What We Learned When We Shut Down Half the eDesign Department

Many of my eDesign packages are now available again. But first, here’s what we learned about eDesign when we had to make our packages unavailable, and how it makes working with me even better!

Good news! We have opened up almost all the smaller eDesign packages for sale again! Buy them now before they are sold out again.

During COVID, because I’m one of very few designers promising accurate colour advice online, our eDesign sales tripled.

 We were so busy, we could not keep up and deliver our promised turnaround times so I marked them sold out.

We needed to streamline our processes fast, and here’s what we’ve learned from the past few months:

Time consuming beginnings

First, let’s go back and talk about how I scaled my eDesign business from doing individual, one on one phone consultations, which I conducted for years online.

Within a year of starting this blog (back in October 2008) clients from all over North America (and other parts of the world) would ask for my online rates.

I would individually, one at a time, email them a two page document that outlined how much it was, how to take photos and where to send them, etc. 

And, I would always send a PayPal invoice which was payable in advance of the consultation.

Every time I would get a question after I sent the rate sheet, I would simply add it, along with the answer, to the document. It took the better part of a year for that document to be so thorough that I stopped receiving follow up questions.

In the end it was seven pages long.

Then my client would book time with me, pay in advance, send me all the information, as in photos taken without a flash and in good natural light, and we’d do the consultation over the phone, from anywhere in the world.

The pressure to help more clients more efficiently

I did it this way for about six years and all the while, trying to figure out how to scale it so that it wasn’t ALL ME, exchanging time for money.

I observed other designers who were sending out fancy boxes with their specifications and samples inside all wrapped up with a signature ribbon. But I knew that wouldn’t work for me given I’m in Canada and most of my clients are in the US. Shipping would take longer and it costs a lot more here.

I just kept thinking, “There must be an easier way.”

Plus, I wasn’t asking for measurements or designing kitchen or bathroom layouts or managing project details. 

People came to me (and are still coming to me) for my classic and timeless style, and colour expertise. 

Because if you want the most timeless and accurate colour advice for everything from paint, to hardwood flooring, to windows, shutters, countertops? That’s where I can help.

An embarrassing story and an epiphany

Then one day, after a very embarrassing consultation, I had an epiphany.

I had agreed to do a last minute consultation on a Saturday morning. As an aside, anytime I have agreed to help someone with a last minute, emergency consultation, it almost NEVER goes well. They are stressed, over budget, short on time and well, that’s when I’ve learned the most about WHAT NOT TO DO.

And one strict policy we now have is we do not take last minute consultations. When you buy an eDesign consultation, it takes 5-7 days, or 10-12 business days, or whatever it is (depending on the size), no exceptions.

Anyway back to my embarrassing story

It was Saturday morning, and this last minute exterior consultation was over in about 20 minutes. That’s how long it usually took anyway to select exterior colours. Once you have 20 years experience, you know instantly what colour will look best.

Normally, I would then make small talk for another half an hour to fill the rest of the appointment, since most people equate time with value. Even though, the more experience you have, the less time it takes. This is another reason why experienced design help is expensive. 

My favourite story to illustrate this even further was my designer friend Liz Stevenson (who sadly passed away). She ran a design/build firm with her husband. When she was asked how much she charged for a kitchen design and finish specifications (at the time she charged $2500) and sometimes the client would reply, “$2500… wow, that’s a lot of money! How long does that take?”

And, Liz’s response was “17 years and as long as it takes me.”

Here’s more designer advice: More Time Does not Always Equal More Magical Colour Advice

Frankly, the longer your designer takes to choose your exterior colours, the more confused she/he is about what colour would work in the first place. That’s why I created my Masterclass for Choosing Exterior Colour.

And, exteriors are generally more straightforward anyway. You need a body colour, trim, shutters, front door… and done.

So many clients look for my help with their exteriors BECAUSE they have existing stone or brick that simply needs the best neutral that will work with it and they are not sure which colour will make it look the best. 

Anyway, I finished up my emergency consultation, and then after a quick call with my sister Elizabeth, I picked up my phone and walked into the back door of the house from the studio.

Terreeia’s office is on the other side of the house so as I walked into the house, I announced –loud enough for her to hear me– “I love exterior consultations, they are so easy!” Then, I heard a noise and much to my horror, I looked down at my phone and realized I had accidentally pocket called my client back. Yes, she heard me say that. 

Needless to say, she never paid me for that consultation.

After that, I realized I could handle exterior projects strictly through email. And given they took less time than interior consultations, as much as I love chatting with clients, it would be a better use of my time.

The birth of my eDesign process

Instead of making a phone appointment, I would send out a questionnaire and then compile a powerpoint presentation with my advice outlined in chronological order. 

If you are a designer who’s thinking about offering eDesign services, you need to figure out the best way that will work for you and it might not be exactly the way I’m doing it.

Because the challenge of offering design via email is that not only do you have to know instantly exactly what can be done to create magic with new paint colours or new finishes, but you must be able to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely in a written format. All the while you must simultaneously frame your advice in a convincing way, and that means anticipating objections as you write.

And we continue to evolve our processes. Our eDesign presentations have come a looooong way from what they looked like five years ago!

And every time we get questions or objections that were clearly not handled properly in the initial consultation, we add a new slide that demonstrates it better for the next client.

Because it’s true. The same types of objections and questions tend to arise over and over. And typically, it’s because the client is missing some key insight that can be succinctly illustrated with a slide, an image and a link to a blog post I’ve written.

To be clear, every single consultation goes through and is approved by me. My team helps assemble my colour advice in a concise and organized way. And frankly, that’s the most time consuming part. 

Want to know which exteriors are the most challenging?

The exteriors where there ARE no fixed elements that dictate the paint colour.

When you have existing stone or brick, the best colour/s that would work AND give you a timeless and classic look are usually only one or two choices. You’re lucky if you even have a third choice.

But that’s not the hard part (certainly not for me anyway).

When the sky is the limit and the house can be any colour, that’s where the options become many, and the selection process becomes much more subjective. And that’s when people question my advice the most. It’s when my clients have the hardest time making up their minds.

Let me explain

Years ago, when I first learned how to choose colour through in-person consultations, whenever we’d get to the master bedroom (which is usually the most neglected room in the entire home) my clients would happily announce, “In THIS room, we can do whatever we want” because we change out our duvet all the time.

Well, that’s the room that took the longest.

Why?

Because I was basically Vanna at that point.

Holding up large paint sample after paint sample hoping one of them would jump out and say, “Pick me, pick me.”

source

Then AFTER ALL THAT, I would come back to the paint store and assemble my clients colour chart. Then, once the couple came in to pick up their recommendations, I noticed they would often wander back to the colourizer to look at alternate colours for their MASTER bedroom.

Why? Because the colours we had chosen in their home, didn’t relate to anything.

Now when someone tells me they have a blank slate in their bedroom, I open up my laptop and go straight to potterybarn.com or Ballard Designs. Did you know you can even choose from 355 fabrics for a custom duvet from Ballard? It’s better to start with direction from a pattern they love that makes the right colour obvious.

Anyway, are you still tracking with me?

The house with nothing fixed on it (or the room with no inspiration) to help you choose a colour will hurt your head the most.

That’s when, if you don’t have a clear idea of WHICH colour you’d like to see, you’ll need to simply search exterior colours online (so many of them can be found this way now), until you find a house with a colour you like.

Because of the feedback and questions we’ve received from clients who do have homes with a blank slate, we now include this slide in our presentation:

The most important lesson of shutting down half the eDesign department.

Initially to grow this department, we split everything up so you could buy it a la carte. In other words, if you strictly needed a trim colour for your house, you could buy the trim colour package.

We also sold a hard finish package. So if you needed to choose a tile for your kitchen, you could purchase that individually.

Then, a couple years ago, we included custom add-ons when you bought the paint colour consultation. For example, you could add a carpet and pillow combination since, in my experience, these critical items in decor are usually missing.

But then, as I said, during COVID, because we were so busy, we had to shut down half the department.

And suddenly, from doing this, we noticed something.

The job became easier. The customer service department was not nearly as overwhelmed with questions asking which package was best. It became much more simple and straightforward.

Because when we had the smaller packages available with all the various add-ons, instead of a client simply buying the comprehensive Create a Classic Bathroom eDesign package, which is REALLY what they needed, they would purchase a single hard finish package with a few add ons. Basically they would send in the countertop they had already chosen (but had not paid for design help with), and if it was the wrong countertop, we ended up often throwing in bonus advice called, “That is not the correct countertop, here is the right one.”

Occasionally clients would try to make up their own packages or send lengthy emails about their project without selecting a package. It definitely wasn’t a good use of my team’s time when it often required a 20 minute response to properly answer the question and several more back and forth emails… before a purchase was made. Making our smaller packages the most time consuming. 

Bottom line, we found that when my clients bought the bigger packages, they were much happier with the advice, because it was a more complete picture with all things considered – not cobbled together with pieces missing from the smaller, cheaper packages. 

In other words, not only is this more efficient for us to help the client, but (and more importantly) the client gets the best and most comprehensive design advice possible.

And, now that we’ve opened up most of our offerings, you can again get simple paint colour advice!

If you have been waiting for my eDesign packages to open up again, you’ll notice they have been revised to better serve you! You can see all the packages here.

Hey, tell me an embarrassing story so I don’t feel alone here 🙂

Related posts:

How to Sell Interior Design

How I Became a True Expert

Third Rule of Design: Expensive Does NOT Equal Timeless

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  1. Love your openness and insights on colour but also on running a business.
    You weren’t able to help us when we redid a small room off the kitchen. We had to work with your ebooks and they really helped!

  2. Maria, thank you for sharing this information. After 1 year of trying to pick the “right” beige, I contacted you to pick one for me. I wish I had known about you at the beginning of that year. Ok, here’s my embarrassing story. I am a retired Physical Therapist. My patient was sitting on her bed with an extra johnny gown thrown over her shoulders. I had her get up and said let’s do some exercises while you hold onto the sink. She grabbed the edge of the sink with her left hand. I say, ok, now grab the other side of the sink with your right hand. At which point, she told me she did not have a right hand….

  3. Best advice, ever. As ever, you give so much. Thank you.

    Must have been the day. Something ‘off’. Thinking, and even mentioning ‘easy money’.

    Too many years I know you to be, “I just changed their life, I just made them HAPPY.” That is you Maria. Keep her always. She’s precious abiding grace. BTW, have my fair share ‘off’. Thank you for the unintended lesson, too.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

    • Hi Tara, to be clear, and I’m not trying to hide that at all–I am VERY interested in making money because then I can share and take care of the people whom I love, my Mom for starters. I don’t think money is a dirty word at all! Thanks for your comment! Maria

    • It’s money well spent, imo! Imagine if you make a mistake in choosing your colour yourself — it would cost a lot more than $300 to fix it.

      • I appreciate hearing another designer with the same struggles. People seem to not value our advice until they have made the wrong decision. Pricing is the hardest thing for me to figure out as well. Sometimes you feel as if it was easy money, since being able to see color is “easy” once your trained to see it, but sometimes you feel like you are being squeezed for all the information you know and should have charged triple for the seemingly same appointment! To be honest, it seems most of the time I feel we give much more help and time for free than for money. I just try to remember those times when someone is saying we charge too much. One thing always leads to another conversation and that is not always part of the deal but is included. I have learned so much from you and appreciate you helping everyone with better understanding color!

        • Maria what I love about you is your down to earth responses and your generosity. Of course we are all in business to make money. There is no shame there! The nice thing about our business is that we so love what we do and know that it is easy to give free information.
          I like the way you have made things simple. You are a good business woman also! Keep up just being you!

  4. Oh, man, I would totally do something like that. My most embarrassing moment was when someone at work criticized a colleague who had just confided in me that she was pregnant. I began to defend her and somehow my face and my “she’s got a lot going on” totally gave the pregnancy away and it got back to her in a flash. I apologized and of course, I couldn’t tell her what happened, that she was being criticized. So it seemed even worse than it was. I still cringe and that baby is now in school.

    I’m so glad the paint packages are open. I’ve been reading your blog obsessively lately as we have been looking for a new house, so now I know why colors often look wrong. I feel like nothing I’ve ever read on color theory makes sense, but your blog posts do.

    We finally decided to rent for a year, so hello apartment white. I hope the packages will be available when we buy next year and you can help me find a perfect greige paint that doesn’t fight with my husband’s sage green easy chair.

  5. My most embarrassing story happened over 40 years ago when I was working my first job at age 15. Along with a friend of mine, we had a summer job as motel maids. We were just moving along room to room, always knocking first and waiting for an answer or not before entering, when we opened the door to find a naked couple having sex. We shut that door fast, lol. I’m not sure they even knew we opened their door.

  6. Oh my gosh, you are a goldmine of information on design AND business. I learn something from you every time I read you. THANK YOU!

  7. Christine Mueller

    In a new build, when would we get you involved? All I soon will have are construction plans, floor plan, everything is on paper the only pictures would be of the lot.

  8. I love when you share your “oops” moments and your business growing pains – it’s not all wine and roses! Makes the rest of us feel more normal.
    Ok – my embarrassing moment: I met with new clients at their home for an initial consultation. They were a very interesting couple – a little quirky and it was actually funny the way they spoke to each other and interacted – sort of childish, yet they were middle-aged. And their home needed A LOT of help – it was a mess (actually dirty) with stuff stacked everywhere! My business partner sent an email to them (Cc: me) apologizing that she was not able to make it to the consultation. I replied to her with an honest, unfiltered summary of my meeting…how funny and weird they were, what a disaster their home was, etc. My moment of sheer embarrassment was when I realized I had accidentally hit “reply all”!!!! The clients saw all my comments about them. I apologized profusely and offered complimentary time. They were very gracious and we did assist them via email with a few things, but they never asked us back or hired us for the job. 😐 Lesson learned – always take time with emails and triple check the distribution!

  9. When I did a phone consult with you years ago, I sent you fabric samples. And they ariived with a postal bill 🤦🏻‍♀️. Because I was clueless about mailing to Canada. It was so embarrassing!

  10. Thank you for the words about the master bedroom. Mine stresses me out because I really want COLOR but I’m learning that I probably need to make the walls a super neutral like BM Ballet White or SW Neutral Ground. I need someone to “give me permission” to paint it a boring neutral lol! I live in an area with what I call bipolar seasons and add bipolar master bedroom. The summers are super hot/humid like in the tropics. From Nov-mid March its cold, ice and just gray, gray, gray. My bedroom has windows that face the east (hence the bipolar lighting). I change the bedding for summer/winter. The colors that look great in 98 degree and 90% humidity look cold and uninviting when it’s gray and the UV is a 1 if we’re lucky. That’s why I need someone to give me permission to paint a boring neutral. What can I say?

  11. It seems that when people are building a house, they should decide on a color pallet they love ahead of time for the whole house – both interior and exterior. That way, they won’t be pulled in so many directions.

  12. Narrowing down my services to packages was a game changer for me too! Now clients can read through the packages and select the one that best fits their goals, needs and budget. Glad it is working for your clients too (and streamlining your business processes too).

    And, I’ll put in a plug for the color boards here too because when I do an in-person consultation they are the tool that help me quickly and accurately choose the color(s) to specify!

  13. Thanks for sharing your experiences! In addition to being an excellent post, the photo of you looks fantastic!