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“Adapt” is the new Black.

April 27, 2012

It is now almost May of 2012. Since 2008, four LONG years ago, the interior design industry has sagged, slumped, languished, recovered, slowed, sped up, slowed, hiccupped upwards, and in general done everything except provide a steady growth curve for the majority of the firms that make up this industry. However, for some firms, the recession has caused them to rethink, regroup, restructure, and, most importantly, to ADAPT! Some firms are incredibly busy, others are looking at the phone.

Basically, doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results has been found to be a failure as a business plan, especially during a prolonged recession. However, intelligent change can break this cycle and allow for new growth down new paths. This was the subject of a short talk I recently gave in Scottsdale to a wonderful group of designers, and many of them were way down this road already and thriving.

So, look at your business. ASK yourself (and your team!!) the following questions:

1. What could we do better, cheaper, smarter, more efficiently?

2. What do we do that we can just stop doing with no damage to our business?

3. Where are we giving money away when, by charging for that service, we could make money?

4. How can we get more business from existing clients or existing but dormant clients?

5. What are we doing to seek new business, and what is the competition doing?

6. How do we make money? How do we structure our fees, mark-ups, etc.? Is this in step with the competition?

Go through this exercise, and see if you are surprised by the answers. Then start to plan to adapt to the markets that are emerging. Here is an example.

Ageing in Place– a new business for many designers but the fastest growing design market in the US at present (they say that someone turns 60+ every 7 seconds in America!). Are you certified in this practice? Why not? Not so much assisted living, but baby boomers selling the big house and moving into the even fancier barrier-free condo. This also requires someone (you?) to become a conduit (for a commission) to: appraisers (all the stuff in the big house); e-sellers ( got to get rid of Aunt Betty’s huge armoire!), and host of other services. Who does the client trust more than you? If you can simplify the “Downsize to Luxury” process for them, you can make it a multi-facted business opportunity for you. This is adapting at its finest, but there are many other ideas.

Write a contract– How many of you DO NOT have a tight fee-for-service contract that has to be signed by both parties (husband AND wife). Do you do handshake  deals? Please have an attorney help you write up a state of the art contract for your business! This allows you to stop trying to retail (less and less successful these days), and allows you to make even more money for the work performed. X$ per hour for you, Y$ for your associate, XX% on top of all goods and services but the invoices pass through at cost, and then a choice of ways to bill (weekly, monthly, specific benchmark billing, etc). And just because they forgot to mention the pool house no longer means they can ask you to do it for free. “It’s not in the contract”.

Menu– Another variant on this , also including but preceding a contract, is a design services menu. Some designers now have a printed brochure, and in it is a vellum or equivalent that offers 3-4 different ways they will work with a client to give the client a sense that they can, if not control, then guide the process, which empowers them. Talk to an architectural firm. They often have pretty well structured billing practices. Can you adapt them to your design practice?

So, remember, “Adapt” is the new black. It’s what every design firm should be wearing this season!

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