Q: I am an interior decorating consultant, and my business is way down. I've tried several different ideas to jump-start my bookings, but nothing has worked. Do you have any ideas?

A: Let me take you back in time, when your bookings were at an acceptable level. Answer the following questions:

  1. Where did your customers come from? (Referrals, advertising, networking groups, word-of-mouth?)
  2. What were the demographics of your customers when times were good? (Age, income bracket, neighborhood?)
  3. What services did they purchase from you? (Consulting, personal shopper, furniture design?)

Now, take a minute and list all the ideas that you most recently tried to boost your bookings. Include them all, even the ones that didn't work. Here's a list of activities that will lead you to increased bookings:

1. Carefully examine the services you've been offering customers. Can they be expanded? Consolidated? If you've been offering a full-service interior decorating service, how about expanding your service for clutter-clearing and/or closet design? Or can you offer a lesser service that includes training your clients in certain aspects of what you normally charge for? For example, in place of performing personal shopping, provide a list of your sources along with your contact names, telephone numbers and Web sites. "Bundle" these in a portfolio and charge a nominal fee.

2. Call all your past clients and ask them for the names and telephone numbers of four people they personally know who they feel could use your services. Be totally honest about why you're asking. Try this: "Joan, my business has slowed down considerably. It occurred to me that I've never taken the time to ask you for a few referrals. What four people do you know in your [office, country club, woman's group, family, church, circle of friends] that could use my services?" As Joan gives you the names, write them down. Then ask Joan to tell you about each person. Write this down also. Then ask Joan to call each person and let him or her know that you'll be calling. "Oh, Joan, one last thing..." Now ask Joan and each and every other one of your past customers if they can use any of your revised ideas from the previous step.

3. Recreate each of your most successful services for a different demographic. For example, if you've been serving families relocating or moving up, it may be time to focus on couples or divorced individuals who are moving into a condo or into the urban scene.

It's difficult to use a critical eye to look at what your business has been doing vs. what it's doing now. You may want to recruit someone who's respected in your industry or a friend or family member who can assist you in this process.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.