The visual web is on the rise and businesses are seeing the bigger picture. Image sharing has exploded on Pinterest and Instagram. One small business owner has had great success using Pinterest as a client communications tool.

Kirsten Thoft is an architect based in Princeton, New Jersey. She’s developed a reputation for clean lines and tasteful materials, and does minimal advertising as word of mouth keeps the clients coming. While she has both residential and commercial jobs, she is finding that Pinterest works remarkably well for home construction and renovation.

“The first time I heard about Pinterest was at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association Conference in March 2012. One of the workshops offered was about apps for architects and builders. They mentioned Pinterest, but I didn’t look at it. I didn’t know what it was or how to use it.”

Fast forward about 14 months. I spent an afternoon at Thoft’s newly constructed home in Princeton. She designed and decorated the house, and it was breathtaking. I posted images of Thoft’s home on Pinterest and noticed that the pins were being widely shared. I got right on it, suggesting that given the popularity of the pins, Thoft should seriously consider using Pinterest as a marketing tool, posting pictures of her work and linking the images back to her website.

Thoft built on that initial suggestion. “I had the idea to use Pinterest as a way to assemble fixtures and finishes and create a visual dialogue with clients.” Not only does Pinterest function as a basic marketing tool, as many companies have already discovered, but for many professions, Pinterest becomes a disruptive client communication tool.

For years, Thoft’s primary tools were scissors, paper catalogs and magazines. She had shelves full of binders, and her office floors were often covered with clippings as she rearranged pictures of tiles, fabrics and paint chips for placement in client albums. She had to lug the binders to the clients, and the whole process was totally inefficient. Duplication of images was yet another level of involvement.

“With Pinterest, I have a dialogue with clients. There’s a lot of back and forth using the comments function. Clients can also pin items to their boards.”

Even though Pinterest solves one problem by creating a vibrant visual conversation, there are shortcomings. For example, Thoft builds secret boards for clients to keep information confidential, and Pinterest allows only three secret boards per account. Her workaround is to operate multiple Pinterest accounts. That gets complicated. “And there is no way of having a hierarchy of stuff,” she adds. “I delete things as I go along.” It is not possible to arrange images in any order except temporally. Thoft cannot say, “These are your three best options,” adding them to the top of the board. She only recently discovered that she can use hashtags to categorize pins, but it’s not possible to cross reference images, sharing them on several boards at once. “It falls a little short in business use,” she says, but adds, “It is cool enough and compelling enough that I am using it all the time.”

Her public boards now behave like a catalog. She has separate sections for plumbing and lighting, for example.

“There is a whole contingent of women who are nuts over Pinterest. I mentioned to one client that if she found things she liked, she could start a Pinterest board. Her husband rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t talk to her. She has hundreds of boards.’ Pinterest works with these clients.”

Her advice to fellow architects and designers: know your client, and use Pinterest with the right demographic. Any business that has a visual component should be on Pinterest now. And if you think about it, any business that produces a product is eligible. That probably includes you.