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Award Winning Interior Designer Sara Barney on an Ideal Client, Managing Leads, and the Value of Technology

Sara Barney, owner of the award-winning interior design firm BANDD Design, recognizes the key ways in which Houzz Pro has revolutionized the way design businesses are run, including her own.

Stephan Rabimov

Technology has upended almost every aspect of modern life, including fields like interior design that are traditionally recognized as “hands-on.” While creative vision is crucial, successful interior designers are embracing friendly technologies for streamlining their process. Austin, Texas-based interior designer Sara Barney, owner of the award-winning interior design firm BANDD Design, recognizes the key ways in which software like Houzz Pro has revolutionized the way design businesses are run, including her own.

Barney, who previously worked as an executive at companies such as SXSW, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, believes her designs should reflect the authenticity and individuality of each client. The key to achieving this is communication, which is why her design process involves spending time with her clients to develop a deep understanding of their needs. Her firm asks clients to fill out a lengthy, detailed questionnaire, centered around their favorite TV shows, favorite drinks and other details that may not seem relevant to design but are actually crucial.

“It helps us understand who they are, and also how they like to operate and live in their space,” Barney explains. “Some people like to entertain, some people have pets, some have little kids — so really, how are they planning to move around this space?” 

Another reason that communication is so important to Barney’s design process is that it facilitates trust. Barney, who jokingly describes her ideal client as someone with “no husband, no opinions and no budget,” says a lack of trust can delay and inhibit the design process.

“The ideal client is somebody who’s willing to trust in the process and realize that we aren’t just there to be personal shoppers or validate their opinions,” she says. According to Barney, clear communication and patience help demonstrate the designers’ value to clients and prevent pushback. “It's just constant communication and letting them know how the process runs. Offering them unique solutions, and giving them some time to buy into it,” she says. “If you try to rush them through the decision, they start to freak out, so if you just let them marinate on it, then sometimes they come around.”

Because communication is such an integral part of Barney’s design process, she decided to try out Houzz Pro business management solution for designers. One of Houzz Pro key features is the CRM, which streamlines the process of communicating with clients. It was the main reason Barney decided to switch over. 

The CRM tool clearly displays and organizes leads in one centralized place, making it easy to find their contact information and know when it’s time to follow up. For Barney, who used to manually track her leads with a spreadsheet, this digital solution has drastically improved the way she communicates with clients. “It was a big, big win for us being able to use the lead dashboard. What's so great is that the address and phone number is already there,” she explains. “It sounds really simple, but really it was a huge time saver because I wasn't having to go back and look through old emails and dig around in the archives.” 

Another useful communication feature is the Houzz Pro message center, which allows you to view in one location the messages (email or text), photos and files you’ve sent or received. “Those were all living in Dropbox in a black hole that I never looked at unless it was dire to find that information,” Barney says. The feature has improved not only client communication but internal communication among designers at her firm. “Now, when we convert [a lead] to a project, all the files are already there,” Barney says. “When the designer comes in to start working on that project, they can look back retroactively at all those notes without needing any of us. That's huge for us.” 

According to Barney, one of the biggest advantages of working in Houzz Pro is the cloud-based storage and organization of her firm’s information. Everything is in the cloud. I can log on at any point and it updates itself, it knows where everything is and it saves so much time,” she says. “Time, especially in a design business, is the biggest commodity. If we're short on time, I don't want to be messing around with a spreadsheet that I forgot to update two weeks ago that now it's going to take me three hours to get up to date.”

What Barney loves most about Houzz Pro is how easy it is to learn and use. “I'm all for simplicity when it comes to admin,” she says. “I want something that will seamlessly integrate, and Houzz Pro just did. It was a matter, again, of time savings. I didn't have to spend a week onboarding my team on it.

Even as the founder of a highly successful interior design firm, one question that constantly plagues Barney is, “How am I going to get it all done?” Luckily for her, and other interior design businesses that want to run smart, digital solutions like Houzz Pro are here to help. And Barney is optimistic that technology like Houzz Pro will improve the interior design process even further. “I think there'll be more tools that will help us save time and streamline our process,” she says.

Join Barney and thousands of other designers and try Houzz Pro for free today. 

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Stephan Rabimov

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

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