I have spoken to many designers over the years who say they can’t charge more than they do because. . . and the reasons are many.
My friend Liz Stevenson had no problem asking for money. I have been very lucky to have a few great mentors in my design career but I learned the most about selling design from Liz. She passed away last year in April but I think about her often and miss her a lot.
She was one of the most generous and charismatic women I have ever known and her clients loved her. I have built my business around the rules I learned from her:
Interior Design by Maria Killam
Always charge for the first consultation.
A lot of designers complain that clients don’t want to pay for the first consultation. They want to see your portfolio first and get a sense of your personality, your style and whether your look is what they are interested in.
The problem with this, is people generally do not value what they get for free. My friends and family take or leave my advice but my paying clients listen and even take notes.
Liz would say “If I come and see you for free that takes me away from work I’m doing for clients who are already paying me. If you have found a designer willing to come for free, then make sure you find out how experienced they really are. If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Adding colour expert to your list of services is also a good way to get paid for the first appointment. This way the client at least has their colours chosen even if they decide not to hire you to decorate or renovate their home
Of course I would recommend my colour workshop to give you the tools to choose colour confidently and accurately. Understanding colour and especially undertones of colour is the most valuable skill you can own. It’s also where you will make the most money because you will be eliminating big mistakes by choosing the right colour fabric/tile/paint in the first place.
And one more thing. The last time I checked, the internet is not going away anytime soon so the sooner you have a website to show potential clients, who want to see your portfolio, the easier it will be for you. It doesn’t need to be filled with a million photos of work you’ve done, but it gives people a sense of your style just like your website will, before you’ve even added any photos.
Cost Plus VS. Retail
Liz did not believe in selling products on a cost plus basis. A designer has too much responsibility on custom pieces to make sometimes 80% less than a retail store would charge. Also what happens when you make a mistake? Mistakes will inevitably happen because designers are human, however, clients do not understand paying for your mistake nor should they be expected to.
Liz always said “I like to make money, not eat it”.
Handling Price Objections
When Liz quoted on a project to design the kitchen and all the millwork for the home of a Costco Executive here in town and presented her fee of $13,000, his immediate reaction was “$13,000!! Why so much?” Liz countered, “Why do I walk into Costco to buy a gallon of milk and walk out with a couch?” He said, “I see your point” and wrote the check.
“Making money is not a dirty word”, Liz would say, “You just need to have confidence in selling your skills and abilities as a designer“.
Once when a client asked Liz if she could see the invoice from the wholesaler, Liz responded:
“When Costco or Louis Vuitton or any other retail store starts showing their wholesale prices on the tag along with the retail price, that’s when I’ll do the same. At some point you need to decide that I’m the designer who is going to give you the look and feel that you want and everything you buy from me you’ll get at a fair retail price. Be more concerned that I’ll still be in business 5 years from now when you need me to design your next home, or solve a quality issue rather than how much money I’m making.”
Quality control is Important
When a client came to Liz and said “We found a better price for the cabinetry but we want you to do the rest” this was her response. “I have no problem with that, however, I do not supervise, babysit, bitch at them [to produce the result] nor is my fee for completion jeopardized because you went somewhere else.
All kitchens are not built the same, all issues are not always the same, so quality control and liaison between all the subs and trades is my responsibility. I have clout with certain cabinet companies, they understand and acknowledge my level of quality and that is what my client gets. If you wish to go elsewhere, no problem, but you lose the right to complain to me when they are not what you wanted, took way too long, can’t deal with them or anything else that made you think that it was worth going for $1,000 less in a bid.”
Even though that might seem a little harsh, she was able to say it in a way that still got her the job. Liz called everyone ‘darling’ and was booked months in advance.
The Faster you Specialize the more Money you will Make
Liz charged $2,000 for a complete kitchen design. When a client asked how long it took she said “17 years and as long as it takes me”. She was so busy with work that many times she would actually design the kitchen and pull together all the finishes 2 hours before the clients arrived for the first presentation. How could she possibly do it that fast you ask? Her office was filled with tile samples, granite, flooring, all carefully hand picked and often refreshed as she made the rounds to showrooms and met with salespeople. Liz won awards for her tile specifications and layouts.
To succeed in Design especially if you are self-employed, you must have Chutzpah (maybe)
Liz had plenty of the “I’m going to be successful no matter what” kind of personality and drive. Most of all she was totally likeable and that is the one thing you must have in order to convince people that you are the designer that will change the way your clients live, forever.
What are you worth? Do you think your rates should be higher than they are?