As we are nearing the end of one year and heading into a new year, it's a great time to reflect on what has worked in your business and what needs improvement. One area that frequently gets passed up for what we believe to be “more important" things is marketing. What we as Home Stagers need to understand is that we are not in the business of Staging Homes. We are actually in the business of marketing our Home Staging business. As one of my mentors always says, “the marketing is more important than the mastery". Think about this for a second. We could be the best Stager around. We know exactly how to plan out the optimum floor plan, choose the best colors, turn crack houses into model homes, but if we don't market ourselves and get the business, we will never get to optimize that floor plan, choose those colors or create those beautiful spaces and get paid for it.
I recently had a conversation with a Staging Designer who admitted that she had not had to market her business the last few years, and in all fairness, she didn't really have to - or did she? The real estate market was very strong until recent months and business just came to her. But as we got further into our conversation, she also mentioned that she was upset with herself that she hadn't increased her prices like she should have and now that the market has turned, it is going to be difficult to raise her rates and she's tired of working with all the “cheap" clients. So I posed a question to her. Despite the fact that she was getting business without much effort, what if she had actually marketed her services to other realtors? Could she have gotten better, high paying clients which would have allowed her to eliminate the penny pinching cheapskates that were keeping her busy, but broke? That's the million dollar question.
If that resonates with you, now is as good a time as any to reevaluate what you've been doing, how you've been doing it and improve upon it. First, and foremost, make marketing your Staging business a top priority. Just because the market is slow, does not mean there is no business. There's business and if you're not getting it, someone else is. You have to be in front of your prospects ALL THE TIME so that when they need your services, you're the first person they think of. So let's go back to the dilemma of the soft market and how to raise your rates. Do you think there were a lot of Real Estate Agents who jumped on the real estate bandwagon when the market was hot? How about mortgage brokers? Do you think all of them are still in the game? Well, I would venture to say that the same applies to Home Stagers. There are plenty of Stagers who jumped on the bandwagon who are falling by the wayside every day. What does that mean for you? Less competition, right? Since business is all about supply and demand, if there is less supply out there, meaning less available services, then guess what, your value automatically increases. Capitalize on that. Obviously, having great professional services is a given, but price elasticity may be a moot point here. If you're the “only game in town" or the “best game in town", you will survive and likely thrive in this economy. Raising your prices will not necessarily affect you negatively.
In my ongoing effort to help Home Stagers “stand out from the crowd", I've outlined five marketing strategies that can help you stimulate new business, increase business from existing customers and build repeat business. You do not have to use all of them, but you can certainly use some of them.
1) Create a Frequent Buyer Rewards program. We've all had experiences with the little punch cards or the stamp cards whereby you earn a free product after purchasing a certain number of products. I've carried frequent buyer cards like these in my wallet for car washes, cheese steak sandwiches and bubble tea. As a Stager, you can offer this with your Staging Consultations. Perhaps your Realtor clients can buy 5 to get one free or if they Stage 3 properties with you, they receive one free consultation.
The idea of the frequent buyer type incentive is to encourage the customer to return to your business rather than spreading his business around. To make this type of incentive even more effective you can tie it to an expiration date so that the points have to be accumulated and redeemed within a certain time period. With the Stage 3 properties and receive a free consultation deal, I would definitely limit that to 3 properties within a quarter or something to that effect, not 3 properties over an open ended period of time.
2) Have a Sale. This is the most commonly used marketing strategy in business. Just about every business in America uses discounts at various times in various ways. Just be careful not to overdo it. There was a furniture store nearby that had a “going out of business" sale for 4 years running. The ongoing sale lost its appeal after awhile, especially when you knew the same sale would be available next week, next month and in that case, even the following year.
It's important to have a logical reason for the discount opportunity. Some common ones are inventory overstock, an anniversary, a holiday, an introductory offer for new customers, and a special offer on a new product or service. One strategy that would work well for Stagers, particularly at the end of the year when business slows down is to have an inventory overstock sale. Advertise that your warehouse is overstuffed so in an effort to manage the surplus of available rental inventory, you're having a sale. All Staging projects booked in the month of December receives 25% or even 50% off the regular rental fee.
3) Offer Prepay Agreements. I've seen this a lot with museums and amusement parks. You pay for a season pass that entitles you to use the facilities ‘X’ number of times or for ‘X’ length of time rather than paying as you go per visit.
The same idea can be applicable to your staging business. Let's take your Staging Consultations for example. You could sell a membership card good for say 10 consultations in a quarter (that's only 3 a month). If purchased onezy, twozy, the average consultation might be $300, costing the customer about $3000.00. Now by purchasing the card in advance the customer can save $600.00 or 20% off the regular price (essentially getting 2 free consultations). If you sold just one membership a month, you immediately collect $2400.00 and consultations have little to no overhead attached to them. Your only expense is time. Sell 2 or 3 memberships a month and you've increased your cash flow significantly. You can even tier those programs to work with clients at various levels of volume.
4) Accept major credit cards. If you're not already accepting credit cards, I would encourage you to open a merchant account immediately. Every business should accept Visa and MasterCard at the very least . Adding American Express and Discover would be a bonus. The easier you make it for the customer to buy and the more payment options you offer the customer, the better. This also helps you get paid quicker and you don't have to deal with billing customers for recurring payments for extensions on rental inventory. You just automatically charge their credit card when it's time. Keep in mind that when homeowners are selling their properties, their cash flow may be limited due to multiple transactions occurring simultaneously. They could be in the process of buying another property while selling their current home which means there are various expenses fighting for the same wallet, so having the option to pay by credit card may be the determining factor for choosing one Stager over another. It's not always about the price. It may be about convenience.
5) Mail to past and present customers or clients regularly. This is the single most effective marketing strategy that any business can use to build customer loyalty, to retain customers and to stimulate more frequent purchasing by customers. Direct mail efforts can be in different forms such as fliers, postcards, letters or a monthly newsletter.
A regularly published newsletter is an extremely powerful, cost-effective marketing method. When you keep in touch with your clients with your own newsletter you create top of mind consciousness with your customers. They will automatically think of you when it comes time to buy your product. A newsletter is especially valuable when you can pass along useful information and ideas that your customers appreciate and you can continue to demonstrate your expertise in your field. This ultimately results in word-of-mouth advertising. Another perk is that you can advertise sales, special offers, new products, new services, new locations and so on in your own publication.
As a Staging Designer, you could put out a newsletter on home design, home care, and other real estate related topics. You have the option of a hard copy newsletter or an electronic newsletters, otherwise known as an ezine.
Now that you know the five strategies that can help you stimulate new business, increase business from existing customers and build repeat business, think about how to effectively incorporate and use them in your own business. Let your creative energy flow and have fun with it. Happy Marketing in 2009!
© 2008 AKC Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, but here's what you MUST include with it: Alice T. Chan, the Staging Designer's Success Coach, publishes the bi-weekly ezine “Set the Stage for Your Success". If you're ready to skyrocket your Staging Design business and gain credibility in record time, get your FREE tips now at http://www.SuccessfulStagingBiz.com