Under normal circumstances, part of our job is to prepare plans for our clients to prime them for changes to their homes and lifestyles. Unfortunately, the pandemic crumbled remodeling hopes for many homeowners, and it had a serious effect on us as designers. First, we went from comfortably busy to zero in about two months. Then we were stagnant for almost a year. That dormancy was followed by a mind-boggling recovery, one that Eliot Sefrin, editor emeritus of KBDN, referred to as a “tectonic market shift.”
I survived the 2007-2009 recession and decided not to give in to the same negative feelings that plagued me until 2010. Instead, I used the pandemic downtime to work on my business, taking classes that had been on my bucket list for five years or more. At the same time, I read over 75 marketing books and white papers. It was not as gratifying as working with clients, but it was a major accomplishment.
Building, maintaining and marketing a unique brand reputation is challenging. There are excellent books and many courses to help us, but your choices need to be carefully considered. I learned the hard way during the recession and ended up wasting time and money on courses that didn’t work. During the pandemic, I avoided repeating the same mistakes.
Two exciting possibilities arose from free webinars recommended by acquaintances. Each marketing coach offered a new direction that sounded promising. One program is $3,500 and requires a commitment of at least six months. The other course costs over $10,000 and involves a year of classes. It’s easy to say “yes” to the compelling reasons the coaches present until we stop to think about our ROI. Curiosity helped me gain clarity to say “No” to the programs. Finally, I said “yes” to another customizable opportunity with great ROI possibilities.
NAVIGATING THE NEW NORMAL
Everyone is now adjusting to a new normal: higher remodeling investments and lower availability of labor and products. Homeowners are anxious to proceed with pandemic-delayed remodeling projects. Our 15-month business famine has become an overflowing feast.
In fact, home remodeling queries on Google went from 38% in March 2020 to 93% in March 2021. The annual Houzz survey verifies that home renovation spending increased 15% in the past year.
But will the trend continue or collapse?
Many variables will affect remodeling in the future, and all we can do as designers is perform our best every day, and stay on top of news reports about the economy, the pandemic and other fluid trends. Being prepared for change helps us cope with it. We can choose our course and correct it before a crisis happens by adapting to change.
The Harvard Business Review offered six tips about adapting to change: 1. Find humor in the situation; 2. Resist talking about your feelings; 3. Don’t stress out about stressing out; 4. Focus on your values instead of your fears; 5. Accept the past (and present) but fight for the future, and 6. Don’t expect stability.
COMPETING AND COMPARING
Competition is as fierce as ever in the design market, with more people entering our profession yearly. For example, 4,199 U.S. students graduated with interior design degrees in 2019. At that time, there were 77,900 interior designers in the nation. The average age of designers is 41 years. We’re all competing to build and maintain our brand reputation, make a living and grow our company (or the company that employs us).
I believe we do better when we compete against ourselves rather than competing against other people. Additionally, we do better when we don’t compare ourselves to others. But, admittedly, this is hard to do in today’s competitive world.
When I was attending design school, every assignment was necessary. I gave each one 115% of my effort, although I believed that others would receive a better grade. I wasn’t competing with them for a grade but rather comparing myself to them.
Before graduation, the faculty and students voted for one student to win the “Student Designer of the Year” award. I was shocked to win because, in my mind, everyone was more qualified than me. The woman who presented the award gave me fantastic advice: “Send press releases to the media.” That established my brand and my reputation, and it attracted clients and referral clients for years.
I continue to give at least 115% to everything I do. Clients’ goals become my goals. I’ve been fortunate to win design awards with this attitude. And while I don’t like to compare myself to other designers, it’s unavoidable. Marketing tools such as SEMRush, UberSuggest, BuzzFeed and Google Analytics provide helpful feedback by comparing me to competitors. It’s uncomfortable but necessary to gather and use this information that mainly relies on keywords we use. But, it’s just as important to not make it the focus of your work. We are each unique, and that should be celebrated!
GAINING THE EDGE
Prospective clients find us using specific keywords or phrases in Google, Bing or Yahoo. Search engines recommend us because we’ve used the same keywords or phrases in our websites, blogs and social media posts. Learning to use the right keywords is an art and a science. It challenges us to comply with specific secretive algorithms. Even Search Engine Optimization experts admit little knowledge about the data. Climbing to #1 of organic searches involves an investment of time and effort.
SEO is a broad subject that I’m still studying, a motivation to revise and write blogs with competitive terms. If your company can afford an SEO specialist, their fee will be $75-$150 per hour, which could add up to $1,500 a month (or more). You can also get monthly SEO services from companies like Fiverr for $14-$345 a month.
How do you know that you’re getting what you want?
Honestly, SEO isn’t a quick process and success isn’t guaranteed. Changes we make now may not show up in search engine results for four to six weeks or longer. To compete effectively, we have to know what keywords our competitors are using to help their ranking in the search engines. Finally, we have to compare ourselves to others who have: A well-known brand, an active website, an up-to-date blog and an active social media presence with good SEO use.
Competing with and comparing ourselves to others in our profession may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to adapt if we want to succeed. One of my favorite quotes rings true: “Success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.” [Nolan Ryan] ▪
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ is the principal of D.P. Design in Oregon City, OR and has over 35 years of experience as a kitchen and bath designer. She is the author of the award-winning book, THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling, and has been the recipient of numerous design awards. Named a 2019 KBDN Innovator, Plesset has taught Western design to students of the Machida Academy in Japan and has a podcast, “Today’s Home.”