Landing Your First Interior Design Client- Lessons Learned

Landing Your First Interior Design Client
The interior design world isn’t always as pretty and fun as it may seem from the outside looking in. It isn’t all mid-day manicures and warm vacation spots. It isn’t fancy cars and daily $6 coffees… Okay sure, sometimes it is. If you are one of the immensely successful interior designers, then I am going to give you a virtual high five. This however is not the reality for many in this industry and that’s okay. Design is as much about your happiness as that which you create for your clients.

The design industry is filled with creatives who pour their blood, sweat and tears into their projects. Most of us try to carve out some down time or family time, often unsuccessfully for the first little while. This isn’t meant to discourage you or scare you; but rather to help you understand the reality of the industry. There are thousands of design students graduating each year, yet many do not pursue a career in design.  In my humble opinion most design school don’t prepare us for the very important first step… landing interior design client numero uno.
School teaches us to sharpen our skills and talents. It teaches us to think differently and be resourceful. It helps us learn better time management and problem solving. Helps us learn very quickly what caffeine-driven, sleep deprived, tight deadlines feel like.  All of these things are critical and what better place to discover them than in a class of like minded people who are all going through the same thing? But how do you turn all of those skills into a well-oiled-client-landing-machine? Experience.

Don’t lose hope just yet! You’re probably asking yourself “well how am I supposed to get any clients if I have no experience?” Everyone started somewhere. Here are a few stories from seasoned interior design professionals on landing their first clients and what you should know to land your own.

Rosemary Valeriani of SoHome Interiors in Ottawa, Ontario says;
“Before I even looked for my first client I knew I needed to practice on
how to be confident enough to get my first client. I decided the best
way to do that was with the aid of my friends, coworkers and family. It
was a win-win situation because they received free advice and I got
experience. The only thing I asked was for their honest feedback from
the consultation. I also decided I needed to educate myself by being
hands on with what the industry offered in ways of product and client
service, so I worked part-time in a furniture store. Not only did I
learn a great deal about furniture manufacturing, fabric quality and
various paint products; I also learned to deal with difficult clients
and situations all which became a valuable asset for me.
Now that I had the confidence and industry knowledge I was ready to start finding
clients. My first client came from the Business Networking
International group I joined. It was a colour consultation so I was glad
it was something small to start! From there, others within the group
recommended me and my business started to take off.”

Advice for new designers heading out into the industry:

When heading out for the first time in your new career make sure you are

1) Have a website – even if you don’t have pictures have content,
something that potential clients can see and get a feel for who you are
and what you can offer them

2) Business cards are a must! Always have them available as you never
know when you will be handing them out to potential clients,
acquaintances or suppliers. Nothing worse then someone asking for your
card and you don’t have one – you lose credibility
3) Have a Business License and HST number. This is required when you
register with suppliers for their designer discounts
4) Join networking groups to get your name out there. CDECA (Canadian
Decorators Association of Canada) is wonderful, BNI (Business Network
International), Ladies Who Lunch etc. Join networking groups within your
community and put your information on social media groupsKaren Colburn, Interior Designer says;
“My first sale – one of my best lessons.
A new build, and I had only met the husband regarding pricing and layout. He called to say they were going ahead, and a meeting was arranged to sign off. The advice before my first sale (thank you Ray our project co-ordinator / new designer saviour) – if you have both names on the contract you need both people to sign.

Apparently the couple had not discussed the final colour selection, as once we reached that part the fight broke out. I was completely unprepared for this. The husband says, “Give my wife whatever the *bleep* she wants!” – signs, and walks out. I am stunned. Of course, she smiles and signs for the colour she wants.

Fast forward 4 weeks later, and thanks again to Ray, the kitchen installation goes smoothly. Except that, apparently, the couple had not discussed the final colour decision. The husband calls me, and let’s just say – he isn’t happy. From the desk next to me Ray can see I am about to fall apart… he can hear the guy yelling at me over the phone… Ray motions to me and quietly says, “Put him on hold”. Ray picked up the phone and said, “Sir – I distinctly heard you tell my designer to give your wife whatever the *bleep* she wants – which is precisely what she did. If you would like the kitchen in a different colour, we would be happy to supply it to you for exactly the same price, in 4 – 5 weeks.” Ray hung up the phone, looked at me and said – if you didn’t have both signatures, you would be in big trouble.

26 ½ years in this industry has changed me – I have no doubt for the better. I am far more assertive in any tense situation, and have learned when to speak up and when to stop and just take in the conversation. So many lessons learned that day. 
Listen to advice from experienced people – some of these lessons will follow you through your whole career.

1) Paperwork is so important – expectations and detail. People need to fully understand what they are getting, and you need to be sure you are covered.

2) Breathe and keep going – you will keep learning your whole career. 
When I told this story to someone – about 10 years into my career – they said – if this was your first sale how did you ever stay with it??? And I realized – how did I? Well I did… I still love what I do and I have my career to thank for meeting many wonderful people (my husband being one of them!), and enjoying the thrill of walking into spaces that have been taken from concept to reality.”​Catherine Leibe, Interior Designer says;
“My first client heard about me through a friend.  The two women were taking an exercise class together and the one got talking about her new home and all the work it was going to need.  My friend told her about me and that was that.  We’ve been working together on different projects for years!Most of my clients come to me through word of mouth.  Colleagues talk to colleagues, friends talk to friends, neighbours talk to neighbours.  I think of it as trees.  The first client is the trunk and each new client that comes from that first job becomes a branch on that tree.  I have been doing this now for 20 years so there is a forest of trees!  

The key is to do a good job because a good job leads to a happy client and happy clients love to tell anyone who will listen about their newly designed space!  Coverage in newspapers and magazines help grow your business as do awards but those starting their careers should not underestimate word of mouth.  Get out there and get talking.  Your next client could be at your gym, the grocery store, a book club, your child’s school… you never know!”
So while it does often take experience to land clients, there are plenty of lessons to learn along the way to gaining that experience. As much as sometimes the road can feel long, the value of the experience you will recieve is priceless. Your first client will always be something you remember, so make sure you soak in all the advice you can from those who came before you. Most of all, keep your chin up and stay true to yourself.

Speaking of happy clients, clients are happy when they feel valued and kept in the loop. Mydoma Studio helps you manage your process and allows you to invite your client to collaborate. Get contract sign-offs, payment, drawings approved, create mood boards and more.