Demand for design services is up, but at present we are not seeing an expansion in design fees. Clients are still being careful about how they spend their money. They also have become accustomed to demanding more for less and to doing their own online comparison shopping. Unless you are in high demand, chances are very good you are spending a fair amount of time negotiating with clients over fees, purchases, expenses and such.
Negotiation is a skill that comes with practice. Even the best negotiators continue to learn with each encounter. Whether you consider yourself a skilled negotiator or dread the thought of having to negotiate, I want to recommend to you an outstanding blog post on negotiation for the Harvard Business Review by Michael Wheeler, a professor at the Harvard Business School. He makes the point that negotiation is art that requires both flexibility and finesse: “You can’t script negotiation. Instead, you need a supple strategy you can adapt to the situation at hand.”
No matter how well you prepare, says Wheeler, you never know what the other party may say or how you are to interpret what they say. You have to be ready to adapt to any possibility. At the same time, you don’t want to be buffeted about by the other party’s maneuvers. Focus on where you want to get to, rather than on how you are going to get there.
Let’s be clear. Bargaining is a type of negotiation, but negotiation is not merely bargaining. Your goal is not to try to determine what the client has in mind as their highest lowest price. You want to sound out the client as to how they perceive your value and where they are willing to make trade-offs. You both are starting out with a set of assumptions, mostly unspoken. The negotiation conversation is about bringing those assumptions into the light and then arriving at a mutual decision about what you both can live with. This requires compromise, not caving in.
Having clear in your own mind what is negotiable and what is not will help alleviate some of the stress of negotiating. And if at all possible, make sure you allow sufficient time and that the meeting takes place in a comfortable setting. Finally, and most important, keep in mind that as long as you are willing to walk away from a bad situation you always are negotiating from a position of strength. Never compromise your professional integrity.
Two heads are better than one, right? So ten heads must be five times better! That’s the idea behind crowdsourcing. The more input, the more ideas you get, the more likely you are to find the best solution. It’s an approach that has worked well in some fields, and now some intrepid entrepreneurs are applying it to interior design.
Websites like Decorilla, CoContest and Arcbazar invite prospective clients to submit their project request, which they then send out to a network of “qualified” designers and decorators, who either bid or compete for the projects. The client gets back several proposals, from which they can pick and choose, if they like. Sort of like those websites that help you find the best price for your car insurance. Sounds ideal, no? The client experiences less wear and tear and pays much less than for customized design services.
Of course, designers have long known the value of gathering different perspectives on a project. That’s why they are trained in charrettes and pull their teams together to review proposals and plans. In a way these sites are offering the average consumer the opportunity to participate in a kind of RFP process that commercial architects and designers compete in all the time.
So should you be worried? No. The individuals who use these sites are not your clients. Most of these sites, in fact, advertise themselves as alternatives to consumers who do not have the resources to pay for professional design services. They are another rung on the DYI food chain that runs from tips in the home and garden media to design-it-yourself software and smartphone apps to home improvement store workshops. In the end, the consumer receives a concept or plan. They still have to purchase the products and materials, hire a contractor or tradespeople and manage the project. Certainly, these sites provide value for consumers who have no idea where to begin, but they are no substitute for personalized, customized professional design services, like yours.
Crowdsourcing has its uses, but does anyone really think “Starry Night” would have been better if Van Gogh had asked a group of fellow artists for their ideas and sketches?
Many designers have expressed to me their frustration with potential clients who say they want their services but are unwilling to pay for them. An observation I want to share with you: The problem might not be the price you are asking but rather how you ask.
Some of these clients have no idea what professional design services cost and truly don’t have the resources to hire you. These are not clients you want anyway, so forget about them. Others, though, do have the resources but are reluctant to meet your price. If this happens only once in a while, then probably it’s an indication that there’s not a good fit between you and the client. If it happens frequently, you need to revisit your pricing and how you are presenting it to the client.
Don’t assume your price is too high. Cost is not the only factor that goes into pricing. Start by analyzing your value equation. Clients are willing to pay if they feel confident they are getting value for their dollar. Are you setting your prices to match your competition or to meet the requirements of your clients – what they need, what they want and what they hope to avoid? Each is part of the value equation.
Does your pricing reflect what has value for the client? You’re not just selling design. What else matters most to your clients: purchasing? project management? meeting a deadline or milestone event? prestige? efficiency? The answer won’t be the same for every client. In presenting your pricing, emphasize the things that the client most cares about and how you will deliver value in each of those areas.
Finally, the facts and figures are important, but don’t underestimate the client’s emotional investment in the project. Reassure the client that their hopes will be realized and their fears abated. The most important factor in your value equation is trust. Without it, nothing else you have to offer matters.
As a design professional navigating today’s media landscape, whether it’s digital or print (which I can assure you is not dead), the most crucial elements of your public relations and advertising efforts are images of your work. And by that I don’t mean your images need to be good – they need to be great.
While the options for designers to get their messages out today are incredibly varied – from Facebook to dwell – the unifying factor is that they all rely on beautiful images. With that in mind, most great images are typically taken by great photographers. So, I suggest that my clients always set aside enough money in their marketing budgets to have their best projects, or the best rooms from a specific project, photographed by an excellent photographer. Once you have these images, you’ll be able to use them for multiple purposes, like your editorial coverage, social media posts, website and portfolio.
I have over two decades of experience consulting with interior designers on ways of configuring their marketing and PR efforts to reach potential clients. I also help them develop business and marketing plans to convert prospects into customers.
Please take a moment to watch the video I have posted with more on this subject, and contact me if you are interested in seeing how I can help you make your pictures worth more than a thousand words, but rather a thousand dollars.
A do-it-yourself attitude has already eroded so much of the perceived value of professional interior design services. It is a trend that will be with us for a long time to come. It’s up to you to develop strategies and “evolve your business” to succeed in this challenging environment. Please check out my video below, where I provide the outline of my presentation for doing just that. Then, I invite you to make arrangements to attend one of my seminars. Because if your business doesn’t evolve, it’ll go extinct.
In response to what I see as one of the most transformational trends to affect the interior design industry in the twenty years I’ve been involved with it, I’ve created a brand new speaking presentation entitled, “A New Conversation—Evolving your Business with the DIY Consumer.” If you’ve been keeping up with my recent correspondence and YouTube channel posts, you know what I’m talking about. Now, I’m happy to announce that this 2-hour presentation has been approved by IDCEC for 0.2 CEU value (CEU-102845), to fulfill your continuing education needs.
I’ll be taking this, and my other signature presentations, “Deciding What You Are Worth and Charging It” and my “Master’s Class,” on the road in 2014! I’ve booked a number of speaking engagements already. Please check out this list(http://dmcnyc.com/speaking-engagements/) to see when I’ll be in your area. If you don’t see an opportunity near you, please contact me, so we can schedule a presentation, seminar or private workshop, for your organization or company, soon.
All the best,
Here is one designer’s take away from my presentation.
With Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and DIY websites, there is an avalanche of information for consumers of interior design ideas.
For some, this has created a perception that a design professional may not be needed.
In this video I’m inviting you into a conversation here to talk about some concrete ways to present services, repackage pricing, to continue to present the unique value of your professional design services. Your services give value to clients by providing results that they simply can’t do themselves.
We have an opportunity to connect with clients and be confident even when acknowledging there is a great deal of information available and a great deal a product available out there.
Leave your comments and questions below – tell us:
how your business is evolving
what questions you have about approaching clients today
All business considerations aside, and on behalf of the DMC family, I wish you Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!
Reaching Interior Design Clients in a DIY Climate –
I’ve been intrigued by the changes in our economy and with our customers. While there is a “recovery” in some respects, there is still an air of “scarcity” as well. People are nervous about their futures and very much want to spend money, and do, but not with a generous spirit behind it (at least not usually).
I think part of the problem stems from the noise created by social media, the deluge of product websites, and the continual bombardment of thoughts and ideas which are intended to promote the expertise of the contributor, but in fact contribute to the DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality. Many people seem to think that because they can find “how to’s” and sources and prices, that they can bypass professional services altogether.
Here are marketing tips you can use immediately to deal with with price-sensitivity when in dialog to attract new clients:
I recently held a Salon in Los Angeles with a few colleagues and friends from the industry to explore this phenomenon and these are some of the ideas we came up with:
With respect to the DIY movement, how do you draw your clients into the conversation so that they don’t try to bypass you? It is necessary to find a balance so that you can be part of the process and not make it an either/or situation
In order to break away from the DIY movement, create a brand, an aura that escapes commodity (which traditionally has much less profit margin), that still warrants non-discounted pricing
Does designer become curator of DIY efforts, just providing feedback and guidance?
Ask your clients to consider their legacy, what they want the design and product to convey, how long should it last? If the legacy is not 2 years, then they will need to get something quality which means higher-end sources
Big picture ideas sell and that’s what keeps designers in business. They also creates purpose and meaning
Find ways to customize work for the new marketplace and be valued and appreciated
Do not project that you need the work. Nobody wants to deal with someone who is “hungry” (which is not the same thing as motivated)
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