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.
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.”
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 🙂