to help them visualize it. (More here: Want to Land More Interior Design Clients? Appeal to Their Emotions)
- Add some sense of urgency to your proposal. Perhaps you could emphasize that your schedule books up quickly, or that delays in proposal approval during a certain season might mean especially long wait times. (This should all be true, anyway; you should be marketing yourself well enough to book your calendar up well in advance.)
Vet Potential Clients Thoroughly
No matter how well you’ve structured your proposals, some clients just won’t ever move forward with them.
Maybe they were kidding with themselves about what they could really afford — or didn’t understand what it would cost when they asked for the proposal. Perhaps they couldn’t get the approval from another key decision maker, such as a spouse. Maybe they can’t seem to find the perfect time to actually get the project started.
You’ll never be able to guarantee that a client won’t flake out, but you can look out for red flags in an initial client meeting and adjust your efforts accordingly.
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Namely, you can wait to even start the proposal until they’ve clarified some of the points that give you pause. You can also tentatively schedule the work for later in your calendar to give you more time to gauge their interest and encourage communication. Finally, in some cases, you may choose to break apart your full service design into a single design only offering to allow for client buy in — which brings me to my final point.
Design Only Offering
I don’t recommend this for everyone. But if the demand is high enough for your services, a prospective client would pay a high – dollar on getting your creative. Let me clarify. This is not a “deal” nor is it a consultation. It is however, a legitimate offering of conceptual design for the client’s space. As always, there’s a proposal with a fee expected to be paid at the time of commitment and on presentation day. If they fall in love with what you’ve presented, they can move forward with a full project engagement. If not, you’ve offered value and you’ve be paid handsomely for your effort.
I want reiterate. This isn’t a “deal” because of the value of the effort is where the creative & know-how professional services is. You need to know and understand your design methodology and design implementation process to understand how you can pull it apart. I wouldn’t recommend this for beginners. In many cases this offering is 20K + and more based on the defined scope. This is only offered if you want to romance the client on the potential of what could be.
A Final Note: Stay Positive
As frustrating as it can be to have clients bail on you after you’ve spent hours meeting them and creating their proposal, understand that each rejection comes with valuable experience that will improve your close rate for future projects.
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If you want to learn more about how motivated, driven designers respond to setbacks like these — or even just want a bit of camaraderie and inspiration in your life — check out Interior Design Master Class’ Mastermind Groups. Our monthly small group calls keep our members engaged, focused, and moving forward. Click here to learn more.