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How to outsmart the online shopper

You’ve heard the saying “if you can’t beat-em, join-em”. Well the same goes for the world of interior designing.

I was giving an interview the other day to a blogger who was writing about marketing for the design industry. She asked me the same question that I hear so many designers ask. How can you succeed in the world of interior design when there are so many ways for people to shop for furniture online? My answer was simple.

“Stop trying to outsmart those clients, and re-design your business to work WITH them.”

She was right, there are more ways for the average homeowner to design their own home than ever. They can find inspiration by watching Fixer-Upper and the Property Brothers on TV. They can see how the pros solve challenging design problems by surfing through Houzz pictures. They can even buy designer furniture at near wholesale prices online. A privilege that used to be exclusive to professional interior designers.

While that might sound like bad news for those who make their living shopping for furniture, it’s actually a blessing.

Gone are the days when we had to convince a client that hiring an Interior Designer could change their lives. It was frustrating to work with a client who had NO IDEA what a well designed room looks like, and even tougher to interpret what their own design style was.

The increased exposure of the average homeowner to the world of design, is helping us to qualify our clients, and saves us from inconsiderate people who invite us out to their homes fishing for free advice. If they want free design advice, they can spend hours on Pinterest.

Today our clients are more educated about design, so how can you use this cultural shift to redesign your business model and embrace the modern homeowner? Simply provide them with a service that combines your natural gift for creating beautiful spaces, with their love of online shopping.

Remember, not everyone has your talent. They might be able to recognize a pretty room, or create a list of furniture that they’d love to own, but can they pull it all together into a beautiful design? Do they know which grey paint will coordinate with their floor tile, or how long that Ikea sofa will last? Probably not. What happens if they buy a custom sofa online only to find that it doesn’t fit through their doorway? See where I’m going here?

Even the most diehard online bargain shopper can create an expensive disaster when trying to DESIGN their own space. That’s why they need you!

My pricing structure, and design services have evolved with the times and so should yours. I always teach my Design for a Living students that flexibility is a critical aspect of running a successful interior design business. It’s the reason that I also teach, not to list your prices online or during your first conversations. You can’t give them a price for your services until you’ve been to their house and you understand what services they’ll ultimately want. Here are a few that I recommend.

At your first house-call, when you’ve asked a hundred questions getting to know them and their style, if you believe that this client is a definite online design shopper, then offer them a “Design Road Map”. It’s a package that essentially creates a general design concept and furniture shopping list, a suggested floor plan, and possibly a color palate. It’s a powerful tool that they can use to guide them to the gorgeous room of their dreams, (with little time investment from you).

On the other hand, if you discover that they are the typical, clueless homeowner, who doesn’t even know where to start with their room then wonderful. You can offer them your full service, take charge at every step of the way, super duper design package that will cost quite a bit more.

I encourage you to take a fresh look at your design business and learn to love the new online shopper. Create a series of design packages that fit all of your clients, and you’ll find that your business will increase rather than fade away.

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