Have You Fallen Into This Trap?
I suspect everyone has had the following situation happen to them at one time or another, and I think it is time to take a good look at this all-too-common disaster. This is a true story that a designer shared with me.
I am going to call her Mary (not her real name.) Mary received a call from a potential client asking about design help for her home. Mary spoke with her for a few minutes and was happy to set up an appointment to see the house. She assured the potential client that there was no charge for this initial appointment. This all seems rather ordinary, don’t you think? Mary went to the appointment, met the homeowner and determined that she liked the client and the house. Mary immediately had a lot of ideas and shared one or two for the great room. The client was excited, so they spent more time looking at the rest of the house. Mary shared a lot of ideas about what could be done with the spaces and the homeowner was definitely enthusiastic. Mary felt that she hit it off with this potential client and that this could be a good job for her.
Mary, very happy with the potential client’s friendly enthusiasm, left without discussing how she gets paid. She did not set an appointment for the following day to come back with a Letter of Agreement for her services. The homeowner said that she needs to talk to her husband about the plans and ideas, and said she would get back to Mary.
Several days passed and the homeowner didn’t call. Mary decided to follow up on the job with a phone call. She was able to reach the homeowner, who happily told her that she loved all of Mary’s ideas so much that her friend, who is a “designer,” is helping her get it all done! Mary is understandably upset, but what is going on here?
Is Mary attracting “bad” clients who take advantage of her? Perhaps, but if Mary didn’t take the time to educate her potential client about how design services work and how they are paid for, how is the client supposed to know she cannot just take Mary’s ideas and run with them?
Are clients supposed to take care of and look out for us? I don’t think so. So what really happened here? Could it be that Mary does not quite believe that her design practice is really a business? Or is it possible that Mary is uncomfortable talking about money and her worth, so she just avoids the subject whenever possible? Why is Mary giving away her valuable and hard-earned knowledge? Does she subconsciously think that because a potential client asked her for something, she must give it? Or does she believe that if she freely “gives” the client will hire her? Sound familiar? Have you ever fallen into this trap?
Tip #1 - Find the belief in yourself that is causing this situation. Take a look around at your family and friends. Is there someone who has told you that your design business is not a “real business” or that you are not capable of making good money? It could also be something from the past or a current situation that is creating this belief. Remember: A belief is not necessarily the truth… you have just been assuming that it is. When you identify the “culprit belief,” you can replace it with an affirmation that supports the person that you want to be, and the growth that you want to experience.
Tip #2 - Make a decision. Make a clear and irrevocable decision that this is indeed a business! Decide that you are going to treat it as a business from this day forward, and that you will never wavier from that decision. The definition of a business is an enterprise that makes money. If you call a plumbing business and ask for help with your leaky sink, they will send a plumber to your house. They will tell you clearly and up front that he costs $62.50 per hour, starting from when he leaves the shop to drive to your home.
We, as consumers, are not surprised, and expect to pay for his services. By the same token, clients don’t expect our services to be free. We have created this scenario ourselves out of shaky self-esteem and fear of speaking of our own worth.
Tip #1 - Decide that you are running a business, and in order to be a business you must charge money for your services. Bonus Tip: (The truth is, we all love to design so much that we would do it for free.) DO NOT LET THE CLIENT KNOW THIS!
Tip #2 - Write a service menu for your business. A written list of your services and what you charge is very important. Write this menu as if someone else (like an employee) is going to be talking to potential clients about you and they will be needing clear information. Now post this menu on the wall behind the phone so you remember what to say next time you have a call.
Tip #3 - Get absolutely clear before your house calls. Do not go out on a house call without being totally clear ahead of time (with yourself and your client) about what you are going to charge, what you are going to do, and what you are going to give them. If new clients want to hear your ideas, explain to them what it will cost for a 1-hour “Brain Drain.” Tell them to have all their questions on a yellow pad and be ready to write because there will be a lot of information.
FYI... I charge double time for a 1-hour consult. I present the bill when I walk in, and take a check with me when I leave (just like the plumber.) If this turns into a good design job, I will credit this amount to the Letter of Agreement for design time. If the design request call is about working on a project together, the initial house call can be at no charge to the potential client. You must be crystal clear on the phone with your potential client that this meeting is for you to understand the scope of the project and for both you and the client to see if you like each other and want to work together.
Tip #4 - DO NOT walk into a potential client’s house and solve all her design problems in 45 minutes, even if you can. Don’t give her an answer for everything and don’t tell her everything you know. From her viewpoint, if it is that easy, why should she hire you? Talk about money and be sure to develop a budget with her to see if it really is a design job for you. Save your big ideas for when you are hired.
Tip #5 - An initial meeting for a design job is not actually free. It’s just that you are not collecting for the service at the time you complete it. You must recapture those hours spent in your Letter of Agreement since you did spend programming time on the client.
Terri Taylor, IDS Professional, ASID, IIDA, IFDA, is President and Creative Director of Taylor Design Group and Design Biz Blueprint. She is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer at design conferences and interior design colleges throughout the country. She speaks on a number of topics related to the business of interior design, including: business practices, sales, marketing, motivation, leadership, success and personal growth.
Ms. Taylor is nationally known as an interior design business expert and coach who teaches and mentors interior designers to help them create successful design businesses.