Before you stepped out on your own to create an interior design business, you may not have had a detailed business plan. After all, the finances are a little simpler for those companies without huge infrastructure costs and staff payrolls.
However, there’s one particular part of a traditional business plan that I really think we should all take the time to work on: The competitive analysis.
In this part of the business plan, entrepreneurs list all of their potential competitors and specify exactly why they have an advantage over each one. This is just as important for interior designers as it is for bigger companies. Your competitive threats are just as real, and you need to get just as serious about beating them.
Before you get too worried about what I’m about to suggest, understand that beating your competition doesn’t require you to go out and ruthlessly take anyone down. It’s all about making sure that your services stand out and offer something better than the others.As an interior designer CEO, you should welcome the challenge of continually improving to beat competitors. Click To Tweet
Let’s discuss how you can beat the three most common types of competitors.
Competitor: Other Local Designers
Asked about who their competitors are, most designers start listing other local designers. That makes sense; they are indeed the most direct competition. They’re generally going after the exact same clients (same neighborhoods, backgrounds and income levels) that you are.
When it comes to competing with this group, it will be your unique style that gives you the biggest competitive advantage.
As I explained in my post on making your interior design service stand out from the crowd, cultivating a portfolio with a distinctive style and aesthetic is about as powerful of a tool as you can have in an interior design business. Trying to please everyone by modifying your style for each client results in a disjointed portfolio that doesn’t appeal much to anyone.
Instead, cultivate a portfolio that speaks to what you love personally, and then use that to magnetize your dream clients.
Other than a distinctive aesthetic, you can beat out other local designers for the best jobs with a superior marketing process. Don’t rely solely on referrals. Get serious about creating a sales funnel and nurturing your leads through it. Need help? Get started with my full article on how to market and sell to your ideal clients.
Finally, remember that although this type of competitor may seem like the biggest threat to your business, they usually aren’t (which we’ll discuss next) and can even make great allies against some of the other competitors you’ll face together.
Competitor: Online Design Services
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are a lot of online design services on the market today.
These tools all use apps and online tools to let designers communicate directly with clients through structured, simplified processes. The programs offer varying degrees of personalization, revisions, communication, access and sourcing. In some of these programs, users can opt to pay for a bare-bones plan where they do much of the work themselves for under $70 per room. In others, they get connected with a designer personally, paying fees of more than $1K per room for the more experienced designers.
There are a few ways that your local design service can adapt to the presence of these new tools. The first step is to be aware of what they’re charging and offering so that you can understand how you compare. (This LA Times article has a good roundup of these design tools, if you want more details.)
However, local designers still have plenty of advantages over these online design services. Here are a few of them:
- Your first advantage is with the older demographic that still pefers to do things in person, and not over a screen. This group might struggle with things like taking photos with smartphones and uploading those photos to a web site, for example. This group is generally shrinking, but you can certainly still sell the advantages of meeting in person both to assess the space and assess the client’s unique personal style.
- These web-based design services still require users to scurry around taking measurements, taking photos and uploading all of the photos according to the criteria on the website. Sure, this is no big deal for a bargain hunter; but, the people in the luxury demographic — those with little time or bigger projects — certainly don’t want to do it. Leverage that. Position yourself as a luxury tastemaker. You’re not just selling a design product, you’re selling a luxury experience that does not require your client to search for a tape measure.(Side note: These sites might even be doing you a favor by weeding out those clients who are only concerned with getting professional work for the lowest price possible. Over the years, I’ve found that this type of clients will try to squeeze every possible ounce of energy out of their designers, in sharp contrast to the clients who go in understanding that quality design is a worthwhile investment.)
- Make sure your clients understand that there are no limits on sourcing furniture and other decor. These online tools often require designers to use certain retailers. Designers hired through these services certainly are not cruising flea markets and estate sales with their client’s project in mind — but you are. Make sure they know it.
- If you do your marketing right, as I explain in my post on creating a sales funnel for your interior design business, your potential clients will start to feel like they know you personally. If you do a good job cultivating your audience on social media and through other communications, they won’t just be excited to pay for a room design. They’ll be excited to pay to work with you personally. And that’s something that online design tools can’t offer.
Finally, another option is to actually leverage the power of these tools for yourself. If you’re new to the design scene, connecting to clients through one of these services may be a good way to get your feet wet and understand the types of demands you’ll be facing from clients before you make the leap to designing on your own.
Competitor: Other Ways to Spend Disposable Income
This is probably your most dangerous competitor, and it’s the one that we all tend to overlook.
The number of your potential clients who choose other designers over you is much smaller than the number of clients who never invest in designers at all. Maybe they’ve never seen the value in it. Maybe they know interior design is important, but they’ve convinced themselves that they can do it on their own or that it’s fine to settle for space that they inherited or that hasn’t been updated in many years.
There’s a common culprit here: There are a million other things competing for their attention and money. It’s your job, through your marketing, to make sure that they understand why interior design is important, how it benefits their lives and why it’s worth prioritizing over other expenses.
Finally, remember that understanding your competitors isn’t a one-time task. The competitive landscape is always changing for all businesses. Surround yourself with other energetic business leaders to make sure you stay on top of your game.