Archive for July, 2008

Ask For It: Part 2

Yesterday I posted about seven asking strategies you can apply to your business and your daily life, as outlined by Jack Canfield, then I got to thinking about how I have asked and been asked in the past…what makes a question work and what just adds to the confusion.

Some of my clients will tell you that at first, they felt I was asking too many questions and not giving them enough feedback, but with new clients, until you understand better their language, their actual concerns and needs, (as opposed to the ones they often first voice) the project may head off in the wrong direction. Then it becomes very difficult to get it back on track, time is lost, feelings are hurt, money is wasted, etc. Ugh. So here are my suggestions for how to ask.

  1. Be Specific
    Again, my clients (and friends!) will confirm that “Be Specific” is a pet phrase of mine. “I don’t want to spend too much” is not the answer you want when you ask your client about a budget. In order to get a specific answer, you need to ask a specific question: “Do you have a dollar amount in mind for this project?” will get you much closer to the info you really need.
  2. Be Persistent
    You will inevitably hear plenty of no’s and I don’t know’s and all other forms of non-helpful answers. Keep asking. You may need to change your timing, your source, your attitude or the form of your question, but if it’s information that’s important to you, it’s important to keep asking.
  3. Be Positive
    People who know what they’re looking for and know what they want get a much better response to their questions than those who are hesitant, uncertain or uncommitted. Ask your questions with confidence and assurance and even if you don’t receive the answer you’re looking for, you’ll most likely be referred to someone else who may have the appropriate information.
  4. Be Real
    I think the number one reason most questioners don’t necessarily get the information they’re asking for is that there is often no real emotion–interest, desire, need, sincerity, etc.–behind the ask. To get real information you need to be as invested in the response as the “questionee” is in giving it.
  5. Be Creative
    From a personal phone call to a mass web survey; from a customized presentation to a clever postcard, there are hundreds of ways to ask. Don’t get locked into one format or one system. Take time to think about the asking format that works best for your audience and the information you want to receive.

What’s been your best ask? We’d love to know.

31 July 2008 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

Ask For It

I’ve never read any of the Chicken Soup for the… series nor have I explored the world of professional business coaches, so the name Jack Canfield didn’t really mean much to be when I started following a string of links and references on a range of other websites until I finally arrived at a newsletter post from him titled “The Power of Asking: Seven Ways to Boost Your Business”. It’s a great reminder to all of us, especially all the solo-preneurs that comprise the design industry, that “Ask and you shall receive” is a famous old adage for a reason! So here, with permission from Jack Canfield, are seven strategies for asking that work for your business and your daily life.

  1. Ask for Information
    To win potential new clients, you first need to know what their current challenges are, what they want to accomplish and how they plan to do it. Only then can you proceed to demonstrate the advantages of your unique product or service. 

    Ask questions starting with the words who, why, what, where, when and how to obtain the information you need. Only when you truly understand and appreciate a prospect’s needs can you offer a solution. Once you know what’s important to them, stay on this topic and find solutions for them.

  2. Ask for Business
    Here’s an amazing statistic: after giving a complete presentation about the benefits of their product or service, more than 60 percent of the time salespeople never ask for the order!That’s a bad habit, and one that could ultimately put you out of business. 

    Always ask a closing question to secure the business. Don’t waffle or talk around it—or worse, wait for your prospect to ask you. No doubt you have heard of many good ways to ask the question, “Would you like to give it a try?” The point is, ask.

  3.  Ask for Written Endorsements
    Well-written, results-oriented testimonials from highly respected people are powerful for future sales. They solidify the quality of your product or service and leverage you as a person who has integrity, is trustworthy and gets the job done on time. 

    When is the best time to ask? Right after you have provided excellent service, gone the extra mile to help out, or in any other way made your customer really happy.

    Simply ask if your customer would be willing to give you a testimonial about the value of your product or service, plus any other helpful comments.

  4. Ask for Top-Quality Referrals
    Just about everyone in business knows the importance of referrals. It’s the easiest, least expensive way of ensuring your growth and success in the marketplace. 

    Your core clients will gladly give you referrals because you treat them so well. So why not ask all of them for referrals? It’s a habit that will dramatically increase your income. Like any other habit, the more you do it the easier it becomes.

  5. Ask for More Business
    Look for other products or services you can provide your customers. Devise a system that tells you when your clients will require more of your products. The simplest way is to ask your customers when you should contact them to reorder. It’s often easier to sell your existing clients more than to go looking for new ones.
  6. Ask to Renegotiate
    Regular business activities include negotiation. Many businesses get stuck because they lack skills in negotiation, yet this is simply another form of asking that can save a lot of time and money. Look at your vendors and suppliers and see if there are areas where you can be saving money. Just ask. 

    All sorts of contracts can be renegotiated in your personal life, too, such as changing your mortgage terms and rate, reviewing your cell phone plan and requesting a policy review with your insurance agent. As long as you negotiate ethically and in the spirit of win-win, you can enjoy a lot of flexibility. Nothing is ever cast in stone.

  7.  Ask for Feedback
    This is a powerful way to fine-tune your business that is often overlooked. How do you really know if your product or service is meeting your customers’ needs? Ask them, “How are we doing? What can we do to improve our service to you? Please share what you like or don’t like about our products.” Set up regular customer surveys that ask good questions and tough questions.
Jack Canfield, America’s #1 Success Coach, is the founder and co-creator of the billion-dollar book brand Chicken Soup for the Soul and a leading authority on Peak Performance and Life Success. If you’re ready to jump-start your life, make more money, and have more fun and joy in all that you do, get your FREE success tips from Jack Canfield now at:

30 July 2008 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Swedish Flower Power

It may be that the Dries Van Noten engineered floral collection for Spring 2008 has influenced a floral revival of sorts. Celia Birtwell has a small collection at Express, Liberty prints are still climbing the fashion charts…could we be looking at a full-on Laura Ashley revival anytime soon?


Dries van Noten Spring 08 rtw collectio

Dries van Noten Spring 08 rtw collectio

The floral theme has successfully “branched out” into many of the newly released textile and wallpaper collections, pushing aside the many seasons of stripes, dots and damasks that have dominated for quite a while. In mid-September Sandberg will be launching Gloria, a collection of nine patterns that features four very striking florals. Here’s a sneak peek at these new wallpapers.


Gloria, above is a blossoming vine pattern available either as a full-color print,
as shown, or a tone-on-tone outline.


Boris is a stylized floral that borrows a bit from Arts & Crafts
and a bit from the ’70s in seemingly equal measur



Francis is a striking single-color leaf pattern that feels ever-so-slightly retro.



Definitely a statement wallpaper, Heidi fills the space with multi-colored blossoms. 


29 July 2008 at 4:16 pm Leave a comment

COM Disaster: Project Runway, Season 5, Episode 2


I watched this episode live, with Deb and was interesting to hear her take on it in real time. First, she complained and I completely agree, that there wasn’t any discussion about what qualifies as a “green” fabric. Lots of model/clients chose silk or a silk-hemp blend (hello teams Ugly Brown Fabric!) but what about those particular fabrics qualifies as “green.” It’s never clarified and it give the impression that anything from a “natural” fiber source can be considered green, which is completely misleading. For example, the tulle that Suede used in his winning design, what was that made of? Inquiring minds want to know! Even if they couldn’t have fit that info into the episode, Bravo could have posted the details on the “Rate the Runway” section of the site.



Suede’s dress from "The Grass is Greener” episode

Suede’s dress from "The Grass is Greener” episode



It was also interesting to how the clients as buyer’s resulted in so many of the same mistakes. Not buying enough fabric (there was more than one ultra-mini on that runway!)  Not buying appropriate fabric. Not buying fabric appropriate to the constraints of the challenge (satin is difficult to work with, especially on very tight time frames). These are all issues that any designer or workroom who deals with COM has had to face.

While I didn’t particularly like Suede’s design, as it looked very mall girl 1987 to me, I did appreciate how he took the generic cream silk and transformed it into something else. Kenley’s solution to the cream silk was also well-conceived, with minimal seaming that might pucker or pull, and using the inherent stiffness of the fabric to create the oversize collar. I also thought Terri’s design was well-done, although the navy fabric did nothing to flatter the model and Jennifer’s relaxed, full-skirted dress was a welcome change from all the hoochie-mama looks on the runway. As for the rest, the least said the better, because this challenge resulted in some seriously ugly garments. (I’m talking about you too, Mr. Team Ugly Brown Fabric, with your tacky, Bob Mackie-wannabe peacock dress.)


Kenley’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener” episo

Kenley’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener” episo



Terri’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”

Terri’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”





Jennifer’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”

Jennifer’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”



Jerrell’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”

Jerrell’s dress from “The Grass is Always Greener”

Oh, my team scored a big, fat zero this episode, but at least I didn’t lose any points. On my team for this week: Stella, Leanne and Jerrell, not because I think they’re the best designers, but because I think they can score me some points!

29 July 2008 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

The Long View

The economy is shaky, expenses are up across the board, and it may seem like you’re at the mercy of forces beyond your control. But it’s YOUR business, so take charge and think strategically about what internal decisions you can make to position your company for ongoing success.

The first thing most of us think of is cutting costs, both within your operations and in terms of your price to clients. But before you make a cost-cutting decision think about how that decision may affect your business once the economy recovers. So go ahead and cut costs, but only if sure it won’t negatively impact your business later.

One time-tested way of cutting costs is to “make do and mend”, a phrase that was used frequently from the time of the Great Depression––and no, I’m not making a comparison ;)––all the way through WWII. Both money and materials were in short supply, so “make do and mend” was how businesses and households managed. 

I think this is great advice to apply to your marketing efforts. It may seem counterintuitive, but marketing during down cycles is a great way to get ahead. Many of your competitors may be slowing or stopping their marketing, which leaves the field wide open for you; and you may be able to get better rates from your marketing partners at this time.

Ideally, you’ve been tracking your marketing efforts and know which techniques work best for you. Take a closer look at those tactics that haven’t been as successful as you’d hoped. What can you do to fix or adjust them to increase leads and sales? If you can’t think of anything reasonable, now is the time to eliminate that concept and devote your time and money to those that work.

Take a few hours to review the techniques and tools that are working for you. Could your website use a new section or a new look? Is it time to add some new products or services? Should you change some of your key product benefit points to help close more sales?

It’s often said that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the support system for your business and needs to be kept running smoothly, every month, no matter what the economic forecast may be. Because like fashion, economies run in cycles, and though there will always be lean times and boom times, the goal for your business is the long view…and to be able to deal with all types of economic realities.

29 July 2008 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment

Understanding the Challenge: Project Runway #1

I know this is an interior design blog but honestly, neither Deb or I have ever been very impressed by any of the interior design challenge shows out there. But Project Runway (and Top Chef, too)? LOVE.

That said, the final Bravo season of PR started off rocky for me. For one, it seems like every season they cram more contestants on which makes keeping them straight at the beginning a chore. And two, is it just me, or do Heidi, Tim, etc. seem a little over it? Maybe it was just an off-day for them.

Anyway, I love the fact that the producers repeated the grocery store challenge (and how could Austin keep all that foundation in place on what I know was a rather steamy day in NYC?) But what I found particularly interesting about this challenge was, as noted in many other comments about this episode, the choice so many contestants made to use the obvious textile substitutes available, rather that recognizing the challenge for what it was. 

Like any design challenge it was about breaking out of your comfort zone, thinking on your feet, executing on a tight deadline, etc. But the core concept of the grocery store challenge is the use of unconventional, unexpected or unfamiliar materials. Vinyl tablecloths and shower curtains are just fugly “fabrics”, absolutely not unconventional or unexpected, just unattractive. How could soooo many of the designers have missed this key fact? And with the previous, acclaimed winner of the challenge giving them the perfect example before they even walk in the door of the store!

I think it comes back to the fact that, in the design process, it frequently happens that you get stuck on one idea, one approach, and you work that concept, often to the detriment of other, better ideas. And often, client requests and other important issues get pushed aside, forgotten or ignored. Stella’s day-long dithering is a great example of this. She obviously thought she was getting “contractor” garbage bags and instead ended up with those cheap-@#$ bags that rip as soon as you try to open them! But hours and hours of fretting, worrying, taking smoke breaks (they didn’t show that but you know she did) without stepping back and re-evaluating  her idea is what happens when you become too focused.

She and Jerry deserved to be in the bottom two and both because they stuck too firmly and too long with ideas that just weren’t working. And they both got in that situation by ignoring the main purpose of the challenge and choosing simplistic textile substitutes. BTW: I think it was either Leanne or Jennifer, but one of them actually said something like “I wanted to be different and use a tablecloth…” Whaaaa? I think it must of been Leanne, because she worked the whole candy angle after Tim called all the faux fabric folks “slackers”. So at least she listened.

Which is better than Jerry did. When Tim tells you to “really think about this” as he said to Jerry at his first pass through the workroom, it means absolutely the opposite of “carry on!” Adding yellow rubber gloves and constructing, badly, an ugly dress, is not the solution. I’m wondering if Jerry felt his dress was so bad that he instructed his model not to open the rain coat. Because you only really saw how sad it was when he was called to task by the judges.

It was difficult to tell during the broadcast which finished piece was worse (another problem with having so many designers at the beginning, the runway portion itself gets shortchanged) but if Stella is hoping to be this season’s Jeffrey, she better snap out it!

And, Deb and I are in a Project Runway league over at Fafarazzi. If you’re interested, pick three designers and join us! I’m going with Jerrell, Terri and Blayne for episode 2.

24 July 2008 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

Commitment Pricing, Part 2

I was speaking to someone about yesterday’s commitment pricing post and he made me realize I left out  some important information. So here’s a follow-up.

First, I don’t want it to appear that I was advocating raising your prices with no consideration for any of the other components that go into setting your prices.

To be successful with commitment pricing you need your clients to invest more than just money with you. They need to invest their time, attention and emotions in order to realize the full value of what they’re purchasing. Now custom design is already a time-intensive and emotionally fraught process, but it’s important to remember that you’re not in the business of selling products, but of an improved, enhanced, more beautiful life. If that’s not worth an investment in time, attention and emotion, I don’t know what is!

I mentioned “full value” in the previous paragraph. Commitment pricing needs to match or exceed the value your client’s get from the service or products you’re offering. What do I mean by this? Just think about how interested or dedicated you would be to selling or promoting something that isn’t worth what you charge for it. What’s the point, for you and for your clients?

And finally, everyone is familiar with the concept that a happy client is easier to build additional business from, in terms of both future projects and referrals, than having to cold-call or market to unknown prospects. So think of your commitment pricing as a means of establishing a support system, for your clients and for your business. Staying in touch, following up, servicing them three-months, six-months or one year down the road, is definitely good for business, but it costs something to do that. This is one aspect where commitment pricing is very aptly named!

So make a commitment–to your clients, yourself and your business–and I think you’ll see the difference almost immediately.

16 July 2008 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

Commitment Pricing

We’ve all been there…trying to determine how to price your services often seems to be the biggest struggle i our business. Charge too much and you’re afraid you’ll lose clients. Charge too little and you can’t earn a living.

But take another look at those statements. Charging “enough” to make a living doesn’t really seem like very satisfying goal. Instead of just looking at your costs, your competition, etc. why not look at your clients. How much should you be charging to get committed, sing-your-praises clients AND to deliver the level of service, training and expertise they deserve?

Being in business costs money, and the costs keep going up every day. When you charge less than you need in order for your business to thrive; you’re not just short-changing yourself financially, you’re depriving your clients of the full experience, benefit and range of services they should be getting from you. You’re not committing fully to them, in terms of what you’re willing to offer, because you can’t afford to do what you’d really like to do for your clients. 

Commitment Pricing is especially important for designers because this business is not based on need or necessity. It’s not commodity selling, because commodities—something that is widely available and has little or no distinguishing characteristics—is what design is emphatically NOT!

Any consumer, when willing to invest in something customized, something unique and distinctive, usually recognizes that the higher price for such products and services carries with it a commitment on both sides. For the seller to deliver, service and respect the investment of the buyer; and for the buyer to appreciate, value and respect the seller.

Think about some of your recent purchasing decisions: Are there any examples of commitment pricing you can identify and apply to your own business?

14 July 2008 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

Mario, oh Mario!

When I first became involved in the interior design business, waaaaay back in the ’80s, the first decorator whose name and look I became familiar with was Mario Buatta. Back then, you couldn’t open a magazine without seeing at least one of Buatta’s lavishly embellished and chintz swathed rooms. Paige Rense, the long-time editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest says of Buatta: “He was the ’80s alpha decorator. He was warm and democratic…teasing billionaires and making his clients feel comfortable…”

Buatta has had his own design business for 45 years and the 72-year-old decorator shows no signs of slowing down. Although his signature look, an Americanized “English Country House” feel inspired by Colefax & Fowler, has swung in and out of fashion, Buatta has always had his devotees. Even in the modern/minimalist ’90s Buatta worked 5-6 days a week on the homes of Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and dozens of other less recognizable but equally enthralled clients.

Last year, 34 years after doing his first room at the Kips Bay Showcase House; he was back with yet another elegantly pretty and welcoming installation. Perhaps some may find his look a bit over the top; a bit to grandmama-y and traditional, but at a time when maximalist designers like Kelly Wearstler, Jamie Drake, Miles Redd and others garner accolades, it’s worth studying one of the living, working masters of the form. And, just like his mentor and inspiration, John Fowler, Mario Buatta loves a well-dressed window! Enjoy!

One of Buatta’s most recent projects is a two-bedroom Fifth Ave. apartment for Patricia Altschul, an apartment that had previously belonged to Sister Parish. “Though the Parish provenance was a draw, they couldn’t sell the apartment, and I understood why,” Altschul recalls. “In the 15 years since she’d lived here, the place had become dirty, dingy, disgusting. The structure was sound, but the windows, electric, air-conditioning, kitchen and bath all had to be redone. I thought twice about buying it…”

“But when you let Mario have his head, unleash his quirkiness, fabulous things happen.”


Altschul Living Room

Altschul Living Room

And here…


Altschul bathroom. Both photos by Scott Francis, originally published in Architectural Digest, February 2008.

Altschul bathroom. Both photos by Scott Francis, originally published in Architectural Digest, February 2008.

And how about some of these highlights from Buatta’s Kips Bay Showcase houses over the years.


One of his most famous Kips Bay installations is this fabulous blue bedroom from 1987.

One of his most famous Kips Bay installations is this fabulous blue bedroom from 1987.



This is his “homage to dogs” sitting room at the 2006 Kips Bay Showcase House.

This is his “homage to dogs” sitting room at the 2006 Kips Bay Showcase House.

And I’ll leave you with some additional classic Mario Buatta rooms.


A Houston bedroom

A Houston bedroom



Love the dramatic contrast between the dark, glossy walls and the light, feminine furnishings.

Love the dramatic contrast between the dark, glossy walls and the light, feminine furnishings.



Not all of Buatta’s rooms are chintz everywhere.

Not all of Buatta’s rooms are chintz everywhere.

For each major project Mario creates these fold-down room plans, to scale, sketching out all the elements and attaching swatches, paint samples, tassels, etc. for reference.

14 July 2008 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

The Money Mirror

Take a moment to think about our ingrained training regarding money. People are “filthy rich” or loaded with “dirty money.” Those who don’t get business degrees are doomed to become “starving arists”, but everybody better get to work anyway because “time is money.” Money is unnatural because “it doesn’t grow on trees” and it’s alright to struggle financially because, after all, money can’t you love or happiness. Besides, everyone knows, “money is the root of all evil.”

These issues are rarely directly addresses when designers discuss pricing, but our ambiguous emotions regarding money certainly play a part. As an industry we frequently undercharge because:

  1. We based our prices on our perceived competitive set…and they’re already undercharging
  2. We are fearful that a lack of credentials mean we can’t charge as much as some one who has [check any that apply] ___ been in business longer  ___ more training  ___ an office/studio/retail location ___ other
  3. We’re afraid of looking greedy/aggressive/“snooty”/“out-of-touch”/etc. 

Our attitude toward making money from our skills, talents and abilities is a reflection of ourselves. It’s a mirror of our self-worth; and as solo or small practitioners our inability to look into that mirror and see the results accurately often sabotages our best efforts to grow our business.

What does your money mirror say to you?

10 July 2008 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

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