Back when I worked in the investments industry, it was well known by financial advisors that some of their clients may have a lot of their money with another advisor at another firm. They didn’t always know where, with who, how much, or even which of their clients, but it was common. So common that one of an advisor’s top priorities was encouraging their clients to bring over all of their money, rather than just a portion. They knew that on a very regular basis clients were testing them, and that the portfolio they put together needed to perform well. So they worked their tails off to do just that.
Big Projects May be Disguised as Small Projects
The same might be happening with your design clients. Whether or not you are aware of it, a client may first work with you on a “test” project. They might hire you for a smaller project that doesn’t take too much time, or too much money, just to see how you handle yourself and your business. It might be something like paint color selection, updating curtains, or choosing flooring. Something that to you may seem like a bit of an annoyance as it’s a piece meal project, but to them is an opportunity to see if they can trust you with big responsibility and big money. When I’m throwing a party and need to buy something from a vendor, I do the same thing. If it’s a bakery, I test out their everyday bakery items before ordering a cake. That way I see if I like their taste, and how they treat me as just a “regular,” low-profit customer. Or if it’s a florist, I have a small bouquet made first to see how they delivered upon what I asked for and how beautiful their designs are. It just makes sense when you’re going to spend a lot of money, that you do a “taste test” first.
Don’t Make Assumptions
The old saying goes, never assume because when you do it makes an a** out of you and me. So true. Never assume that a small project, is just a small project. Treat every project with the same amount of care as you would a big project. Not that you have to spend the same amount of time on a $2,000 project as a $20,000 project, but do spend the same amount of care and attention. Do make the customer feel special. Do your best to come up with an absolutely spectacular design no matter how small the project. Again back in the investment days, countless times I got company emails headlining, “Advisor brings in $50 million dollar account from a $500,000 Client.” The story was always the same, the client tested the advisor, the advisor put together a great portfolio and gave great client service, asked the right questions to uncover more cash, and then won the rest of the client’s hidden, but much larger business. You just never know when that small project, turns into something huge.
A Simple Client May Be a Serious Client
I’m going to say it again for added emphasis – assumptions are just not good business. You just can’t judge a book by its cover. Go to a home that’s clean and tidy, but looks very dated and generic and then assume, the client won’t want to spend much? Or doesn’t have the funds to do so? Everyday I saw $5 million clients who wore worn out jeans, tennis shoes, and tattered shirts. Just looking at them, you’d never suspect how well they’d done and how much they wanted to invest. But if you looked at them and assumed they weren’t worth your time, you’d be out a lot of money.
One of the most successful advisors in the entire region regularly wore shirts with blown out elbows. He just didn’t care to focus on what to him seemed to be a waste of time. Your clients may be the same. They may know what they’re good at, and that’s not interior design. They know that’s why they hired you. So just because their home is small, or barely decorated, or they dress very simply, you never know what size project they might want you to do, if you pass the test. And even if they don’t have a big project for you, you never know who they know, what organization they volunteer for, or what funds they may have one day.
Ask More Questions for Bigger Projects and Bigger Profits
So, other than doing a spectacular job designing and treating clients well, how do you turn those small projects into big ones? Ask questions, a lot of specific questions, when the time is right. Once you’ve gotten to know the client and you feel comfortable being more pointed in your questions, go ahead. But make it casual, not invasive. Sometimes the best time to get people to open up is while you’re occupied doing something else – looking at fabrics together, during “sit tests,” or while you’re even cleaning up your samples as you leave. Find out what work they’ve done so far with their home, if they have any further plans for their home, or what function they would love their house to serve someday that it isn’t right now.
You can even ask more questions about the project you’re currently working on, now that the project is underway, are there any additional rooms they’re now thinking of updating? If they’re only updating the curtains, have they thought of updating the upholstery in the room as well (and show them fabric samples for ideas). Or has it sparked any new ideas for their home? Is there anything else they wish now they had done to the room? Do they own another home?
Finding out their past spending, their thoughts on the current project, and what they’re dreaming of in the future, could give you great insight on what other project possibilities there are. And you may even find out that, although unintentional, they were planning on hiring another designer for other aspects of their home that you can actually handle. Maybe they hired you for picking out new upholstery for items they already own because they know that’s your specialty, but they never knew you could help them choose a new dining room table and chairs as well. Or that because you have a showroom, they assume that only what’s available in store is available for purchase, rather than a whole host of other brands and pieces you may actually offer. Or that because you’re working with them locally, you can’t also design their vacation home in another state. Asking questions and understanding mistaken assumptions a client might have is the key to uncovering those bigger projects and bigger profits. Just because someone is well off, and interested in a beautiful home, doesn’t mean they understand the business of interior design.
Keep Your Customer’s Loyalty Through Great Value
The greater help you provide to your customer, the more loyal they are. Whether you’ve been intentionally tested, or the customer just isn’t aware of all that you do, you’ll get greater customer loyalty by providing more value. Asking more questions about what the client wants and needs from not only the room you’re designing, but the home (or homes) they own, allows you to really make your clients’ dreams come true. So the next time you have a small project, don’t be discouraged. It may just be a test to see how well you handle the curtains in one room, so the client can actually see how well you could handle the design of their 5,000 sq ft home rather than this small rental you’re working on. And the greater attention you pay to those curtains and that client, the more likely they are to give that whole home project to you – rather than the other designer they’ve also hired to just choose paint colors in the kitchen.