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Business of Design

Don’t Negotiate Your Design Fees!


Interior designers should never negotiate their fees with their clients.

Yes, I know everything’s a negotiation of some sort—I’m married with three kids after all. But, as a general rule, I feel strongly that interior designers should simply refuse to negotiate with their clients. Negotiate prices with vendors all day if you want to, but with clients, never.

Unless you love to negotiate, don’t do it. Set your price and fee structure up front in a clear contract and don’t back down. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s key to a designer’s profitability and longevity.

Would you rather get referrals because you are cheap or because you are good?

Three weeks ago, our CEO Maury Riad hosted a panel discussion at the Boston Design Center on the business of design. During the Q&A session, seasoned designer and Fuigo member Michael Cox told a great story explaining how he charges for his services and how he never varies it by customer or type of job.

Fifteen years ago, as a young designer, Michael found himself stuck on a long car ride with a new client. The client, sensing an opportunity, chose to ask him why she was being charged so much for time, markup on product, blah, blah, blah. Michael, without thinking, just blurted out, "You know, I am a terrible negotiator, so I just don’t do it." This made her laugh and ended the conversation—and he’s been using that line ever since.

All designers should memorize Michael’s reply. That simple phrase is polite, clear, and leaves no room for backpedaling. While it takes guts to say it, holding firm shows an inherent understanding of your value. Today, that client is a great friend and constant source of referrals. She knows that Michael’s not cheap and she tells her friends not to bother trying to negotiate his fee. She trusts that Michael will do what’s in the client’s best interest because he’s a professional. Her referrals have all led to very profitable projects with great clients.

Would you rather get referrals because you are cheap or because you are good?

If interior designers would stop negotiating against themselves, the profitability of the entire profession would improve dramatically. My guess is that explaining fee structures, retainers, and markups is the single most stressful and dreaded part of a designers job—but this can all be avoided if you lay out how you work at the beginning in a clear and concise way and let it be known your fee is not up for negotiation.

So the takeaway is, the next time your client wants to negotiate your fee, don’t. Remember—and use—Michael’s wise reply.


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