One of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs in the specialised services industry is how to commodotise their offering. Doing so allows them to extend their earning potential beyond the number of hours they can bill, but when the services you provide rely on your personal expertise and hands-on involvement, it can be tricky.
That said, solutions can be found if you employ a bit of lateral thinking. Just ask Jennifer Jones, interior designer, who worked on her own for years. “I’d built up a good base of clients and the business ticked over nicely, but I always came up against the same problem – to earn more money I’d have to service more clients, and I didn’t have the time to do that,”
The puzzle was solved when she read an article in a decor magazine about an online interior decorating service. It was a lightbulb moment. “I thought, That’s It! It was possible to turn my expertise into a commodity that didn’t need to be linked to me being at a client’s premises and doing everything in such a hands-on and time consuming way. Offering my services online would mean I’d have to tweak the delivery method and pricing, but I would extend my market considerably,” she explains, “The lower cost and the fact that proximity to me is not necessary means more people can have access to a well laid out interior.”
Getting the model right
Interior decorating might sound like an odd bedfellow for the internet. What about the unavoidable tactile aspects of the business – the look and feel of fabrics and colours, the ‘eye’ of the
decorator, the ‘energy’ of a room? Jones’ answer was to devise a model that would provide a slightly different service offering to the one she provides when she works with a client in their home.
She knew from years of experience in the industry that clients struggle with a few common problems when it comes to decorating their homes – and she based her web model on addressing these. “Most people know what style they like but they battle to get the layout of the room, furniture size, room function, colour palette and orientation right. These things come easily to me and I can help them address these problems with some key information,” she explains.
The result was the Design A Room webpage, where clients provide Jones with some key information that allows her to give them a decor solution for real rooms in their homes, according to their needs and tastes – all at a fraction of the price they would ordinarily pay for an interior decorator to come to their home.
How it works
The system is designed to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. The site takes users through easy-to-follow steps, as Jones illustrates, “They check out the style preferences page which shows examples of a range of different decor styles, to see which one resonnates best with their taste. Then they fill out a comprehensive 20 item online questionnaire that provides me with all the detail I need including what function they need the room fill, how many people will typically use it, if it needs to be pet friendly, the type of flooring, colours and fabrics they love and hate and, importantly, their budget. These are all the questions I typically ask my face-to-face clients.”
The next step is to send through eight photos of the room (four walls and four corners), room measurements and a hand-drawn floor plan, giving Jones all the information she needs to work
She’s diversified the offering into three different Design A Room options, which clients can choose according to their needs and budget. “This model is designed to be completely flexible. It allows people to mix and match which options they want, or choose all three,” she says. A tailor-made room layout gives them a detailed floor plan and the size and position of each piece of furniture, along with images of items of furniture and decor as examples. These are selected according to the style choice of the client and allows them to go out and source similar pieces.
If they’d rather not do the sourcing themselves, they can pay for actual furniture selections which they can buy from selected suppliers directly. Finally, the colour scheme option couriers paint and flooring swatches and fabric samples to the client’s home or area, allowing them to order the fabrics they like through the website.
While Jones will continue to service clients on a face-to-face basis, Design A Room offers an attractive alternative income stream with excellent growth potential.
Design A Room
Player: Jennifer Jones
Contact: +27 (0)82 883 0131