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Advice for DesignersSelling Design

You Don’t Suck if you Don’t Book Every Client

By 04/26/2011January 28th, 201717 Comments

‘If you can’t say no to anything then you’re living in scarcity. The universe doesn’t need to be selective with what comes your way because you’ll take anything.’ Source unknown.

In other words, you’re still a rock star (just like my nephew : )

The other day I was following a forum where designers were discussing clients and how to handle the ‘you’re too expensive’ objection. And it was only when I posted my comment on the same thread that I suddenly saw something new about the whole thing.

10 years ago when I started my own design firm, hung my shingle in the yellow pages and received my first phone calls inquiring about my services, I would get so upset when the conversation would end without a confirmed appointment. I’d analyze what I had said or didn’t say 100 different ways to anyone within earshot (you know I have a tortured head).

Then I started working at Benjamin Moore at the retail level and as I gained more experience I started to hear and understand what kept my clients awake at night. Back then, I thought it was my job to close every single customer I spoke to, and I felt like a failure if I didn’t. So I got pretty good at it.

My nephew in Whistler this past Weekend (photos by Maria Killam)

When I left the store to go out on my own (again), I also left behind the stream of consistent leads as well (until I started this blog). This made every phone call I received from the years of referrals I had built, even more important.

Now without an hourly rate set by the store, I struggled with what to charge on my own. I couldn’t charge too little and if my rates were too high I would lose the business.

One day I was having a conversation with another designer friend and I mentioned that whatever rate I was currently quoting, in my head, while on the phone with my potential client, I always thought it should be just a little higher. My friend said something really powerful, “If you are not charging what you feel you should be, then you are not in alignment with your higher self”. I took ‘higher self’ to mean ‘my sense of self worth and the value I provide’.

Not every one that calls you is your customer. If someone calls me and all they really need is colour for their walls, then my rates will probably sound too high.

However, if you are looking to create a look and a feel for your home and need advice on which order to do your renovations, how to mix the dated elements of your home with new finishes or furniture you are buying, as well as which finishes are right for you, and which colour they should be, etc? Then my rates will sound completely fair and reasonable for the value you are receiving in exchange.

Look at that chubby cheek! (photos by Maria Killam)

How do you know if you are charging enough? Well one way to gauge it is this: If you book pretty much every lead you receive? Your rates are too low (maybe). That was what I saw that was new in my obsession to always ‘say the right thing’ and book the consultation.

So if you don’t book every single client, first, you definitely don’t suck and second, don’t take that as a sign to lower your rates. Stay true to yourself and the universe will see that you have room for the clients that really are your customer.

If you would like to Learn to Specify Colour with Confidence™, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:
Negotiating Lessons from Mad Men
Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?
Design Lessons from Elizabeth Stevenson
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  • Kathysue says:

    Great advice Maria!!! We forget they called us!!! for our expertise so we are worth what we charge. I still can't get over sometimes that a client pays me for what is in my brain!! Love it!!! Kathysue

  • Anonymous says:

    Maria – You are truly priceless and I cannot disagree more with your quote; "If someone calls me and all they really need is colour for their walls, then my rates will probably sound too high"

    When I think of the cost of the many paint samples I purchased and poster boards and trips to the paint store its mind boggling. Not to mention, actually painting and entire room only to realize days later, "something is off". If I had just called you from the very first inkling of picking a paint color, I would of actually saved money and more importantly my time! This is why my dear, You Are Priceless! Tracy Nardone

  • Donna says:

    Oh my Maria,
    I pop back in while juggling graduation planning, Tim's boss, etc. ..and there you are–hitting the nail right on the head! How did you know my delimma?
    — I'm not a desiner–I'm a seamstress..but as you know, I just did a job for a customer– the pastor of an extremely wealthy church–a welcome banner.

    He wanted to know what would bump him to the top of my list and I told him money..plain and simple. He's paying me $200.00 but wow–I did way too much driving. But at least I charged a realistic amount-something I thought I deserved.

    I'd decided that if he didn't like the price, then he could hire someone else. I was so sick and tired of doing tons of beautiful work for minimum wage. I don't need him..(i.e. the customer). HE needs ME!

    It was the first time I just quoted what I thought my work was worth, rather than the absolute bare minimum. Heaven forbid, if I was having to depend on my income from this side venture!

    Great advice! (I don't like this once a week posting. Sigh..but I'm so happy to be able to 'be there' for my it's worth it. Wow–I miss you! And your sister Anita. :o)


  • Hi Maria, isn't that true? You are so good at coming right to the point. If you say yes to everyone, something really IS wrong. It takes confidence to say no and move on. And you are right — clients will come to you when you have confidence that you can serve your niche. And you show us that so well 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post Maria – you are the Rockstar of colour and honesty!

  • Loretta Fontaine (APPLESandRUBIES) says:

    Maria– You don't suck when your nephew has such cute chubby cheeks! He's adorable!


  • Glenn says:

    You are right, one should charge what you feel your services are worth.

    There is always balance in life both in color and client pricing. Greed is always the black sheep wanting more and more thus I struggle with this balance.

    Linda Welsford

  • Donna Frasca says:

    (sorry – typo)

    “If you book pretty much every lead you receive” doesn't necessarily mean your rates are too low. It may be that your services are valued and sought after and the educated client realizes that. For the clients that hem and haw about pricing – it's best they don't get booked, it's usually a red flag

    But I agree with you – never lower rates 🙂

  • Luciane at says:

    Good morning, Maria.

    I can't stop smiling! Your nephew is adorable!!!! How cute!!!

    I agree with you 100%. I've just started offering online services and I know I'm asking a very fair price. I think you need to believe that you're worth or nobody will. It's necessary to know how much you can be helpful and know that you deserve to get paid for that. Value yourself… always and in every aspect of your life.

    Have a great day!


    Luciane at

  • Lila says:

    That's almost identical to the lecture I received in business school. It's true, you can say no, and not everyone will be a "closeable" person! You move on and keep doing what you do!
    Lila Ferraro

  • Elara says:

    So true, Maria. Thank you for this. And the pics are truly adorable…

  • cindybarganier says:

    You are exactly right Maria. I used to feel the exact same emotions. Then I matured, got comfortable in my own skin and realized that THE most important decision I made every week was which jobs to say NO to. In our field clients most often become long time ( often life long) friends so it is vital that we feel a connection with each other or this can be a miserable process. My goal is for work to be play and play to be work.

  • Cindy says:

    Yet another well-timed comment! I just said yes to a small project for a past client who "only had "x" to spend". I've been kicking myself ever since and kind of stalling on getting started!

  • Kelly says:

    This is why I am taking your color class Maria! I am now pretty good with colors but after your class I will be a color superstar! haha
    Your nephew is so adorable! No wonder you followed him to Whistler.

  • Linda says:

    I know what you mean…when I started making bags…I wasn't sure what to charge. I probably made like $1 per hour, but I was afaraid to charge more. One day at a craft fair a woman told me I was under selling myself…that if I didn't value myself then how would others value my work…it hit home, but I still have a hard time pricing my work!

  • Peggy and Fritz says:

    This is a GREAT post and can be applied to many businesses. I tell this to my boyfriend all the time in IT. All my friends call him to fix their computers and a few have businesses. It takes up a lot of his time and he always fixes their computers. I said you have to see the value in yourself because he would do it for free UGH! I love this..! Great post.

  • A Delightful Design says:

    Amazing, well written post! I recently removed my rates from my website so that I can raise them. I'm just starting out and I'm so busy that I believe it's time to raise my rates. I find myself saying things in my head like, "you don't pay me enough for that". It's such a learning curve!

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