Mary Jo Major on Building Relationships with Interior Designers

I am so pleased to finally be posting this article written by Mary Jo Major. I had a great discussion with Mary Jo last year about our backgrounds in interior design and art. Mary Jo is an artist and an NCIDQ certified Interior Designer who sells her own artwork and online interior design services. She is passionate about helping people fall in love with original art, and incorporate it into their homes. You can see more via her Instagram hashtag #designshouldstartwithart . 

Mary Jo wants to help artists like you understand how to approach and build relationships with Interior Designers in a meaningful way, so that you can connect with them and find homes for your work that resonates with their clients' and designs. Read below for her insightful and thoughtful tactical tips. Thank you, Mary Jo!

 Mary Jo Major. Photo Credit: Ashley Sellner

Mary Jo Major. Photo Credit: Ashley Sellner

 Seasonal Grapefruit, original art by Mary Jo Major.

Seasonal Grapefruit, original art by Mary Jo Major.

We all want to sell more art. Through social media. Through art galleries. Through art crawls and festivals. Through friends (and friends of friends).

But if we’re honest, it’s difficult to perpetually juggle selling art with making art, not to mention continuing to prioritize relationships with our families and friends. The struggle to balance is why we love this blog so much - because it celebrates even squeezing in 5 minutes to create art. 

I’m right there with you. But not only do I understand, I also know the flip side. The side that wants to BUY your art.

I’m a certified interior design and an artist, so I know what it’s like to try to find an audience to buy your art. But I also know what it’s like to scour Etsy, to hunt and hunt for the perfect piece to put in your client’s home before getting frustrated because you feel like there is this treasure trove of artists that you just can’t seem to tap into.

My goal is to give you 6 ways to build real relationships with designers, inviting them to join your “fan club” and put your work in their clients’ homes.

  Allison Bloom  is a great example of a designer who loves to use art in her designs and desires for the art to be a statement in the room,  Photo and information link here.

Allison Bloom is a great example of a designer who loves to use art in her designs and desires for the art to be a statement in the room, Photo and information link here.

First, do a little homework.

Research a few local designers who are successful in your area. They don’t have to be “big”, but should have an ongoing stream of clients. Your list can also include smaller interior boutique shops. They may have a design team they use for their clients, and being friends with them is always a good thing. (TIP: Look through their portfolio. Do they use a lot of artwork in their designs? Those are the ones you want to make sure you remember.)

How do you get in touch with interior designers? How do you get “in” with them?

Take a step back and think about if there was someone who wanted to meet you? You might want to meet them, but because you don’t really know them, you might also be hesitant. Asking a designer out for coffee might not get a response...

1.     Follow them on Social Media

Social media is amazing! It’s designed for connection. By commenting, messaging and posting relevant content you’re starting a conversation where you know they’re already reading. Part of getting to know someone is seeing what they are posting/doing. Social media can make it easy to see if they’re attending event in your area. If they are plan on going (so you can meet them in person!). AND, you can see who they are following- designers follow designers :)

2.     Comment on their work

Designers know when someone is trying to sell them something because they do it all the time. However, if there isn’t a relationship (or in some designer’s minds a “what’s in it for me”) you won’t get as far. This is where interacting is important. Signing up for their newsletters, commenting on their blog or their IG photo, can give you one more layer of a relationship with them. Do they interact with people the most on Snapchat? Do they comment to every blog post or IG photo? If they have a “favorite” in the world of social media, make sure that’s where you initiate interacting.

3.     Promote them

I have been able to capture the attention of a number of other designers because when they start to see I’m not all about me. Promoting interior designers (particularly when they have art in the design) is most effective on Instagram where you can repost a photo that you love from their feed (and tagging them in it). Sharing one of their blog posts or recent projects with your following can also be a way to do this.

4.     Send them a personal invite to your art opening

This may just be for those of us that are a part of galleries. However, if you are posting a bunch of new work soon, this is the same thing. You can send them a note about it telling that you hope they get a chance to look at your new work. Also, a handwritten note on pretty stationery always gets attention (remember, designers like pretty things, so if you send them something, make sure it’s pretty!)

5.     Bring your business cards

If you are going to an event where you know designers are going to be (which might be anywhere, I know), bring your business cards. Having a tangible reminder of you is one of the best marketing pieces you could give them. It’s going to help them remember who you are and your website (ESPECIALLY if your website is different than your name).

6.     Give them a piece of art 

I know this option is gutsy. As an artist, I have a lot of different pieces. Sometimes they are little doodles. Sometimes they are small studies. Sometimes they are complex abstract mixed media pieces. I am not suggesting that you give away your $1,200 piece that you spent 3 weeks on. I am suggesting that if you have a small piece that you don’t care much about (and you like) that you send them to it as a gift. This may sound crazy, but I GUARANTEE that it will make them think about you and probably want to meet you or talk with you (which is your end goal). And, who wouldn’t want a piece of art?!

  Erin Williamson  is an Austin interior designer who has consistently used artwork in her designs and I appreciate that she doesn’t always pick “trendy art” if you know what I mean :)  Link to photo and design information here.

Erin Williamson is an Austin interior designer who has consistently used artwork in her designs and I appreciate that she doesn’t always pick “trendy art” if you know what I mean :) Link to photo and design information here.

Remember, all of these secrets are ways for interior designers to get to know you. However, a relationship doesn’t form overnight. It can take time. If a designer starts to like you, they will look at what you’re doing and the more you build a relationship, the more your work is going to be in their mental forefront.

Interior designers can also be funny. Like artists, they can be eccentric, snobby, and a little “crazy” (even though I think all creatives have to be!). That being said, there are some other small tips I have when working with a designer:

  • Respond within 24 hours to an email or phone call that any designer gives you.

I know that may sound intense, but designers are going to look at you like a vendor. A typical vendor tries to get back with designers as quickly as possible because they know if they wait they might lose the sale. I have worked with artists in the past who didn’t get back with me and because of the timeline of my client, I had to select another piece from another artist. I understand life gets busy, but a simple note letting them know you received their message and you’ll be back with them shortly goes a long way.

  • Always package your work.

Not only does it make you look professional but it also gives the impression that your work is quality and should be treated with care. If you’re like me, you have canvases stacked up, drawings piled up and nothing really looks like it’s super “nice” if it’s in your studio. But if you were going to buy a high end piece of furniture from a boutique and they delivered it in the back seat of a car without any sort of moving blanket, bubble wrap or special wrapping, you might start to feel like you paid too much if it’s being handled like that.

  • Dress like you’re trying to impress.

Keep in mind that designers are judged off of their appearances. And because they are in sales they’re trained to “figure people out” quickly to sell to each personality. You don’t need to go out and buy a new outfit or wear the latest trend in shoes, you just need to look more polished than you would on a normal basis. Especially if they want you to meet their client! The more put together you look, the better impression it gives the client and then reflects back on you.

  • Be on time.

I am TERRIBLE at this, but keep in mind designers charge by the hour. So if you’re 15 minutes late, that’s on avg. $30 of their time. That’s enough for 7 lattes or a small canvas. I don’t want you to feel guilty (because we always feel guilty about running late), but I do want you to be aware of how they handle their time. And I’m pretty sure you’ll earn extra brownie points if you are on time, too :)

  • Don’t sell yourself short.

Just because they are a designer doesn’t mean you need to give them 40% off your work. You can give them what a gallery would give- 10-20% off the piece. I say that because I know that artists can have a hard time charging for their work and when you are wanting an “in” with a designer you can want to give them your work for free.

Note: Some designers aren’t very nice and think that they are too good for anything. If you have that experience with one of them, just brush it off and keep going. This happened to me a few months ago and instead of “unfollowing” them or even sending them some hate email, I just moved on. It can be hard to feel rejected, but you probably wouldn’t want to work with someone like that anyways :)

 Angie Hranowski not only uses tons of great art in her designs, but she also sits on the board of the  Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art , so you know she is a fan!  Link to photo and information.

Angie Hranowski not only uses tons of great art in her designs, but she also sits on the board of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, so you know she is a fan! Link to photo and information.

Our purpose behind selling art is rooted in a desire to live off of our work and to be able to create what we want within our own schedules. Interior designers want the same thing. I know that they may seem intimidating, but they really are people just like us.

My hope is that you have a better idea about how to interact and get to know designers so that they can know about your work and sell to their client.

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