Design business owners often ask me how they should justify their prices, or explain their markups, to clients. But what this question indicates to me is a fundamental misunderstanding about what it is that designers do, and what clients are after. Over and over I see the same three mistaken beliefs hold them back—here’s what they are, and how you can reframe your thinking to boost your bottom line (not to mention your morale).
Belief #1: Your clients are looking for the biggest discount.
If you are worried about justifying your markup to your clients, you probably internally believe that your clients are looking to save money. But here’s the deal: Your clients aren’t coming to you because you charge the lowest rate. They are coming to you because you offer an experience. Design is a luxury service. Clients who are paying for an interior designer are not shopping around for the cheapest rate on furniture—they’re looking for the best project.
Your client is not going to ask you to break down your markup, then shop around and ask other designers to do the same before they choose who to go with. (And if they do, that is not your ideal client.) If you believe that your client wants the biggest discount, you will hold yourself back from charging what you’re worth. I always say, “Don’t save your client’s money for them.” You can’t be confident in your prices, your service, and your worth if you’re not confident in the value you bring to the table.
Belief #2: You deliver a shoppable product.
Your worry that your customers could order the sofa you picked out online is also misplaced. As a designer, you offer more than just pieces of furniture: You deliver a service, not a commodity.
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When you design a home, do you just look up pieces of furniture and pop them into a rendering? Of course not. You think about your client’s lifestyle, their goals, the lighting. You consider the overall effect of the room. You tell a story with the design you create. Your client can’t go out and replicate it by shopping at Rooms to Go.
Even if another design business took on the same project for the same client with the same goals in mind, the project would turn out completely different. That’s how you know that what you offer isn’t simply an add-to-cart experience.
You have to view your service as separate from the pieces you procure. You’re selling your experience, your expertise, your attention to detail, your creativity, and, most importantly, you’re selling you. All of this leads me to belief #3.
Belief #3: You’re competing with everyone else.
Truth be told, even if you did offer a shoppable product, you would still be delivering more than a commodity. For 25 years, there was a competitor right down the road from my company, Window Works. They were a Hunter Douglas gallery dealer, so not only was Hunter Douglas sending them referrals, but they were also ranking higher than us on Google searches if someone searched for “Hunter Douglas window treatments.”