What is Relationship Marketing?
By far the way most design firms acquire new clients is through referrals. Most of those referrals come from satisfied clients. But there are only so many of them. So if you’re looking to grow your business, how do you increase the number and frequency of referrals? You can do it through what I call relationship marketing.
You’re already familiar with the concept of networking. Relationship marketing is like taking networking to the next level. It’s a bit more targeted and strategic. Think of the people who would be willing to refer you to potential clients and then make an effort to get to know them and acquaint them with your work. They might be your neighbors or friends, business associates, real estate agents, contractors, builders, architects, or retailers—anyone who is likely to have a conversation with someone who is thinking of designing or remodeling a home.
Early on in my design career, my husband and I bought and remodeled a home in a neighborhood where I knew the neighbors were the right demographic for the kinds of clients I wanted to attract. When we completed the remodel, I invited the neighbors to an open house in order to get to know them and to show off my design talent. One woman asked me to help her with a small improvement in her home that later turned into multiple projects over several years and then several more projects beyond that. You never know when a casual encounter might lead to a new prospect.
Not all relationship marketing will produce such instant results, but it can greatly increase referrals over time. To be successful, though, you need to practice relationship marketing regularly and consistently so that your network grows exponentially. Other ways to expand your network of acquaintances are to publish examples of your work and/or submit articles on design topics to the local media. You might also look for opportunities to give lectures, talks or workshops through your local library or community organizations. Design work is very personal, so let others see who you are and what you can do.
The key to successful networking is to let others know that you can be a useful resource to them. Similarly, the key to successful relationship marketing is establishing a personal connection with the other party, displaying confidence and professionalism, and letting them know that you can be of service to them and to those they may refer you to. When you’ve earned their trust, they will be comfortable recommending you to others they know, confident that it will reflect well on them, too.