5 ways to be more professional in the interior design business | Cheryl Kees Clendenon

It is a choice to be a professional.

You do not need a piece of paper or be anointed by anyone to be professional in your communication, demeanor or attitude.  It is a choice you make to uphold professional standards and practice in such a way that you are advancing your firm as a strong contender in the marketplace.

When the economy is strong, some of the best practices in professionalism get tossed out the window in the smug attitude of “business is booming.” Come a downturn, it is near impossible to correct a misperception in the minds of others whether they are referring you, visiting your website or walking into your shop or studio.

Speaking primarily to interior designers with or without a retail component, here is how to correct some of the most egregious mindsets:

  1. It takes money to make money. 

You are not running an after-school lemonade stand. There are costs to running a business and it is annoying to your colleagues when you complain about the cost of doing business. I am not sure who sold people the fairy tale this was a cheap business to get into. It is not. There are money and time costs. If it were a cake walk, everyone would do it.

Karma will kick you in the tush if you complain about a fee to attend a seminar, the cost to get to market and see vendors, or leveling up your education and then you turn around and ask clients to pay you $200 an hour and complain they are “shopping” you. Ok?

  1. Know your ideal client.

Why are you still trying to sell steak to a vegetarian? Ask yourself, do we need this job that badly? Why do we keep trying to sell our “product” to those not in the market for it?

No one has the mental dexterity to jump through these sorts of hoops. Being a professional means knowing who your client is and marketing to that person. Do not try and sell design to those looking for catalog decorating, or just a cabinet shop or a personal shopper. You are not Tessie the Trunk Slammer.

  1. Understand good marketing precepts.

If you sell “packages” or “blocks of time” that is a marketing fail. Packages are for the UPS man or Santa Claus. This is discordant with having clients revere your talent and creative energies.

Why reduce your mojo to being associated with something that is NOT about design? This is a fast track to mediocrity in my book. Do not sniff and get mad about your darling packages. Listen and think about the logic. It is not the concept but how you are positioning your design services. Do you want to sell a block of time or your creative vision?

  1. Stop selling “time” along with “packages.” Your talents are best sold by results.  

Sell your talent and not your hourly rate. Hourly fees are necessary in some types of projects, but any good designer should be able to price his or her “product” in the design phase. The idea that this is a risky practice is hogwash if you are paying attention to number 2. If you have constant issues with clients who go beyond your set fee for the design phase then you have lost control of the process, you are not pricing your skills and talent in the right manner, or you are not taking the time to fully “sell” to the client how you operate. Focus on the final production — the show-stopping theater — and not the programming required to get to opening night.

  1. Write clear, concise and cogent communication. 

Are you projecting confidence? Do you sound tentative? Are there too many superfluous words in your emails? Do you write long run-on chapters when a sentence or two would suffice? Communicating to your clients, subs, contractors and vendors is part of our world and not being clear will cost you money. There are far too many websites with misspelled words and poor grammar and there is no excuse for this to occur.

You cannot buy a few how-to guides or books on design and expect to become educated. It is a multi-pronged endeavor, and it can be done without four years of school (but I highly encourage this) but by golly do not make the rest of 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 available to them. Many design forums offer mentoring and coaching, which is invaluable, and of course there are many self-study options. But none of this is enough. We all must put in the time and energy to build our creative mojo and manage the ins and outs of running a business. Make an intentional commitment to represent our industry as a professional and watch your stock rise.

Cheryl Kees Clendenon owns In Detail Interiors, a full-service, design-based retail showroom in Pensacola, Fla. Clendenon consults with other small businesses and interior designers via the Damn Good Designer® program. You can reach her at cheryl@indetailinteriors.com

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