Cold calling.  You know how much you hate getting those calls? They always seem to call at the most inopportune times too right? Nowadays, we have the Do Not Call list, and caller ID and better ways to block or really ignore these calls. Back when I started my design career, companies would purchase lists of homeowners and we would cold call.   


I began my design career in a windowless office with a list of potential clients a mile long.  And a phone.  “Here you go,” my mentor said.  “It takes about 100 calls to get 1 appointment.  Oh, and it takes at least 10 appointments to get 1 client.”  


She left me with those stats hanging in the air and weighing heavy on my shoulders. This is how I got my first design clients, from cold calling.  I would offer them a free design consultation.  And my mentor was right, it took A LOT of calls to get someone to agree to have me come to their home.  But it happened.  Slowly, but it happened.  


I was new to the design industry, and what a slap in the face it was.  More like a bucket of ice-cold water dumped on my head, actually.  I was fresh out of Design School and ready to create beautiful sample boards and floor plans and CAD drawings.  Nope.  Not happening.  My boss wanted sales.  I was put on straight commission.  Get the client, make the sale, then I could pay bills.  WHAT? This is not what I had learned in school.  (Which is another topic in itself, that schools are not teaching real-world design, but I’ll save that for another post.)


I remember coming back to the office after one of my cold-call appointments.  I was so excited because the potential client had told me they were interested in my services.  My boss said, “Did you get a check?” “No,” I replied.  “Then you didn’t get a client.”  Boy, did the air leave my balloon quickly.   


Now, years later, and as a business owner myself, I understand.  My boss needed sales.  She had rent to pay and bills and a mortgage.  I get it.  But I didn’t agree with it, then or now.  


When I started my own business, about 12 years after leaving that windowless office behind, I swore I would do it differently.  I would never work on commission.  Not because working on commission is a bad way to go, but when I worked on commission, I felt that I had lost sight of the design process and the needs of the client.  Yes, I needed the sale, but that isn’t why I became a designer.  


Now in control of my own firm, I do it differently. I am what you call a fee-based designer.  What the heck is that? Well, projects take time.  I have experience from years of projects and I can look at a new design project and estimate pretty accurately how long it will take.  Based on my hourly rates, (which are determined by my experience, degree, region) I give my potential client an estimated fee.  This way the client can budget for my services and not be surprised when a bill comes.  The fee is an estimation.  What makes the fee more? The client- their ability to make decisions, stick with the decisions, and be an active part of the process.  

When I work with a client, it’s a partnership.  I am not going to tell them how to design their space.  I want to make their dreams and visions come to life.  Will I weigh in or talk them out of things that I don’t think look right? You bet! But the client has to be an active part.  I have found that being a fee-based designer has worked well for me.  By charging a project fee, or hourly depending on the size of the project, I am able to make the client feel more comfortable understanding what they will spend on the design fees.   As a bonus, I am able to pass on my designer discounts.  


If you plan to hire a designer.  Ask the questions.  Know how they work (commission or fee-based) and do what’s best for you.