In this post, guest author Eric Reinholdt shares a case study of how he gets clients from Houzz.com for his modern residential design practice.
Mount Desert Island, Maine: December 2013
I sat silently at my laptop poring over images on Houzz looking for inspiration.
Not design inspiration, but writing inspiration. Two months earlier I had accepted an offer to become a weekly contributor for Houzz.com where I was expected to create one ‘Ideabook', an image-based editorial, each week around a topic of my choosing.
Eight Ideabooks into my commitment and I felt like I was already scraping for topics.
With the promise of a feature on the Houzz homepage along with promotion in their weekly newsletters, I viewed the time it took to write the Ideabooks as a marketing investment in my growing business. Whether or not the marketing efforts were successful, I knew I would still benefit from being forced to write something interesting on a regular schedule.
The inspiration wasn't coming.
I looked up from my screen out my window and watched the falling snow, thinking.
I'm a modernist at heart, which means that I use flat roofs quite often in my work. But, when I propose flat roofs to clients here in Maine, it's inevitably met with reticence and lots of questions, “What about snow and water? Don't they leak? How can they possibly support all the weight of the snow? Aren't they're really expensive?”
What if I could develop an Ideabook to answer all of the questions I had ever heard about designing flat roofs in snowy climates? It was timely, it answered a need, and most importantly it spoke about the kind of work that I do (and want to do more of); it was targeted directly at my niche.
A week later the Ideabook was published, ‘Have Your Flat Roof and Your Snow Too‘, and I was busy writing my next Ideabook when the phone rang. It was a Houzz user who had read the article and had been considering flat roofs for a renovation and addition on a property nearby. Her friends had all dissuaded her saying that it wasn't a good idea.
The article made her reconsider.
It provided answers to her concerns and she once again believed she could have modern in Maine.
This was the reason I had signed up for the writing gig in the first place: to have access to a targeted, engaged audience. With 16 million (!) monthly users, residential architecture clients have confirmed Houzz's tagline, that it truly is ‘The New Way to Design Your Home'.
And, for architects, it can also be the new way to market your business.
This client ultimately hired me and we're currently working together on the design for her new (flat-roofed) home. It's a good project and a great client. It's precisely the kind of work I was seeking.
Here on The Business of Architecture, Enoch has always professed the need for a targeted lead generation system. I've put this concept into regular practice on Houzz and in other parts of my business as a way to fill my boards with the right projects – here's three steps to jump start your marketing system.
Step 1. Define Your Target Audience.
Your target audience is simply the group of people who you're looking to work with. Once you know who they are, what they wear, where they live, what they carry around in their pockets and where they spend their time you can craft a message that speaks directly to them.
Define the audience and go where they are.
If you're a residential architect like me, I think it's hard to ignore Houzz.
More specifically, within Houzz, my target audience for the article was those interested in flat roofs in snow country. I'm always looking for clients with modern sensibilities so this story arc dovetailed with both my work and my mission.
I used writing to speak to specific group of people on Houzz. But the concept applies to any method you use to speak to prospective clients – whether its images, sketches, videos or models – anything that fits your brand and speaks to what you do well.
Define the audience and go where there are.
Step 2. Define a Problem They Share.
Once you've defined the target audience, your job becomes (relatively) easy: provide massive value.
But, to do that you first need to define a problem they share. In my case the target audience all had trouble understanding how a flat roof could work in wintry places.
When you're building a business you have quite a bit of convincing to do. Not only do you have to prove that you're an expert worthy of a client's investment but you have to prove that you can provide solutions to their problems.
Providing massive value makes you hard to ignore and the bonus is that you're automatically viewed as the expert when you provide solutions to their problems.
You don't have to know it all to be viewed as an expert either. All it really requires is that you know a little more than your audience. As a trained professional on Houzz I already know quite a bit more than the pool of my prospective clients and the featured Ideabook is a great vehicle for showcasing that expertise.
To begin crafting your message you first need to think about the kinds of questions your target audience will ask. Often the easiest way to do this is by thinking about the objections someone may have to your thesis. This was the way I began thinking about the message in the flat roof example.
I knew people's first reaction was to say, “Flat roofs leak.” Then I went on to answer each one of those objections.
Make a list of the questions that come up most often when working with clients.
As themes emerge from this list of questions you'll build a list of topics to address. It can be on Houzz, like I did, on your own blog, in a video or even on a podcast.
Step 3. Provide a Solution.
Once you've defined the problem and listed the arguments it's your job to provide a solution. In my case I answered each of the objections I outlined. This is actually quite easy to do on Houzz where there are lots of images to choose from to illustrate each point. If you're not on Houzz, record a video or write a blog post.
Providing solutions goes beyond just offering cogent arguments for or against something. If you've positioned your message thoughtfully, your business will be the solution for this targeted group of clients. Bring them back to your platform whether it's your website, your Houzz profile, or your YouTube channel – your home base. Support all of the value you've offered with a strong online presence and give your prospective client a reason to hire you.
One of great things about Houzz is the fact that there's a formula of sorts for making sure you look like a good candidate to a potential client.
It starts with a completed profile. In percentage terms, each of the following is worth a certain amount toward a completed profile:
- Filling out Your Profile Basics (20%)
- Completing Your Contact Info (15%)
- Describing Your Business (10%)
- Uploading 5+ Photos of Your Work (25%)
- Receiving 3+ Reviews (15%)
- Placing a Houzz badge on your Website (15%)
Complete profiles do much of the work clients previously had to do on their own – from vetting you via references to your professional qualifications, and your portfolio of work.
It's all neatly packaged to do the talking for you.
Make your profile as much about your potential client as it is about your business.
Clients will care far more about your ability to solve their problem than your design skills. Answer their tacit objections in your profile, through your reviews and your business description.
More broadly these steps apply to your website, your branding, your social media presence – everything you say and do online should target an audience, solve a problem and offer a solution.
I use Houzz to do this quite effectively, but you can build an audience around a blog, an online training course, or by publishing
books, or video reviews. If you've been smart each piece of content you create will work to bolster your expertise and make the process of a client hiring you inevitable.
For more advanced strategies and ways to use Houzz to market your business be sure to read The Unofficial Guide to Houzz.com: Create a Profile that Resonates with Clients and Outranks Your Competition, available on Amazon.com
Eric Reinholdt is an award-winning architect, dedicated father, mountain climber, guitar player, blogger and author. He is the founder of 30X40 Design Workshop, a residential design studio bordering Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine. This is where he lives and practices in a modern Longhouse, designed by himself with his wife, two boys and one cat. His architecture is simple, modern, site-specific, and craft-driven utilizing local materials and familiar forms juxtaposed against modern, open floor plans with minimalist detailing. It's work that celebrates humble materials, subtle contrasts and finely crafted details.
Eric is also a professional weekly contributor for Houzz.com where he has authored more than 50 Ideabooks published on their homepage and in newsletters to date. He's the author of The Unofficial Guide to Houzz.com: Create a Profile That Resonates with Clients and Outranks Your Competition, available on Amazon.com.
Note: If you leave a review of the book on Amazon.com, Eric will give you a personalized critique of your Houzz.com profile.