How Designers Charge For Their Time

Nearly all of my clients are newbies when it comes to working with an interior designer, so there are several things I usually explain at my initial meeting. One of the most important items we discuss is how I charge for my services.

There are many ways to charge for design work including (but not limited to):

  • Charging by the hour
  • Charging by the square foot
  • Charging an hourly rate plus a mark up on any products sold
  • Charging by the job
  • Charging a percentage of the overall budget

An industry study was done in 2009 by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to better understand how designers charged versus how  consumers liked to be charged. The results were very interesting. They found that almost 70% of consumers prefer designers to charge a fixed or flat fee, while only 5.6% of designers actually charged for their work that way. Most designers charged an hourly fee or some variation of it.

Having charged by the hour for the first seven or so years in business I understand why designers do it. Mainly, if clients drag out the process by being high maintenance, or are ineffectual at making timely decisions, or used me as a marriage referee, at least then my time would be covered. However, I found that the process had more downside than up because:

  • My clients never knew how much they would ultimately spend for my services and I couldn’t tell them ahead of time how many hours it would take.
  • Receiving an itemized list of every single thing I’d done nearly always caused frustration and questions from my clients’ perspective. Sincerely, nobody likes to see that they have to pay for all of the phone calls I made or all of emails that I had to send during the process. It’s no different than when you get a bill from your lawyer for $250 to pay him for licking a stamp on your behalf… am I right?
  • Clients have no idea how long the creative process can take and if they saw that I’d spent say three hours building a computer model of their new kitchen they tended to question me because in their minds it “should’ve only taken half an hour”.

So after working this way for seven years I decided (in 2009) to move towards a flat-fee pay structure. This method is truly only successful if you’ve had a number of years experience under your belt and I have found it to be so much more beneficial for my clients.

I have developed an in-depth spreadsheet that I use once I understand the scope of the project, which helps me calculate a typical flat fee for the scope of work. I put it into a contract for my clients to review and sign before I do any work.  It is important to understand (and I explain this clearly each time) that my flat fee does not constitute an “all you can eat buffet” situation. There are a fixed number of hours built into the fee and if we bump up against that number before the process is through, then we discuss putting a change order in place to cover the difference. I very rarely have to do this and in instances where it has become necessary it’s because the scope of work grew beyond what was initially agreed upon.

So if you’re on the hunt for an interior designer, be sure to ask about their fee structure so that you can make apples-to-apples comparisons before making your final decision!

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