I mentor young designers who are just starting out as design business owners, and one common problem that they all seem to encounter, and have issues overcoming, is dealing with clients who are not willing to pay them what they deserve for the service they provide.
Believe me, it is more rampant than you may think. Especially for younger designers who aren't quite as confident yet.
It is common knowledge in our industry that we as designers constantly have to justify our fees to clients, and often get rejections for what we charge. It does not seem to be the case with other service professionals like a CPA, or attorney, or esthetician, or hairdresser....it's usually reserved for design professionals.
Why do you think that is? I know! People still think that interior design is an unnecessary luxury, or it is something they can do themselves, so why pay high fees. While I don't have any issues explaining my fees to a client, and breaking it down in the name of transparency, I decided to write this post to help educate consumers about just what they are paying for. Maybe that will shed some light on our value to a project, and take some of the mystery out of working with a design professional.
Before I get to that, I want anyone who may object to what designers charge to stop and think for a second - put yourselves in our shoes. This is a job for us too; just like you have a job and expect to be adequately compensated for the work you do, and the time you put into it. This is how we feed our families, how we pay our mortgages, pay the car note, buy the groceries, put the kids through school, get the oil change, get the kids a haircut......you name it! Our design fees pay our salaries so we can do the same things you get to do. Most of us are self employed with staff, so that adds another layer - pay rent for a studio space, pay utilities, pay insurance, pay employees' salaries, taxes, buy new business software, continuing education, attend events, attend markets etc. Everything has a cost associated with it. Once you begin to understand that we have expenses and obligations like everyone else, you will understand why as professionals we charge a fee to bring you the best service and products.
And speaking of the service.......that is ultimately what you are paying for when you hire an interior designer. Our job is to present you with our best and unique ideas, resources, products you have never seen before - all customized for you, and manage every detail to get it from the before to the after you dreamed of. There is a lot that goes on from that initial meeting to your home to when you walk into a completed and beautiful space at the end of the process. It is not only time that goes into this process, but expertise, experience, knowledge, resources, problem-solving, ingenuity, out-of-the-box thinking, sleepless nights, conflict resolution.....A LOT!
I know designers who are barely making ends meet. They are hardworking, they care about their clients, they do their best work and they don't complain. But if they are not very strong at doing business, they often get steamrolled by clients. They end up working several more hours than they are billing for - avoiding the hard conversations that we must have to set clients' expectations from the beginning. I can assure you that often than not, when you get a bill from your designer for X hours, they probably worked double those hours. You see, most of us want to do a good job and be liked by our clients. We want repeat business, good reviews and referrals, so we will look at a bill before we send it out and reduce the total because we don't want to upset our client, or get the angry phone call or deal with confrontation. We allow the scope of work to creep way past what the client is paying for without saying a word to the client. We give away our profit margins on products because we want our clients to have that nice sofa or whatever. We are nurturers by nature and we want our clients to have a good experience working with us. This is the reality of the life of a lot of interior designers I know. I was there too, and I had to take a long hard look at the way I was doing business several years ago, and make some changes.
The changes I made ensured that I was getting paid for the work I do, therefore I don't get resentful of my clients. I welcome added scope of work. My billing method makes things clear and easy for both myself and my clients (Future blog post so please subscribe). I ensure that I make a good profit margin on the products I sell, while offering my clients a great discount for their loyalty. This way we are both happy in the end. It doesn't work if the client gets everything they want and the designer walks away broken and resentful. There is a happy medium, and as a consumer, you want to work with a designer that is well compensated. You want to work with a designer who has a honest conversation with you about fees and budgets and not be afraid to have the real money conversations. A big part of our relationship has to do with money, so why dance around the subject? A designer that is open and transparent about every aspect of the project, including the money part, will have more energy and positivity going into your project.
I wrote a series of five posts on the blog about how we work here at Casa Vilora Interiors. You can find links to these articles below. But let me give you a breakdown of a typical project for an interior designer and hopefully you will see what you are really paying for when you hire an interior designer
-We meet with you in your home for an initial consultation. We ask for a fee for this and we provide tons of value in return. Onsite, we discuss some of our great ideas, concepts and direction for your project. We help you to see things that you may not have thought about in a million years. Just in those two hours, we are pulling from years of experience and tapping into resources to bring you that space that you could only dream about previously. We help you establish a budget and we educate you on the process
-We spend several hours putting together a Fee Proposal for your project. We don't charge for this, but it is a very necessary part of the process. This is a detailed document that outlines the project scope and a breakdown of estimated fees and the timeframe we expect to complete your project. This document is a binding contract and it governs the relationship between both parties.
-We meet in your home with our trades people to take measurements, plot ideas, brainstorm concepts and dream big about your project. In most cases, our trades have been with us for a long time. It is a part of the value and resources that we bring to you so you don't have to go out there looking for trades people and interviewing them yourself. While you ultimately get to decide which trades you want to work with, we have done all the vetting and have experience working with our team and that streamlines the process for you. If you choose to work with our trades, we coordinate all site visits and installations, provide them with what they need to get the job done right, and be the point person so you can get on with your life
-We provide all the visuals so you will see our great ideas from the beginning. We spend a considerable amount of time putting together your design. Creating scaled floor plans and elevations, coordinating color palettes, specifying furniture, lighting, accessories, accents. Design custom drapery, custom upholstery and soft goods, curating artwork and antiques. We don't just run out to the big box store around the corner for the products we specify, we have relationships with hundreds of to-the-trade vendors and we take pride in curating pieces that are not readily available on the open market. This brings a superior level of customization, quality, and unique treasures. We know what products are ideal for your lifestyle needs. If you have kids and pets, we know what fabrics to bring in that will hold up to their demands. We familiarize ourselves with your expectations on how products will wear over time, and manage your expectations in that regard. We take the time to learn about the products that we introduce to you to ensure they work for your lifestyle
We create hundreds of purchase orders to place orders for all the products involved and pieces needed for creating the custom items. We cross reference all these orders with acknowledgements from vendors to ensure that everything is accounted for. One product may have several PO's associated with it, so this is a very detailed process. We manage backorders and items that are discontinued. Reselect items as needed. Track items each week to ensure things are on track. Coordinate their delivery to our warehouse in Houston. Work with our warehouse staff on items that arrive damaged. Items arrive damaged more often than clients realize. Our warehouse staff is great at spotting even the minor dings. We file claims for items to be replaced immediately, and for minor dings, we work with a local artisan to do custom touchups. All the products are wrapped carefully and stored until installation day. We wait for everything to arrive before scheduling install day.
-We make site visits to ensure that our designs are being carried out the way they should. We have conversations with each trade to make sure they have a good understanding of the drawings and specifications they are given. For example, we meet with the painter at the beginning of the project to get their estimate, we then provide them with the Paint Worksheet, which tells them what colors go where and what sheen. Then on the first day of painting, with worksheet in hand, we are there to verify everything was purchased correctly, and discuss details about the application of the paint. We leave nothing to assumptions. Same for the tile setter, the electrician, the plumber. All parties involved all get to see us on the first day of install to discuss the details and answer questions.
-We provide at least once per week updates to you on the progress of the project. We take care of any minor issues that come up that won't cause delays or impact the budget. Those minor details would cause stress to a client, so we usually resolve them and then make you aware of it. On bigger issues, we always have a resolution before we make the call to you. It sometimes requires a decision from you, but we will always guide you into making the right decision. Our promise to our clients is that we make their lives easier, therefore we handle the problem solving. This includes dealing with trades people, handling damaged items, coordinating schedules and handling delays, dealing with vendors, discontinued items, back orders etc. I often tell my clients that design is not that pretty behind the scenes. A lot of "not so pretty" has to happen first.
-A smooth installation day is always our goal, and we have it down to science at this point. Before we get to the big day, we typically have custom window treatments installed. Custom drapery requires attention to detail and finessing. We design every detail, from the right treatment to address the aesthetic and functional needs, to the right fabrics; keeping sun exposure in mind, and the right hardware. We make visits to the workroom on any custom draperies to make sure things are going smoothly with our design. We do the same for custom upholstery locally made or reupholstered, custom framing of artwork and photography. We are onsite, along with our seamstress for the duration of drapery installation day.
To prepare for the big day, we go out shopping locally the day before for additional small styling items, and load up the car. On the morning of installation, we are shopping for flowers and fruits which are things we love to add to our finished spaces. We cross check to make sure all items have arrived, and everything is finished and ready to go. It is a huge undertaking to coordinate everyone involved; even for a one room installation. The warehouse is given a list of everything to be delivered. The delivery crew is trained to carefully pack and remove items and place them carefully in your home. The art installer is also there to hang all artwork. Installation day can seem chaotic because of all the tiny details that we must bring together for that magazine worthy finish, so having a great team is paramount. A lot of styling and tweaking is followed by the big reveal. The moment we worked so hard for.
-The reveal is still not the end. We allow you to walk through the space where we familiarize you with the products, how to operate certain things, any warrantees involved and how to care for the items. We let you live with your new space for a few days and then follow up to see if there is anything that we missed , or any flaws that need to be addressed. We make a punchlist and then coordinate with our trades to return to cure the deficiencies in a timely manner. Thankfully, this doesn't happen very often, but we make sure that we have these services available to our clients.
I know I have said a lot, but this is just a snippet of what designers do for you. Several hours go into each task mentioned above, and then some. Several people are deployed to get things done. At Casa Vilora Interiors, our clients literally do not have to lift a finger during this process. They simply make some style decisions in the beginning, with our guidance, and then like magic a beautiful space appears.
So if you are considering working with an interior designer, be sure to ask him or her, what they really do for you, and believe them when they tell you that while we strive for beautiful and glamorous spaces, the process to getting there for us is anything but. We happily take on every part of the project - the good, and the not so good, because we gave you our word, and we want an amazing outcome just like you do!
Book your consultation with us to discuss how we can help you achieve your beautiful new space
Check out the following blog posts for more details on how we work: