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A Mini Rant About The Leads Platform That Rhymes With Blouse & 3 Reasons Why We Charge a Consultation Fee

As I am writing this headline, I thought to myself, "hmmmm, this could not be the first time I am writing about why we charge a consultation fee", and of course, searched through my many past blog posts and found this gem here and this one here. I am sure there is more.


I didn't read them back so a few things may be different since they were both written a while ago.



Bold wallpaper in dining room
A Vignette In A Multi-Functional Dining Room

I told myself not to get too preachy in this post, because quite honestly I don't understand why it is necessary to even have to write this post, but it seems that many people out there still don't get it. I mean, how many people go to work and not expect to get paid? Ok, #nopreaching





Late last year, I decided to rejoin a certain homeowners lead generation platform that rhymes with Blouse, that I left a while back due to their unscrupulous behavior towards the designers on the platform. I decided to take my personal feelings about how they treated designers out of it and look at it as a business move since a lot of homeowners use it to connect with designers for their home renovation projects.


They charge a hefty fee to receive these leads I must add, but again, my business mind always looks for the value and never what I have to spend to get said value.


Mind you, I have built my entire business not ever using the word "lead".


I don't see clients as leads generally, as that feels so faceless and impersonal, and in my firm, my team knows to refer to them as "potential clients or prospective clients". A lot more words, but using the word client means that we are working towards that goal and starting the work to earn their trust from the beginning.





I was pleasantly surprised to see how many "leads" I was receiving in such a short time after rejoining the platform, and so I would excitedly call them to discuss their projects.


Then I started to see a pattern emerging. Most of the leads would not even pick up the phone. I get it, they are likely inundated with phone calls from other designers on the platform - I am sure I am not the only one receiving the same leads.


So I would send an email introducing our firm and what we are about, and inviting the lead to schedule a free discovery call with me.




No answer.


Ok.


Then I would follow up again.


Still no answer.


Mind you, most of these leads have actually explored my profile, selected a few photos that speak to them from my gallery, and chose to reach out to me.


About 30% of the time, someone will answer the phone. I always identify who I am, and ask if it is a good time to talk - some will say no, some will say yes.


After being in business for over 18 years, I know how to talk to a prospective client on the phone. I know how to get them excited about the potential for their project. And 9 out of 10 times I can hear it in their voices when I do speak to them how excited they are. I know I have answered their questions, and even answered the questions they didn't even know they had.


I got this!





We would then inevitably get to the next step, which is scheduling an in-home consultation. I only offer this if I believe that our firm is a good fit for their project scope. We are a multi-disciplinary design firm, so often times we are a good fit for them. We've also done a good job of filtering out the types of projects that we don't take on, so the leads we get usually have a scope that is right within our wheelhouse.


Then I would explain what is involved in the in-home consultation. Then I would mention the consultation fee.




You can hear a pin drop once that's mentioned.


Some will ask what it's for, which I am always very transparent about and will happily explain without hesitation.


Some will literally ask (after a 20 minute conversation), "Who are you again? Send me your portfolio link". Huhhh??!!


This is because they have sent messages to so many designers on the platform they cannot keep track of who is who.


Some will book the consultation, which an invoice is sent right after we wrap up the call and the fee is payable anytime within 24 hours of the appointment.



Bookcase styling
Veronica Solomon Posed Infront Of A Bookcase Of Books And Treasures


Since rejoining the platform, only two people have actually paid the consultation fee of maybe 60 to 70 leads or more that I have received.


It makes me wonder.





In all my years of requiring a consultation fee for the initial in-home visit, I have never really gotten anyone pushback, let alone a whole platform of people. So what is the difference here? Why does it seem to be a trend on this platform?


Well, I am not naive - the platform, maybe not outrightly, invite people to try before they buy. Shop around a bit. Squeeze and knock the melon and put it back on the pile in the supermarket. It's a numbers game and they know each designer they speak to is just one of many anxious to be awarded their project.


They may not think about it directly, but I am sure they know the competitive nature of leads platforms and they feel empowered as the consumer that a bunch of professionals vie for their project. They feel they get to determine their terms and name their price. This is further encouraged by professionals on the platform who break their own policies by devaluing themselves to compete.


I kinda get it - in tough economic times sometimes businesses have to do things a bit differently and be a bit more flexible.


For our firm it usually means that it is time to innovate and double down on what's working. Not throw out the rule book that has served us well in prosperous times.


Unlike the prospective clients that have flocked to my business in the last several years, these leads typically have not taken the time to research our firm, explore our website copy, our portfolio and about us and who we serve or our process. They have not fallen in love with our work and they have not narrowed down the designers who they feel would be a good fit for them.


They are lazy shopping (not saying they themselves are lazy) and they are not spending much time on research.


Often times, the cost is the deciding factor.


That should never be the only deciding factor. Of course, it should be weighed as well, but what the people of this platform should realize is that this is a big investment and they will be spending a lot of time and energy with the designer they choose. Research is necessary!





But I do respect that they are consumers and they have the right to shop as they see fit.


Maybe it's the platform that should do some elevating of the professionals who have made them who they are. They have built what is worth billions of dollars off the backs and work of designers, and to this day still don't show the respect we deserve, even after the huge ugly scandals a few years back.


Of course, it goes without saying that the designers on the platform have the responsibility to elevate their profiles and stand out amongst the crowd, but I think there is a general pattern of behavior that consumers are encouraged to have with these lead platforms, and all the lead generation platforms seem to have this in common. I am particularly ranting on this one - you know - the one that rhymes with blouse, because they have done a great job of elevating themselves as the authority - dominating in Google and other search engine results, where they are the first to pop up in every market where a search is made for any home related service. With their millions of dollars behind them, they have done a great job of out-competing the very professionals who made them who they are.


Why are these consumers so much different than the ones who take the time to research our firm and willingly pay our consultation fee? Certainly the ones who research want to get the best bang for their buck too. But why do they so easily see the value in hiring a professional and paying for that professional's time and knowledge when the people of the lead generation platforms cannot.


I am throwing it back to the platforms.





I am unwavering in my belief that I should charge for consultations, and it is for many reasons - many more than three. I value myself, my skills and what I bring to the table, and I know a project only gets better because of my involvement.


Imagine, if I was to leave my office and go out on free consultations all day everyday. I wouldn't have time to work on the projects that actually pay the bills.


But I digress.



A vignette with fresh florals in a blue and white chinoiserie vase
A Vignette From Our Showhouse Space - Baton Rouge, Louisiana


This was the long route to get to the three reasons why we charge a consultation fee, so clearly the rant was important to me too. I had to get it off my chest!





I suppose after building a strong brand and reputation in my community I have served for the last 18 years, this post is more of me being a mouthpiece for the newer designers that I mentor. That I see experience this time and time again. But I experience the same thing too, so I know firsthand, and it just makes me wonder.






Ok, the three reasons why I charge a consultation fee:


Reason #1


Safety


I was going to list this as reason number three, even though the list is in no particular order, but I realize that safety is actually the most important thing.


Many people don't think about the fact that we are actually showing up to the home of a perfect stranger, not knowing anything about them other than what they have shown us online or in that brief 30 minute conversation of the discovery call. You can say that we are risking our personal safety by doing so. Of course we take precautions as much as we can, but it is a risk none-the-less.


Requiring a fee paid in advance is not 100% going to keep us safe from a maniac, but I imagine that anyone with ill-intentions will likely not go through the trouble of paying me $600 when they can just move on to the next victim for free (God forbids).


While we believe in beauty, kindness and love, we know there are people out there that you don't want to be in their home alone with them.


Reason #2


I spill the beans.


There is apparently a group of designers out there who still go to consultations free of charge. My understanding is that they do this to have a competitive edge - attracting leads who are not that eager to pay for a designer to get into their car, drive to their location and give them advice and guidance for at least an hour.


They tend to see the consultation more as a gathering of information meeting and they don't plan to give out any design advice or guidance. So, basically, when they leave your home, you are no more knowledgeable about the process than before they got there; after spending an hour or more.


Because providing design solutions, coming up grand ideas and educating clients is like second nature to me, I just cannot help myself. I literally would not know how to stand in a space and have brilliant ideas of how to improve it and solve design challenges and not rattle them off.


As the expert in the room, I act like the expert in the room. I don't like wasting people's time, and any client who has gone through the effort of researching our firm and express interest in working with us to resolve a design challenge, actually wants to know that I know what I am talking about. The consultation is the best opportunity for me to do that prior to being hired. Why wouldn't I show up ready to work with my best ideas?


My goal is to make sure the client is much more knowledgeable about the process to hiring us, has some direction of where to go with their project, get some solid advice, have a good idea of what it could cost, what resources would be good for them, what steps to take, what the scope should be, what to start with first, how long it could take, how to ensure a sound investment, how to prepare for their project and soooooo much more.


I spill all the beans - making sure the client gets the value out of their time and fee paid.


This is not even counting the fact that I left my office, where I am working on money producing projects/activities to lend my brain to the prospective client for 2 hours. I am going to work. People who go to work absolutely should be paid.





Reason #3


It's a sign of how the client views us


There are all kinds of clients in the world, and certainly we know that we are not for everyone.


The way the client sees you and your team will often decide the outcome of a project. A difficult client or one that sees no value in paying for time that benefits them is often clients who don't trust the process and don't know how to let go and let the professional do their job.


If you start a design project with a client who says no to paying for a designer's time to visit their home to provide them with value, there is a strong likelihood that the project will go off the rails, and we prefer not to work with clients where things start off that way.


If we can agree that I am an expert and a professional who will bring you value for your project; which is what you are likely looking for and why you would want me in your home to begin with, can we also agree that it is worth paying for?


That payment is a factor in deciding if we will take on a project, and it is not about the money. $600 for a consultation fee really doesn't make or break our firm as any significant income. It is what that fee represents that we are after. To us, it is a sign of a client who is invested in us helping them realize their vision for their home, as we are in them. We bring our "A" game to every project and we pour our all into them, and we certainly like to work with clients who see that, appreciate that and will happily compensate us.





Of course, we know that at the end of the day it is sales, and prospective clients have choices, and because we recognize this, we have spent years building up the infrastructure to gain a prospective client's trust from the onset. That way we are not wasting their time, and certainly don't want them to waste ours. We want clients to take a look at us - on social media, on our website and learn right away if they want to move to the next stage with us. The next stage is the discovery call. If we do well at that stage, we expect that the next step is a serious client who is ready to dig deeper into how we can work together - and at the very least have a good solid path and direction for their project, should they decide not to hire us.


And when I say we have built the infrastructure, I mean that we have spent a lot of time and even more money investing on our branding, service offerings, resources, relationships, education, team building; all of which will richly benefit and enhance a project.



Dining room with wallpaper and custom upholstered chairs
Katy Texas Dining Room


So for now, we are maintaining our presence on this leads platform, but we are sleeping with one eye open with them.


Since they dominate Google and other search engine results, it makes sense to stay on the platform for now.





We have been working on optimizing our profile without giving them too many of our great photos, which they apparently own and can do as they please with them once they are uploaded to their platform.


One thing we are sorely lacking are 5- star reviews. We have a few, and on that platform, and in search engines in general, reviews carry a lot of weight. If you are reading this post, and you have worked with us, or have a some good history with our firm, please consider writing us a 5-star review.




A Google 5-star review carries even more weight, so please consider reviewing us there as well.




Thanks for taking the time to read through this long rant. It is something that has been on my mind for a while, and I am glad I got it off my chest.


I know that this could ruffle a few feathers, but I am sharing my perspective.


Chime in!


Have you had a less than stellar experience with this platform? I'd love to hear


Have you had a bad experience with this leads platform?

  • 0%Yes

  • 0%No



We are currently offering a special promotion to our subscribers who may be in the throes of a major build or remodeling project. Check it out HERE


Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!


Veronica





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