July 30, 2007

Copy Successful Designers... and you will be successful, too!

Bestselling writer and motivational speaker Tony Robbins said, "If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you'll achieve the same results." In other words, if you want to run a successful design business, copy what successful designers are doing, and you'll achieve the same success.

So, what are successful designers doing? How do they work, think, act? Here are 3 traits that are common to successful designers:

  1. Successful designers have systems
    What do you do when a call comes in? When you measure a room? When you hire a contractor? Do you have specific steps to follow for every part of your business? Or do you wing it? I used to! But I learned that "winging it" leads to chaos and confusion, and you certainly can't grow from there. Successful designers handle each part of their business the same way every time. They follow a system for everything. Systems lead to consistency, organization, and effectiveness.
  2. Successful designers study marketing
    Unfortunately, being a terrific designer doesn't necessarily make you successful. In order to succeed in business, we need to be super marketers. Successful designers are either great at marketing, or they hire people who are. The most lucrative design firms actually spend more time and energy on marketing than they do on studying design.
  3. Successful designers are detail-oriented
    This may seem obvious, but are you doing it? Successful designers take care with every detail of the business - from all aspects of office work to each element of design projects. This doesn't mean they do it all themselves (in fact, profitable design companies delegate a lot of the details. We will discuss delegating in a future ezine!), but they always make sure that every part of their business - down to the smallest details - supports their exceptional image.

You don't need to start from scratch. Just model what the experts are already doing, and you can have the same success. Good luck!

July 29, 2007

6 Tips to Make Your Portfolio Sell You

Your professional portfolio is an important selling tool. A great one will put you ahead of the competition. But I've seen and heard of many lost sales due to poorly designed, unorganized, or even no portfolio (gasp). When I spruced up my portfolio, I noticed more respect for my work, and it was a lot easier to sell at consultations.

Here are 6 portfolio tips:

  1. Use large photographs - 8x10 or larger. Small snapshots tend to look amateurish.
  2. Include small "before" snapshots next to your finished work when you can. These will add to the impact of your beautiful designs.
  3. Hire a professional photographer. My business took a giant leap when I finally hired a photographer. One more sale could pay for the expense!
  4. Include clippings from any press articles where you are mentioned.
  5. Keep your photos updated. Replace jobs from several years ago with fresh, new ones.
  6. Limit your photos to about a dozen. Use only your most impressive work. Small, modest jobs can be kept as snapshots in your briefcase to pull out when necessary.
When your portfolio is well-maintained and professional, your selling is a whole lot easier.

July 26, 2007

3 Ways to Reactivate Clients

Statistics show that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than to get business from a past one. So why are we spending more time chasing the strangers?

People buy from people who they know, like, and trust. Your past customers already know you, like you, and trust you. So you don't have to spend time selling yourself. They are already sold on you! You just have to remind them you are around.

Here are my favorite ways to "remind" past clients about me. I always see results:

  1. Custom Holiday Gift
    What a great time of year to thank your clients and remind them about what you offer. Can you send a small token gift that coordinates with the design project you completed? How about a throw pillow made from their fabric scraps, or a small accessory that matches their room? I just heard an amazing idea for this time of year: a Christmas tree skirt sewn from matching fabric. How excited your client will be to have a skirt match their couch or window treatments!
  2. Call Me!
    I like to make it a point to call one past client each week. I call to say hello, to ask if they've seen a new store, to get permission to use them on my referral list... never to sell. But I often hear, "Oh, I'm so glad you called. I've been thinking about starting my living room..." And I set up an appointment.
  3. Email Newsletter
    This is my favorite way to keep in constant contact with my clients. I get a lot of repeat business and warm referrals because of the loyalty that is built from consistent communication.
Loyal, happy, repeat customers make your business not only successful, but a joy! I hope you enjoy this holiday season.

July 25, 2007

The Myth of Getting New Customers

In my books and newsletters, I've often stated the statistic: "It costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than to get business from a past one." Well, it turns out I was wrong. Or at least, the numbers have changed.

According to The Harvard Business Review, it is now 6-7 times more expensive to gain a customer than to retain a customer. Plus, a study showed that repeat customers spend 67 percent more!

It seems pretty obvious that we need to spend a high percentage of our marketing energy and time focusing on our current and past clients. The most effective way to do this is to keep in contact on a consistent basis - through mail, phone, and email.

The best thing I did for my business was start an email newsletter. Most of the successful designers I work with send a regular email newsletter. It goes out to clients - past and present. The newsletter not only reminds clients about you, but it gets forwarded to friends, leading to referral sales. My collegue and friend, Nicole Lorber (President of the WCAA NJ chapter), told me that she gets between 5 and 10 calls every time she sends out her monthly newsletter. Not a bad investment of time.

If you'd like an inexpensive way to get more sales from past clients and referrals, make it a goal this year to start an email newsletter.

If you'd like a step-by-step guide to launching your email newsletter, go to www.enewsletterblitz.com.

July 24, 2007

Be a Failure (if you want to succeed)

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

- Michael Jordan

Did you know that successful people actually fail more often than people who are not successful? That's because they try more often. So they have many more chances to fail. BUT - they also have many more chances to succeed, which is why they are so much more successful than people who don't try anything.

When it comes to your business, which of these two types of people are you? Do you constantly jump in and try new ideas for improving and promoting your business? Or do you avoid leaving your comfort zone because you are fearful of failing? Business owners who always "go for it" have a higher rate of failure, but their businesses are so much more successful!

Many design professionals pass over some wonderful business-boosting opportunities because they are afraid to fail. These opportunities include:

  • speaking
  • networking events
  • press releases
  • calling past clients
  • delegating

I completely understand the fear. There isn't enough room or time to describe the fears I've felt relating to the above tasks. But because I understood that even failing leads to greater success, I thought, what the heck?

So I went out and failed a lot. I taught classes that resulted in absolutely no sales. I went to networking events where I stood against the wall, feeling like a fool, hoping that someone would come up and talk to me. I sent out press releases trying to get publicity and got rejected. I spoke in front of large crowds, and my nerves were so bad that I thought I would pass out.

Yes, I can write about a lot of personal failures and humiliations. But here's the best part: I can also write about loads of successes - that I would not have had if I wasn't willing to fail.

So what can you try this week? If you are willing to keep at it, every attempt you make to improve your business will move you closer to greater success - even if you fail.

To your success (and your failures, too!).

July 23, 2007

Go to the Gym - a quick marketing tip

With spring in the air, lots of people are heading to the gym to shape up. And interestingly enough, most of those gym-goers are homeowners who can use your services.

Last year, my friend Mary - a massage therapist with her own studio - came up with a great marketing idea that cross-promoted her services with a gym.

Mary made up three different "congratulations" coupons and brought them to a local women's fitness center. One offer was for women who had lost 5 pounds ($10 towards a massage), one was for those who lost 10 pounds ($20 off the price of a massage), and the last was for any woman who had reached her goal weight (1/2 price massage). The women at the fitness center went crazy for these coupons. They were like an extra bonus for reaching a goal. Mary got several extra calls each week. PLUS - the gym loved giving out the coupons because it made them look so generous - and they didn't have to lay out a penny!

Can you come up with a fun alternative for your design business?

  • $25 Gift Certificate for attending 12 exercise classes in a row
  • Free Color Consultation when you book 3 personal training sessions
  • Lose 10 pounds and get 10% off your window treatments

Local businesses love to have an extra perk to offer their clients. It makes them look great, and you get some extra business!

gift certificate

3 Ways to Make More Money with Email

Email is the cheapest form of marketing out there. So why isn't every small business owner using it? Well, it's probably because most people are unaware of how easy it is to turn a simple email into a marketing "cash machine."

Try these 3 easy ideas, and you'll notice a quick boost in business!

  1. Set up an Email Signature File
    An Email Signature is text that is automatically included at the bottom of every email you send. It should include your company name, a short description of your services, your phone number, and a link to your website.

How many e-mails do you send each week? Ten? Hundreds? Well, even if your mailings are more modest, you really should remind everyone who gets a note from you what you do. After applying my own e- mail signature, I realized how powerful it was. I often get an e-mail back from a friend or acquaintance saying something like: "I didn't realize you provided that. My neighbor/mom/cousin needs you!" (***After suggesting this last year, several decorators contacted me saying that within days they got new business from this simple technique.)

  1. Keeping current clients "in the loop"
    One of the surest ways of increasing customer satisfaction is through consistent communication. Although you've told your clients when they can expect the project to be completed, they appreciate reminders and updates to let them know they are not forgotten. A simple method for accomplishing this is weekly email updates. Set aside a few minutes each week to send a quick email to each of your current clients, notifying them of their project status (even if nothing has changed!) This little step will contribute to positive client experiences, and will inspire them to use you again in the future and enthusiastically recommend your services to their friends.
  2. Email Newsletters
    If you only knew the actual number of people who thought about using your services - but then didn't! If only you could capture the names of all those prospects and be able to remind them about you over and over, so that when they are ready to buy what you offer, they think of YOU!

Well, email newsletters are the answer. After I learned how to use email newsletters effectively, my business tripled! Why don't you model my success and start sending your own newsletter today?

Resources for your newsletters:
Email Newsletters for Designers: The Step-by-Step Guide to Launching a Powerful, Profit-Boosting Email Campaign
Decorator Contact - an email service provider that makes your newsletters easy, automatic, and really professional. Free trial.

July 19, 2007

What forms do you need to help your business?

I often get requests for templates of business forms, so I am putting together a binder of every form you could ever need for your design business - from COM contracts to repair policies. If there are any forms you would love to have, please click to comment below to let me know - so that I can include them.


Anonymous said...
How about some samples of client contracts?

Trish said...
I always wanted a form with a phone script for when a new prospect calls. Is that a form?

Linda said...
Sample contracts when working as a sub-contractor with other design professionals

a better purchase order form

a form on which to write down info when a client gives you their credit card info over the phone. I find myself forgetting to ask them how the name is written on the credit card, for instance, or fogetting to ask for the CVV code. Or I am inputting the credit card info online, and have to stop and go get the address information.

a checklist for comparing insurance plans, for evaluating need for, and purchasing, liability insurance?

Two forms I recently purchased from Minutes Matter and found quite helpful are the Top Ten List (ten most important things to do today) and the Designer Checklist - to make sure you have everything as you head out the door.

Anonymous said...
I'd like to see a retainer contract example to compare to what I use. I use it when I'm describing to clients what we've established that I will be advising them on or purchasing for them, and then I take a percentage of the total in order to start work. Mine is probably too basic.

Nika's New Title CONTEST!

Win any Wealthy Decorator Product or Book

Can I get your help?

I've been thinking about my "title" for quite a while (the Designers' Success Coach), and I'm not happy with it. It bothers me for two reasons. First, it doesn't really flow off the tongue. And second, I don't feel it really captures - in a succinct and powerful way - what I want to do for designers.

My intention is:

To teach and inspire designers to create success and joy in their lives. To provide access to strategies and ideas for living a happy and successful life as a designer.

I've struggled with this by myself for too long, so I've decide to ask for help. In fact, I'm holding a contest to choose my new title.

The designer who comes up with the best title for me will win a choice of any of my books or products. You can see what is available here.

Be creative, and enter as many times as you'd like. There are no rules or restrictions on what the title can be, but here are my thoughts:

  • I want it to be a powerful statement of my intention
  • I want it to be easy to say
  • I like rhymes
  • I want it to be succinct
  • I want it to be fun!

Go for it! I really appreciate all your help, and I look forward to giving away a great success product, too!


ENTER YOUR TITLE SUGGESTION BY CLICKING HERE (or click "Post a Comment" below) - and don't forget to add your name and email.

July 18, 2007

The Business-Boosting Technique that Most Designers Ignore

There is an easy way to get more repeat business and referrals, and most designers ignore it. It is known as follow-up.

Follow-up is simply...well, following up. In other words - staying in touch with potential clients, current clients, and past clients. 80% of design business is lost due to lack of follow-up!

When to follow up:

- After a consultation where the prospect did not purchase from you
When a sale is not made at the initial consultation, most designers assume the sale is lost and move on. But successful designers spend time and energy following up with these prospects.

- After a consultation where you made a sale
You gain trust and rapport by keeping in contact with your present customers while their project is being completed. Creating this trusted relationship will lead to repeat business and referrals.

- After the final delivery or installation
What a huge waste to ignore the potential of new business from past clients. Previous customers are more likely to buy from you than strangers, and studies show that they spend an average of 63% more!

How to follow up:

There are many ways to keep in contact with a prospect or client, and you can get as creative as you'd like. But remember that the easier it is, and the more automated you make it, the more likely you will continue to use it.

Here are a few of my favorite - and most effective - follow-up techniques:

- Emailing prospects

A week after your consultation, email the prospect and let them know that you are still available if they want to move forward. Tell them that you understand how busy life gets. You know that beautifying a home often gets pushed lower in daily priorites, but you are willing to help ease the stress whenever they are ready to get started.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that many of the sales that I thought were lost were just busy people getting caught up in their daily stuff. My emails remind them about the design project (and they are grateful for the reminder!), and they often email back or call me right away.

- Calling past clients

I make it a priority to call 5 past clients each week. I do not call to sell anything (that makes me uncomfortable). I call to update my referral list or to set up a time to take photos of their home. Many of these clients tell me that they are glad I called - they had been meaning to call me about another design project but never got around to it. Since we are now talking, we set up a consultation.

- "Quality Control" calls

One month after you complete a design project, call your client to make sure they are getting all the benefits that they should. Make sure they are using the products correctly, see if everything is working properly, and ask if they need a quick steaming or cleaning. It's a simple technique (that is often overlooked) that yields amazing results.

- Email Newsletters

My favorite way to stay in touch with clients, prospects, family, and friends is through email newsletters. They are a continuous way to remind people about what you do, increase your expert status, and keep you at the top of thier minds. Email Newsletters tripled my business! (See my story and get more info)

Don't forget to follow up!

July 11, 2007

Ideas for Decorating NICHES

Having a niche makes decorators rich! Here are a few ideas for defining your niche:

  • Green Design
  • Ethnic Decorating
  • Historic Homes
  • Adult Communities
  • Targeting Working Moms
  • Doctors' Offices
  • Baby's Rooms

Post your creative niche ideas.

PHOTOS from the International Window Coverings Expo

Me and Michael Payne
from HGTV's "Designing for the Sexes"

Me and Jackie Von Tobel, author of
"The Design Directory of Window Treatments"
at the Red Ball Charity Gala

Dian Garbarini of DraperyPro

Margarett DeGange of Decorators' Alliance

Members of the Designers' Dream Team
enjoying the Red Ball
Marie Mouradian, Karen HowlandWalker, Nika

Grace McNamara of Grace McNamara, Inc.
Producer of IWCE

Chocolate Flowers

Going Beyond Customer Service
While taking a break from an intense day of antiquing, my friends and I ducked into a quaint coffee shop to rest our weary bones. We each decided to order chai lattes – a black spiced tea with a coat of foam on top. The barista asked if we would like cinnamon and chocolate in the tea and, before I could raise an objection (chocolate in tea?), one of my friends responded affirmatively for all of us.

A few moments later the lattes were ready and we were summoned to the counter to pick up our fancy drinks. As I approached the counter, I was delighted to see that on top of the white foam, the barista had drawn an outline of a beautiful flower in chocolate syrup. Imagine that! It was the first time I ever felt that four dollars was actually a bargain for a cup of tea!

That simple flower was something the three of us talked about while we drank our tea, after we left the coffee house, while we shopped, and then several times over the next few weeks. It cost the store practically nothing and took very little time, but it was a charming surprise. For such a small effort, those chocolate flowers made a great impact.

That experience got me thinking. What is my chocolate flower? What is it that I can give to my clients that is unexpected, that is more than I promise, that is a pleasant surprise?

After thinking about it for quite some time, I came upon the realization that there is not one perfect answer. Each of my clients may require a different chocolate flower. And each designer may have their own unique chocolate flowers. But to qualify as a chocolate flower, a product or service must have these two qualities:

  • It must be something the customer will like, and
  • It must be unexpected – more than promised

I don’t know where I first heard it said, but I always like to follow the rule:

“Under-promise and Over-deliver”

Your chocolate flower is part of the over-delivering.

As consumers and designers, we have the opportunity to interact with numerous businesses daily. Doesn’t it feel great when companies provide exceptional service – going above and beyond what was expected? Here are some ways that we receive chocolate flowers:

- We order several yards of fabric, and the mill sends us a memo sample for our client file.
- After buying new tires, the car comes back washed.
- While sitting in economy class on a plane, the flight attendant hands you a warm, moist towel.
- Get a manicure and pedicure, and receive the nail polish to take home for touch-ups.

Now let’s talk about some ways to serve chocolate flowers:

- When a customer orders draperies for their living room, surprise them with a matching throw pillow.
- At the completion of an installation, give your client a board with samples of all their fabrics and trims attached, so that they can bring it with them while shopping for coordinating items.
- If you are designing a treatment for a baby’s room, make a diaper bag out of the leftover fabric scraps.
- While you are up on the 16-foot ladder installing your treatment, dust the chandelier, clean the window, or replace a light bulb.

The Benefits of Chocolate

What are the potential benefits of serving chocolate flowers?

For about two cents and thirty seconds of time, that coffee shop received the benefit of some powerful word-of-mouth marketing with much more impact than any advertising could have accomplished. I told at least thirty people about the special service I received, and those people told others. I even heard that some friends were discussing it when I wasn’t around. Now I’m writing about it!

Can you imagine such publicity? Would that kind of chatter impact your business in a positive way? Could community gossip about your fabulous, unbelievable service add to your bottom line?

Of course, the answers to these questions are yes! As designers and business owners, it is up to us to create our own chocolate flowers – to find ways to go beyond what is expected of us. It can be the difference between a customer who is satisfied and one who is overwhelmed by the exemplary service and professionalism of her designer. Chocolate flowers are one of the most effective marketing tools at our disposal, and the best part about it is that it costs practically nothing to provide.

Design Business Trends?

The recent "heat wave" on the East Coast has affected trends in business. Here in NJ, we seem to be finally in winter mode, but the typical slow-times and busy-times in our business are a little screwed up. Some designers have reported a "less-than busy" holiday season, yet a busier than usual January. Have you East-coasters noticed any changes in your business trends? Do you have any theories?

Feel free to post any thoughts or comments...

What's Your Door?

My tagline is "Opening Doors for Designers" so I am wondering... what is your door? In other words, what is your biggest obstacle to achieving more success and joy in your decorating business? I'd like to help take your obstacle away - but I need to know what it is!

Post any challenges, questions, comments...

Question of the Week

What business-boosting activity are you most afraid of doing?

Click "comments" below to write your answer, and see what others have to say!

What Should I do with Video?

I'm wondering about video. If you've been to my website (www.WealthyDecorators.com), you've probably heard the audio I put on my home page. But I recently purchased a system that allows me to put video on my site, and I've been wondering what to do with it. Do you have any ideas? Is there anything you'd like to see that could help with your business? I'd love to hear your ideas (and if you'd like to use audio or video yourself, you can go to www.decoratoraudio.com)...

Click comments to leave your ideas.

What forms do you need to help your business?

I often get requests for templates of business forms, so I am putting together a binder of every form you could ever need for your design business - from COM contracts to repair policies. If there are any forms you would love to have, please "post a comment" below to let me know - so that I can include them.

Are You Wearing A Fanny Pack?

by: Nika Stewart

My best friend Karen and I were at the gym last week walking on adjoining treadmills and chatting. Karen was telling me about a man she saw at the gym the day before. "He was so handsome," she said. She went on to describe his flowing hair, piercing eyes, and great body. "But then I saw..." She paused as she scrunched up her face. "...he was wearing a fanny pack."

I laughed out loud. (A fanny pack, for those who don't know, is basically a belt bag. It's often used by tourists, and it is definitely considered as utility over fashion.) Karen, who likes to call herself the "Fashion Police," immediately altered her high opinion of this otherwise perfect man.

So this got me thinking. What are we doing with our businesses that, although it may seem small and unimportant, can change the opinions of our prospects, sometimes without our even knowing? Every part of your business must live up to your professional image. Even a small detail overlooked can damage your reputation. Are you ignoring any aspects of your business? Are you wearing a fanny pack?

Below, I've listed business elements that are often overlooked or given little attention. Make sure you take care with all of these areas.

  • Website
    Does your website look like an amateur designed it? If you are not an expert on web design and hosting, find someone who is. A professional website is a must to compete in today's marketplace.
  • Answering Machine
    If you can't answer the phone in person, does your recording sound professional and cheerful? Do you get back to people quickly?
  • Receptionist / Greeter
    There nothing more irritating than being treated badly by a salesperson or receptionist. Do the people who come into contact with your prospects live up to your desired image?
  • Contracts
    Just because you've gotten a sale, your professionalism should not end. Your contracts need to reflect your company image, or you can lose future sales or cause buyer's remorse.
  • Portfolio
    I was recently in a small furniture / accessory store when another customer asked the store owner to see her portfolio. The owner pulled out a wad of 4X6 photos from a desk drawer and spread them on her cluttered desk. This is how she tries to get design projects? Although her store had beautiful items, her "portfolio" (which showed a lack of pride in her work) was a fanny pack that I'm sure turned many prospects away.
  • Your Appearance
    What is your desired business image? Professional? Wild? Creative? Does your physical appearance match it? If not, prospects will have a hard time getting past that, and you will appear less credible.

Remember: If you are overlooking any area of your business, you can be sure that prospects will notice. Everything you put out there needs to be as fabulous as you!

I wish you continued success.

"Can We Compete with the Big Box Stores?"

by: Nika Stewart
I had a very interesting experience this weekend, which left me annoyed and upset. But as I was fuming, I realized this was a great lesson for small businesses, and so I share it with you in this week's article.

Do you worry about the big-box franchise stores swallowing up the little independent designers? With their buying power, they are able to charge much lower prices. So how do we compete? Here's my story...

On Saturday, the plug to my computer stopped working. So after a few hours, my batteries ran out, and I had no computer.

Let me explain the impact of this on my life: The weekend is the only time when I can get a big chunk of work done because my husband is around to take care of the baby. And 95% of my work is done on the computer. So for me, not having a computer on the weekend is like taking a week off from work (but without the suntan). And, as you know, when you run your own business and you take time off, you don't get paid!

So on Sunday, my husband went to a large electronics franchise store in our area. He came home with a plug that the guy at the store assured him would work with my laptop. It didn't.

Now with the 2 hours I had left to get work done, I had to run back out to the store to exchange the plug. After 30 minutes of being ignored, getting the run-around, and being outright lied to, I left without a plug. This giant electronics store did not have the one I needed.

On the way home, I stopped into a very small electronics store out of desperation. I knew they couldn't possibly have what I was looking for. After all, they were about 1/20th the size of the big store.

It took just a minute and a half for Chris (my new best friend) to find a plug that would work with my laptop. And I felt confident that it would work because Chris asked me a lot of questions to make sure he was giving me the right product. I paid for the plug and drove home singing to myself about how much I loved Chris and his small store.

Okay, now here is the point of my story... The plug cost 20% more than a similar product at the large store, and 40% more than if I had purchased it online. And I would have paid double that!

So why do we small business owners think we need to compete with the large store prices? Clients who come to us are not looking for the lowest price. They are looking for what I got at Chris's place: service, caring, attention, and a solution to a problem. You know you can compete in this area, and win - hands down.

Remember: Price is not an issue when you provide the solutions your clients are struggling with.

July 06, 2007

How to Create a Higher-end Image

by:Nika Stewart
A night out at a local five-star restaurant last weekend got my brain buzzing with marketing ideas.

Restaurant Nicholas is located on a highway not far from plenty of much less expensive eateries and fast food places. But Nicholas is always full. It's certainly not because the prices are low. No, the success of Nicholas has to do with their continuously living up to their high-end image.

With high-end businesses, high prices are accepted without question. So if you'd like to stop dealing with price objections, create a high-end image.

Here are 3 ways that can help you achieve a higher- end image with your design business. These ideas may seem obvious or common sense, yet many designers forget or ignore these principles. So I am writing this to remind you and give you a jolt. Which idea can you put into practice this week?

1. Pay attention to every detail
At Nicholas, my entire dinner was not only delicious, but it was spectacularly prepared and beautiful to look at. Instead of simply placing the dishes in front of us, four servers came to our table, and on cue, they lifted the silver covers off our plates - revealing each course (there were seven!). Without our noticing, our wine glasses were constantly refilled, bread was replenished, and tableware was replaced. It was all done so seamlessly. The silverware was lovely, the table linens were crisp and clean, the napkins in the bathroom were beautiful! No detail was overlooked.

Have you overlooked any detail in your business? Take inventory now, and make a note to ensure that everything lives up to your high standards.

2. Deliver more than expected
Several times during the evening, we were amazed with something extra and unexpected. A surprise introductory appetizer was served as we waited for our first course. A custom dessert was created for the "birthday girl" at the table. And towards the end of dinner, we were all presented with a lovely gift bag filled with freshly-baked banana bread (which I ate the next morning for breakfast).

Do you over-deliver?

3. Turn down lower-quality jobs
Several people have asked me to save them money by creating a design using less expensive fabrics and furnishings. Unfortunately, most of the time, less expensive means lower quality.
Imagine if I had asked the servers at Nicholas to "just bring me a peanut butter sandwich and potato chips." While everyone was more than accommodating, their high-standards would never allow them to give in to such a request.

We tend to agree to certain jobs because we think it makes us seem more accommodating and puts us in a better light. But saying yes to jobs that are of a lesser quality actually lowers your image, and the higher-end prospects will not think of hiring you.

How else do you create a high-end image? Please post your comments.

Five Simple Things You Can Do

by: Nika Stewart
to dramatically increase your design business

There are dozens of ways to increase your design business, but here are my favorite five. They are all simple things that have resulted in amazing results - for many designers I work with, and in the growth of my own design firm.Which ones are you doing? Print this out and check them as you do them - this week!

___Call a past client. You may have heard me tell many stories about how calling a past client (for reasons unrelated to selling my services) resulted in a big sale. This has happened so many times - and it's so easy to do - that you must put this into your weekly routine. Call one or two clients this week (to ask if you can come take photos of your work, to tell them about an item you saw in a store that would be great in their home, etc.). And don't forget to do this weekly!

___Send regular e-mail newsletters. This may sound scary, but it's so easy to do if you do it correctly. The easiest way (and most effective, actually) is to write a simple tip that your readers can use right away. Don't waste hours trying to come up with stories and promotions; don't try to make it look "pretty;" and don't make it about you and your company. Just write a quick, useful decorating idea. Your readers will love how helpful you are, and when the time comes that they need your services, they will think of YOU first. (for more info on how this tripled my business, see www.enewsletterblitz.com)

___Apply an e-mail signature, with your name, a short description of your services, and a link to your website. How many e-mails do you send each week? Ten? Hundreds? Well, even if your mailings are more modest, you really should remind everyone who gets a note from you what you do. After applying my own e- mail signature, I realized how powerful it was. I often get an e-mail back from a friend or acquaintance saying something like: "I didn't realize you provided that. My neighbor/mom/cousin needs you!"

___Have the best portfolio possible. There are too many stories about designers who lose jobs because of their portfolios. Make yours sell for you! My business shot way up after I revamped mine. If you don't want to invest in a professional photographer, make sure your photos look professional. Learn a few photo techniques. Display only your best work. Use large pictures(8x10). If possible, show before and after shots.

___Start a goal group. Meeting monthly with 3 other business women for the past few years has been the single most motivating force in my life. My business has increased significantly from the ideas and resources I've gained from this diverse group of supportive women.

Using Testimonials to Get More Clients

by:Nika Stewart
Testimonials can increase your business dramatically. But they need to be done correctly for them to be really effective. Here are some tips:

Testimonials should be "results oriented." Which testimonial is more enticing? "Jane was really good to work with."or"Jane saved us over $800 on our furniture, and she always called us back within a few hours, even when she was on vacation! What a delight to work with." Make sure your testimonials include specific results gained from using your services.

Use your client's full name and a photo, if possible. Don't you hate when you see testimonials like:"I loved working with ABC Decor. They are the best!" JP, California.Who is this JP? Does she really exist? Using a full name, town, and photo lends credibility to your testimonial. If you can take a photo of your client smiling in front of your work - even better!

Sprinkle testimonials throughout your site. Many times I see websites that have a separate page for testimonials. But a lot of visitors to your site won't spend time going to this page. (It's just not as important to them as we would like to think.) Spread your words of praise throughout your entire site. This forces visitors to read them as they look through your photos and services.

Ask for testimonials! If you're not getting as many unsolicited testimonials as you would like, don't be afraid to ask your clients. Help them out by asking specific questions, like: Did you appreciate the extra details I added? Were you happy with the personal service I gave you? Most clients will be happy to help you with some kind words, but they don't think of writing them down on their own.

Adult Communities - a gold mine for you?

My mother-in-law moved into an Active Adult community a few months ago, and I was recently invited to her house for a dinner party. When I arrived, she was chatting with three neighbors about her new furniture. An hour later, the four women were still discussing home design issues – paint color choices, where they could find the best area rugs, who they used to install their lights, and on and on. I found it fascinating that they could talk for so long about this one topic, but I realized it wasn’t unusual. When someone buys a new home, they are often interested in decorating it, and since EVERYONE in this community is a new homeowner, home decor is a common topic of discussion.

Active Adult communities are popping up all over the country. The new residents are in desperate need of our services! Here are 4 great reasons to target these communities:

  • These are new homes, and the fact is: homeowners spend the most money on their homes within the first few months of moving in.
  • Seniors are the most affluent demographic with the largest disposable income.
  • Seniors have more free time to spend on hobbies and passions, like home decorating.
  • Once you penetrate a senior community, referrals spread like crazy.

Okay, now that you're convinced of WHY you should target Active Adult communities, I bet you want to know HOW!

Here are a few great tips on breaking into this market.

  1. Advertise in their newsletters
    Rates are usually very reasonable, and the newsletters are read thoroughly by most members of the community. Contact the newspaper committee.
  2. Conduct a design seminar at the community clubhouse
    This is so effective! Many seniors enthusiastically attend these presentations, which are widely promoted within the community. You can also contact individual groups and clubs within each development (singles club, theater group, game group, etc), as they often look for guest speakers and theme nights. Once you make a contact, it is easy to become "THE" designer who is referred by - and used by - most of the community.
  3. Send "New Home Flyers"
    Don't get me started on New Home Flyers! Those of you who have read my earlier e-zines or my e-book on New Home Flyers know how passionate I am about this marketing tool. You can get addresses and labels fairly inexpensively from direct mail companies. The company I use is Homeowners Marketing. (You can go on the site, but it's much better to call. Ask for the owner, Barry, and mention my name: 800-232-2134.)
  4. Take a walk
    Beware! Most of these communities are gated, which means you can't get in unless you are visiting a resident. My mother-in-law and I walked around her neighborhood knocking on doors, and it worked out very well. But you can only use this method if you are friendly with my mother-in-law (she won't walk around with just anyone, you know!). Seriously, once you've established contact with someone in the development, ask them to introduce you to the neighborhood.

    One designer I know saturated a neighborhood by walking around with flyers as the homes were still being built - before there was a guard gate. This activity made her the main designer for the community. She decorates almost every home there.

Some of these techniques may take you out of your comfort zone. But if you truly desire to expand your business and become more successful, don't be afraid to explore new ideas. The results will be worth it!

How to Get More Business from your Website

by: Nika Stewart

When I made some simple changes to my website, I got more business. Here are some quick, easy tips to make your website more effective:

  • Use a great headline
    An effective headline will intrigue your potential customers and compel them to read on. Make sure you place the headline at the top of the web page, so visitors see it before they have to do any scrolling.
  • Avoid blinking or scrolling text
    Although it is sometimes tempting to use these "gadgets," animated text is distracting and can appear outdated.
  • Make sure your home page is not too "heavy"
    If you include photos, keep them small in size so they load quickly. If they take more than three seconds to load, you've lost visitors before the photos appear.
  • Make it easy to find information
    Put as much information as you can on your home page. Don't make visitors click around to find what they are looking for. If they get frustrated, they will leave.
  • Use a light background with dark text
    You want your site easy to read, and it is much easier to read dark text on a light background (contrast).
  • Put your contact info on the top and bottom of every page
    Make it as easy as possible for people to find and call you.
  • Use a spell checker and check your grammar
    When I see typos and obvious mistakes on a website, I immediately think less of the company. Don't let that happen to you. Don't let your website be a fanny pack! (read Are You Wearing a Fanny Pack?)