As you well know, design is not all fun and games. It’s a serious, multi-billion dollar, global business. Gone are the days of exclusive, trade-only resources. The resources still exist; it's just that your clients probably know about them, too.
The industry now has many retail stores with free design services vying for the same clients you want. Most likely, there are also many other designers in your area. All of this means that you need to be dear about who you are, what you offer, what terms are acceptable to you, and what you want from your career. The questions that follow will help you define yourself and your business. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make decisions both today and in the future, so grab a pencil and let's begin.
As you ponder your responses, remember: there is no right or wrong answers in this process—or any other creative process.
First, every business should have a UPS : Unique Positioning Statement. Whether you’re manufacturing dolls or treating sewage, there is something special about the way you do it that is part of your UPS. As a designer, your UPS is especially important, and determining it will enable you to present yourself effectively to prospective clients.
Your UPS is central to your pitch, and especially to your “elevator pitch”. What would you say about yourself to a stranger in an elevator? This is a very useful exercise when you consider the circumstances involved: a small space, likely with several strangers nearby, a very short time period ten to twenty seconds), and the chance to effectively convey what you do. Without practice, delivering an elevator pitch is much harder than it may sound, especially when you factor in the anxiety of public speaking, with everyone in the elevator hearing (and judging) your response.
It’s the judgment part that intimidates most of us: “Will they think I’m interesting?” If you can speak your UPS with conviction, with a smile in your voice , and then ask them something, they will love it. The conviction conveys confidence, the smile conveys friendliness, and the request conveys curiosity about the other person. People always find their own lives interesting, and your showing concern for their will make you seem more interesting too.
Developing your UPS is of vital importance because it can be used for :
- Marketing Purposes : Business cards, websites, brochures, and anything else you use for your business.
- Sound bites : Interviews with media, presentations, at parties, and yes in an elevator
- Employee Training : One of the most important aspect of an effective UPS, because if your employees are not clear about what you do, how do they know if their efforts are properly directed? How can they answer the phone and direct callers appropriately?
- Business Decisions : Evaluate business opportunities that frequently present themselves to entrepreneurs by applying them to a strict filter : is this what we do? Is this our core competency? Remember, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
So, What is your UPS ? For example: “We do interior lighting for major residential projects, especially homes with extensive art collections that are hard to display. What do you do?”
Getting leads and using them
“Networking” has become a dirty word. People often tell me, with undisguised pride, that they aren’t good at it. For some reason, the idea that you would engage a person in a conversation for other than social reasons carries the stigma of being distasteful.
Now, being social is lovely; being able to meet your financial obligations: priceless. Networking is simply cultivating relationships with people who can be helpful to you professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position, right? So, my goal is to help you understand your cultivation options and let you become more at ease with the concept of networking. Heading a business – any business- requires that you do two things regularly: negotiate and network.
Let’s do lunch
How often have you heard someone say: “I’ll call you and we’ll have lunch”? Now, how often have you actually gotten that call? Not often, I’ll bet! This has nothing to do with intention, as I believe most people are well-meaning and plan to call you at the time, but is rather a function of people being busy, very busy. So, as the person who is trying to develop your network, it is incumbent upon you to reach out to them. More than once. Repeatedly. Perhaps many times. For a year or more.
Get the picture? Some of my most lucrative projects are the results of consistent calls, waiting patiently until the timing is right, and then having the services and technology needed at the right moment. I have contacted some people over twenty times before they have decided to make a purchase. If you head a business, you cannot be shy, and you cannot be lazy. You don’t want to be a pest, but you do want to grow your client list. When you are in business, networking and following up with those you meet or hear about is totally accepted – and even expected.
Being organized, setting reminders, and taking notes are crucial to tracking and following people that you meet. This involves a setting up and maintaining of a database.
Cultivation of a client database is key for any business. Start with a list of past clients, colleagues, and tradespeople that you enjoy working with. If you have not been in touch with a contact for more than a year, check in by phone to make sure that the contact information is still current. This keeps your list clean: it is counterproductive to send an expensive brochure to the wrong address. Another benefit of this “check in” call is to maintain relationships and remind your contact about your success and availability. You can tell them about current projects you are working on and the types of jobs that most interest you.
Now add names you have gathered from your marketing and publicity. More names (or ‘leads’) can be purchased from information services companies such as Experian and from mail houses that will sell you a list. All you need to provide is the zip codes and demographics for the people or business you want to contact, and they will tell you how many are available under the criteria you select.
With this in mind, you need to decide on an appropriate course of follow-up once you meet a prospective client. In this era of electronic information overload, a hand-written note or letter can really make you stand out. Of course, you have to have fluid and legible handwriting to pull this off.A hand written letter says that you value the person enough to take the time to write them something personal. A friend told me how even a trivial letter helped her achieve a major goal.
An appointment for yourself
Another old-fashioned way to follow up is by telephone. This gives you the chance to establish rapport, hear the intonation in their voices, and really understand where they are coming from. Try to start your calls by asking “am I catching you at a good time?”, never assume that just because people answer the phone they have the time (or desire) to speak with you at the moment. If it’s not a good time, then ask for the best time to call them back. Frequently, that time is sooner than you’d expect. You can then make a note on your database that you called that day, and set a reminder for the call back. Be careful with making commitments you can’t keep, try to block the necessary time in your calendar for these calls.
Over time, you will find that different approaches work with different people. If I have left a few voice messages, I will alternate with an email, or a fax. Then if the person is really not responding, I send a letter through the mail. Sometimes, as I perform these routine marketing tasks, I remember a quote from my sales trainer: “Get off the horse when it’s dead” I have often wondered when the horse is dead; when the lead is no longer a lead, but a dead end. My sales training says that 80% of sales are made after the 5th “no” There's also the fact that 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least three months - and 20% will take more than 12 months to buy.