Updated: Dec 10, 2018
Recently a few of my designer buddies and I were discussing some of the common misconceptions we hear quite frequently about interior design - How consumers perceive us as designers, and the process to working with us. The general consensus was that consumers are somewhat confused; not due to their own fault, but because 1) most designers do not give consumers a glimpse behind the curtains and 2) the popularity of reality shows sometimes cast an unrealistic view about what we do.
I decided to take to the blog to shed some light on our processes here at Casa Vilora and help answer any questions or clear up any confusion. If you have ever wondered what is involved with working with a designer, especially us, or are on the verge of hiring one, or you are just curious, this is a great way to find out more about what is involved (at least from our point of view).
Because there is a lot of information to go over, I will be writing about this in several posts over the next few weeks.
Here at Casa Vilora Interiors, we believe in transparency. We follow a proven 11 step process with each project we taken on - whether big or small. You can learn more about our process here
Every project we take on starts with an initial phone conversation. This is an important step where the prospective client and I are "interviewing" each other to see if we might be a good fit before we decide to have a face to face meeting. As much as we would love to take on every project for every client who calls us, it is not always possible due to scheduling, the type of project, the time-frame etc. This phone conversation lasts for about 30 minutes, and during this time we discuss the project briefly, discuss needs, and I briefly go over our process. By the end of the conversation, the prospective client and I have a pretty good handle on what the project entails. Once we have determined that we are a good fit, the next step is the in-home consultation.
Our in-home consultation is up to two hours and is an intensive session where we tour the home, and provide ideas for layouts, furniture, fabrics, window treatments, color palettes etc. We bring value to our client during the consultation; providing a lot of information customized for the space along with tips and resources. Because we block out this time on our calendar to travel to the client's home and provide them with valuable information, we do charge for our consultations, and payment is required at least one day before the appointment to confirm it on our schedule.
Sometimes we get this question: "Why is there are a charge for the consultation?" And the simple answer is that we are providing our clients with value and solutions to their needs. We certainly can't possibly design a whole house in 2 hours, but the information we provide is actionable and is a great start to the project. Clients can take the information we provide and either do the work themselves, or they will have a pretty good idea of what we will bring to the table once they hire us to complete the project.
The consultation is definitely a great way to meet and greet the client, build rapport and learn all about their dreams and desires for their home, as well as getting to know the space first hand. There is nothing better than standing in the space and the amazing ideas are overflowing in your head. But make no mistake that it is a business meeting where we are selling ourselves as the design professional we are. Those overflowing ideas I mentioned earlier, should be communicated to the client, because after all, that is the reason they invited you to their home. It is our time to shine and prove to our client that we know our stuff. It confirms what they have already discovered about us through their research, and believe me - they have done their research - especially when there is a charge upfront.
There are designers who do free initial in-home consultations - in fact, I did for many years until I finally realized that it was completely the wrong way to start a relationship with a client, and it really didn't benefit the client or provide any real value. How can free be a bad thing you may ask? Just hear me out. There are a few reasons why free consultations are not ideal:
Withholding The Good Stuff - When designers do free consultations, they are well aware that they are making a time sacrifice. They do so with the hope that they will be hired for the job. They usually do not spend more than one hour, and it is typically just gathering information and taking measurements in order to provide a quote. They typically will be tight-lipped with their ideas because they have not yet been hired or paid, and they know that they are probably just one of a few designers the client is interviewing. No payment for these designers means they are not willing to give up any real ideas. Basically, they withhold the good stuff at the appointment when this should be their moment to shine. Therefore the client spent an hour of their time with a designer without receiving any real value in return.
There is no perceived value in the eyes of the client - Think about it for a second, the famous adage "you get what you pay for" is not lost in this scenario. It is a fact that in most cases if we haven't paid for something, it is hard to see that there is indeed value. When we haven't made a financial investment in something, it is not necessarily something we value. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in general it holds true. When I used to do free consultations, there were times I would arrive at the client's home and they were not home, or they are just waking up from a nap because they forgot about our meeting, even though my policy was always to send out an email reminder the day before the appointment. There are stories I could tell about similar situations, but I won't get into that now. Because they did not make an investment and a commitment to the process, they did not see any value in my time.Time that I could have spent doing something more productive. I was very fortunate to have wonderful clients who respected my time for the most part. And the fact that I do charge now means that I get even more quality clients who are serious and ready to work with a professional.
You probably will not appear to be a professional if you are not charging for your time - Let's face it, most professionals charge for their time, and a premium fee if they are great at what they do and their services are in high demand. Lawyers, CPA's, doctors, life coaches, architects, handymen, electricians, plumbers; they all charge for their initial meetings. It is just a given and consumers have come to expect that. Why are they OK with paying? Because they are aware that these professionals provide services that they cannot do for themselves. Nobody tries to be a DIY lawyer or doctor. It is actually funny saying that. But the fact that people tend to think that doing the work of a designer is something that they can DIY, they don't see the service as that of a professional and don't value it as much. They feel they can probably do their own kitchen remodel, so why should they pay for a designer's time. Reality shows on TV, Pinterest, Houzz and DIY blogs have given consumers the impression that decorating and even remodeling is easy and that has a lot to do with why we are expected to do free consultations. We are literally competing with our own clients.
Consumers don't always understand the financial and time investment that we have made into our careers - Designers go through years of education before they venture out into starting a business. This education is very expensive. Some designers are licensed, which means they have to sit the NCIDQ which is a very difficult and expensive exam to acquire licensing. We are also required to maintain our status by completing a certain amount of CEU's (continuing education units) to keep up with new trends, technology, codes etc. We have to set up a business structure, sometimes taking on the overhead costs of a studio or office space outside of the home, maintain a website and social media, photography of our work, purchase samples to maintain a decent library for clients, pay a staff, buy software to illustrate our ideas to clients, being a part of organizations to help us grow professionally (which are not cheap), networking (which can also be very expensive), setting up accounts with premier vendors and maintaining minimum order requirements, advertising to gain new business and the cost involved with traveling to and from clients' homes (fuel and wear and tear). Just this past month, I have spent over $2500 on new software, advertising and networking, and not to mention the number of hours I have spent learning new software and programs. This all benefits my clients because it makes the process of hiring me efficient, and cost-effective and I do it happily.
So you can see that there are very good reasons why we charge for our time from the very beginning. The bottom line is that time is money for us designers, just like it is for anyone else. We have families to support, kids to put through school, mortgages and bills to pay - just like anyone else. I was scared to death when I first decided that it was time to start charging for my initial consultations, increasing my fees and collecting payments in advance. I was almost certain that I would lose clients and go out of business. But I knew that if I didn't value myself as a professional, no one would. I was determined to take the fear out of running my business and be confident that I am a professional and have a lot to offer. Much to my surprise, that decision proved to be the turning point for my business. I was booking more clients than ever, so obviously I had made the right choice.
We include a lot of pricing information and how we do business on our website to make sure clients get acquainted with us even before calling. It is a part of our commitment to running our business with transparency and integrity. By the time clients call us, they have already checked out the website and are almost certain they want to hire us. Our website is a great place to start to get to know us. Clients like to start with our portfolio to get a good feel of what we can do for them
As a final note, charging appropriately for my services has done wonders for my career - not just monetarily, but it has actually built my confidence and has made me a better designer. It was easy to feel resentment in the past when there were days where I didn't feel valued. And that can really do a number on your confidence and motivation. I am more dedicated to my career than I have ever been and my great clients get the benefit of a dedicated professional with years of experience who is eager to far surpass their expectations.
Interested in talking to us about your next project? Head to our website where you can now schedule and pay for your initial consultation. Click here. Once we receive confirmation of a payment, we will call you to discuss and to confirm. Of course you can call us first to discuss your project. Read more about how we work and more about our consultations. You may also want to check out our FAQ's page for more info
Come back next week for Part II in this series "The Designer/Client Agreement"
See you then!
Wishing You Beauty and Inspiration!