trade tales | Aug 13, 2021 |
10 designers share how they reach new clients

While repeat business is important to the success of many firms, having new clients coming through your doors is equally crucial. We asked 10 designers—Rocquelle Devine, Mia Johnson, Amal Kapen, Cheryl Kees Clendenon, Mark Lavender, Jen Leonard, Shaolin Low, Katherine Melvin, Michele Salazar and Alison Sheffield—how they attract new clients.

Shaolin Low
Shaolin LowCourtesy of Shaolin Low

Web presence
A killer website is ultimately what’s going to seal the deal. Instagram is also great for showing your work in pieces, showing progress and personality too. Google My Business and Yelp are important methods also. We send out a monthly marketing newsletter to remind people who we are and what we are doing. Also, if current clients are really happy at the end of a project, I always say, ‘If you know anyone else who needs me, let me know!’” —Shaolin Low, Studio Shaolin, Honolulu

Mark Lavender
Mark LavenderCourtesy of Mark Lavender

Public affairs
“We use our public relations effort to reinforce our word-of-mouth referrals and believe it gives us good street cred when people can see our projects in articles and our expert advice in various ways. We have had a bit of success with Instagram and hope to grow this method, but this has not really been a consistent stream for our firm.” —Mark Lavender, M. Lavender Interiors, Winnetka, Illinois

Mia Johnson
Mia JohnsonCourtesy of Mia Johnson

Social studies
“I highly value the client experience, and I work hard at making each one unique and unforgettable. These experiences lead to client referrals, which make up about half of my new business. The other half of my new clients come from Instagram, from posts of previous projects or my Designer Tip Tuesday IGTV series. The series and posts give potential clients confidence that they are working with a professional, and help them to develop trust in my abilities and style.” —Mia Johnson, Mia Johnson Home Interior Design, Detroit

Alison Sheffield
Alison SheffieldCourtesy of Alison Sheffield

Fan Mail
“In the past, I heavily relied on word-of-mouth, but Instagram has become a portfolio for my work and home that I update daily. I love that people who reach out on Instagram almost always do it because they are already a fan of my work. It gets us a few steps into the process right off the bat.” —Alison Sheffield, Sheffield Interiors, Cohasset, Massachusetts

Michele Salazar
Michele SalazarCourtesy of Michele Salazar

Pass it on
“Our service is our best marketing [tool]. A happy client is a good growth client! Many of our clients refer us to friends, colleagues and family before their project has reached completion, so when one door closes, another opens. We are also always working on doing more with social media. Investing in great portfolio shots and content creation is key for good reach.” —Michele Salazar, Cozy Salazar Interiors, Miami

Cheryl Kees Clendenon
Cheryl Kees ClendenonCourtesy of Cheryl Kees Clendenon

Hot off the presses
“One of the more fun things we have done is create our own magazine. This has been a tremendous hit, and the beautiful thing is, you can use it in many ways. We will highlight one project for the main story, and then this becomes a gift to that client, and we print copies of the magazine to give out at our shop as well. The magazine has stories about design and house ads with shoppable links to our retail store. I will take out a one-page article and use that on social media too. So, while creating the magazine is work, we get all sorts of residual promotion out of it. We send this out to our mailing list and client list, and also send it to potential leads when they call in or use our web form. It can be automated, and you are giving a potential lead a great reason why they should not look further for a design firm!” —Cheryl Kees Clendenon, In Detail Interiors, Pensacola, Florida

Katherine Melvin
Katherine MelvinCourtesy of Katherine Melvin

“In the beginning of our firm, a lot of our work came from Instagram. I shared some photos of our work from our first projects, and those images led to inquiries from others. As our firm has grown, we’ve also relied on word-of-mouth and builder referrals. Networking with others in the field who can help get your name and work out is a big help! Last, we’ve been thrilled to have the chance to partner with publications. One of our goals this year was to have more of our work professionally photographed. I’ve really slacked in that department up until now, and I’ve already seen how much it pays off to invest in good photography. The gift of great images allows you to share a project for potential publication in a much more effective way!” —Katherine Melvin, Katherine B. Melvin Design, Birmingham, Alabama

Jen Leonard
Jen LeonardCourtesy of Jen Leonard

Good relationships
“Most of my new clients hear about me through existing clients or my wonderful trade network. I work hard on fostering a strong, professional relationship with clients and trade partners, even when the job is over. I like to continue an ongoing design dialogue with clients by sending ‘thought of you’ messages with articles or quotes. For my trade vendors, I tag their products to remind them of my work and frequently get the added bonus of being reposted to a large audience. Lastly, it’s important to be responsive! I try to respond to all inquiries in less than 24 hours. That, I believe, sets the tone for a positive professional relationship.” —Jen Leonard, Jen Leonard Interiors, Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia

Rocquelle Devine
Rocquelle DevineCourtesy of Rocquelle Devine

Group think
“Recently someone inquired about hiring an interior designer in my county’s Facebook group. Several people that I have not done any design work for recommended me. Those that recommended me follow me on social media and admired my work. The person that made the inquiry also became a new client.” —Rocquelle Devine, R. Devine Interiors, La Plata, Maryland

Amal Kapen
Amal KapenCourtesy of Amal Kapen

Retail footprint
“Generally, my clients come from either visiting my store, through referrals or via Instagram. Having a retail store provides me with a great place to showcase my aesthetic and broadcast my style in the community where I’d most like to work—plus, there’s the added bonus of having accessories, furnishings and lighting on hand when I need them. The store was intended to drive work to my design business, and it has worked. Half of my clients have come to me through my retail presence. I will confess that I was terrified to take the plunge, and COVID shutdowns made it extra stressful on my fledgling store, but ultimately, it is one of the best decisions I ever made. The second greatest source for my work comes from referrals, and these are wonderful jobs as clients come prevetted: They know your style and how you work, and have already seen successful jobs up close.” —Amal Kapen, Amal Kapen Interiors, Huntington, New York

Homepage photo: A project by Katherine Melvin | Courtesy of Katherine Melvin

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