I often see interior designers offering a free interior design consultation, and, quite honestly, it makes my heart bleed when I see it happening.
I totally get the thinking behind it.
If the client can book you with no obligation, they will be more inclined to make an appointment. After all, it's a no risk strategy for them, right? You know that when you get to the client's home, you can charm them with your wonderful insight and skills, and they will hire you in a heartbeat. It's a low-risk strategy for you too.
Except it doesn't usually work that way.
Here's what actually happens a lot of the time...
You spend time speaking with a client, and booking a visit to their home. Next, you pack up your portfolio, some samples, your camera, perhaps your measuring tools, and you head out to the client's home. Finally you arrive, you see the space, you talk to them about what they want to achieve.
So far so good.
Which colours would you recommend?
Do you think this furniture is too big for the space?
I can't decide between roman blinds or venetian; what do you think?
And all of a sudden, you find yourself in a sticky situation.
What are the options here?
If you answer all of the client's questions, you are likely to have solved the exact problem that they would have been paying you for.
You've spent the best part of your afternoon preparing your resources, travelling to and from the client and spending an hour or more delivering the consultation. For what? For nothing!
And not only have you done yourself out of income, but it has actually cost you money because you have used your time (which equals money), and transport costs to see the client in the first place!
There is an opportunity cost too, which means that if you hadn't been visiting this time-waster client, you could have been making money seeing a better client. One that was going to pay you!
Some designers deal with these questions differently, of course. You could try to dodge their questions, giving vague answers and sort of alluding to the fact that the process is mysterious but that you have all the answers.
Good luck with that one!
This strategy clearly isn't ideal: it leaves the client frustrated because you haven't helped them at all. They may be left wondering whether you have the skills and know-how to help them out. They will certainly think you are being avoidant or, even worse, being 'salesy'. Yuck.
So, what do you do instead?
A better way to deal with initial consultations is to charge a fee for your time. This filters out time wasters and only gets clients to book you, who are serious about investing in their project. If they won't pay your fee to have your expertise, then they are unlikely to value the service you provide.
I'm going to say that again.
If they won't pay your fee to have your expertise, then they are unlikely to value the service you provide.
That is what you bring.
Your expertise has been acquired and honed through years of studying, research, and experience, and that expertise is valuable.
Commit to working only with customers who recognise your specialist skills.
When you offer a 1:1 service like interior design, your time is a valuable resource. There are only so many hours in a day, and therefore there is a ceiling to the time that you can give.
The amount of time you have available directly affects the income you can earn.
If you are wasting those hours speaking with people, emailing people, visiting people who are not going to pay you, then you are wasting your limited resources.
By charging for an initial consultation, you filter out the time wasters, you value your expertise, and you invite in a better quality of customer.
Of course, another great strategy is to offer the consultation fee back to them if they hire you and spent a certain amount. But it still means that you are not wasting your time on people who never had any intention of hiring you in the first place.
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