You’re a designer because you love to design. You step into an empty space and imagine its story unfold as you transform it piece by piece for your design client. This antique chair HAS to live in this space, and just envision the entire room covered in sisal wallpaper! But reality of the situation is that your client is not a designer. What they’re thinking goes more along the lines of: Will I like it and is it going to be worth my money?
Your work as a designer is intangible, and it’s difficult for people to understand the value of something that they can’t immediately see, touch, and feel. It can also feel awkward putting a figure on your own worth. While we love to focus on the creative process here at the Kuotes, you’re running a business, so today we’re talking about the right way to discuss your rates with clients and demystify the design process so you can make a deal.
1. Never Talk Rates with your Client at the Initial Consult
During an initial consult, your client is going to be at their most vulnerable. The goal of an initial consult isn’t to make a transaction, it’s to meet the client and get to know them, inspire them, connect with them, and gain their trust. This is why you should never charge for your initial consultation and never bring up your fees unless they specifically ask. See if your sense of aesthetic and workflow mesh well.
It’s okay to bring up budget so you can get an idea of what you’ll be working with, but your personal rates can wait. It’s also a good idea to give design advice during your consultation. Obviously you can’t spec’ furniture or draw out a plan without payment, but providing free general design advice will demonstrate your ability and make your fees more understandable when it’s time to talk money.
2. Assess if the Client is Right for You
If budget is an issue, your client may be focused on getting the best deal. Redirect them so they begin to focus on getting the best designer. If your client is looking for a modern-Scandinavian, budget-friendly living room and your projects are mostly high-end coastal homes, there’s going to be an obvious problem. Don’t be afraid to turn down a client, and if you can, refer them to a designer who may better serve their design needs. If you find yourself having to convince your client that you’re right for them…you may not be the right fit.
3. Speak About The Needs of the Client First
Your initial client meeting should be all about gauging the scope of the project. What are your client’s needs, and how do you envision designing their space to fulfill those needs? If the client asks about cost, you can then give a them a broad idea without going into specifics—because chances are, if you help your client rethink the space in a way they haven’t considered, there’s a good chance they’ll hire you. Other things to cover on your first meeting: design style, how they’re going to use the space, and any special requests or needs.
4. Make Cost the First Topic of Your Follow Up with Your Client
If we’re advising not to broach your fees and rates during your initial consult, then when should you bring it up? In an ideal situation, it should be the first topic of discussion in your second meeting or follow up. At this point, you should know that you and your client will work well together.
Try this phrase: “Here are the rates for my services and the contract I need you to sign, and then we can get to all of the fun stuff and start designing!” By addressing payment upfront, you’re 1) getting that uncomfortable conversation out of the way and 2) demonstrating your commitment to the project and your eagerness to move forward.
5. Discuss Cost Face-to-Face with Your Client
Or at least over the phone. Nothing feels more corporate or impersonal than an email asking for payment (or worse, an invoice with no context). When you put your cost in an email, you’re taking away the client’s power to negotiate or feel like they have a say in what they’re paying. While you should always stick to your fees (see the next tip!), the cost conversation should be presented as a dialogue. It’ll provide your client with a more personal experience and allow them to trust you more with your design decisions.
6. Stick To Your Design Fees with Every Client
If this is your client’s first time hiring an interior designer, they might seemed shocked by your design fees. You have to understand their reaction from an outsider’s perspective. They don’t realize all of the time and hard work that goes into interior design. Take the time to explain to them how your role is more than just picking out paint colors and fabric swatches. A house with furniture is a product. A home crafted by a designer to fit your needs and personality is a process. That’s what they’re paying you for. Stay true to your design fees and believe in what you’re worth. Once word gets around that you charged one client lesser than another, your business loses its credibility.
7. Explain Every Charge to Your Client & Provide Examples
A few rare clients may not care too much about cost, but most people want to know exactly what they’re paying for, as they should. No one wants to pay for something if they don’t know what they’re getting in return. Bring in examples of your previous design work. Provide samples so clients can experience the look and quality of the product you’re spec’ing for them.
Explain the line items on your invoice, markups on furniture, and ask if they have any questions. For example, the Kathy Kuo Home design team doesn’t charge for an over-the-phone consultation, but we do charge on the physical in person consultation since we actually measure, video, and do actual work on the site visit. When you make design decisions, make sure to carefully explain the rationale behind it and point out details your client may not be able to recognize themselves. It may seem obvious, but it makes all the difference.
Kathy Kuo Home To The Trade
Are you an interior designer or architect? We want to work with you through our Trade program! From custom solutions to swatch sampling and volume requests, our trade specialists are here to help you with all of your design needs–from helping you order from the best brands in the industry, to assisting with 3D visualization. Receive a competitive no-minimum trade discount on all orders. Plus, unlock deeper savings as you spend with our tiered pricing program. Plus, you become eligible to have your work featured on our blog!