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How Award-Winning Kitchen & Bath Designer Alisa Hofmann Attracts New Clients and Retains the Loyal Ones

Cultivating trust and alliances top her list of tips for assuring your clients keep coming back for more

Stephan Rabimov

When kitchen and bath designer Alisa Hofmann started her Bay Area-based firm Design Set Match, she had no problem securing clients. With accolades such as the 2021 Bay Area Remodeling Award, the 2012 Chrysalis Award for Best Outbuilding and eight Best of Houzz awards under her belt, it’s clear Hofmann has some valuable advice to share with fellow designers about how she attracts clients and runs her business. 

Tip 1. Build and maintain alliances.

One of the first things Hofmann did when she started her firm was join the National Kitchen and Bathroom Association and the national Association of the Remodeling Industry, which is how she introduced to 85% of clients. She is still a member and leader years later, and has also joined the Marin Builders Association. Maintaining connections to these professional organizations is a top priority for her. “They're huge for our company and my personal growth as a business owner.” she says. “I find the relationships built-up through associations are what get us through a recession.” Hofmann explains why the give-and-take culture among association members can be so helpful:  “Sometimes it's because you're getting business and you're sharing business equally. Sometimes you're not getting direct business, and that's okay, but maybe you're learning how to get through with a new technique or approach.” Whether it’s through sharing leads or developing trade skills, becoming an active member of your local professional associations can help ensure the success of your business.  

In fact, support from your peers is one of the most powerful resources you can tap into. Hofmann stresses the importance of sharing knowledge and advice, and viewing other designers and contractors as allies rather than competition. When she meets other designers, her attitude is warm and welcoming. “We may be competing for projects but we can be friendly competition,” she says. She encourages “idea-sharing and not keeping it close to the chest, but going ahead and being open with our practices.” When other designers recognize you as a trusted colleague, they’re more likely to refer clients to you when their own schedule is full or you would be a better fit for the job. 

Tip 2. Cultivate trust with clear communication.

Trust is a common currency in successful business relationships, which is why Hofmann not only collaborates with other designers but also gains clients through repeat customers. “This is impactful, they’re typically returning with even larger or more complicated projects and they're also introducing us to their friends,” she says. One way she builds trust with clients and keeps them coming back is through open communication and honesty. “I try to be a good listener, and I try to help their project go smoothly, but I can never promise that a project is going to be 100% perfect,” she explains. “If we have all the lines of communication open, and yes, things will go wrong, we talk about them immediately with solutions and avoid pointing fingers or passing blame. As long as we're proactive and handle situations well as a team, we can expect repeat work in the future.” When you establish this level of trust with your clients, they come back to you for future projects, and they’re more likely to send referrals your way.

Hofmann also goes above and beyond for her clients by serving as a liaison for them through the construction part of a project. “When you're working with contractors, they're great at building, but they speak contractor. A good designer is there during weekly meetings to interpret construction terminology,” she explains. “The contractor says, ‘Oh, we need a GFCI.’ and starts throwing about other terminology and asks, ‘where do you want it?’. Homeowners need someone to say, ‘Okay, here's what this person is really asking, and here are our options with pros and cons for their decision.’” This kind of communication helps you, the construction team and your clients – everyone benefits. When your communication skills inspire trust, both contractors and clients want to work with you again as well as contact you with new leads.

Tip 3. Shine a light on your skills.

Another one of Hofmann’s tips for attracting clients is investing in professional photography, especially before-and-after shots, as it demonstrates your skills to potential clients. “When you're a kitchen and bath designer, I need a photo that tells the story of why this room changed from X to Y so that other homeowners can relate it to their own problems and pain points,” she advises. “It's not just one photo of the room – it's photos from multiple angles. Including close-ups of faucets or another detail, so others can really go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can imagine this in my space.’” While a picture from your phone may work well enough for an internal project update, it’s crucial to have professional photos on your website or Houzz Pro profile to make a strong first impression on new clients – quality photos tell potential customers that you’re a designer who cares about details. Great photos paired with great reviews of your work make all the difference when it comes to attracting new clients. 

When it comes to highlighting your skills, nothing speaks louder than stellar client reviews. We all do it when we’re the customer – look up and read as many reviews as possible to get a sense of what level of quality we can expect based on others’ experiences. So while it might seem like an awkward request, it’s important to ask your clients to rate and review your work. When you provide excellent service, most clients are glad to spend a few minutes to write about how you impressed them. Then, depending on the platform, you can choose your best reviews and put them front and center on your website, so future customers can read and feel good they’re making the right choice when they hire you for their project. 

Tip 4. Rely on Houzz Pro for client satisfaction.

According to Hofmann, Houzz Pro has been instrumental in keeping her clients and contractors satisfied even when she’s on the go. “Houzz Pro goes with me on my phone or laptop, and I can easily access it and the project data on site when a contractor has confusion or a question regarding placement or sizing of a fixture,” she says. Having everything you need at your fingertips through the Mobile App helps Hofmann stay up to date with her clients and adjust plans as needed. “Change isn’t easy, but remodeling is change, and in the long run, taking my business to the next level with Houzz Pro saves me time and money as well as increases communication with our clients.” Clients prefer the quick yet thorough communication Houzz Pro provides, meaning they’re more likely to become repeat customers and refer others to you. 

Hofmann also uses Houzz Pro to streamline the way she runs her business. She is a particular fan of the invoicing system, praising the way it automates her invoices, tracks her payments and helps her get paid faster. “I use Houzz Pro in my back-end bookkeeping to make invoicing easier when I’m overwhelmed. I simply set up my invoices as proposals as soon as the letters of agreement are signed and pre-dated –  all I need to do is hit send,” she says. When the financial aspects of a project are included in the same user-friendly platform as the other elements of that project, Houzz Pro users see a dramatic increase in client buy-in when it comes to approving proposals or updates as well as a higher rate of on-time payments. Hofmann believes this kind of technology is the future of the design and build space, using it for everything from scheduling to communicating to balancing multiple projects at a time, but overall, keeping clients satisfied. And when clients are happy with your work, you’re bound to see the kind of business growth that makes you happy too. 

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Stephan Rabimov

Stephan Rabimov leads Content Marketing at Houzz. Portland resident. Global citizen. Nature loving.

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