If you’re like a lot of our clients, you have experienced “pandemic growth.” The home industry has exploded, clients keep knocking on your door, and you’re just trying to keep up with demand… in addition to waiting semi-patiently for your orders to arrive, that is.
The downside to such swift and massive growth is that many design firms simply aren’t set up to handle the volume. If this is the case, you may have started to see the cracks: points in your client process that feel messy, places where you’re always the bottleneck, or areas where you feel like you’re leaving money on the table due to inefficiency.
These are all growing pains. Wait… did I say downside? I meant upside.
Here’s the thing — growing pains hurt. Having these weak spots pointed out to you in the midst of massive growth feels stressful and overwhelming. Believe me, I know. You feel like you don’t have time to fix them!
But if it hadn’t happened this way, how long would it have taken you to realize they were there? Yep, you see where I’m going…
Sometimes, the only way to find a weak spot is to apply some pressure. And it’s only once you’ve identified the weak spots that you have the opportunity to improve them. To become better than you were before. To elevate your business and your brand to the next level.
In other words, all that pressure you’re feeling? It’s an opportunity to rise. Which brings me to today’s topic: the client lifecycle.
The client lifecycle includes every experience that a client has with your design firm. It starts from the moment they discover you, includes every touchpoint during their project, and lasts long after their home is complete.
The way you design and execute these touchpoints is a large part of what makes up your overall brand, your reputation, and the experience your clients have with you… and whether they refer you or return for another project down the track.
Each touchpoint is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with them. To build trust. Show you understand them. Connect, listen, and serve.
However, for many new designers, the client lifecycle is something that gets set up in a piecemeal fashion. As your business grows, you narrow down your ideal clients, fine-tune your process, and continue to elevate your offering to the highest level of quality possible.
BUT — pandemic growth has made what is usually a gradual process over years into something that many design firms are wishing they could do overnight! I know this because they are coming to us to refine their brand and processes from the foundation up.
If all of this is resonating with you, today’s topic is for you. I’m going to take you through each step of the client lifecycle and offer some actionable tips on making it truly great — for your clients and for smooth internal processes.
We’ll be covering:
P.S. If you’ve found that growth has shone light on just one or two of the weaker points in your process, skip ahead and take a peek at the stage that you need most.
May Include: Marketing, SEO, referrals
Potential clients can discover you in a number of ways. They may find you on Google, see you featured in their local magazine, discover you on Instagram or Pinterest, or maybe you designed their friend’s home last year and they gushed about your work.
With pandemic growth, discovery may not be a problem for you right now, but that’s no reason not to address this phase if you can. At some point, the market will slow and you’ll want to make sure you have a strong presence in place to continue the pace of new leads.
The best way to exercise some control over this phase is to stay present, visible, and make sure that an impressive reputation precedes you…
May Include: All marketing, from social media to blog posts, and especially newsletters
Next, we have the Engagement Phase. In this phase, potential clients know about your business, but they haven’t contacted you just yet.
Instead, they are getting to know you in their own way, such as following you on social media, signing up for your mailing list, or reading your blog. Have you ever digitally “stalked” someone you were thinking of hiring? I know I have!
Someone who is referred to you may skip over this step and contact you directly, but even in those cases, I guarantee they’ll at least do their homework first by checking out your design firm online. Wouldn’t you do the same for such a high investment service?
Whether they are ready or not, the client experience at this stage largely depends on your marketing. I’ve talked about this phase of the client lifecycle extensively in past posts, so here’s a roundup of ways to do it well:
May Include: Email response, scheduling, priming the potential client for the call (such as a services overview PDF), discovery call
The next phase occurs when a potential client bridges the gap from passively engaging with your design firm to actively engaging with you — they reach out to you directly.
This is most likely to happen via your website’s Contact page, but could also happen via DM or directly via email, if they’re a referral.
Be prepared… This is a pivotal point in the relationship! It is the moment when they are breaking that barrier of “outsider looking in” and entering your inner circle. It also sets the tone for the rest of their experience with you. My advice? Exceed their expectations.
You will likely respond to their inquiry, book a time to chat with them about their project, and potentially send them some useful information about your process or services to browse pre-chat (for a more informed conversation). Then, you will connect via phone or Zoom, and the real-life connection has been made.
May Include: Proposal, contract, retainer, and welcome guide with what to expect, FAQs, project phases, and even “best practices” (such as not texting you on weekends…)
The Onboarding process differs from designer to designer and service to service, but it typically includes the client paying for the initial consultation, booking it, meeting with you on-site, and you following up with a proposal and requested retainer for the project.
Having a clear, efficient, and highly refined onboarding process is a win on both sides of the table. It sets realistic expectations for the client’s experience. Your team has clear expectations and deliverables, along with the freedom that comes with organization. And last but not least…
When you have a stellar onboarding process, you can move through these administrative steps quickly and get on to the fun design work.
May Include: Varies from firm to firm, but progress reports, little things to promote longevity, beautiful presentation, thoughtfulness + professionalism
The Client Care Phase could probably be broken down into several additional phases, such as “the design phase” or “the construction phase.” For simplicity’s sake, we call Client Care everything from reserving your services via retainer to the moment you present the client’s final space to them.
Yes, there are many, many touchpoints within that process, and they should all be thoughtfully designed to create a masterful and unforgettable experience. It will differ from firm to firm, but I do suggest being very thoughtful about the process and keeping it all branded. Really, branded?
Yes, I know that adding your logo and brand fonts to progress reports sounds trivial, but which would promote your confidence as a client — a Word Doc that looks haphazardly thrown together or a very professional looking report that matches everything you know about the firm? I think you have your answer.
You could also think of fun ways to help clients with project endurance, such as framing their design concept or a beautiful rendering, surprising them with gifts, such as a gift card for a nice dinner out (for kitchen renovations), etc.
The point is, you know what you’re doing design-wise. When it comes to a lasting impression, being thoughtful goes a long way. That tiny extra effort will be remembered long into the future.
Delivery technically happens throughout the project — delivering the design concept and the materials and furnishings selections, and of course, the grand finale. Make. it. memorable.
I highly suggest making the final reveal as special as possible. Yes, you will be walking through and making a punch list of issues to resolve, but that shouldn’t take away from the magic.
You could consider bringing champagne, presenting them with a photobook that’s perfect for the coffee table, giving them a thank you/house-warming gift, or other neat idea that shows you care… and will remind them of you and your team each time they see it.
Most people think that your relationship with the client ends after the project wraps up, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many design firms live on referrals, and chances are high that if you loved working with a particular client, you’ll love working with their friends, too.
So stay in touch. Stay top of mind. And do so in a really caring, positive way. Here are some ideas:
There you go — a long-term relationship that feels supportive, uplifting, and just often enough that they’ll remember you the next time their friend says, “We’ve been thinking of renovating our kitchen…”
The experience your clients have with your business is a huge part of your brand, and brand strategy is a large part of what we do!
Your brand lives inside of you. It is a code your team should live and work by. It’s what helps you stand out from your competition and deliver something special in the eyes of your clients. It’s the foundation of your business, and by extension, your lifestyle. And it starts with you.
My goal with our 3-Phase Brand Strategy process is to set an unshakeable foundation for your business:
Phase 1: Defining your mission, vision, direction, unique market positioning & more
Phase 2: Crafting website copy that expresses your brand & attracts your dream clients
Phase 3: Designing & writing copy for a client lifecycle that feels luxurious, personal, and unforgettable.
Together, these phases create a framework for a business that not only supports your goals for your firm, but supports your lifestyle goals while we’re at it.
Think it might be right for? I’d be happy to hop on a quick call to chat more about it and see if we’re the right fit. Reach out to me here and let’s get to know each other.
I believe that life, like home, is meant to be designed. In just 3 years, I built a life I love and a business that supports interior designers across the globe. I’m obsessed with books, a bold red wine, and helping women rise in their power — and I believe that your freedom in business starts here. Read more >>