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The Power of Positioning: 4 Strategies to Implement Now

In May's Design Coaching Center, Cheryl Kees Clendenon shares four strategies that can help any designer show up better to potential clients. 

By Cheryl Kees Clendenon
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Design Coaching Cheryl Kees Clendenon
Cheryl Kees Clendenon shares 4 tips for positioning your interior design business.

One of the most common mistakes I encounter in any small business dealing in intellectual property is the lack of knowledge about consistent strategic positioning of how they are showing up to potential clients. Consider not only what you are saying but how it is coming across to the potential client. Positioning should be a key consideration in your marketing strategy throughout the entire lifecycle of the relationship starting even before they officially become clients. Everything from your website content and social media presence to how you handle initial inquiries and address challenges, down to the specifics of your scope of work — each element teaches a client how to perceive your value proposition.     

Often, without realizing it, the designers that struggle with clients who are “shopping” them, question billable hours or fail to see their role as integral to the design team are inadvertently targeting the very clients they prefer to avoid. This disconnect can lead to expectations from either party not being in alignment, result in projects going south halfway into the job, and/or profits that fall short of expectations.     

We humans are profoundly influenced by context. Words, optics and positioning matter. Every interaction you have reflects your professionalism and the confidence you have in your business model. By being more intentional about how you present your business to the world, you will create a more sustainable business model over the long haul.

Define and Differentiate What You Are Selling

You are selling a product of sorts. Not a commodity and not transactional but a type of product. It is an intangible product and each one of us has different attributes to bring to this product.

Attributes means your secret sauce, your deliverables and your specific skill set. We all have a secret sauce. Believe in that. You may not have been taught though HOW to define and differentiate your product amongst the competition, and this is a vital element to success especially today.  

If you fail to clearly define what you are selling, you’re likely to encounter recurring challenges. A poorly defined product is what leads to attracting the wrong clientele or dealing with clients who frequently push back, putting you at a disadvantage right from the start.

People who have their product well-defined are more considered and specific in their messaging ­— they are going to reinforce their value proposition consistently and with laser-focused intention because they understand exactly what they are delivering to the client.

Think Services, Not Packages or Blocks of Time

If your website aims to attract luxury clients but talks about “blocks” of time or specific “packages,” it reduces your services to a mere commodity, not a transformative experience. Controlling the perception in the marketplace; using language that does not align with your target clients is an epic marketing fail. The verbiage should reflect a value-based business model that sells a creative vision or solution, not just a “block” of time.

It is not the actual practice of having a minimum monetary service level I object to; it is the verbiage and how it is presented. This practice is not consistent with a value-based business model where you are selling a creative vision or solution. 

Do we hire a company to build a pool in “blocks” of time or do we say we expect a pool built to the expectations we agree upon with the pool builder — and then ask how much will this investment be? We want a pool, right? Not simply effort toward building a pool. Would you hire a plumber with blocks of time? Or do you hire a plumber to solve a problem? If we would expect results from a tradesperson, why do we want to give our client anything less? 
Clients seek transformation, something remarkable — no one has ever come to us asking to see our “packages.”

Lose the term Discount and Reframe Client Perceptions

I cannot stand the word discount and in my world, it is not used. When you set loose the discount dynamic, you make the conversation all about money. Your actions and responses should subtly remind clients that their investment transcends the price tag of individual items, focusing instead on the overall creative vision. 

Further, when a designer talks about “sharing” their discount they are misrepresenting the arrangement they have with wholesale vendors. Unless you are specifying retail big box lines, you are not getting a “discount” but rather are purchasing at wholesale and reselling for a profit. 

But what do you do if clients ask if you share or give away your discounts?

What not to say to a client: “I used to share my discount, but I realized it is not profitable.”  

What you SHOULD say to a client: “I don’t know what you mean, we don’t get discounts. We are a retailer of sorts of the lines we have curated over the past XX years and have a relationship with these brands. But this is not a discount any more than what any other retailer might receive from their key vendors. It is based on our maintaining accounts and following their terms and conditions, which include a long list of requirements to maintain good standing. Not to mention the responsibility we have in making sure the items we have selected are received in good condition, handling any claims that might arise, paying the bills on time and maintaining insurance in case something should go awry.  This is all extra protection for you too.“ 

When you say it is not profitable in the first example, this is not client-centric. For anyone to succeed in our brave new world, they have to get over themselves and be far more concerned about bringing value and a win-win to the relationship, and not make ego-driven comments that the client does not care about.

The bigger problem designers face is not “discounts” or clients asking for them ­— it is the inability to understand how to craft a partnership whereby each person feels they are getting the best value.

Accept That You Are Not for Everyone

Ask yourself why are you trying to sell steak to a vegetarian? Don’t waste the energy on those not in the market for what you are delivering. Trying to appeal to everyone is not marketing to your people. Do not try and sell creative design to those looking for catalog decorating, a store that only sells cabinets or a Home Goods outlet. If you position your firm to be too broad, you risk becoming indistinguishable from countless others. Commit to who you wish to serve. 

Being aware of how you are positioning your firm is not marketing fluff; it’s business survival. The right optics influence the targeted audience you seek, can serve as a protective barrier against misunderstandings and disputes, build more trust between you and your client, and streamline the entire process of client relationship management.

Focus not only on the content of your messaging but on how it is delivered. Strategic and consistent positioning is key to effectively communicating the value and professionalism your firm offers. This approach will go a long way to attracting and retaining the clients who truly appreciate what you bring to the table.

About the Author: Cheryl Kees Clendenon owns a full service design firm, retail store and is a business strategist for Designers and Architects via the Damn Good Designer platform. To learn more, visit theinteriordesignparadigm.com

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