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5 Ways to Win Repeat Design Clients and Referrals

Use these proven strategies for more revenue with less marketing work 

Elena Vega

You likely already realize the general benefits of repeat clients for your interior design or home renovation business: You’ll save money on marketing and waste less time on leads that don’t pan out, for starters. You’ll feel more confident already knowing the homeowners’ tastes. Your clients will feel comfortable already knowing your working style and project management approach. And you’ll have the wonderful feeling of knowing your clients loved the design you created for them.

But did you also know that 76% of architects and 78% of interior designers say that repeat clients contribute substantially to their business, according to the 2021 Houzz & Home survey. So it’s not just a good idea to put effort into customer retention — it’s essential for the success of your design business. Working to get customer referrals is also equally important, and to help you get more of them we share ways to keep design clients coming back and prompt them to share your info with friends and family.

1. Cultivate Strong Relationships From the Start 

Choosing clients who are a good fit will go a long way toward starting off on the right foot and staying there. If you decide to work with someone whom you personally dislike or whose tastes are completely at odds with yours, or whose project type or scope is well outside your wheelhouse, you’re setting yourself up not just for tension and stress but potentially for clashes, bad outcomes and negative reviews.

“We love working with people who are joyful and pleasant, who…like to have fun, who are willing to take risks and trust us,” says Laura Irion of Laura Design Co. in St. Charles, Illinois. “That’s always the best result.”

Once you know you’re aligned on the project vision — type, scope, budget, style — consider sending a personal questionnaire along with any remaining questions about design preferences. You can ask about birthdays, favorite hangouts and sports teams — anything you can mine later for staying in touch.

Along with choosing clients carefully and getting to know them, responding quickly from the get-go can work wonders. Consider adopting interior design project and client management software that keeps all your communication in one place, such as Houzz Pro. Whether you’re following up with leads or checking-in with clients, Houzz Pro interior design business management software and its mobile app makes it easy.

We love working with people who are joyful and pleasant, who…like to have fun, who are willing to take risks and trust us

2. Keep the Magic Going During the Project

Working in someone else’s home is an intimate act to begin with. Especially if that person is building or remodeling after a natural disaster, a divorce or the passing of a loved one, you’ll want to be completely sensitive and discreet about any private information you become privy to.

“You work so intimately with a client, and…they become your friends; they become family,” says designer Deane Duffek of Laguna Beach, California. “Transparency, honesty, integrity are very important, because at the end of these projects, we’re snow skiing together.”

Working in people’s homes also requires a leap of faith on their part. Honor that trust by meeting deadlines, sticking to the budget and other agreed-upon elements, maintaining an open mind and offering options instead of rigidly insisting on any aspect of the design. Also essential: keeping clients in the loop about project status, deliveries and timelines on a regular basis. This can prevent the kinds of misunderstandings and mistakes that lead clients to look elsewhere for any future design projects. Houzz Pro is invaluable for this; it lets you share mood boards, 3D floor plans, daily project logs and more in a snap — or, rather, a click — right from your smartphone, reducing the chances that anything will go awry.

“We use our Houzz Pro tools to stay organized — sharing [project information], streamlining that information, automating as much of the information as we can, and streamlining that communication to our clients,” Duffek says.

See 10 other essential tips for working with clients in this article.

3. Stay in Touch

At the end of the project, consider giving the clients a personally chosen and meaningful gift, something they will see regularly. Looking at it will remind them of you, and visiting friends and family members may even ask about it, leading to referral opportunities. If you have your own line of products, whether it’s small decor or large furniture pieces, it’s a no-brainer to gift one of those pieces. You can see many more gifting ideas, including some surprising ones, on this Houzz Discussions board.

Whether your clients are totally down with the digital age — emailing, social media, e-cards and so on — or only up for handwritten notes, phone calls and in-person visits, it’s essential to maintain contact. Keeping the relationship going through thoughtful gestures will keep you top of mind when it comes to future projects and referrals. A few ideas: sending holiday and birthday cards or even flowers, gifting small tokens they’d appreciate, emailing a newsletter with helpful tips and interesting news, and scheduling follow-up visits to see how the homeowners are faring in their new space.

You could even consider offering small related services at no extra charge, such as decorating a porch for the holidays. Small freebies can be a big hit with clients and create an even stronger feeling of goodwill.

4. Maintain a Polished Online Presence

Posting gorgeous photos of a finished project doesn’t just make current clients happy; it provides a concrete way for them to direct others to you and show them your work. Positive reviews posted by happy clients are a big selling point for referrals as well. Houzz Pro makes it easy to ask for client reviews with a customizable template.

“I wait until the punch list is done so that [the client has] received everything that they should get from us and theoretically are happy,” Irion says. “I think timing’s important, and then I send the email through Houzz.”

“Online reviews are great because they are one of the first things prospective clients see if they look for us, and they boost our positioning with search engines,” says Brit Amundson, president and owner of TreHus Architects + Interior Designers + Builders.

5. Directly Ask for Referrals and References 

Along with requesting reviews, consider asking clients to both directly refer friends and family to you and to act as references for future potential clients, if you think they’d be open to it. “We provide a client reference list with our marketing packet, which we leave with prospective clients after a sales meeting, and tell them we can connect them with someone who has done a similar project in the past if they would like,” Amundson says.

You can even ask other pros to refer potential clients to you, whether they’re not a direct competitor or they are a competitor but are too busy or not the right fit for a project. And while you’re sending out requests for client reviews, also send requests to any pros who worked on the project with you: decorators, landscapers, tradespeople, and so on.

Utilizing all of these strategies not only will help ensure that clients will turn to you for future projects, but that they will be happy to spread the word about your services — and that you’ve made it as easy for them as possible.

To continue learning, read our next article on How to Find the Right Interior Design Clients.

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Elena Vega has been writing and editing for more than 20 years. Word games fan. Adoring mom. New York native calling San Francisco home.

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