More than likely, when January comes you are going to need business and, right now, your clients need gift ideas that are wonderful and not too run-of-the-mill. Enter the gift certificate!
Why not offer your clients the option of giving one of their friends or family members a gift certificate for a decorating consultation? If you charge $50 per hour, your client can give a certificate for an hour or more in half-hour increments. They can pay you now and give you the name, address and telephone number of the recipient. You then can send the recipient an attractive certificate indicating how long the appointment will last and telling them you will call after the holidays to arrange a time to meet.
Everybody wins. The client gives a unique gift that very few people would have created on their own; the recipient gets a free consultation with a design professional (most people have a terrible time selecting a designer or decorator as they don't know what to ask or how to find one that is reputable); and you have client prospects to call after January 1st! You could fill your calendar for one or two months and every appointment will be prepaid -- and there's always the possibility that some or all could become lasting, ongoing clients.
An option for the gift certificate would be to have the amount be applicable toward the purchase of product. A $50 gift certificate could be applied toward the purchase of artwork, mirrors, draperies or whatever the recipients deem they need for their homes. You then would give your design time during the consultation appointment as an extra.
This option may not be as lucrative for you, but may be more attractive to your current clients. If you are effective at focusing on clients' needs and closing sales, you could turn this offer into more than just a minimum order -- and, once again, nurture a new, ongoing client.
This option still requires you to get the recipients' names, addresses and telephone numbers so you can notify them of their gifts. Each of them then becomes another prospect for business in the new year.
To make your gift certificates look attractive and professional, check into some of the computer software currently available. Or, if you are not into computers, you can pick up generic certificate styles at a stationery supply store. Depending on the certificate you use, you may want to attach an attractive, nicely written cover letter -- and don't forget your business card and a business brochure if you have one.
Do you keep a database of clients or prospects? Each of these recipients are new prospects for you and should be added to your database immediately. Call the recipients no later than January 15. They may want to schedule their appointments later in the spring, but in the meantime you don't want them looking for you or asking the sender why you haven't contacted them yet.
Starting the Year Right
Offering gift certificates to your customers now, will benefit business during the first, slow months of 1988. Everybody wins, because a gift certificate: * Provides your customers with a unique gift idea. * Presents you with the name, address and telephone number of potential new clients for your database. * Can be used for interior design consultations (in increments of half-hour sessions). * Can be used toward the purchase of product (accessories, artwork, pillows, etc.).
Make your certificates attractive and professional and remember to follow-up on gift certificate recipients no later than January 15!
After the appointments consider sending notes to the original clients letting them know how well their gifts were received and reinforcing how special they were. It's never too early to plant seeds for the next holiday season.
The Gift of Beautiful Merchandise
Many designers and decorators have resources that local stores do not. These resources allow you to offer products to your clients that may not be found or seen very often, if ever, when an individual goes shopping.
Give your clients the opportunity to use your catalogs and resources to select the perfect gift for each person on their lists. They may not be able to take care of everyone, but even a few will make their holidays less harried and the income will feel great in your pocket. Your clients will love these convenient services. You even could add a gift wrap service for an extra charge. It works for Neiman-Marcus!
Usually, items that work well as gifts are accessories. Consider offering artwork, mirrors, picture frames, pillows, candleholders, topiaries, crystal accessories and vases, desk sets and all the other small accouterments that make a house a home and give it personality.
If it gets too close to the holidays to guarantee timely delivery, tell the client you will send the recipient an attractive gift card. Once again, this is an opportunity to get a new name, address and telephone number of a prospect that could turn into a client in the new year. If the recipients are local, consider delivering the gifts to them. Be creative, dress up like Santa's elf or Mrs. Claus and make sure your business card and any other tactful, promotional material is attached.
These ideas may make your pre-season a little more hectic, but they can do wonders to nurture future business and to start out 1998 with a rush of business and good will!
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.