IIDA Notes: A Sign of the Times

April 20, 2009

By offering enhanced communication and a more complete range of design services, practitioners can substantially improve relationships with potential clients and help themselves stand out from the competition.

In the world today, marketing—promoting the value of interior design—is more than convincing our clients that we can space plan efficiently, or that we have done this type of project before, or that we are talented designers. Our clients today are not just looking for designers to create a great space; they are looking for business partners who understand the challenges they face today and the opportunities they will encounter tomorrow. And they are trying to balance that business side with a partner they can trust and rely upon as an extension of their brand.

Be the firm you’d most like to work with. Be honest, work hard and find the areas where you add the most value.

Network. Attend association lunches, evening celebrations, business roundtables, and industry events that are important to your client. Branch out from your own expertise to become exposed and educated within the areas your clients thrive.

Tell your story. Speak publicly about projects and challenges you have solved, in small formats and larger forums. Demonstrate your expertise in a way that clients can relate to you. Tell the human side of your business. Tell your personal story and your firm’s story—what makes your firm unique, talented and unparalleled. Explain how you got involved in the industry and why you love it. Enhance the perception of who you are by becoming more personal in the way you tell it.

Then balance that with the client. Learn about your client. Learn about your client’s world. Find interconnections between the two worlds, and demonstrate how you can support that client.

Our clients have access to an amazing amount of project data worldwide and use the Web to do extensive project research before they embark on a new project or even begin thinking about a design firm. Our clients are more aware about design than they were 10 years ago, and in return, they expect us to know more and do more.

To be effective in marketing design, designers must provide the most comprehensive service for their clients. Research your clients, research their industry, and research their competition. Find out who is succeeding, who is not, and why. We must know as much about our clients’ business and trends as they do. The global economic situation has demonstrated how all businesses are connected to a global economy, including our design world.

We are involved with our clients in everything from creating business models to creating dreams. 

Clients expect me to be fluent in business speak, not just design speak. They are asking my opinion on expansion plans and store sizes. I spend a great amount of time researching the answers to anticipated business questions that our clients might ask in order to provide a holistic, full-service approach for each project.

Think of the credibility that you can demonstrate if you can discuss trends, case studies, and economic returns that relate to your clients’ industry and their competition. 

Think of the power you have to bring new, innovative business ideas to your client. Now imagine sharing the information that you have gained during the initial interview; imagine identifying a potential client and approaching them with this information. Create a new idea, innovation or concept, and market it to a potential client. You’ll grab their attention and give them something to think about; but more importantly, you will be memorable. You will become your clients’ partner, not just a consultant.

Do this in your area of practice expertise. And do this in the practice area that you want to expand into.

By marketing a complete, full-service design practice to your clients, you’re creating a demand … a need for your services. Every client wants to improve facets of their organization. Why wouldn’t they want to work with you? Why wouldn’t they hire you over the competition? Bring more than good design; sell your value as a business partner.

Mitchell E. Sawasy, FIIDA, AIA, is the 2008-2009 president of IIDA and principal for RSA in Los Angeles. IIDA’s LEED-Gold certified headquarters is in The Merchandise Mart, Chicago. IIDA can be reached at (888) 799-4432; www.iida.org; or [email protected].

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