Ways to Charge for Your Services as a Designer
Interior designers have many things to consider when deciding how to charge for their services. Here we outline the most common fees and methods:
The initial consultation is a time for mutual evaluation by the designer and the client. It gives the interior designer a chance to learn more about the project, present a portfolio to the client, discuss terms, share first impressions on the space, and determine whether the project fits well with their capabilities and services. It gives the client an opportunity to evaluate the designer's capabilities and decide whether they’re right for the job.
To charge or not to charge? That is the question when it comes to first consultations. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. If you do not charge, then you will likely attract interest from more potential clients since they won’t lose any money if they choose not to go with you. However, time is money, and if you’ve got a heavy workload, it might not be worth your while to spend so much time traveling to client consultations and chit-chatting for free.
Some clients prefer to pay for the initial consultation to avoid wasting their time as well. A designer is unlikely to share detailed ideas for a space during an unpaid consultation, so clients who are eager to get started on a project often prefer to pay up-front and discuss ideas and plans from the get-go. Even if they choose not to go with that designer or firm, they know they may get some useful ideas to pass on to the one they ultimately choose.
Some designers require clients to pay a retainer upon signing of the contractual agreement for design services. The retainer is an up-front fee intended to cover costs for you and any employees during the planning stage of the project. When the job is completed, the retainer fee is deducted from the balance due.
Once the client and interior designer agree to work together, the interior designer has various fee models to choose from for the project:
Fee Based (Set Price)
After evaluating all aspects of a project – expected hours of work, square footage specification, materials needed, etc. – you determine a lump sum that will cover all labor and expenses. If your bid is accepted, the amount is paid in increments as items are received and delivered and/or services are rendered. It’s important to account for unexpected problems and not to underestimate costs in an effort to outbid other designers, or you could end up earning much less than expected for a project.
Square Foot Based (Set Price)
This method is most often used for larger commercial projects. It can be a bit tricky, because interiors with the same square footage may have completely different needs. For example, while one restaurant may want a minimalist look, another of the same size could be going for a complex fusion of Chinese and Southwestern styles, which requires a lot more creativity and planning from the designer.
By the Hour
The designer assists the client on an hourly, as-needed basis, offering ideas that the client is free to use at his or her own discretion. Hourly fees range from $60 to as much as $350, depending on the design professional’s level of expertise, the region where business is being conducted, and demand for services.
In this scenario, you are responsible for purchasing all materials, furnishings, and services needed for the design process. You are reimbursed for the costs and, to compensate you for your efforts, you receive a fee representing a specified percentage of the total cost of products and services. Clients like this method because they are able to obtain the needed products and services at a discount to retail prices, since interior design professionals are entitled to industry discounts.
Hourly and Cost Plus
The purchase of materials is handled on a cost-plus basis (as detailed above), but you also charge an hourly rate for client consultations and time spent preparing specifications and budgeting. According to The American Society of Interior Designers, this method has become one of the most popular among design professionals. (ASID)
For those who want to focus more on the retail side of the business, there are commission-based opportunities working for specific manufacturers. Your income is directly related to the volume of products that you sell, so it’s important to choose a company with high-quality products that you will be able to use effectively in future design projects.
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