The “how should you charge” debate may never end in the interior design world, and if it does, it may not be for a very, very long time. There’s a million different thoughts on it, and understandably so.
Some people argue that charging for your time, or per hour, does make sense as well – there’s only so many hours in a day and time is a non-renewable resource. You can grow your money, but not your time. If you spend too much time on something like work, you will inevitably end up having to give up time on other things, like time with your kids or sleeping. So, your time does have to be protected and understandably one way of doing that is by charging hourly. However, does that really mean that charging hourly is the way to go, for your entire career?
No. Frankly, a clients’ biggest concern isn’t how long it takes you to do something. At the beginning of your career or at the beginning of a new service offering it may be yours, but over time as you get better and faster, it won’t be yours either. Instead, the real concern, for both of you, is on the value of the output. Its about the value and quality of what you produce, not how long it took you to do something.
Charging Hourly is Often Punishment for the Highly Skilled & Efficient
Now while you’re toiling away at something and its taking you a very long time, its completely understandable that you’re wanting to charge hourly. And at the beginning of your career, maybe you should. You will take longer to complete projects, work with vendors, trades, and clients, and you’re just not aware of how long everything will take you. Thus, charging hourly at that point may make sense as you have to make up for the “lost” time in order to remain profitable. However, at a certain point this won’t work for you, or the client, anymore.
Why? Well, as you’ve probably already heard, eventually you will get faster and will end up being financially punished for it. You may be able to pick out the perfect fabric type and frame for 2 sofas and 2 chairs for a living room in a matter of 2 hours instead of 4 as you used to, but now you’re only able to charge for 2. Even if your hourly rate has gone up, there’s going to be a point where it’s going to come to a match – the hourly price has gone up but your hours have gone down. So you may end up making almost the same, or even less, as you were when you were charging less, but taking longer.
No One Wants to Pay for More Time, but Less Results
So, what to do? Focus on the value of your output instead. Focus on what the client is getting out of their time spent working with you, instead of how long they spend working with you, and charge for that. Now this may again not be something that you can do right away, but at a certain point, you can.
Think about it this way. If I spent 10 hours creating an elaborate safari themed cake for your child’s birthday cake, but the results were hideous, you wouldn’t care how long it took me to create such disaster. You wouldn’t be happy paying, as the results are what matter to you.
However, if it took a professional a mere 2 hours to create an absolute masterpiece of frosting and fondant, again, the time put in shouldn’t matter as what you really care about are the results. Cost should be based on the value and quality of the output, not the time it took to create something.
Clients Shouldn’t Have to Pay for the Pace of a Working Style
And then there’s also the fact that everyone works at a different pace. Some people are fast, some people are slow. Some people are perfectionists and put more time than is necessary into something, and some people are more comfortable with “good enough.”
In these cases, and most cases, time is only very loosely associated with results. There is some tie in, but its not exact. More time doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality output. Less time doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality output. It’s just not a perfect science.
It’s also not exactly fair to clients to charge them more for being slow, distracted, or overly focused on perfection in our work. Especially if it in no way increases the quality of their results, and actually may hinder them.
How Else Can I Charge Then?
So as you consider your fees and fee structure for the remainder of the year, determine whether or not you’re ready to move away from the hourly fee structure or at least experiment with doing so. Consider moving to flat fee, per square foot, flat fee for the type of project phase (one fee type for the design phase, another fee type for the project management phase, etc.), or something else entirely.
The choice is yours which kind you use, and its often not a one size fits all kind of strategy. The structure has to make sense for the type of work you do, and the area you work in. My advice is not to choose one alternative structure over the other, my advice is to consider exploring other fee structures outside of charging hourly.
It also doesn’t mean that you have to completely and totally commit to removing hourly fees as an option now, or ever, and only using another structure if you find an enormous amount of push back from clients. Sometimes simply giving them a choice of hourly versus flat fee or something else, and explaining their differences, can help the situation.
Sometimes You Should Be Charging More for How Fast You Are, not Less
But no matter what you choose to do, remember this – the amount of time you put into something only has loose ties to the quality of what’s produced in that time. Back when I was working, and blogging, as a designer, writing one post took me about 4 hours, not including editing time. Now that I focus on client service and client experience for interior designers instead, it usually takes me about an hour to write a post, and an hour to edit. Guess which post is better? Obviously the latter.
How long it was taking me to put together the design oriented post was actually one of my first clues that maybe being a designer wasn’t for me. Then once I switched to client service and experience and started writing posts on that, I saw how quickly and easily I could get through it with much better results. It was again another clue to me that this was in fact where I was supposed to be. Taking a lot of time meant something was wrong, and taking less time meant something was right, especially when you looked at the end result.
So remember that if you fight to hold on to hourly fees, consider this instead. Maybe what you’re fastest at (as long as the output is still high quality), is something that you should be charging more for. Maybe that’s what you should really be focusing your time, energy, and billing on, what comes quickly and easily to you, not what takes you a long time to complete.
It may in fact be that the hourly structure should be flipped completely on its head – as the things we’re fastest at, we may be the best at, and we should in fact be charging the most for, not the least. Think about that.
Write in the comments below, have you moved away from charging hourly? If so, what have you thought of your results? I’d love to hear!
And if you’re ready to learn even more about providing the kind of exceptional client experience that you can charge more for, check out the listing of guides and resources available to you here!