Lisa Cox MSGD wants designers to be profitable
I have had numerous conversations over the years about what fees we should be charging as professional designers, and we even tried to have a discussion about it at one of our local SGD Cluster Group meetings. It’s one of those topics that everyone wants to know about, but no one wants to be transparent about. Somehow, divulging what we are charging makes us vulnerable and comparable to our competitors.
I feel strongly that deciding what to charge should not bear any relation to what my competitors are charging. It should be down to the value I bring to the design process, the professional way I conduct my business and the knowledge I bring to the table. It should relate to how much I need to earn and the time investment that’s required by me to get the job done in a professional manner.
Of course, we don’t always get every project we go for, but if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s to trust my gut. Clients who question the design fee at the start are generally those people who question everything along the way, and that doesn’t make for a good relationship. Profitable clients are those people who value what we do, and are prepared to spend what we want to charge. They’re also the most fulfilling people to work with.
Having relocated to South Wales from Surrey three years ago, I wasn’t entirely sure how moving my business would go, whether there would be enough work to go round and whether people would be prepared to invest in design. But I’m busier now than I’ve ever been, so, contrary to popular belief, there is work outside London and the Home Counties.
One of the challenges we have as professional designers is that there are ‘designers’ with no training who offer garden design. Garden design is something that’s battered around and offered up at a range of levels and at varying degrees of professionalism. But does this really matter? I’m not sure it does. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. I’ll never be able to compete with those people on price and, as I don’t want to be compared in that way, it’s sort of irrelevant.
What does frustrate me is that there are lots of designers out there who don’t charge nearly enough. They are professionally trained and offer a professional service, but their charges just don’t reflect this. Only recently, I spoke to a new designer who was worrying about whether she should charge for carrying out a survey. Of course she should! Going the extra mile from time to time is one thing, but we certainly shouldn’t be giving our time away for free.
Valuing yourself is hard. How do you put a price on what you’re worth? But you have to remember that design fees are classed as income – they don’t all go into your pocket for frivolous spending. From your fee you need to have an income, pay your running costs, invest in your business and continue to grow. Charging a few hundred pounds for a comprehensive design service just doesn’t add up. When you work on your own, it’s sometimes hard to take the emotion out of the equation, especially if you particularly liked the client or the potential project is really exciting and interesting. It can be difficult to detach yourself from those emotions and look at it from a business perspective.
Questions inevitably come up when you’re preparing a proposal. Should you charge less for a small garden than you do for a large garden, for example? Working on a small garden doesn’t always equate to a quicker and more straightforward design, so it’s not as simple as that. In fact, small gardens often take longer because the detail of every nook and cranny is so crucial to get right.
Ultimately, it comes back to being professional and charging what we’re worth. I’m not saying that we should be putting our fees up for the sake of it, but if we’re not valuing what we do ourselves, and charging accordingly, how can we expect our clients to be prepared to pay a professional level of fees?