Interior Design. Take It or Leave It?

Being in love with someone who doesn't love you back pales in comparison to loving a job that you can't make a living at.  The common thought is, "If you build it, they will come."  But what happens when you build it, optimize it, and they still don't come?  What happens when passion is not enough?

Image by Janice Palmer of Palmer Design Group LLC.
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Last week I tagged along with a colleague as she attended a potential client appointment. The referral for the project came from a trusted source, so she showed up with little information about what the job would entail.  When we arrived, the homeowner was immediately on the defensive.  They were like; we only need drapes, not interior designers.  Since it wasn't my client appointment, I didn't say much and just listened as the homeowner hid details of their project and steered my friend toward the two windows that needed curtains (not drapes).



My friend was hesitant going into the meeting because first of all, she's kind of a big deal and simply doing drapes for a one bedroom condo is a little beneath her.  Secondly, she ignored her tried and true rule of pre-qualifying the client because she was at a point where she "needed the money".

I could go on and on about needing the money.  As a small business owner, you always will need money so that can't be the reason you take an appointment or client.  So me, I try to keep my overhead extremely low so as to not to have to take on clients that don't share my views on the design process.  I'm not sure how long I can keep this up with a growing family and new business goals, but for now it keeps me sane.

So what do you do when you find yourself leading with your passion foot and not your business foot? Over the past year, I've depended on the honest musings of fellow bloggers about becoming a better businessperson.  I've gone to college and read the books, but hearing tips and suggestions from fellow business owners makes all the difference for me.

Let's face it.  The real solution comes with striking an emotional balance when dealing with your passion.  From the moment we stepped into the space mentioned above, the homeowner was adamant about not wanting a "designer".  We heard one of them say, "We don't need a designer.  We hired a painter and are using the Internet to find our furniture."  Instantly, I was out of the conversation.  At that point, I just really couldn't bring myself to care what happened with their project.

You see my assistant just graduated with a $140,000 interior design degree and I think she should be able to build a career without this type of discouragement.  Before you think it's just this homeowner, know that another friend of mine was one of many designers who applied to be the designer for a well-known celebrity.  A celebrity who in the end, didn't hire anyone and has been quoted as saying she doesn't see the need to hire a designer because she has her own tax exempt status.  Seriously?

If you need advice or encouragement, visit Sean Lowe's blog The Business of Being Creative.  It really helps me when those who feel that I am their personal shopper or passport to designer discounts are giving me a hard time.

Comments

  1. Great commentary! And a lot of people forget that we are in the design "business", not just "design"

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Robin. You are a designer who gets it. I appreciate you expanding on what is possible in this industry. Your book is great and now you have a product line at Bed Bath and Beyond. It shows what's possible when you treat your passion more like a business.

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  2. What a great article! I also went to design school like your assistant and have student loans. I didn't end up going into design full-time after school because I simply couldn't afford to take an entry level design job. I work full-time now but I am starting to take on design projects in my spare time. I still love it so I'm trying to re-incorporate design into my life but I definitely know now I need to temper my passion with some reality.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. I know that I was lucky. My very first clients were in the NFL and worked for Enron. I didn't know that this wasn't normal until years later when I started taking on clients who were not as high profile. I love design, but just could not make those clients happy. I think it was partly my fault, becasue I had no patience for the pace and requirements of those projects. It has taken me a long time to admit that. Anywho. Good luck as you pursue your passions. Just remember to be aggressive and ask for what you deserve.

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  4. Kimberly, thank you, thank you!! I appreciate reading yur views on this delicate subject. Being a second career and starting my own firm, too often I found myself taking on clients just because I wanted to design. But after several projects where I will just say I wasn't happy with the total outcome and at the urging of my financial analyst husband aka my new business manager, I have learned that this is a business where my goal is to making a profit aka make a living. Its HARD but for sanity sake and the development a "tougher skin", I am enjoying the design BUSINESS even more even though I am working less...

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    1. Thanks for your input. I think working less and smarter frees you up to do other things. There's no wrong answer. You just want to be happy and when you sell yourself short, it's hard to feel happy.

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  5. Great post as always Kimberly. I think many of us in this service-driven business have had a similar moment where we walked blindly into a consultation because we desperately needed the money, and so we prayed for the best. Harsh that your friend got such a rude awakening but it may turn out to be a great teach moment for your assistant and a blessing in disguise and a reminder to always, always follow your instinct. She could have avoided this as well by mentioning a consultation fee, which usually separates the real clients from the type you described. Without a degree but with years spent working with experienced trades and learning from the school of hard knocks, I also agree with Robin that much emphasis needs to be placed on the business of design and not just design. Low overheads i.e. a home office, website, blog, strategic partnerships, and targetted social media sites, can do much more for your business than paying rent for a fancy showroom/workspace.

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  6. I passed your comments on to the interns. I am so happy, that so many of you have show up and shared your advise on this post. We are having fun with design which is all we can hope for. We are learning everyday. I just updated my contract this week in fact. Our goal is to introduce new programs and projects becasue we want to and not becasue we need to.

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  7. Great article, Kimberly! A one that often goes unspoken. Have been in the business many years, experienced the highs and lows. It's tougher than ever now but we all have to stand our ground, not give our services away, only makes it tougher for the next one who comes along. I, too, enjoyed for a while the cushion of high end clients and have now found my clientele has changed substantially. A few weeks ago I had the experience of meeting with a referral who had a unsuccessful experience with a newer designer who approached the job on a speculation basis of selling furnishings. I was politely brushed off when I told him I charge for my services and did not do speculative work. As designer's we have to stand together and learn to charge for our services or it will be the demise of our profession.

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  8. I now charge consultation fees because I've wasted too much gas, battery juice taking pictures of homes & time measuring & entertaining the idea for people who....in the end....felt they didn't "need" help or could do it themselves. I'm sure some took my ideas (since my excitement for a new project caused me to blurt ideas off the top of my head) to complete it themselves. Never again. I even had a fallen out with a family member who wanted me to design two kids rooms for pennies. I barely charged her as it was because at the time I was a student & didn't feel I was worthy of taxing what I should. But eventually I walked away from that because I need to be compensated for services & time...period. Some people will try you and see what you'll let them get away with.

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