If you’re like most designers, you got into the business to work through the creative process, transform spaces, experience the thrill of finding that perfect piece, and form relationships with your clients; and if you could avoid talking money or following up on an invoice for the rest of your career, you’d be in heaven. Right? Unfortunately, business is business and you need to be ready for that conversation and the negotiations that may ensue. So here are a few tips to help you discuss rates with clients:
1) Don’t lead with the money talk: Jumping into the money talk at the very first meeting may put the client off. First, spend some time making a personal connection, learning about the project, their style, etc. If the client jumps into the money talk before you think it’s appropriate, give a rough estimate of the cost and let them know that it’s based on the initial conversation thus far… but circle back to the project and give them some new ideas that they have not yet considered. If you can add value this early in the process, they will likely hire you and you can get into deeper money talks later.
2) Band-Aidit: When the time is right to discuss rates, at the second meeting perhaps, get it out of the way quickly and naturally. For example, you could say, “let’s get the contract and billing stuff out of the way, and then we can get back into the fun stuff.” This is an easy way to get the conversation out of the way and keep the focus on the design and building the relationship at the same time.
3) Do it face-to-face or voice-to-voice: As an e-designer, this may be a little easier said than done, but you should make it a point to have this conversation via video call, or at least over the phone. Why? Because it’s easier to get a gauge on the clients true reaction to the price if you can see their face or listen for a pause or hesitation in their voice, something email doesn’t allow you to do.
4) Explain(in great detail) what you do: Most people do not fully understand the amount of time and effort invested in professional design, regardless of the size or budget of the project. Your clients need to understand ALL of what you do both large and small, your specific skill set, and what they will get. For example, the time it takes to plan a layout, manage ordering, choosing products, your knowledge of plumbing/electrical/architectural elements, what exactly you’ll deliver throughout the project, your ability to provide what other designers may not (3D design boards for example), etc. The more detailed you can be, the more they will understand the value of what they are paying for and all of the time, energy, and expertise that goes into it. When they understand your value, they will feel more comfortable about the rates you charge for it.
5) BeConfident & Stand Behind Your Rates: The best negotiating tip we have?Don’t negotiate! Once you explain your detailed processes, services, and rates to your client, be confident and stick to your guns. Many clients will try and negotiate with you and if you negotiate now, they may try and negotiate with you on small things throughout the process. You don’t need to be rude about the fact that you won’t negotiate or discount your rates, simply remain matter off act, professional, and polite. If you do a good job with #4 (something you should invest your time in practicing and even laying out visually), you likely won’t have to worry about this at all.
Remember when you are talking about contracts and billing with clients, you are the expert. The client wouldn’t negotiate with a doctor, a dentist, or a lawyer…so why should they negotiate with you? Just like other professionals, you have the education, training, and experience to solve a problem or relieve some pain point that they cannot solve or relieve for themselves. At the end of the day, if the client does not understand your value, thinks you’re over-charging, or you fear they may constantly second-guess your decisions, than do you really want to work with them anyways? I know I wouldn’t. Remember, you’re worth your rates!