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Interior Design Pro Holley Pokora Looks to the Future

How she is doubling down on marketing & attracting new clients

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Were it not for the Great Recession of 2008, Holley Pokora might not have ventured out on her own to start a design firm that continues to thrive nearly 15 years later.

When the recession hit, she was working for her brother, an architect with a division doing model home interiors. “I evolved from being a marketing person to being a field person. I found myself on construction sites, and dealing with trimmers and plumbers and electricians, and really, it was baptism by fire,” she says.

But when the economic slowdown brought the firm’s model home business to a halt, she knew she had to move on, and decided to start her own staging company. “It had run its course. I had learned a ton, and felt confident enough at that point to start my own firm,” she says.

Now, Philadelphia-based Holley Pokora Interior Design focuses on designing spec homes and high-end residential interiors. “I really have shifted to working with builders on more of a spec home basis, whether they want finishes to be selected so that the spec home presents itself as market forward and as enticing as possible, or whether I'm hired as a partner with a builder and the client who's building the house,” she says. “It's really changed very dramatically from when I first started 14 and a half years ago,” she says. “I guess it's just learning the ropes, fine-tuning my processes, hiring some professionals, and honestly, adopting Houzz Pro," she says. I think for the cost, it's probably the best money I spend, frankly, on my business,” Holley says of the Houzz Pro management software.

Here she shares advice for evolving your business, honing your niche, and harnessing technology to operate more efficiently while navigating the uncertainty of supply chain delays, inflation, and possibly another recession. 

The Power of Partnerships

Working for her brother, Holley learned the importance of networking with home builders to build clientele and a reliable reputation in the industry. She makes many of those connections through her longtime membership with the National Association of Home Builders. “If somebody's in the design business and if their business plan is to network with new construction home builders, custom home builders, and large renovators, it's a really valuable way to establish some really long term partnerships and friendships,” she says. 

The NAHB also provides educational, and  professional growth opportunities, she says. “I took a certification class for Universal Design. I feel much more comfortable educating clients about Universal Design and how it benefits their home, whether they are currently aging in place or not.”

Tip: Houzz Pro, NAHB Preferred Software Provider, offers exclusive discounts to NAHB members and benefits their local HBA. Learn more here

Be Transparent About Your Process 

Holley has seen new designers make mistakes that put their profit margin at risk such as not seeking full payment in advance from clients for procurements. “I have been there - I have done it myself. As I see it now, the way a design firm becomes profitable and maintains profitability is design fees and procurement. There’s a point at which you realize ‘if I work X hours I will never earn more than Y’.  Marking up unique products that clients can’t see anywhere else has really upped my profitability.”

She suggests being clear and up front with clients about your policy. “This is the way I do business. I require 100% payment.  I say it out loud in the beginning of the relationship and it's clearly written in my agreement. Being straightforward and matter of fact and knowing that you can explain your practices takes some time and stumbles. It doesn’t matter how people have done business in the past - this is how YOU do business.” 

Using Houzz Pro to create invoices, and purchase orders makes the process more efficient for Holley and using tools such as mood boards to show clients what the purchases will look like in their newly designed home makes it easier for them to say yes to them, she says.

“Until I could become efficient and present a whole room of furniture, find the rug, price it up, find the sofa, price it up, find the lamps, price them up, and then mark it all up, I was sort of spitting into the wind! Once it's all in one place for a client to say, yes, that's my room!  Then all of a sudden, bingo, we’re making money” she says.

“That's the beauty of having a Houzz Pro as part of my tool belt. It's all about, for me, profitability,” she says.

“It really elevated my business to automate the procurement piece,” she says. “When you're a designer just starting out, okay, I know what I ultimately want a custom sofa to look like, but how to present it, how to track it, how to invoice it, how to create a purchase order, I was doing everything from scratch,” she says. “There’s too much room to make mistakes, which is a costly lesson to learn. Taking on the software has just ramped up my procurement profitability incredibly,” she says. 

Tip: The Houzz Pro Selection Boards are an all-encompassing design tool that incorporates mood boards and more, taking designers seamlessly from concept, to presentation to client sign off.

Favoring Quality over Quantity 

This past year was Holley’s most profitable and she is wary that 2023 will not be as lucrative. “I have ridden this huge COVID bubble,” she says “ I think the bubble may be over.”

She is preparing for a possible slowdown by doubling down on her efforts to attract more clients in the luxury space. She has removed some of her lower end offerings from her website and put more emphasis on high end services with an aim toward taking on fewer projects, but higher quality ones.

“What I've been really focusing on is elevating my client, my type of client, and what they're willing to spend. You learn over time, it's much more productive and a much better reflection of your business when you have a higher end professional client who respects hiring a professional.  I am very good at selling the completion of a job to a client - the arc of our relationship is very important to me - because successful completion means great photography and hopefully referrals and general goodwill,” she says.  

Tip: PerfectCapture Photo Service by Houzz Pro connects designer pros with professional photographers in their region and can even schedule photoshoots of projects to help you keep your portfolio fresh, vibrant and stunning.

Market in the Moment

With a long list of clients and other contacts she has collected through the years, Holley is seeking ways to incorporate them into her marketing plan year-round instead of just annually with a holiday thank you. In February, she plans to launch her first newsletter to generate more referrals. “I'm starting a newsletter (finally) to reach out to all of those successful past projects and my builder list,’’ she says. 

She, too, is seeking to bolster her social media presence. I am investing in some marketing tools that I have never done before,” she says. 

Tip: Newsletter templates and other email marketing tools from Houzz Pro makes DIY marketing easy and efficient for design professionals to generate leads with beautiful and professional blogs and newsletters.

The Return of the Big Reveal

As delivery delays that started with the pandemic in 2020 continue, both Holley Pokora Interior Design and her clients have become more accustomed to not fulfilling their design dreams all at once.

“Everybody's gotten used to it, I guess,” she says. “In the beginning in 2020 and into 2021, people were befuddled, like ‘What, six months?’ By last summer, I had furniture delivered after a 1 year wait and clients were understanding; everybody had heard about it on the news a hundred thousand times,” she says.

Every few months, she updates what she dubs her “COVID clause” in her agreement to convey to clients that she cannot guarantee delivery dates as purchases such as custom sofas, chairs, beds, coffee tables and rugs come in dribs and drabs. Meanwhile, she hopes for the day when the contract caveat will no longer be needed.  “It would be lovely if everything came in three to four months, and my warehouse could just deliver everything and we could have a big reveal.”

Tip: Clients can check the status of their project and deliveries 24/7 with the Houzz Pro Client Dashboard. 

With a firm born in the aftermath of economic slowdown, Holley Pokora - as the winner of three Houzz awards for service and multiple Home Builders Assn. design awards, plans to soon relocate from her home office to one in the outside world - showing no signs of slowing down. 

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Houzz Pro is the all-in-one tool for marketing, project and client management built specifically for remodeling, build, and design professionals.

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